With Friends Like This
Pastor Stu Webber relates a story from his experience at the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I can still hear the raspy voice of the sergeant: "We are here to save your lives. We're going to see to it that you overcome all your natural fears. We're going to show you just how much incredible stress the human mind and body can endure. And when we're finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army's best!" Then, before he dismissed he announced our first assignment: "Find yourself a…buddy," he growled. "You will stick together. You will never leave each other. You will encourage each other, and, [if] necessary, you will carry each other." [i]
Who would you pick for this assignment? Which one of your friends could you depend on to stick with you, to never leave you, to encourage you, and if necessary, carry you? Whoever this is, they are more than your buddies—they are your friends.
The Bible offers us this piece of advice on friendship in
Pr 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Tonight I want to share with you a true story about just this kind of friendship between a man named David and a man named Jonathan. The story is found in 1 Sam. 20, and it is a beautiful picture not only of how to identify your true friends—it is a perfect story about how you can be this kind of friend to somebody else. Let’s begin reading in vs. 1-23.
I. A FRIEND IS SOMEONE YOU CAN TURN TO IN TIMES OF TROUBLE (v. 1-23)
A fair-weather friend is one who is always around when he needs you. - Bob Phillips[ii]
You know some folks like this, don’t you? When they need you, they stick to you like glue. When you need them they can’t be found. But a real friend is a person you can turn to when you need them---they are …brothers/sisters who are born for adversity…In fact, it’s usually when hard times hit we find out who our true friends are. That is certainly true for David.
David is a man on the run. God chose Him to be King of Israel, but right now another king is on the throne—a man named Saul, a man who wants to kill David. David’s been hiding out with the prophet Samuel but now he needs someone else to turn to who will help him figure his next move. Ironically, the friend David turns to Prince Jonathan, the son of Saul, the man who wants to kill him. Only a step ahead of Saul’s assassins, David turns to the best friend he has. Jonathan doesn’t let him down. “Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you.” (v. 4).
Together these two friends come up with a plan to see if Saul really intends to kill David. David suggests he go back to Bethlehem and see his family instead of attending the New Moon feast with Saul and his cohorts. If Saul accepts his absence with no suspicion, they will know all is well. But if not, then Saul will reveal his hatred for him.
Either way Jonathan will meet David back at this same place, and let him know whether or not it is safe for him to return.
There is a tender moment recorded in vs. 13b-17: Jonathan knows David will someday be king. He makes a covenant with David. It was often the custom when one king would come to power he would slaughter all of the family of the fallen king. Jonathan calls David to honor their friendship not only by how he treats Jonathan, but how he will treat Jonathan’s descendants. (cf. v. 15). …indeed the Lord be between you and me forever.” (v. 23) Don’t forget me when I’m gone Jonathan says to his friend because I will never forget you.
You know a lot of people who call themselves your friends, but how many of them can you turn to when you’re in trouble? How many folks could you pick up the phone right now and say, “I’m in trouble I need you,” and they’ll come running? Those are your true friends, because a friend is someone you can turn to in times of trouble. Friends are born for adversity.
Are you that kind of friend? How many people can turn to you when they’re in trouble? If you want a friend like that, you have to be a friend like that. That’s the kind of friendship David and Jonathan had. That’s the kind of friendship you want, too, isn’t it?
The North American Indians had no written language before they met the white man. The words they spoke were meant to paint a picture of what they were talking about. Which explains why the word “friend” to the Indians was translated into English as “one-who-carries-my-sorrows-on-his-back.”
The Indians recognized what the Bible tells us: a friend is born for adversity. Let me tell you something else about David and Jonathan that illustrates true friendship:
II. A FRIEND STICKS WITH YOU (v. 24 -34)
Jonathan has many reasons to betray David. He has to confront them all when he goes back home to his father’s dinner table.
When they gather around to the meal, Saul sits in a corner with his back against the wall, where he can see everybody. Beside him sits General Abner, the king’s chief of staff. Who knows what plans Saul had for David if he had shown up for the meal? But David does not show up. He’ll be here tomorrow! he thinks to himself. When David doesn’t show up the next day, Saul asks Jonathan through gritted teeth Where is that son of Jesse? Why didn’t he come to supper? Jonathan tries to pass it off, explaining that he gave David permission to go back home for a festival with his family. This is where Saul loses it! Saul tries to make Jonathan turn against David by using shame, guilt, and greed.
Shame (v. 30b) …you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame…Everybody’s laughing at you for sticking up for that shepherd boy!
Guilt (v. 30c)….and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? You are shaming your family by shielding that traitor!
Greed (v. 31a) … For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. You will never sit on the throne as long as he lives!
It’s almost like Darth Vader, calling out to Luke Skywalker, “Join the Dark Side!”
But notice that Jonathan remains loyal to his friend. He speaks up for David, not because David has done wrong, but because David has done right. Jonathan is not a son trying to rebel against his father by sticking up for those no-good friends who lead him to do wrong. He is remains loyal to his friend, and to his father. In fact, even after David leaves, Jonathan stays with Saul, all the way to the end, when they both die together in battle. But Saul’s heart is so full of rage, he gives his own son what he once gave to David- the point of a spear. Though Jonathan escapes the spear, his own heart is torn into by his love for his doomed father, and his love for his fugitive friend.
Jonathan is a friend who
There are lots of folks who will stick with you when you have money, or when you’re doing well. There are plenty of people who sing your praises when you’re on top, but forget your name when you reach bottom. Whatever you want to call these folks, they are not your friends.
Pepper Rodgers was in the middle of a terrible season as football coach at UCLA. It even got so bad that it upset his home life. He recalls, "My dog was my only friend. I told my wife that a man needs at least two friends and she bought me another dog."[iii]
Isn’t loyalty one of the tests of friendship? I’m not talking about the loyalty of those who do wrong- even thieves stick together when they face the police.
But you want your friends to speak up for you when everyone else is bad-mouthing you. A true friend is not a back-stabber- they are willing to stand up under pressure, and stand with you even when everyone else stands against you. Others may kick you when you’re down, but a true friend reaches down to pick you up. That is what it means when the proverb says, “a friend loves at all times.”
How many people do you know who are like this? Willing to stand up to the crowd when the crowd stands against you? Willing to risk themselves for your sake?
How many of us are that kind of friend to someone else? How many people can count on you remain loyal when others turn against them?
That’s the kind of friend you need to have, and that’s the kind of friend you need to be. So called “fair weather friends are a dime a dozen. But a friend who stands by your side when everybody else is on the other side is a true friend and a treasure.
One last lesson on friendship David and Jonathan teach us is
III. A FRIEND TELLS YOU THE TRUTH, EVEN WHEN IT HURTS. (v. 35-42)
The best way to lose a friend is to tell him something for his own good.
You might feel that way sometimes, but really, anyone who is truly your friend will risk making you angry to tell you the truth- even when it hurts.
I imagine Jonathan did not get much sleep that night, thinking about his father’s insane rage, and his friend’s desperate dilemma. What will he do?
At dawn, with a heavy heart, Jonathan and his assistant go out to the field for some target practice. Jonathan goes through the motions, sends the message to David his danger, and sends the boy back home with all of his weapons. Jonathan has faced the truth about Saul, and now he has admits the truth abut his father to David. But Jonathan cannot not leave without a personal goodbye to his beloved friend.
David creeps out of hiding and bows down before Jonathan in a symbol of respect and gratitude. Jonathan kisses David, in the custom of friends in those days. And these big strong, battle hardened men break down and cry like babies. As much as they wish things are different, they both face the hard truth that they must go their separate ways.
The truth is sometimes hard enough to face alone, but it is only your friends who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. Your friends are not just the “yes-men” (or “yes-women”) who always tell you what you want to hear.
It’s your friend who will tell you about that piece of parsley shining between your teeth when you smile. It’s your friend who will be the only one who tells you that your new dress makes you look like a blimp. It’s your friend who will risk it all to suggest that that boy or girl you’re in love with is leading you down the wrong path. It’s your friend who will be bold enough to say something about your addiction, your weakness, your sin. And then they will weep with you, and lift you up in their prayers, even when you have to be apart. Your true friends will always tell you the truth- even when it hurts.
How many people do you know are friends who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts? How many would risk offending you in order to help you? How many are so concerned about you that they would lovingly confront you when you do wrong?
How many of you are willing to be that kind of friend to someone else? How many of your friends need you to be willing to tell them the truth- even when it hurts?
That’s the kind of friend you need to have, and need to be. Anyone can tell you what you want to hear, but only a true friend tells you what you need to hear-- even when it hurts.
Now maybe you think too yourself as we see this beautiful example of friendship between Jonathan and David, “Bro. Mike, I don’t have a friend like that.”
But you do, you know. In fact, you have a Friend Who loves you even more than Jonathan loved David, more than any other friend you ever had or ever will have. David and Jonathan give us a good example of what a friend should be, but the One Friend Who is the perfect example of friendship is Jesus.
When you’re in trouble, you can always turn to Jesus. He will always be there. He cares when nobody else cares, He loves you when you are at your worst. And when you need the truth, and nobody else will bother to tell you, Jesus will always tell you the absolute, undeniable truth. Jesus proved His love for you by doing something no other friend could do- He died to save you from your sins. Jesus told His friends the night before He died:
Jn 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
One of the greatest stories of true friendship is about two friends in World War I, who were inseparable. They enlisted together, trained together, were shipped overseas together and fought side-by-side in the trenches. During an attack, one of them was critically wounded in a field full of barbed wire. He was unable to crawl back to his foxhole. It was suicide to try to reach him. Yet his friend decided to try. Before he could get out of his own trench, his sergeant yanked him back inside and ordered him not to go. “It’s too late. You can’t do him any good, and you’ll only get yourself killed.”
A few minutes later, the officer turned his back, and instantly the man was gone after his friend. A few minutes later, he staggered back, wounded, with his friend, now dead, in his arms. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved. “What a waste,” he blurted out. “He’s dead and you’re dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” With almost his last breath, the dying man replied, “Oh, yes, it was, Sarge. When I got to him, the only thing he said was, ‘I knew you’d come, Jim!’”[iv]
This is the kind of friend Jesus is to you. He showed us what it means to be a real friend when He laid down His life for you on the Cross. Is He your friend?
Listen again to that army sergeant.
"Find yourself a…buddy. You will stick together. You will never leave each other. You will encourage each other, and, [if] necessary, you will carry each other." [v]
You need friends like that. You can know a lot of folks, but when it comes to choosing friends, you need to choose people who will be there when things go bad, who will stick with you when others turn away, who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts.
You need to be a friend like that to somebody else. Friendship is not just about getting, but about giving to others. Who needs you to stick by them when everybody else abandons them?
You need Jesus as your Friend. He is the only Friend Who will never let you down, but always lift you up. He died for you—now He asks for you and I to be His friends by living for Him.
Pr 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
[i] Stu Weber, pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring, Oregon. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.
[ii] Phillips' Book of Great Thoughts & Funny Sayings, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993), p. 121.
[iii] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 227.
[iv]Gary Inrig, Quality Friendship Swindoll, C. R. (2000, c1998). The tale of the tardy oxcart and 1501 other stories (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Swindoll leadership library. Nashville: Word Publishers.
[v] Stu Weber, pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring, Oregon. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.