How People Change: Friendship

Sermon by David Felker on September 2, 2018

1 Samuel 18-20

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Please turn with me in your Bible to 1 Samuel chapter 18; 1 Samuel chapter 18. The passage begins on page 241 in the church Bible in front of you. Before we jump in and read, something to consider. We’re starting a new mini-series tonight that we’ll be in for the next few weeks. You see the title in your bulletin – “How People Change.” “How People Change.”


There is a scene that takes place toward the end, the very end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, towards the very end of the third book, The Return of the King. And it’s during this great battle and there is this unlikely warrior, a girl named Eowyn, who sneaks onto the battlefield. And as she is there, she finds her king, the King of Rohan, and he’s wounded on the battlefield. And so she goes to him and she stands over him to protect him. And as she’s standing there, this dark, demonic enemy comes at her and says, “Get out of the way! Move aside!” But Eowyn doesn’t move. And she draws her sword and she says, “Do what you will, but be you living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch my king!” “I’ll kill you if you touch him!” Amazing courage.


I would suggest that Eowyn doesn't really describe me in that story because as Eowyn is standing there protecting her king, there is a character that fits me, I think, perfectly. And it's Merry the Hobbit. And Merry the Hobbit, in that battle, he sees that dark, demonic, Goliath-like enemy, and we're told that he becomes sick and blind because of the fear that he had. He becomes sick and blind and he hides on the battlefield. But at one point he regains his sight and he looks up. And guess what he sees. He sees Eowyn ready to die for her king. And this is what Tolkien, the author, writes. That "great wonder filled his heart," great wonder filled his heart, "and suddenly the slow-kindled courage awoke and he clenched his fists and he battled as a warrior."


And I think that is exactly right. I think Tolkien is right on. And what’s important to see is, if you feel stuck, if you feel stuck like Merry in the same patterns, the same behaviors, the same movements away from God, the same travels away from Him, you’re stuck – how do you change? If you lack joy, if you lack courage, where do you get it? Where does it come from? How do you produce in your heart what you need? The good news is that God’s grace doesn’t just forgive you; it doesn’t just pardon you. It doesn’t just say, “I’m separating your sin as far as the east is from the west. I’m hurling it into the deepest seas.” But God’s grace also says, “I will change you.” And if you know the David story, you know there are a lot of contradictions. David doesn’t wear a white hat. He’s fallible; he’s twisted. And that makes his story real, like our lives. And so like David, we know that real life means success and suffering, friendship and fear, tears and temptations but also trophies.


And so what we’re going to do in the next few weeks is, through the lens of David, through the lens of the David story, we’re going to look at a few things God uses to change His people. And so let me pray for us before we jump in and read. Let’s pray.


God of all grace, we pray that You would be with us now. We believe, but we pray that You would help our unbelief, that You would work through my lisping and stammering tongue, that You would lift our eyes toward Jesus, the Friend of sinners. And we pray this in His name, amen.


1 Samuel chapter 18 beginning in verse 1:


"As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants."


And then turn to chapter 20. We’ll pick up in verse 41:


“And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’’ And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.”


Amen. This is God’s Word.


Tonight we’re going to look at the need for friendship and the distinctives of friendship – what does it look like? And then the “How?” – How do you get friendship? Where does it come from?


The Need for Friendship

And so let's start with the need for friendship. Sometimes you can do those immediate word associations and think of the first word that comes to your mind when you hear a word. I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan, so let's take the Cubs. As a kid, when that word came to mind, really until two years ago we would say, "Cubs – Losers." The Cubs are loveable maybe, but they are historically losers. Back in 1938, they got into the World Series; they lost in four straight games. In 1945, during the World Series again, it went to seven games. The Cubs lost. In 1984 during the National League playoffs, they won the first two games of a best of five series, and then they lost the next three games. You may like the Cubs, but historically they have been losers.


When you say, “David,” what would you think of? At least in this section, chapters 18 to 30, the dominant note is trouble. When you say, “David,” you should think, “trouble.” You might know long before Braveheart, David was the original warrior poet. He wrote at least seventy-three of the psalms. David could soothe you to sleep with his music, but he could slay Goliath with a stone. He was the man after God's heart. He was going after God's heart. And we pick up tonight in the middle of the story. Here's just a little context. From its outset, the book of Samuel is about the priority of and the search for a true king. We know that because as we open up 1 Samuel, we find a barren woman, Hannah. Hannah gets a vision of a king. She sings a song of a true king, and she sings of a king who receives strength from the Lord. A true king is one who receives strength from the Lord – chapter 2, verse 10. A true king doesn't store up but gives away power. And Hannah's son, Samuel, so received this vision that he anointed Saul the first king of Israel. Chapter 15 tells us that Samuel grieved over Saul, Samuel grieved over Saul because Saul turned out to be just like all of the other kings. And so Samuel is sent to find this king. He goes to the house of Jesse. Do you remember the line? "Are all your sons here? Are all your sons here?" "Well, there remains yet little David." And so 1 Samuel chapter 16, David is anointed as king but he's not yet on the throne. 1 Samuel chapter 17, David kills the giant; he kills Goliath.


That story kind of goes viral. You look in our text in chapter 18, these women come out to greet the soldiers in verse 7; they greet the soldiers after the battle. They start singing this song. “Saul has struck down his thousands and David his ten thousands.” And so #David is trending like crazy! Verse 9, Saul eyed David from that day on. Saul looked at David through the eyes of envy. Saul worried that this young upstart David is going to take his throne, says in verse 8, “What more can he have but the kingdom?” In chapters 18 to 20 though, the dominant note is trouble. Saul is consumed with envy. He becomes murderously envious of David and he tries to kill him six times. But there’s Jonathan. Jonathan is the eldest son of Saul, meaning that Jonathan, he’s the prince. Prince Jonathan; the heir to the throne.


Friendship of David and Jonathan

And you’ll notice – look at how chapter 18 begins and then look at how chapter 20 ends. Look at the text. Chapter 18 begins by telling of David’s friendship with Jonathan, and chapter 20 ends by telling of David’s friendship with Jonathan. And so during this most troubled time in David’s life, chapters 18, 19, and 20, this is the most troubled time in his life – he’s living in Saul’s house, Saul is over and over again trying to kill him – during this most troubled time in his life, chapter 18 you have the friendship of David and Jonathan. And then at the end, chapter 20, you have the friendship of David and Jonathan. One commentator said, “During this most dangerous and evil chapter in all of David’s life, the deep friendship with Jonathan brackets, the deep friendship with Jonathan contains the evil.” And the commentator is saying that even the literary structure itself is making the point that the friendship is the bracket. The friendship makes the evil survivable and it makes it bearable. That without Jonathan, David never would have made it. David never would have made it without this friend.



And I think the principle still stands. Regardless of your situation, regardless of your story, you need a friend. As a son of a football coach, we didn’t move around as often as some, but we had four moves from the time that I started kindergarten until the time I finished high school. And I still remember, and this can get me deeply sometimes, I still remember sometimes when we would move and it would be the night before school started and I would be, you know, getting my backpack ready and I would be laying my clothes out, and I still remember sometimes the prayers, the desperate and deep prayers that my parents would pray for me that I would have one faithful friend. They would pray these deep and desperate prayers that I would have one faithful friend. I’m not a parent. I’m the parent of a four-year-old son who started preschool a few weeks ago. I now know those longings. I know those longings that parents have for their children not to be alone, not to experience loneliness.


This may seem childish to you – I am now thirty-five-years-old, and some days I still feel like that little child kind of getting the backpack ready, getting the clothes ready, and praying that God would answer my parents' prayers to give me faithful friends. And I don't think that I'm alone. I don't think that I'm alone. I suspect I'm not the only one. If friendships have been hard for you at times, I know that it's hard, because it's hard for me at times. "When you're in your 30s," Jerry Seinfeld said, "it's very hard to make a new friend. Whatever friends you have, the group you have is the group you're sticking with. That's it. You're not interested in adding any more. You're not taking applications. You're not interviewing anyone. That's it. They don't know the prices. They don't know the activities. If I meet someone now, I just say, ‘You have a lot of potential, I'm just not hiring right now.' When you're a kid it's easy to make friends. What are the qualifications? If someone is in front of my house right now, then he's my friend! ‘Are you a grown-up?' ‘No.' ‘Well then let's be friends!' ‘If we have anything in common, then that's more than enough to be friends. You like cherry soda; I like cherry soda. Let's be friends.'"


It is Hard

We're talking, I think, tonight about something that's hard. I think Jerry Seinfeld is wrong. I think kids can make friends easier. But you may be here tonight, you may be a child, you may be a teenager, and friendships are not easy. Like me, you may be new at your school and that is hard. Maybe you're an adult; maybe you've been here at a long time, you've been in Jackson for a long time. But you would say, "I don't think anybody really knows me." And that's hard. All your life maybe, your cup runneth over. Maybe that's you. Maybe your cup runneth over all your life. You have had faithful friends. But maybe now you're in a season where your friends, the people that are the most precious to you, are leaving and they're going to be with Jesus. And that is hard. Maybe you have a young family and because of the busyness of that season your friendships may be in a funk and that is hard. Maybe you have neglected friendships to climb the corporate ladder because you thought that friendship was this great, optional thing, but now you're lonely. And that's hard. Maybe you're a young adult and you ache because you invest and you invest and you invest, you put all this time in, and then something happens – a job transfer; this person was single and now they're married and it's just different and you're tempted to give up. And that is hard.


I think what I’m saying is that we need friendships. Friendships are an ambivalence-creating institution. They go right down to the middle of our hearts. Because we’re made in the image of God, we’re made in the image of a relational God, and so when we have them, when we know the joy of them, it’s the sweetest thing in the world. When we go without them, though, when friends leave, when friends burn us, I think then we’ll know some of the deepest pain we can possibly know. “It’s not good for man to be alone,” Genesis 2. And some of y’all know that. But for women and for men, young and old, new and settled here in Jackson, we need friendships and we need a word from the Lord about what makes a faithful friend.


Distinctives of Friendship

So let's look at the second thing. I think it begs the question, "What does that look like? What are the distinctives of friendship?" We long for friends, but many of us don't know how to be a friend. What are the distinctives of friendship? This friendship between David and Jonathan involved a great cost, there was a great cost, there was a common vision, there was transparency and there was loyalty. So great cost, common vision, transparency, and loyalty. We'll run through these quickly.



First, this is a costly friendship. Friendships are costly. I think the naive way to read this passage would be to say, "Everybody else loves David. Everybody else loves David. Why doesn't Jonathan?" Think about what it must have been like to be Prince Jonathan, to be the heir, the heir to the throne. What must it have been like for him to bump into David, this rising star, who would be the greatest threat to your kingdom, to your future, to your power? In fact, Saul says that. If you look in chapter 20 verse 31, Saul says to Jonathan, "For as long as the son of Jesse lives, as long as David lives, neither you Jonathan nor your kingdom shall be established." But look at chapter 18 verses 3 and 4 when Jonathan strips himself of his robe. He gives to David, he gives his robe to David, along with his armor, his sword, his bow, his belt. You know it's possible that Jonathan knew, that Jonathan had heard what Samuel told Saul in chapter 13. Samuel told Saul that Saul would not have an ongoing dynasty. It's possible that Jonathan had heard that. Jonathan seemed to be submitting to that out of love for David, out of love for his friend, out of obedience to the Lord, obedience to the word of the Lord. He is submitting himself here to God's chosen king. And this is costly. This is the prince's robe. This is not a victory gift for defeating Goliath. Jonathan is transferring. He's transferring his position to David.


As Old Testament scholar, Ralph Davis said, “It’s as if Jonathan is saying to David, ‘The clothes represent me. The clothes represent my position.’ Jonathan was giving up his crown rights.” You see that. And then he takes off his sword. He becomes vulnerable with David. I want you to consider what it cost Jonathan. This is costly. What did it cost him to give away his right as crown prince to David? Jonathan is saying, “Your friendship, David, means more to me than my power, than my ambition, than my kingdom, than my money, than my future, than my father’s approval.” That is a friend. This is costly.


Common Vision

Second, there’s a common vision. In chapter 14 there’s this great story of Jonathan who goes out to face the Philistine army and he says in verse 6, “Nothing can hinder the Lord.” He says, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” That’s chapter 14. In chapter 17, what does David say? David goes out and David says, “The battle is the Lord’s.” So Jonathan says, “Nothing can hinder the Lord.” David says almost the same thing – “The battle is the Lord’s.” There’s this common vision; this common vision.


I think we get this. I think we get this about our friendships. There’s something that unites us to another person. A common vision. It can be college football. It can be Chip and Joanna Gaines, but there’s a common vision. C. S. Lewis says that friendship is a “shoulder to shoulder sort of love. It starts when companions discover that they have in common which, until that moment, they believed to be their own.” And so friendship involves the sword of love that has two people looking out in the same direction. What’s the common horizon for your friendships? What is the common horizon for you and your friends? Often the quality of your friendships, the quality of them, will be deeply related to the permanence and quality of the horizon that you’re heading towards together. And so common vision.



Third, there's transparency. Chapter 20 ends when Jonathan and David part. Look in chapter 20 verse 41. The story says that "David rose from beside the stone heap. He fell on his face. He bows three times. They kissed one another and they wept with one another, David weeping the most." Now Middle Eastern culture is demonstrative and affectionate in ways that ours is not. There are tears, there's affection, there are words, there's vulnerability. I think the point is, "Who are you willing to be known by? Who are you willing to let in? Who are you willing to let in?"


Some of you have seen the recently released Fred Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Mr. Rogers often came across as weak, even meek. His critics assailed him. Comedians mocked him. But the film shows that Mr. Rogers was a very thoughtful Christian. He was all about grace. He said towards the end of his life, “The greatest thing that we can do, the greatest thing that we can do is to let someone know that they are loved and that they are capable of loving.” That’s what he wanted each child watching his child to hear. “You are so loved and you are capable of loving.” He wanted every one of his viewers, because he knew that those children would grow up, he wanted them to hear it. “You are so loved and you are capable of loving.” The older you get, the harder it is to believe it. You are loved and you’re capable of loving.


If you watched the show, you remember that Mr. Rogers used to say over and over again, "You are special." He'd say, "You are special. You are special. You are special." And in his final commencement speech at Dartmouth University, Mr. Rogers explained to those Ivy League graduates what he meant when he said, "You are special." And he said, "You don't ever have to do anything, you don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you," he said to those Ivy League graduates. I think that's what we need to hang onto to have friendships that are marked by transparency. That you are so loved by Jesus, you are so loved by Jesus, you, the real you, you are so loved by Jesus and you are capable of loving. And when that permeates in a life, when that begins to take root in the lives of two people who have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, I think there's real rest and then there are tears. "David wept the most," we read.


You see, this is what friends do. You have to seek to, because no one does it perfectly, but you have to seek to let people in. It may not be today, but you are going to come up against something big. You are going to come up against something bigger than you. You're going to come up against something greater than you, stronger than you. And when that happens, you need someone who knows you. They know your story; they know your patterns, your history, your loves, and your longings. You need someone who can say, "Press on. Courage." You need someone who can say, "It's real. The Gospel is real and it's true." You need someone who can say, "You are God's beloved. That is your primary and permanent identity. It's the one that will never go away." You need someone who can say that to you, and you most need it from someone who has seen you down to the bottom. That's the friend that you need. Who are you willing to be known by?



And then, fourth and last, their friendship was constant. There was commitment; there was loyalty. There is a certain specificity and intensity that comes with friendship. This loyalty is the most excellent part of friendship. It's at the heart of a real friend. So loyalty means, "I will never let you down, or at least I will never intend to." I think that gets at what a covenant is. We read in chapter 18 verse 3 that they made a covenant. Chapter 18 doesn't get into the particular provisions of it, but chapter 20 lets us know a little bit more. Chapter 20 verse 15, Jonathan says, "Do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever." In other words, "I am bound to you." This reminds me of Ruth and what Ruth said to Naomi. Ruth clings to Naomi and the text says that "nothing but death, nothing but death could separate them." That's loyalty.


Some of you will know the name Cathy Jeffcoats. Cathy Jeffcoats was a beloved longtime staff member at First Baptist Church in Jackson. She died a little bit over a month ago of cancer. And Cathy, right after she was diagnosed with cancer, began to look for ministry opportunities. She began to look for friendships. And she was known in the last couple of years of her life as she was struggling with cancer to show up to hospital rooms, to hold hands with cancer patients, and to say, "He comes to make His blessings known, far as the curse is found." To say, "It will not always be this way." To say, "Press on. Press on and have courage." A friend doesn't say, "Let me know if you need anything." A friend shows up and goes in when the whole world goes out. I think this means that what lies at the heart of friendship is a paradox. We think that friendship is had if, "I just get to know someone long enough, then we'll be friends. If I just get to know someone, then I can put my chips on the table and we can have a real friendship." And I'm saying that frustrates friendship; it's actually the opposite. That friendship, real friendship comes in the soil. It comes in the seedbed of commitment. In other words, friendship is an achievement of commitment and it must not be the precondition for it.


And so we see these distinctives of this friendship. It’s costly, it has a common vision, there’s transparency, there’s loyalty.


How to Get This Friendship

Third and last – how do you get this kind of a friend? I want to try to be as practical as I can. Where does this kind of friendship come from? Maybe you’re here and you’re saying, “This all sounds great, but I don’t have this. I can’t do this.” Maybe you’re fifteen or twenty-five or seventy-five and sometimes you would say, “I’m not this kind of friend. I’m a bad friend.” Or maybe you would say, “I think the friend train kind of passed me by. I don't have what you’re talking about.” How do you change?


“Am I This Kind of Friend?”

First, I’m going to challenge you to take this out of here and to marinate on this, to take this to your small groups and to your discipleship groups. Take this to your roommates and to your spouse. And ask, “Am I this kind of friend?” That’s the first thing.


Ask God

The second thing is this. Come tonight with empty hands before the Lord. Come tonight with empty hands before Him and pray to Him, “I’m not this kind of friend. I don’t have this kind of friend. I can’t manipulate it. I can’t make it happen. I can’t manufacture it. God, give me one faithful friend.”


Live out of the Friendship of Jesus

And then third, and finally, and lastly – how do you change? You must be befriended, and then you must live out of the friendship of Jesus. You must be befriended by and live out of the friendship of Jesus. Your friends can try and try and try to love you faithfully, but it will never be perfect. They will fumble and they will fail. You need a friend who will not fumble you or fail you. What you most need is a friend who can wash away your own fumbles and failures as a friend. You need a friend who can wash away your idolatry, your over-desire for friendship. You need a friend who loves you with a costly love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” With a common vision that “where I am, there you may be also.” With transparency, that “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” And who is committed to me, that “He who began a good work will carry it to completion.” And what I’m saying is come to Jesus tonight, come to Him and you will see that He is the Friend of sinners.


Amen. Let me pray for us.


Father, we pray that You would help us see Jesus tonight, the Friend of sinners, saving and helping and keeping and loving us. We pray this in His name, amen.

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