Friendship Fundamentals: Mutuality

Jonathan was a man in his own right. A son of prestige, he was raised with all the privileges afforded the eldest son of a king and was unmatched in courage. He was royalty and a decorated commander of the most intimidating army. David, on the other hand, was a lowly shepherd boy, the youngest of eight brothers, modestly dressed and with little responsibility. He was a boy glowing with health, he was handsome, and had a fine appearance but was yet unknown. He had never fought in a battle nor was he concerned about leading anything except his father’s sheep, much less a nation. Two different men with two different backgrounds yet their eventual relationship transcended their worldly situations and provides us with an example of genuine friendship.

I find it appropriate to begin this series with a foundational and somewhat basic concept often overlooked in a friendship: mutuality. More specifically, mutuality of soul. Don’t be thrown off by the term, it’s an idea you’re well acquainted with, you just might not label it so. This refers to the mutual identity that Christian friends have that is foundational for any biblical friendship.  But in order to better explain, let us continue with our study of the unique bond between Jonathan and David.

These two men, though diverse in upbringing, were similar in heart. They were brave and courageous, ready to battle even the fiercest of opponents. But what stands out beyond all else is their unrivaled confidence in God when faced with seemingly impossible situations: Jonathan before the powerful Philistines stood bold declaring that the Lord would act on behalf of his people (1 Sam. 14:6), and David when others were trying to deter him from facing Goliath pointed to his Lord as one who would cast judgment on those who defy Him (1 Sam. 17:36). Even before they met, their hearts were already aligned on the one thing that eclipsed personality and status, they knew the living God and carried out lives that reflected their convictions. Thus when they finally met, Scripture says that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1).

On one hand, their friendship provides great hope for Christian brothers and sisters. It assures us that beyond life circumstances and upbringing, beyond social status and bank statements, Christians have a genuine bond in the Lord. Too often we allow external identities interfere with our main identity. We allow clothes or second hand opinions determine what we think of each other without recognizing that our Lord has set us on equal planes. There is no one man who is better than his neighbor, and no one person needing more grace than the next. This is the beauty of Christian friendship, that our worldly status is merely a blessing from our God that requires careful stewarding and is not meant to be lorded over another person.

As Christians, we must remember what our mutual friendship is founded on–that is, our call as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that friends always think alike on everything–and honestly, it’s often quite the opposite (Acts 15:36-39)–but we share the same worldview and approach to life. There is a supernatural aspect to our friendship that creates a mutuality of soul; our hearts are already aimed at the same target. Consider the goals that each believer possesses:

  • We are obedient to the same ultimate authority
  • We acknowledge our own sinfulness
  • We are equally unable to save ourselves from the consequences of sin
  • We understand the need for our Savior Jesus Christ
  • We look forward to the same eternal glorification
  • We long to see God glorified in our lives

Our faith in God and our hope in the gospel of Christ is the common bond, the foundation of our friendships–it’s the lens through which we see each other. It’s when we begin to base our friendships on fickle secular criteria–for example, the “what have you done for me lately” mentality or the memories of going to parties together–that we most easily fall into vain gossip and destructive treatment of one another. Our main identity is found in Christ and this is what should dictate our feelings for one another.

On the other hand, Jonathan serves as an example of self-sacrificing love. I’m not talking about the shallow love that we have for our “neighbor” when we tolerate their quirkiness or remain silent as they spew offensive words. That kind of love is only temporary and quickly gives way in the event of any real trial. Scripture tells us about a substitutionary love, a love between friends where we seek another’s benefit over our own. Consider what Jonathan did for David: “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” (1 Sam. 18:3-4). Now realize what is going on in these verses. Jonathan, the prince of Israel and rightful heir to the throne hands over his robe, armor, sword (one of only two swords in the entire army, 1 Sam. 13:22), bow, and belt–he acknowledged his friend and was moved to consider David as himself! Jonathan had all the reason in the world to feel threatened by David–the man who would take his father’s throne–yet his friendship and commitment to love overshadowed his selfish desires causing him to abdicate himself in a single gesture.

Now, we can’t get past this point without looking to Christ as our ultimate example of self-sacrificing love. When Christ walked this earth he told us about love and friendship saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14). But not only did Christ tell us about friendship, he showed us using his life as a canvas and his blood as the paint that colors the image genuine friendship. Christ humbled himself for his friends (Phil. 2:8), he died on the cross that we might enjoy a grace-filled relationship with God. He is our fundamental standard for biblical friendship.

God has given us a common bond within the body of believers, one that transcends any criteria that this world might impose upon us. Only after we understand this can we move on to implementing it. Here’s one means of application that you might consider:

A friend once told me that when she was a senior in high school she prayed for her college roommates every night. She prayed for roommates she had not yet met at a college she had not yet gained acceptance into, but every night she got down on her knees to petition the Lord for faithful roommates. She did this because she realized the influence her roommates would have on her, and how easily she could either be hurt or encouraged by their friendship. Her story was humbling to the core and infiltrates my thoughts even to this day.

Therefore, I put forth a simple application after considering the mutuality of Christian friendship: pray for your friends both present and future. We’ve acknowledged that all Christians have common hearts and mutual desires, so in light of that ask yourself some simple questions. How often do you lift up your current friends in prayer (beyond their requests)? How determined are you to see that annoying friend sanctified? To see your rebellious friend conquer sin? And how often do you pray for the friends that you have yet to meet but you’ll encounter in the future? There seems to be no better way to start this deepening of biblical friendships than on your knees in prayer.

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To return to “Theology of Friendship,” click here.

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