The Discipline of a Sacred Friendship

Chris Shirley

One of the few things that Hollywood has gotten right over the past few years is tapping into the “friendship effect” among young single adults. On any given evening, you can find numerous TV programs that depict a community of young adult friends (male and female) sharing life together as a “family” in a postmodern world; these shows may have different titles, but the setup is always the same. While the lifestyle and moral choices of these characters are certainly not Biblically informed, the fact remains they represent a generation of adults who are longing for committed friendships.

As Solomon once said, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:9). Young adults have always faced the challenge of building healthy and supportive friendships. The story of Solomon’s father, David as a young adult, provides us with guidance for building friendships that will stand the test of time. The account of David and Jonathan describes a sacred friendship: a spiritually intimate relationship that transforms the life of each person and leads both to a greater commitment to the Lord and one another.

David and Jonathan’s friendship began with a strong spiritual connection: “…Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Sam 18:1). While the two shared many common interests and had similar personalities, it was their spiritual connection as servants of the Lord God that sealed their friendship (1 Sam 20:42). In the same way, a sacred friendship must begin with a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and a mutual commitment to knowing and glorifying Him within the relationship.

Their sacred bond led Jonathan and David to be open and honest with one another. Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was intensely jealous of David and tried on several occasions to kill David. Eventually, the two friends had to part ways in order to save David’s life. In their final moments together, “David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most” (1 Sam 20:41). These two “men’s men” were willing to express fears and emotions with one another at a level few friends ever experience. Sacred friendships are marked by honesty, transparency and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

In John 15:12, Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” The soil of a sacred friendship is mutual love and compassion. When David was in Saul’s death grip, it was Jonathan who came to the rescue, despite his allegiance to his father: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” (1 Sam 20:4). Sacred friends stand beside one another at all times and are always willing to do whatever is necessary for the well-being of the other.

The last characteristic of a sacred friendship is the result of a relationship built on a spiritual foundation, expressed in unconditional love and sustained openness and honesty. This is a description of covenant commitment. Even though David and Jonathan had drawn a formal covenant (1 Sam 20:16), their friendship was a testimony to the covenant before it was sworn. Sacred friendships persevere over time, trials, differences, and distance. Every moment in David’s life was influenced by his relationship with Jonathan, and David remained true to their covenant even after his dear friend’s death.

Sacred friendships are like rare jewels, but they are achievable. The challenge for all adults, but single adults in particular, is to fill the need for significant relationships by building the type of friendships that last. This is hard work and it takes time, but the fruit of your labor can make an eternal impact on your life. Who is your Jonathan?

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