Sermon on 1 Samuel 18:1-5 – “Friendship”

Sermon on 1 Samuel 18:1-5 – “Friendship”

Sermon for Sunday, April 21, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[1Sa 18:1-5 ESV] 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. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 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. 5 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.

New Testament reading:

[Col 2:1-5 ESV] 1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 15:11-22 ESV] 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.


We’ve got an opportunity to look at a subject this week that I’ve been wanting to look at for some time. Friendship. Not that I’m some expert on the subject, but I have for some time been concerned about the trends in society away from friendship.

The trend seems to be both less number of friends per person, and a decease in the intensity of friendships that do exist.

Friends are hard to come by. Especially in our times. Busy with work, distracted by the digital world, distanced by pandemic measures, and divided over politics, people have fewer friends than in years past. One study from 2021 says that 12% of Americans report having no friends at all, up from just 3% of people in the 1990s.

It is especially prevalent in men, many of whom say they have zero friends.

Well, we have much to learn from the Bible when it comes to friendship.

We find in the Scriptures that it is a natural desire for human beings to want friends. God said, “it is not good that man is alone.” Of course, in the sake of Adam, God provided him with a wife, a “help meet” in the King James.

The truth is that all need friends. No man is an island. Even David, the great future king chosen of God; even he welcomes the friendship of Jonathan. And Jonathan shows us much what it means to be a friend.

We see in our text from 1 Samuel 18, three ways in which David and Jonathan are connected as friends. And these three ways give us insight into God’s plan of friendship FOR US and even WITH us.

So we’ll look at these three ways David and Jonathan were friends, and then see other Biblical considerations on friendship.

First, those three ways that David and Jonathan are connected are:
I. [Their] Souls [are] Knitted Together (v. 1)
II. [They have] A Covenant of Love (v. 3)
III. [And they rise to that proverbial level of] Giving the Shirt Off Your Own Back (v. 4)

I. Souls Knitted Together (v. 1)

First, we find in verse 1 this phrase: “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

As so often in theology, we must ask, “Is this literal or figurative?”

The Scriptures are to be taken as literal unless there is good internal reason to understand a passage as figurative. But here, the meaning is figurative, for good reason.

That reason is in the Hebrew itself. It doesn’t say “knit together” as in actually knitting with a string and needle. [Of course, the soul is immaterial and cannot be sewn with material string anyways.] But the Hebrew verb actually means “to bind or to tie.” So the meaning is that “two are joined together.”

Jonathan and David are joined together in purpose, in their love of God, and in their friendship.

It isn’t really “knitting.” The ESV and KJV say “knit” but other translations say “they were bound in close friendship” or that “there was an immediate bond between them.”

Just look at the similarities between Jonathan and David. No doubt that they have this affinity of friendship.

Some similarities:

1. Bravery: They’ve each been show to be brave going into battle. Jonathan (with his armor bearer) defeated 20 philistines. And David defeated Goliath.
2. Faith: They each have been shown to have faith in God.
3. Youth: And they were nearly of the same age.

Now, it is rare to have two heroes in Israel. Usually, like in the book of Judges, God raises up a single person (Gideon, Jephthah, Samson) to lead the people in faithfulness to God. Here there are two men – Jonathan and David – who would be capable of being that man of God. Fortunately, there is not a rivalry between them. Rather Jonathan is friends with David.

It says “Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Now, presumably David loved Jonathan back. Friendship is a two-way street. But there is important reason why the focus is on Jonathan; the focus is Jonathan’s love of David. That is, because King Saul is Jonathan’s father, and there is a rivalry developing between David and Saul, so you’d think there would be a rivalry also between David and Jonathan. Jonathan, in any other setting, would be next in line to be king. Yet, a man of God he is, he is willing to step aside for David, God’s chosen, to be king. Jonathan is a man of faith who recognizes in David another man of faith.

Now we can and should be friendly with all people, but it is especially the case that we should find friends among the faithful. We’ll simply have more in common. And you can better trust a person who fears God. And you can benefit one another, like “iron sharpening iron” as is said in the Proverbs. “Iron shapreneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Literally this means “conversation promotes intelligence” or “Christian fellowship promotes sanctification.” So friends are beneficial.

We this phrase, “the soul of Jonathan was knit [or bound] to the soul of David.”

We find that idea once more in the Bible. In the New Testament. Colossians 2:2 where Paul says he works hard for the Christians who have not yet met him that they may be “knit together in love” in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Here is it “to join together” and especially “to unite in the same conclusion.” Christians are united together in the truth that “Jesus is Lord.” There is a bond of all Christians on that fact. So we can say with the Psalmist “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

II. A Covenant of Love. (v. 3)

So Jonathan and David are “knit together” especially in their faith in God.

2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.

This just means that “David was established as a permanent resident at the court of the King.” David was highly honored in this.

Next we read:

3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.

So ACTION is taken! And it reminds me of Jesus statement to “Love your neighbor AS yourself.” Jonathan loved David AS his own soul. So he ACTS on that and makes a covenant with David.

A covenant is a promise. A very important promise that is followed through on.

This tells us about friendship; that it is to be followed through on. That is, action is required. As you trust your friend, you work to prove your loyalty or bond to them.

It is not clear to me if this (verse 3) is the full extent of the covenant, or if it is described or ratified in the next verse with the gift giving of his own clothes and weapons.

But what is clear is that Jonathan covenants with David BECAUSE Jonathan loves David.

This is important theologically. Because we have the same relationship with God. God covenants with us, BECAUSE He first loves us. He promises, and follow through on, our salvation BECAUSE he loves us. We don’t first earn God’s love leading him to covenant with us. Rather, he loves us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), before we could DO ANYTHING to deserve His love.

And David hasn’t done anything for Jonathan. Not Jonathan particularly anyways. David has saved Israel from Goliath through the power of God. But David has not given any gifts to Jonathan nor said anything favorable about him. He has done nothing, yet Jonathan loves him.

So it is in our friendships. We are to love others because of who they are. We love our neighbors, even unbelievers, because they are made in the image of God. And we love believers even more because of our shared bond of faith in Jesus Christ. We are to have friends, not for the gifts they give us or the benefit we get from them, but rather we are called by God to love, as He loves us in Jesus Christ.

Getting to the next verse we find Jonathan giving his robe, or as I say in more modern language, “Giving him the shirt off his back.”

III. Giving the Shirt Off Your Back (v. 4)

This is notable because Jonathan is the son of the King, and his clothes are expensive and surely an honor to receive.

4 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.

There is a tradition in sports called “shirt swapping.” Mostly this is in international soccer. It is said that the first “shirt swap” is believed to have taken place at a match between France and England in 1931. The French team lost and asked to keep the English team’s shirts as a memento. So it has become a friendly way to collect souvenirs and create bonds between opposing teams or players.

Well, Jonathan’s giving of his robe is friendly, but we don’t have David reciprocating. Probably he just has shepherds clothes which aren’t so desirable.

Jonathan gives us a good example of how to be a friend. Have the initiative. Sacrifice. “He that has friends must show himself friendly.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Jonathan gives without looking for anything back. What does he have to gain? Isn’t that terrible that we have to ask that question when considering friendship. What do I have to gain? Well, you may gain a friend!

I mentioned before the honor of getting clothes from the royal family. That is a factor in what is going on here. David is given Jonathan’s robe, his armor, sword, bow, and belt. And, one commentator says, “To receive any part of the dress which had been worn by a sovereign, or his eldest son and heir, is deemed, in the East, the highest honor which can be conferred on a subject.”

But it is more than honor. It is friendship; and displays that giving nature of friendship.

A friend will “give you the shirt off of his back.” This is or popular phrase or idiom in English. It is not necessarily a shirt that is given by the generous friendly person, but could be anything. A good friend is said to be willing to “give you the shirt off their own back.”

IV. The Friendship of Jesus
This is one element of the friendship of Jesus. His giving-ness.

Jesus gave not his shirt, but his very life.

[Jhn 15:13 ESV] 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus was indeed our savior. But also a friend.

Jesus calls his disciples friends. (Luke 12:4)
Jesus calls Lazarus a friend. (John 11:11). He is God Himself, yet calls others friends rather than subjects.
He is called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew, 11:19, Luke 7:34)

Even more, he is friends with us … sinners. Thus, we sing, as we shall after this sermon, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Not a distant God, but indeed a friend.

There are some parallels between Jonathan and Christ, as there are parallels between David and Christ. These are “types” of Christ. While we have to be careful not to be over-typological or have typo-mania, we can recognize some similarities.

1. As Jonathan surrenders his right to be the next king to David, so Christ came not to be served, but to serve.
2. As Jonathan was a friend, so Christ is a friend.
3. Jonathan covenants with David, as Christ covenant’s with us.
4. And later, in chapter 20, we’ll see “Jonathan laid down his life for his friend” as Christ “lays down his life for his friends.”

So we have an example from Jonathan that shows us something of how to be a friend.
Then we have the knowledge that Christ is our friend.
So even if we fail at the former (making friends) we already have secured the latter (the friendship of Christ) because He covenants with us. He loves us and calls us his friends.

That indeed is the profound truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the most important thing we can learn.

Yet still, I want to seek to add some application here for us.

I. Let us actually LOVE our neighbor.
Not all friendships are so intense that we could say that souls are knitted together. But we are to love our neighbor as ourself. And the New Testament Christians are said to be “knit together in love.” So it is not too much to say that we should be knit together in love as friends; all Christians. That is indeed true. For if it was true for the early church, so is it true for today’s church. Let us be friends, let us be knit together, let us actually love our neighbor.

2. If we want friendships [which we do] we have to work for friendships.
Jonathan puts in effort.

3. If we want friendship [which we do], we have to commit ourselves to friendship.

4. If we want true friendship [which we do], we must look to Jesus Christ and realize that common bond among us.
People of all sorts, yet sharing the common bond of faith in Jesus Christ.
On the trail hikers have a common bond of experiences hiking. They’ve all been there on the cold windy rainy mountain. They’ve all been there on the sweltering sweaty day. They’ve all know what it is like, after a week in the woods, to come into town and eat a cheeseburger. [Well, maybe the vegetarians don’t know that experience.]
Christians then, we too have shared experienced in our shared faith. And if in the hiking community we can be so open to one another, then we can all the more so in the Christian world, and in our lives as Christians.
Consider the commons bonds we have.
We can all say that we have been convicted of our sin.
We can all say that we have experienced the renewed life by the Holy Spirit.
And we all share that same “looking to Jesus Christ” as our savior.

These are great bonds. And so, looking to other Christians we should know immediately that we have close friends. Let us be so to one another. Let us seek ways to show our friendship, that it be not only in name but in deed.


And, I pray, may God give us the grace to know in ours hearts what it is to have that friend of sinners [Jesus Christ] as our friend, and so to be a friend to many others, especially in this time of great need of friendships in the world.

Let us pray.