20:17 Is Good for Godly Friendships

Jonathan and David are Relevant for the Year of Our Lord 2017

Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.
Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

There are many great themes people have proposed for 2017, and numerous Bible verses that brothers or sisters in the Lord could select as wise, focused sources of Divine Light for the new year, 2017.

This passage from I Samuel — and particularly verse 20:17 — seems especially well-suited:

"So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, 'May the Lord call David's enemies to account.' And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself."

Family and friends are intensely precious gifts from the Lord, and in our present divided and divisive culture, family members and friends are now even more important.

In this text, Jonathan and David were closest of friends — as well as brothers-in-law in a tragically dysfunctional political family. Sadly, arguments about the Lord, or about personal or group plans, or about politics, and about many other subjects can very hurtfully divide people.

Oddly enough, even so called "social media" actually divides people by creating various "filter bubbles" for each user, further insulating people from one-another! Our upgraded communication tools now make authentic communication and friendship even more challenging. Both the recent contentious election season and social media are contributing to making our daily worlds now more divisive, more disparaging, more contentious than they have been for a long time.

However, the Lord Jesus commanded us to love even our enemies — whether or not some of them are even also "family" or "friends." In fact, we are to love also all human beings, ourselves being attentive good "neighbors" to each, loving them as we love ourselves. What was said of Jonathan and David in I Samuel 20:17 — that they each loved the other as they loved themselves — Jesus, Paul, and James affirmed as a universal standard for all people, fully representing "the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Especially important is the truth that — whether our friendships and family relationships are between women, or between men, or between women and men — the Lord is also a vital participant in those relationships. Benefits include God's awesome personal presence, and also to keep those relationships grace-filled, wise, and accountable.

For very good reason, in the Biblical paragraph of 7 verses, I Samuel 20:11-17, the "Lord" is mentioned 6 times! Divine relational triangles hugely matter.

Quality relationships are always triangles: God and two people. This is a great Biblical truth established in the creation of the original two humans, both images of God — one male one female — who needed each other and also needed God, their Creator. That primeval friendship triangle was a precious earthly image that already also reflected the eternal triangle of the Divine Trinity.

"Covenants," such as the deep friendship Jonathan and David established and renewed between them, are far more than contracts [I Samuel 18:1-3; 20:8, 16-17, 42; and 23:18].

Two people can agree and be faithful in friendship. Wonderful. These friends can even make a contract and live up to the terms of that contract. Splendid!

However, a covenant is even much more. A covenant overtly and actively involves God, too. Covenants are big.

Because of the Lord's explicit involvement, covenants are more responsible, more enduring, and more full of grace, wisdom, encouragement, and vision than are contracts. Because of God's active role, covenants are paradoxically both more accountable and more forgiving. Our Divine "third partner" in covenantal friendships raises the stakes and provides the abundant spiritual fuel for both gracious forgiveness and real accountability.

Marriage is a very special kind of Godly covenant. Deep and abiding friendship is essential for marriage, enhanced by both the man reflecting the Lord's presence and the woman reflecting the Lord's presence into the enduring relationship. A precious temporal triangle. Each solemn covenant of marriage — uniting one man, one woman, and one God — is confirmed in a joy-filled, decisive ceremony before family and other friends. Acknowledging the Lord's presence is essential for the couple's wedding and for their wholesome married life going forward, "as long as they both shall live." [See also]

Even if the other people with whom you are friendly do not know the Lord, your own vibrant relationship with the Lord makes an enormous difference for your wholesome human relationships of all kinds. In fact, your Divine-relationship is also a transforming resource to help introduce the other people to the living Lord, too. In covenantal friendships, both friends should know the Lord and seek the Lord's leadership in their lives, including their friendship. Obviously, 20:17 applies every year, not just 2017.

One other aspect of this Biblical story is significant. David and Jonathan were a study in contrasts. David was the short, ignored, youngest, 17-year-old, teenaged son of a poor, socially insignificant family in a small town. In contrast, Jonathan was the tall, well-known, middle-aged, 42-year-old, eldest son of a rich, most powerful, royal family, and in the capital city. Sociologically, they were quite incompatible. Their friendship violated both ancient and contemporary social-cultural expectations. What they had in common was the Lord and immensely sincere Godly concerns in their lives. That was enough.

The Year of our Lord 2017 is fresh. Many opportunities, risks, challenges, and hopes lie ahead. Deeper friendships — including covenantal friendships — would be wise choices, especially in our intensely divisive world. And may our Divine-human relational triangles be everywhere — spreading the enduring light from I Samuel 20:17 during 2017.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. He is a specialist in Biblical hermeneutics and ethics and a life-long advocate of Biblical activism.

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