Possibly my favorite story about being a faithful friend is the account of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel. When Saul tries to kill David (chapter 19), David flees, but he finds Jonathan and asks why Saul wants to murder him. Jonathan denies that his father Saul would try to kill David. Jonathan is his father’s right-hand man, next in line for his father’s throne, and Saul tells Jonathan everything. Saul hasn’t said a word about killing David.
David says, “Your father knows you and I are friends. That’s why he didn’t tell you” (1 Samuel 20:3, my paraphrase here and throughout). Jonathan then says he’ll do whatever David wants him to do. In Jonathan’s case, he’s more loyal to his friend than his own father.
They make a plan to protect David’s life. Then they swear undying kindness to each other and to each other’s families (1 Samuel 20:12–17). In the rest of the chapter, we see how Jonathan keeps his promise to protect David.
But Saul continues to hunt David. During David’s exile to the desert, Jonathan visits him. He encourages David’s faith and says, “Don’t be afraid. My father isn’t going to hurt you because God already promised you’d be king. And He’ll keep His promise” (1 Samuel 23:15–18). Jonathan knows David will be king, but rather than being jealous, Jonathan supports his friend during a discouraging time.
Several years later, after Jonathan dies in battle and David is established as king over Israel, David seeks out anyone left alive from Saul’s family. David wants to show the person kindness for Jonathan’s sake (2 Samuel 9:1). David invites Jonathan’s crippled son, Mephibosheth, to eat at David’s table like one of his own sons (v. 11).
When one of David’s sons conspires against him, David flees Jerusalem. During this exile, Mephibosheth’s steward, Ziba, meets David with supplies. David asks where Mephibosheth is, and Ziba says he’s stayed in Jerusalem because he thinks he can become the next king. David responds by transferring ownership of all Mephibosheth’s property to Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1–4).
Upon David’s return to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth meets him. He’s been in mourning, and not the kind that can be faked. Ever since David fled, Mephibosheth has not cared for his damaged feet or trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes. So his story is convincing when he tells David that he wanted to saddle his donkey so he could ride with David. But Ziba refused to saddle the animal and instead slandered Mephibosheth to David. He says he has no right to make any appeal because David has already shown him unusual mercy and friendship. David then orders that Ziba and Mephibosheth split the estate. Yet Mephibosheth responds, “I don’t care about the property. Ziba can have everything. What’s important is that you’re home safe” (2 Samuel 19:1–30).
From this story, I can see several ways we can be faithful friends.
1. Do what you say you’ll do.
From start to finish, this story of friendship is built on promises given and kept. David and Jonathan kept their covenant of friendship. Jonathan protected David, even at the expense of his own “career” and the disdain of his father, and David honored his promise to show kindness to Jonathan’s family even after Jonathan was dead.
Keeping our word is good practice in general. It’s especially important in friendship, at least if we want to keep the same friends from year to year. Better not to make a commitment at all than to make it and break it.
2. Be there during the tough times.
Remember how Jonathan visited David when Saul was trying to kill David? He encouraged David and refreshed his faith.
Maybe being there means visiting face-to-face. When my grandma recently died, my mom’s best friend (and also my friend) flew to the memorial service. Her presence was comforting.
If your friends are spread out over a large geographic area, it’s not always possible to be there in person. Sometimes a heartfelt e-mail, letter, or phone call can do the trick. My best friend sent a message when she heard my grandma had died. In her own words, she acknowledged my sadness.
Share whatever is on your heart. Your words don’t have to be elaborate. It can be really encouraging for someone to say, “I see you are upset, and I care.”
The tough times may be big things: death, divorce, depression, disease, job loss. But try to be aware of the more subtle things, as well. Tough times may come with a transition to a new family member, job, or home. Disappointments at work or with family members may be hard to process. Any kind of loss, even those that are ultimately good, can usher in a trying season of life. And then there are those tough situations that may never end in this life: addiction or disability, for example. Everyone else is going to forget that the tough times keep coming in these situations. The friends are the ones who remember.
3. Rejoice in your friend’s success.
Jonathan supported David, though it meant acknowledging Jonathan would not be king.
Can you applaud your friend’s success, even if it’s in an area where you’ve been unsuccessful? What if you secretly feel jealous, but you really want to be a good friend?
Be a good friend. Act as if you aren’t jealous, and hope the feelings will follow. Many have testified that when they did the right thing, their feelings did follow their actions. But even if they don’t, you’ve still done the right thing, instead of letting your feelings rule you.
The ways to rejoice in success are many. We can enjoy a celebration dinner, send a card, make or buy a gift, write a letter expressing our happiness, lend a hand to help the friend take the next step, listen to the friend’s amazed account (maybe again and again) of the moment everything went right. Maybe record that story, in your friend’s words, in a painting, drawing, touched-up photo, or sewn object.
Mephibosheth could have said, “I thought you were my friend! Then Ziba came along and told you a lie, and you believed it! You didn’t even try to find out my side of the story. What kind of friend is that? And you robbed me of everything I owned and gave it to that traitor!”
But instead, he said, “You are more important than my property.”
Some friendships face major blowups and betrayals. And sometimes we just face little irritations, failures, disappointments. Faithful friends forgive each other when they don’t live up to the standards of faithful friendship.
These four ways to be a faithful friend aren’t terribly exciting or original. Sometimes we look for the next big idea to revolutionize our relationships. But perhaps the important part is not so much in wildly creative ideas but in following through on the simple things we already know to do.