“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” ~Proverbs 27:17
The sun is setting over a Pacific ocean levy, signaling the end of a near-perfect day that included bicycling along the Huntington boardwalk, walking and talking along the seaweed splashed sand, and side-splitting laughter over a cup of coffee in a beach side café. Memories and adventures ingrained for years to come, though part of a treasury of many similar recollections with the same God-given companion. Put yourself there. Feel the soft sand against your feet and the gentle breeze sweep by your face as you catch the scent of the salty ocean air. Feel your core muscles ache from the belly laughter and sigh at the thought of a beautifully painted sky, relishing the Creator’s handiwork-together. Now look at the person pedaling next to you as you maneuver through the crowds and then race competitively through each clearing. Who do you see? What kind of person does your mind automatically insert into these hypothetical memories?
As it turns out, these memories are not so hypothetical for me. They are very real, but the person next to me for each of them might not look how you pictured. My reminiscing is not of a romantic date or a summer fling. My companion is not a tall dark and handsome gentleman that some of you may have fancied in your recreation of each scene (hey, I would’ve done the same!). As it turns out, SHE has blond curly hair, a slightly shorter stature than me due only to her tinier femurs (yes, we are weird enough to spend time on comparing skeletal differences), blue eyes, and a fondness for stopping to smell the roses. She is my best friend. She is my soul-sister. She has taught me by example how to pray without a rehearsed formula, how to be vulnerably open about the sins I battle, and how to make Christ my closest friend. She literally slammed her bedroom door in my face one time when I tried to share important news with her before talking to God about it in prayer. “Talk to Jesus!…SLAM!” Just like that. And in the long run, I was thankful for it. She should be given a lot of credit for the ideas in this blog because most of it was born out of conversations we’ve had first as we process life together as single women who want husbands but desire to live for Jesus more. We’ve learned how to resolve conflict (and how not to), how to confront each other on sin and how to humbly receive loving criticism. We’ve encouraged each other in many trials and battled jealousy against one another (probably me more than her because she’s gorgeous and Christ has done an amazing work in her life). We’ve learned how to balance the deeper, spiritual parts of our friendship with the simpler lighthearted sides of adventure and silliness. We’ve been in ministry together and have watched God use our friendship to bless others. We have dreams to marry best friends and we pray to that end ALL. THE. TIME. Her friendship has been used by God to shape me into the woman I am today, and I am positive that if marriage is on my horizon, God is using this friendship to prepare me for it.
In this post, I want to talk about the importance of same-gender friendships. I will argue how valuable they are on the road to marriage, if the Lord wills, or whatever else He might have. Keep in mind that I only have the female perspective on things, so that will influence how I write. Nevertheless, I am a firm believer that guys need close friendships just as much as the ladies. To frame this conversation, I decided to do a little research on one of the most iconic “bro-mances” in Scripture- that of David and Jonathan.
Jonathan was the son of King Saul, and therefore a prince of Israel with an eventual claim to the throne to be the second king of the fledgling kingdom. Even outside of bloodlines, he was a worthy candidate. In a story out of 1 Samuel 13-14, Jonathan proves to be a man who is deeply respected by those he leads and a great man of faith. After leading his father’s troops to beat a small garrison of the Philistine army, the enemy is agitated and gathers up a group of “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude.” We are told that the men with Saul “trembled,” and they had good reasons to. Not only were they a mere 600 in number, but they didn’t have any blacksmiths to make real weapons. The only two swords on hand were [naturally] given to the king and his son, but the rest of the weapons amounted to a bunch of farm equipment: sickles, axes, and mattocks (not sure what those are, but they don’t sound very menacing!). The scene is basically that of a single pee-wee football team going up against all NFL teams-combined! In the midst of these impossible odds, Jonathan decides to simply waltz over to the Philistine camp with his assistant. You hear a lot about David’s bravery in fighting Goliath, but we see the same kind of courage in Jonathan as he says to his armor-bearer, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” Then his armor-bearer replies, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” Long story short, the Lord responds to the prince’s faith by throwing the enemy’s army into confusion and the Philistines are defeated!
We learn two important things about Jonathan from this passage. One, the dude’s got guts and an amazing faith in God to match! Two, his armor-bearer, the one who watches his life probably more closely than anyone else, trusts his leader enough to follow him to almost-certain death. So when God comes on the scene after Saul has acted foolishly and tells the king in 1 Sam 13:14 that his kingdom would “not continue,” it had nothing to do with a lack of a qualified candidate in Saul’s bloodline. God goes on to say (via Samuel the prophet): “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
Did Jonathan struggle with this pronouncement? He would not be allowed to lead the nation he had fought to protect. Instead, the honor would be bestowed on an unlikely shepherd boy. We are not told if he experienced any sadness over God’s choice, but we do see his whole-hearted acceptance of it when he befriends the very same “man after God’s own heart.”
In 1 Samuel 18:1, immediately after David fought Goliath and had an audience with King Saul, God’s Word says, “As soon as he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” The Hebrew word for “knit” here means “to tie, physically or mentally, in love or in league,” and the word “loved” is the same word used in Proverbs 17:17 when it says “A friend loves at all times” or in Proverbs 18:24, which says “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” These guys became closer than their biological family members, and Jonathan loved his new bud David in a way that put his friend’s needs before his own, even when it meant giving up the throne. CS Lewis once said that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one,” and I think it is a perfect description of the relationship between David and Jonathan. They had the same kind of faith in God that caused them to confidently put their lives at risk. They saw in each other a kindred spirit, and so they were inseparable, even as their new friendship underwent terrible trials.
The Enduring Friendship
Scripture only gives a few more scenes from this faithful duo. Soon after beginning their friendship, they ended up becoming relatives when David married Jonathan’s sister, but they weren’t one big happy family for long, as Saul’s jealousy of David began to cause tension. In 1 Samuel 19, Jonathan was among those told by Saul to kill David, but Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul, risking his life in doing so since Saul was so consumed with rage. Saul reminded Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20:31 that “as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.” But this did not hinder Jonathan’s resolve to be faithful to his friend. Things got so bad that it was decided for David to flee to save his life. We get a glimpse of their last exchange on earth in 1 Samuel 20:41-42. “David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.” Eleven chapters later, Jonathan was killed in battle and David mourned. A last trace of their friendship can be seen in David’s kindness to Jonathan’s son. It would have been common to kill all the bloodline of the previous royal family so that no contenders could ever threaten the throne, but David remembered his friend and showed favor to his offspring as he promised.
The Legacy of a Friendship
David and Jonathan exist in history as a timeless example of a friendship that God used mightily to affect not just the two men themselves, but the entire nation of Israel for good. Imagine if David did not have Jonathan. Saul might have been successful in harming David, and, well, there goes a key player in the ancestry of Christ! God placed Jonathan and David in the same era, at the same palace, and with similar hearts for a much greater purpose than either of them might have realized.
Hopefully you are still with me and didn’t doze off during my history lesson. Frankly, I rather enjoyed the quest involved in writing it! I’m writing this post because I think that, for a lot of singles, close, same-gender friendships are extremely undervalued. Blame it on a subjective culture that prevents people from centering friendships on objective truth. Blame it on a preoccupation with finding “the one.” Blame it on a slightly homophobic element of church culture. Blame it on the wimpiness of our generation when it comes to resolving conflict. I’m really not sure EXACTLY what has caused a drift towards shallower friendships, but it’s a sad loss for those missing out. I have a theory that a percentage of divorces could be prevented if the causal issues would have been sorted out in pre-marital same-gender friendships. Think about it. If I can’t work out a relationship with the gender that I can generally empathize with, how can I expect to be successful when it comes to the opposite sex? As a high school teacher, I hear girls say all the time how they only have guy friends because girls are just too “dramatic.” While girls can be a bit theatrical in their approach to friendship, avoiding them altogether means giving up on a huge training ground for future relationships, and possibly even marriage.
As God’s image-bearers, we need to be in community. How in the heck are we going to practice the “one-anothers” otherwise? Do we really want the test-run of deep friendship to be in the context of marriage? If you desire marriage and pray to that end all the time, then seek after the relational skills you’ll need to serve your spouse well! If you don’t have a Jonathan (or a Jacquelyn?), then pray about it. Ask that God would provide a pal. Keep your eyes open as you serve in ministry and hang out with fellow believers. Look for someone who’s got a similar mind and heart for God just like Jonathan and David found in each other. Then purpose to get to know them and be in prayer for them. Follow up on those prayer requests, and be a faithful friend to them. See what God does with it. I was talking just today with my mentor about her friend of 20 years. They met at a bookstore when one’s child spit on the other’s. Little did they know then that they would be partnering in ministry two decades later as close friends to effect change in other parts of the world.
Singleness can be a lonely road, but it doesn’t have to be. We need to be open to friendships that God might want to use to challenge and grow us before He brings anyone else along. Let’s purpose today to not become dull in our singleness, but to instead, find a mutual sharpener. Besides, adventure and good memories are out there, and they don’t require a spouse!
Cheers to FRIENDSHIP!!!
PS. If you are just now joining the conversation, be sure to read up on the basis for this site in the 6 week Singleness Series, starting here–>