Heroes of the Faith Part 3: Jonathan, Friends are Friends Forever

FriendsThe story of Jonathan and David from 1 Samuel 18-20 is often preached as if Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever” would be the theme song of the movie. Preachers mine out principles for “How to be a good friend.” This kind of message resonates with many because people are looking for friendship (just look at websites like friendfinder.com). But, is this type of application accurate to the text? Are these sections of 1 Samuel 18-20 meant to teach us about friendship?

I would argue yes. The story of Jonathan and David does teach us true friendship. Yet, most who preach this story miss that one little word “true” friendship. Friendship is not some poem on a greeting card or sappy sentimentality. Friendship is not just someone you hang out with because of common interests. True friendship is deeper than that. True friendship is about covenant commitment. What the story of Jonathan and David teaches us is that true friendship means the cost of discipleship in siding with God’s man! True friendship is about the gospel.

1. True friendship is about covenant commitment.

Jonathan demonstrates true friendship by siding with the anointed one of God. Saul has faltered as king because of his disobedience toward God. As a result, Samuel tells him that the kingdom has been “torn” away from him. In Saul’s place, Samuel anoints a little teenage shepherd to be king. Then, the Philistine champion (“hero”) Goliath challenges the Israelites, but the brave soldiers cower in fear as the Giant taunts them and their God. Only the anointed king will face down the Giant. He does, and he takes his head. David and Jonathan meet for the first time right after this match. Jonathan and his father Saul see before them a young man standing like Perseus in “Clash of the Titans” holding the enemy’s severed head in his hand while blood drips to the floor (Gen. 3:15). Jonathan sees the man who has delivered Israel and replaced him as heir to the throne covered in the blood of his enemy. Instead of jealousy, fear, or anger, the Bible says that at seeing the anointed one of God “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1). So, Jonathan makes a covenant with David, and he takes off his robe, armor, and sword and he gives them to David. Modern critical scholars try to speak of possible homoerotic overtones to this friendship, but that says more about our modern mindset than it does about the biblical situation. They are merely reading back their biases into the text. The giving of the robe is Jonathan’s handing of the kingdom over to David. The robe symbolized kingly authority. That’s why when Saul grabs Samuel’s robe after hearing that he will not be Israel’s king, and Samuel’s robe tears, Samuel says “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today…” (1 Sam. 15:28). When Jonathan hands over the robe it is an act of faith where Jonathan humbly follows the anointed one of God. This would be like Michelle Obama joining John McCain’s campaign, though it is greater than that because Jonathan has just given away his inheritance! He sides with God’s anointed king against his dad.

2. True Friendship is a picture of the Gospel.

Jonathan makes a covenant with David where he makes David promise, “you shall not only show me the kindness of the Lord while I still live, that I may not die; but you shall not cut off your kindness from my house forever, no, not when the Lord has cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth” (1 Sam. 20:14-15). David makes this covenant with Jonathan even though Jonathan’s dad (family) is trying to kill him. There are at least four episodes leading up to this covenant where Saul tries to kill David or have him killed, and yet David promises to show kindness to Jonathan’s family! Again, we see an act of faith for Jonathan who knows that God will cut off the enemies of the anointed one. It looks foolish for Jonathan to believe this when powerful king Saul with an army at his disposal is seeking the life of a “flea.” He sides with the flea because he knows the power of God is on his life. There is a similar scene when a thief is dying on a cross beside another “criminal” who is gasping for breath. This thief looks at the criminal next to him and says, “Jesus, will you remember me when you enter your kingdom?” How in the world can he expect this executed criminal to bring him into a kingdom? This is an act of faith. And Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Jonathan recognizes the anointed one, even when it seems that the promises are not coming true, and that faith is rewarded. After the death of Jonathan, Jonathan’s lame son, Mephibosheth, is brought into the family of David to eat at his table! When David does this it is not the Godfather’s “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” This is grace! This is covenant love. This is the reconciliation of an enemy who becomes a friend, a brother. This is the gospel! This is the picture of the Lord’s Table where those who were once enemies have become friends and the family of God.

3. True Friendship means the cost of discipleship.

This is exactly what the proverbs say about friendship. Proverbs 17:17 says “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Saul wants to kill David, and David knows it, but Jonathan does not think that Saul has anything against David. So, David and Jonathan make a deal that Jonathan will find out if the king is angry or not, and then he will let David know. Jonathan goes in to see his dad. What is Jonathan thinking here? Does it ever cross his mind that “all I have to do is tell David that Dad is not mad at him, have him come back to the house, then my dad will kill him, and I will be king over Israel”? All Jonathan has to do is side with his family, and he will have a great reward! But, Jonathan does not do that. He finds out his dad is really angry with David, and as a result his dad does to Jonathan exactly what he tried to do to David, he throws a spear at him and tries to kill his son. Jonathan’s friendship with David does not just cost him his inheritance. Jonathan’s friendship with David costs him his family (which is exactly what Jesus said about discipleship, cf. Matt. 10), and it nearly costs him his life! But isn’t that exactly what the Bible says about friendship and discipleship? It will cost you. James 4:4 says, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Jonathan is a true friend because he sacrifices himself and his own comfort for David his friend.

Isn’t that what the Bible says about true friendship? John 15: 13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 “These things I command you, that you love one another. 18 ” If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

What Jesus says about his friendship with the disciples and the cost of discipleship is what happens to Jonathan. Because he sides with God’s anointed, the world (i.e. Saul) does to him exactly what it did to David. Jonathan keeps his loyal friendship with David, even when his life and livelihood are on the line. That is the call of discipleship for the friend of God’s anointed, Jesus Christ. We are called to follow him and love him, even when opposition comes from this age! We are called to befriend, love, and bear up his body.

Jonathan shows a great act of friendship by laying his life on the line for David. But the greatest act of friendship was the One who did lay his life down for his friends in order to reconcile those who were enemies of God! That’s why Solomon, David’s son, tells us about this One, “…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Jon Akin

Same-Sex Marriage in California

The news networks and internet are buzzing about May 15’s decision by the California Supreme Court striking down a California law that had previously banned the practice of homosexual marriage in the state. Now this does not tell the complete story because California grants registered “domestic partners” very similar benefits that are afforded to married couples (inheritance rights, insurance, etc.). While the initial effects of this decision particularly for the rights of homosexual couples may not change much for people in California, it is the foundation of the decision that may produce the most long-lasting effects.

The California Supreme Court declared that marriage is a fundamental right for all people and no distinction can be made regarding sexual orientation. The majority opinion stated, “We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.” If it is a fundamental right to form a family relationship defined as marriage, then the impact of this decision could be far-reaching.

First, homosexual couples who marry in California will ultimately move to other states. Those states that do not recognize homosexual marriage will face lawsuits attempting to force them to recognize their marriages as fundamental rights. Most of these cases will probably end up in their respective state supreme courts, and those justices will certainly be weighing the arguments of the California court.

Second, the definition of marriage as a fundamental right may ultimately lead to a stamp of approval for polygamous, polyamorous, incestuous, and underage marriages. In California, marriage has already been redefined; therefore, the next case may be to define marriage no longer as between two individuals but to include three, four, or more. While this case does not directly equate such relationships to marriage, it opens the door to these arguments.

Third, the court overturned a statute that had been previously approved through democratic process by the popular vote of the people of California. The “votes” of four judges overturned the votes of millions of citizens. Thus, we have seen the will of the people overturned by the will of the court. In our democratic republic with representation appointed by the vote of the people, this could have lasting consequences regarding judicial activism across the country.

Let us not think that this is an issue only affecting the West Coast. It is in our neighborhoods and our churches. The debate over homosexuality is alive and well in the Christian community—just look at the new books on the subject in the last few years. For Christians, it comes down to an interpretation of Scripture. However, there are some who attempt to interpret Scripture to support homosexuality (and ultimately homosexual marriage) as well. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I recently presented a paper evaluating the hermeneutics of those who attempt to support homosexuality from Scripture. You can find the audio here.

The future of the SBC?

cp logoThere are two items that have been released in the last week that, in my opinion, need to be read and thought about. One was an interview that the biblical recorder did with Dr. Akin, the President of SEBTS, and the other was a blog written by JD Greear at Summit Church in Durham.

In Dr. Akin’s interview he touches on the future of the SBC and addresses important issues like regenerate church membership, the bureaucratic logjam that characterizes the SBC, etc. His insights are timely and needed.

Pastor Greear’s blog is about young leaders/pastors in the SBC. He makes some great points that, in the opinion of this “young” Southern Baptist, are right on the money both literally and figuratively. Both need to be read and thought about as we contemplate the future of the SBC.

Jon Akin

Family Mission Statement

“Just do it.” “Don’t leave home without it.” “Think Different.” “Reach out and touch someone.” “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”

Can you guess which companies developed those taglines? Some taglines are merely advertising ploys but others are actually tiny snippets of what a company believes about itself. In other words, tag lines are a type of memorable vision/mission statement that can be clearly articulated.

For instance, when the United States Department of Transportation came up with “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” they appealed to the moral conscious of the consumer. Perhaps one night when a few guys have had too much to drink that slogan will pop in one’s head and they’ll remember that if they are truly a friend then they will not let their friend drive home drunk. Sometimes it can help to have a vision memorized.

The vision of SBC Witness is to encourage Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness. Therefore, whenever we post or engage in conversation we have a tag line reminder that the point of this blog is to encourage and cooperate faithfulness to the convention. This vision helps the writers of this blog stay focused. Focus is good because without focus, things become blurry.

Companies for years have understood the importance of vision and focus. Recently, churches have noticed the importance and have followed suit. However, perhaps the most important group of society has largely failed to adopt this practice and that group is the family.

If I were to ask you what your family vision statement is what would you say? Take a few minutes and think about that…it’s kind of hard isn’t it? What your answer will be will determine what you think is the most important aspect of your family’s life. Should your family vision statement be, “To glorify God”? How about, “To live our lives for Jesus.”? What about, “To be ambassadors for Christ.”? Or maybe you came up with, “Love God and love others.”

I’m sure that our family vision statements will differ. Every family is different and is composed of many different personalities. However, if we expect our families to be successful in life then we have to be intentional about doing just that. By giving them a simple and clear vision statement that can be articulated we can help our families maintain focus. But before we can establish what type of vision statement can help make our families successful, we must ask ourselves what our definition of success as a family is.

I am in interested in your responses as well as your family vision statements.

Children and Parenting

As we approach the final week of class here at Southwestern, I am about to lecture on the final topic of the semester—children and parenting. Now before you say that I can’t cover that in three class meetings, trust me that I know I am giving it merely a bit of lip service. However, that is the life of being a professor. Unlike Dr. Finn (my illustrious SBC Witness co-contributor) who deals with topics like history that don’t change, technology and culture bring up new challenges for ethicists to face every day. Anyway, back to the subject of my post…

I want to consider the issue of children and parenting, especially as it relates to discipline. In Christian circles, there are a number of various approaches to discipline that may be considered, but I want to focus on two. The first is the “spare the rod, spoil the child” crowd that considers discipline to include physical punishment at times and suggests distinct obedience to the wishes of the parents. The second group is the “keep it positive and build little Johnny’s self-esteem” crowd. This group believes that parenting should be a positive endeavor and avoid any possibility of bringing shame or reproach upon a child. Of course, there are extremes on both sides of these positions, but I want to consider the moderate, sensible versions of both positions.

The first group is best characterized, in my opinion, by Tedd Tripp in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart (2nd ed., Shepherd Press, 2005). Tripp’s basic approach believes that behavior is an overflow of the heart. As a result, it is the parents’ responsibility to use discipline in such a way as to address matters of the heart and in so doing to direct the hearts of their children to God. This viewpoint suggests that parents make their expectations clearly known and encourage obedience without challenge, without excuse, and without delay. Sometimes the discipline required to shepherd a child’s heart to God may require the use of the rod, but Tripp strongly warns against distortions of the rod that are unacceptable. At its essence, Tripp considers the rod to be a parental exercise, an act of faith, an act of faithfulness, a responsibility, physical punishment, and a rescue mission.
The second group is best characterized by a positive take on the training of children that involves the building of self-esteem in the child. They are represented by a number of recent books and authors I have read and heard of late (but I don’t have their book info handy to give proper publication information). In essence, they believe that the self-esteem of the child should be built up greatly in opposition to any form of negative discipline. For example, if a child has not obeyed the wishes of the parent, the parent should not point out the disobedience, but should praise another area of the child’s life where he did meet parental expectations. The thought is that the child will be self-motivated through positive reinforcement to do the things that he has not previously done.

In my study of Scripture and teaching in my class, I find the second approach to be disconcerting in light of the biblical evidence. If Scripture is to be our guide and the best example of parenting comes from our relationship with our Heavenly Father, then self-esteem/positive reinforcement “discipline” seems to be lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I desire to praise my children both for what they do and who they are. They are made in God’s image and are inherently valuable as a result. However, I also see in Scripture where God chastens his own children and then instructs us to use discipline appropriately to direct the hearts of our children toward him. For example, Proverbs 29:15 states, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” In addition, Ephesians 6:1-3 teaches that a child’s obedience to his parents is actually an act of obedience to God.
With all this in mind, how do you think we ought to address this issue of discipline?

Back to the Bible at Willow Creek?


Came across this article about Willow Creek Church in Illinois. Willow Creek, which has spearheaded and made famous the modern “seeker-sensitive” movement has sense “rethunk” their strategy and is going more Biblical….wow. Thanks Craig, for the link.

Check it out

I’d be curious as to what percentage of churches in the SBC have been affected by the Willow Creek movement…

Oprah: What to do with her?

If you have even a tiny part of your ear turned toward secular media then you have heard of Oprah Winfrey’s latest belief system, which, essentially is merely a culmination of her spiritual journey over the years. Because of this there has been a lot of talk about boycotting Oprah among Christian circles. I’m not sure that boycotting is the route that we should take. I think pastors and Christian leaders, among others, need to keep a keen eye on who and what Oprah endorses because of her tremendous influence and power. We need to educate our people as to why who and what she endorses are wrong. Believe it or not, there are many housewives and stay-at-home moms that watch her daily. Take a few minutes to watch this video. The beginning and ending is a little corny but the middle part is well done. After watching it, finish reading this post below the link.

This is what Tim Keller calls our ‘self-salvation project.” (The Reason for God, p.234) The bottom line in this belief system is that people do not want to believe that they are sinful. Additionally, they would like to believe that they can earn their salvation through themselves. This belief shouldn’t surprise us since we live in a culture of “earning.” Most everything that we have “earned” is ours, our society believes. This is especially true to the unbiblical, hard-working, self-sacrificing American person. This belief, and way of life, is completely antithetical to what the Gospel teaches. The Gospel teaches that man is sinful and that we cannot earn our salvation through ourselves – not that man is good and we can save ourselves.

Oprah is essentially teaching what every human being deep down desires – to “put God in our debt” as Keller states, and to earn our way to Him. That way He is in our debt and deserves to give us the sinful desires of our hearts. Oprah’s heresy is not just something that we should casually pass over. It is something that we need to interact with, pick apart, and educate to our people because the core of her belief system slaps God in the face and spits at Jesus while he lays stretched out on the cross.

Here is the question to debate: How should we go about educating our people about Oprah?

What Are the Most Pressing Issues Facing the Southern Baptist Convention?

According to our header, SBC Witness is about “encouraging Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness.” The contributors to this blog believe these two things to be virtues that ought to be cultivated among the people called Baptist. If I may combine the two, one could argue that the reason we are a convention of autonomous churches rather than Independent Baptists is because we believe in the value of “faithful cooperation.”

Faithful cooperation is increasingly difficult to maintain in the SBC. While the convention enjoyed substantial theological unity in the mid-19th century, that was already beginning to change in the decades after the Civil War. The Landmark controversies, the decline of doctrinaire Calvinism, the rise of theological liberalism and later neo-orthodoxy, the hardening of fundamentalism, the bureaucratization of the convention, the Civil Rights movement, the ecumenical movement, the neo-evangelical movement, the gender revolution, rise of the New Religious Right, the charismatic movement, The Controversy, post-denominationalism, the seeker-sensitive movement, the emerging church movements, the so-called Reformed Resurgence, resurgent Landmarkism, Catholic Baptists, revivalism in all its forms–each of these movements, for better or worse and to varying degrees, has contributed to the diversity among contemporary Southern Baptists. And that diversity has often led to intra-denominational conflict.

So here we are in 2008. The SBC is a divided house, and that’s without even counting churches that for any number of reasons dually align with both Southern Baptists and moderate Baptist, African-American Baptist, Reformed Baptist, or missional groups. In recent years we have fought about more things than I care to think about. There have been statements and counter-statements, blogs and counter-blogs, conferences and counter-conferences, candidates and counter-candidates. The differences in the style and even theology of different SBC public personalities is at times pronounced. Some glory in all this diversity. Some fear we are too diverse. Others pronounce a pox on both houses. And for all our conservative resurging, moderate purging, Republican voting, and program promoting, we remain considerably more divided than most folks will publicly admit.

I am curious: what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008? What is that one thing that most precludes us from faithful cooperation? What is our biggest problem? Share your thoughts with us by dropping a comment. I am genuinely curious as to what “normal” Southern Baptists think are the greatest threats to the ongoing viability, let alone vitality, of the convention.

Before you comment, please do a couple of things. First, think before you post. Second, try to stick to the one most pressing issue–two issues at most. Third, remember that whatever you say is being read by a couple dozen other people, mostly the contributors and their wives, so try to be kind and Christ-like. Fourth, do not attack any personalities. Finally, if any of you dialog with each other in the comments, do so respectfully. We want this to be a place for mature Christian reflection, so we will not hesitate to delete nasty comments.

On Southern Baptist Seminaries and Seminaries for Southern Baptists: Thinking about Southern Baptist Identity

Yesterday I received the most recent edition of Southwestern News in the mail, the official magazine of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the Texas seminary, Southwestern has published a Centennial Edition of their periodical. It is a great collection of short articles and photographs that recount the rich history of SWBTS. Join me in wishing them one hundred more years of fruitful service, should the Lord tarry.

Thinking about Southwestern’s history has got me thinking about the nature of Southern Baptist identity, particularly as it pertains to cooperation. It may surprise you to know that Southwestern was not originally an official entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. Southwestern was originally birthed from the theological department at Baylor University, relocating to Fort Worth in 1910. Though Southwestern was founded by Southern Baptists and trained Southern Baptists for ministry, it was not until 1925 that the school formally came under the banner of the convention. New Orleans and Golden Gate seminaries, respectively, followed a similar route into the convention, while Southern, Southeastern, and Midwestern Seminaries were actually established by the convention at their inception. [Read more →]

New Look, New Platform

Tonight SBCWitness migrated to a new look (the one you see) and a new platform (WordPress). If it causes any difficulties, we apologize. Because of the migration, many links have probably been deprecated, as have many feeds. We felt that the trouble was worth the upside of not having to work with Drupal (our old platform) any more.  So, enjoy the new look and platform.