"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples: If you love one another."
Jesus Christ, in John 13:34-35
I decided to write this as a stand-alone article, rather than include it within the main article, because of the importance and value that I honestly believe covenant friendships play, both within a person's recovery from homosexual behavior, and within life itself. For the person pursuing freedom from homosexual behaviors and same-sex attraction (SSA) issues, a covenant friendship brings the reality to heart, of how extremely fulfilling a committed and non-sexual relationship can be, with another person of the same gender. I believe that a covenant friendship is everything God intended for us to experience in a friendship, because it actively demonstrates the Gospel to the world, in a way that the Lord himself commanded that it be shown: "By this, all men will know that you are my disciples: If you love one another."
Out of my own personal desire, deep need, and searching to find a genuine and godly friendship with another man, God began to impress upon my heart that I needed to add this dedicated section about it to Beyond the Shades of Gray.
The story of David and Jonathan's friendship is our Old Testament example of a covenant friendship. Their relationship can be traced through the account we have of it, in the Book of 1st Samuel, beginning in Chapter 17, and continuing on through the end of Chapter 20, as you will see in excerpts from this section of Scripture, below.
David is first introduced to Saul, King of Israel, and to Saul's son, Jonathan, as he goes out in battle against Goliath, who was a great warrior among the Philistine Army. After David kills Goliath, using only a rock and a sling, Saul immediately warms up to him, and desires association with him for selfish reasons, seeing David as an asset to Saul's own reputation and dominion as King of Israel. Saul loved David for his own selfish gain. In other words, Saul loved David for Saul. But Jonathan, Saul's son, loved David as himself, meaning, unconditionally and unilaterally. And there's a big difference in those two relationships, as we read here:
"As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, 'Abner, whose son is that young man?'
Abner replied, 'As surely as you live, O king, I don't know.'
The king said, 'Find out whose son this young man is.'
As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine's head. 'Whose son are you, young man?' Saul asked him.
David said, 'I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.'
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.
Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul's officers as well.
When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang:
'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.'
Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. 'They have credited David with tens of thousands,' he thought, 'but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?' And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David."
There is a natural progression that is seen in the covenant friendship that Jonathan initiated with David. First, there was a spiritual connection between the two of them that Jonathan recognized. This connection, I believe, is the same sort of thing that happens with those rare people you meet, and you seem to just hit it off right away with them, with hardly any effort at all. Something just "clicks" between the two of you. And after this kind of spiritual connection was recognized, then Jonathan loved David as himself (a love that is without expectations, and does no harm to the other person). And then, after Jonathan loved David unconditionally, he made a covenant with him (a life-commitment). And finally, Jonathan confirmed his covenant by giving gifts to David. The gifts were Jonathan's own possessions... a giving up of himself. They were things that represented his own position and status, as Prince to the Throne of Israel.
Sometimes we want to hurry along that natural progression of friendship too fast, and we rush right into making a commitment to the person, before we have become knit together with them in spirit, or before we learn to love them unconditionally. In that case, our "covenant" of friendship becomes a burden rather than a valued and irreplaceable relationship, and we're often left to ourselves again, wondering, "Why?" So there is a principle of godly order that must be recognized, and allowed to take place, in order for the relationship between two friends to develop and grow into a covenant friendship.
Jonathan's covenant with David was unilateral and unconditional. In other words, his commitment to David was completely one-sided, and without any expectations from David in return. So David had no obligation to reciprocate anything back to Jonathan in the relationship. Now I'm not suggesting that this passage of Scripture is saying that it is wrong to have expectations of each other in a friendship. But this passage shows us that Jonathan's only motive for going into the friendship was that he loved David as himself! And his commitment to David, as a friend, was not based upon anything he thought he might get back from David in return. Jonathan valued David above himself. So our own motives need to be the same when we commit to a friendship with another person. Our motives need to be pure and unconditional going into it, or we will only open ourselves up to being hurt and disappointed by the other person.
To expand on this principle even farther, we can't expect other people to love us in exactly the same ways that we love them, because they are not the same! They are a completely different person. For example, we might be comfortable hugging, or even kissing them on the cheek, to show our love and affection toward them, while that sort of thing might be completely out of character for them to do so. But we are only responsible to love another person in the way that we know how to love. We aren't to be responsible for the way that they love us back, and we can't become guilty of motives that place such unreasonable expectations and burdens over their head, such as expecting them to reciprocate in the ways that we want them to, or measure such things as a condition of our continued love and commitment toward them. Only they can be responsible for the way that they love us, and they can only do that in the ways that they know how to love, and are comfortable in the ways that they show it.
Later on in their friendship, Jonathan faces a lot of adversity from his own father, King Saul, who becomes so jealous of David's success, that he ends up trying to take David's life. But Jonathan stands firmly by the covenant that he's made with David, and even risks his own life at one point, while defending David's character to Saul, who became so angry that he tried to kill Jonathan as well! So the principle here is that these friendships are going to cost you something. You're going to risk being hurt when you make the unselfish commitment to be a covenant friend to another person. But the cost is worth it! Eventually, David has to leave the city where Saul is, to avoid Saul's repeated attempts to murder him. And as he is preparing to leave, the Bible records this exchange between David and Jonathan, during their goodbye:
"David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together--but David wept the most.
Jonathan said to David, 'Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.' Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town."
In this final exchange between the two of them, the growth of their friendship over time has become more evident, as well as the love that David also now has for Jonathan. It is clear from this passage, and from at least one other passage along the way, that additional covenants between them followed the first one, which Jonathan had made between them. But unlike the first one, their additional commitments to each other are bilateral in nature. In other words, they are no longer one-sided commitments from Jonathan alone. And the seeds of loving friendship which Jonathan had sewn into David's life were now returning to Jonathan, in expressions of love and life-long commitment from David, as well.
David and Jonathan's covenant friendship held up through all of the adversity, and Jonathan valued David above himself through it all. And when you are there for someone in a time of real crisis like that, they will remember you forever, even if you must part company, as David and Jonathan eventually had to do.
I can't speak for the women on this, but I can for the men. When this kind of unselfish love begins to develop, and two men begin to love one another as themselves, there is a bonding that takes place between them that is healthy and wholesome, and just can't be replaced by anything. This is how I believe God ordained that male, covenant friendships should be. But they are a rare quality in our busy lives today.
In the biblical events that follow, during the time after David's departure, Jonathan and Saul are both slain in battle. And when David hears of it, he mourns deeply for his friend, Jonathan, saying,
"I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."
2 Samuel 1:26
This passage does not suggest, as some gay activists will wrongfully try to suggest, that David and Jonathan's friendship was ever sexual in nature. Nor does this passage of Scripture imply that a covenant friendship should be thought of as a substitute for a traditional marriage relationship, between one man and one woman. A covenant friendship and a marriage are two entirely different relationships, altogether. This passage simply records David's grief and honest emotion toward Jonathan, upon hearing of his death. Because David realized that Jonathan's love for him had been of a quality that surpassed even the conjugal love that is experienced within a marriage, in that it had been of a quality like that of God's own sacrificial love for all of mankind. And this kind of love is rare in friendship.
After David becomes King, he continues to remember his covenant with Jonathan, by bringing Jonathan's only living son, Mephibosheth, into the King's Palace to reside with him there, just as David and Jonathan had promised each other during their goodbye: "The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever." And so we also see that even the generations after us can be positively affected by the blessings of covenant friendship.
In the New Testament, our pattern and example of all of this is, of course, Jesus himself, in the way that he loved each one of us, unconditionally. And we are told to mirror this same kind of love, through our interactions with each other:
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!"
The previous pattern that was exemplified within David and Jonathan's friendship is also visible here. "Being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose..." It's all there. "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
And this is exactly the pattern that Jesus also followed, in the covenant act of love he did for us. He gave up his place and position in Heaven, as Prince of God and High Priest, just to come here and go to the cross for us. But when he did so, he didn't say, "Hey, I'm willing to do this for you guys, but only if you will all agree to get born-again, first!" No, Jesus valued all of us above himself, and he obligated us to nothing at the time. So being born-again remains a personal choice today, that he has left up to each individual, alone. Jesus took a great risk in loving us like that! And yet, Jesus has gained a harvest out of his love and commitment to us, because many people have indeed made the personal decision and commitment to give their own lives back to God, through their belief in Jesus' covenant sacrifice. Throughout the ages since the cross, we've learned to love him, and to love each other, with the very same love wherewith Christ first loved us. And so Christ's personal sacrifice was worth it all, when you view it in the final outcome.
So, as you begin this journey with another person into a covenant friendship, just remember that you can't expect the other person to put the same into you that you might pour into them. Because if you do expect that, you'll only open yourself up to get disappointed! I'm not implying that what you pour into them is somehow better than what they might put back into you. All I'm saying is that you're not the same. All you'll ever have to offer is "you," and the ways that you are. And you should be willing to offer that, regardless of what your friend has to offer back. A friend will also offer you the only real thing that he has to offer, as a person... "himself!" But it's not necessarily the same because, again, you're two different people. But if you'll commit to love them in the ways that you love, and do so with all of your heart like Jesus commanded us to do, then I promise you that you will eventually find that covenant friend, who will also commit to loving you with all of the love and commitment that they have to offer, as a result of the deep love you first had toward them. And the sacrifice of self, in order to find that person, will all be worth the personal cost to you, once you do find them.
But before you take that step, there is still another truth that must be considered with regard to your ability to love other people. Look at Jesus' words, when he was asked, "What is the greatest commandment:"
" 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'
Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
The one truth that Jesus spoke which I really want to focus on, with regard to Covenant Friendships, is actually found in the last part of the answer he gave to those men, as he said, "and... Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
You see, God never commanded that we love other people more than we love ourselves, but only in as much as we love ourselves. In fact, God knows that we are really incapable of loving another person any more than we are able to love and appreciate ourselves. And so he set the mark for us right where we live. But where do we live when it comes to loving ourselves? In other words, do we have a godly self-esteem that is properly filtered through God's love for us, and which is based upon biblical truths? Or do we have a low self-esteem which then limits our ability to love others?
Many of us who have tried to find freedom from things such as homosexual behavior have also, through the years of trying, trained ourselves to think lowly of who we are, and have become convinced that our worth equates to something much, much lower than the truth of the high value God has placed on us all. This negative and neglectful thought pattern becomes ingrained into our very soul, abandoning the truth that we are all created and fashioned in God's own image and design by the Master and Creator of the universe himself!
And so I must add here that you absolutely do have to learn to love yourself first, before you will ever become ready, or even able, to love a friend in the biblical depth of the love that forges a covenant friendship such as those we've seen in the biblical examples I've outlined above.
Our being or even becoming more "Christ-like" has never been a pre-requisite or condition of God's love for us! "For God so loved the world...," it says in John 3:16. And we all know that the world is not very "Christ-like!" So God's love for us truly is unconditional. Once we can begin to see the depth of this love that God has for us, then we can start to love and appreciate ourselves better, knowing that God loves and appreciates us. It's from that love that we then draw out the love to be able to love another person in a covenant friendship or a marriage relationship.
May God continue to bless our steps, as we begin this journey of finding a covenant friendship, and following after Jesus' own example of being a covenant friend to another person. And may each and every step along the way be glorifying to God. Amen.
This section was added on November 15th, 2008.
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