I begin this morning with a question, “Who would you call your best friend?” For some of us, it is our spouse. For others of us, a sibling is our best friend. For others, a childhood friend whom we still communicate with today holds the title of being our “best friend.”
Best friends are very important. Best friends are our confidants. They are our counselors. They are our PR persons. They back us up when others are against us.
We have spent two of the first three Sundays of 2003 looking at God’s vision for us: (Overhead 1) “A fully following and faithfully functioning church.” This month we have been looking at the first part of this vision - “fully following.” Next month, we will be looking at the second part of it - “faithfully functioning.”
So far this month we have looked at 9 people who have given us some guidelines for being fully following persons. (Overhead 2) Today we conclude our study with person number 10 - Jonathan.
A fully following church, a fully following Christian, not only incorporates these characteristics into their lives (refer to overhead 2) but underneath all of these things is a central characteristic that must be a part of a fully following church and believer’s life - love. And we see in Jonathan’s life, a love that must be a part of why and how we live a fully following life.
The story of Jonathan and David begins in I Samuel 18, continues with what would be the final contact between them in chapter 23, and tragically ends with Jonathan’s death on the battlefield in chapter 31. It is a story that covers perhaps 10 years or so. And that, I think, is important to remember because the love that God expects us to demonstrate toward others is not a short-term love but a long-term and life long one. Jonathan and David’s relationship was one that remained until death.
There are three episodes in the story of Jonathan and David we need to briefly review before we consider the why and how of love as part of being fully following persons of God.
The first episode is seen in the passage that was read a few moments ago; I Samuel 18: 1 - 4. Two things are of note: First in verse 1, we read, “There was an immediate bond of love between them and they became the best of friends.”
Have you ever had that happen to you? You met somebody and you “clicked” with him or her. You immediately liked them. You became good friends, even best friends. That’s what happened here. Jonathan and David liked each other immediately and they became “like two peas in a pod.” Where one was, the other one was close behind.
The second thing to notice occurs in verse 3 and 4. Jonathan made a vow of friendship with David and sealed the vow by giving David his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt. What does this mean? It means something of deep significance.
Jonathan was so committed to David that he gave things of great value to him. Now this does not mean that he was trying to “buy” David’s friendship. But, it does mean that Jonathan was committed to David at any cost and he sealed that commitment by giving David items that were of great value to him.
By the way, remember what happened when Saul gave his armor and weapons to David to fight Goliath? They did not fit! David could not fight Goliath with Saul’s armor because it was too big and cumbersome.
But, what about Jonathon’s items? I think that we can assume from the text, that they fit David. They became part of the tools he used to do battle for God, Israel, and Saul, in that order.
Now the second episode is found in chapter 20 where Jonathan intercedes, at great risk to his own life, on behalf of David. The chapter opens with David, running for his life from Saul, Jonathan’s father and the King of Israel, catching up to Jonathan and asking him, as we read in verse 1, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I offended your father that he is so determined to kill me?”
Jonathan denies that his father would do such a thing and David presses him to prove otherwise. So Jonathan devises a plan that allows him to find out what Saul is planning to do and then tell David.
Well the plan is put in place and Jonathan learns, as we read in verses 30 and 31, what his father’s true intentions are - murdering David so that Jonathan becomes king. Then, as we read in verse 33, Saul hurls his spear at Jonathan, which causes Jonathan to leave in anger, find David, and tell the truth about what is going on.
Jonathan takes great risk to both maintain his relationship with David and tell him what is really going on. But, he does because of his love and respect for David.
The third and final episode occurs in chapter 23 where Jonathan encourages David in his faith. Listen to Jonathan (verse 17): “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father is well aware.” So the two of them renewed their covenant of friendship before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.” And from at least the Biblical record, they never again saw one another.
Jonathan has the position and place to make or break this relationship. He is the one who initiates the vow and pledge of friendship. He is the one who risks his life to find out the truth. He is the one who encourages the faith in one who would be called “A man after God’s own heart.” Why? Love.
When we look at Jonathan, we see the love of God flowing out of one who was in line to have it all! But, he gave it all away out of love for another who was to take his place. Is this our kind of love? Is this evidence of our relationship with God - individually and collectively?
We need to keep the example of Jonathan before us on a daily basis and ask God to help us love like him because that is the way God wants us to live. But why? And how do we do that? Jesus gives us the reason and Paul tells us how to love.
In the days just before His crucifixion, Jesus is again approached with a trick question. But, like a lot of trick questions, Jesus used it to His, and our, advantage. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record both question and response. This is Matthew’s version, Matthew 22:36 and 37: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as your self.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
This question, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?,” is a critical question. It is a question about what constitutes the core of our faith. It is a question that asks, “What is the best way we are to fully follow God?”
The questioner goes back to the very beginning of faith. He goes back to the covenant, the requirements that God gives to Moses as the guide for the Israelites to live out. And Jesus’ response is also critical because it is a succinct summary of what God says is the core characteristic of one who is fully following God. “You must love.”
Matthew quotes Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 when He says,“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’” This is from a statement from Moses to the people about the issue of commitment that God was expecting the Israelites to make and do. And it was spoken in the context of Old Testament Law.
When we think of Old Testament Law, what do we think of? When we think of the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which contain the heart of Old Testament Law, what do we think of? We think of the Ten Commandments.
In Deuteronomy chapter 5, the chapter prior to the chapter from which Jesus quotes; Moses lays out the Ten Commandments:
1. Do not worship any other gods besides me.
2. Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish.
3. Do not misuse the name of the Lord you God.
4. Observe the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
10. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything else of your neighbor’s.
That’s some major don’t is it not? And they are important don’ts. They lead to conflict, broken homes, broken relationships, and God says they are wrong. But, isn’t there more to fully following God that a bunch of “don’ts?”
Why is love a core expression of commitment? Because it is a sign of commitment. Think about the people we love. How do others know that we love them? We spend time with those we love and follow what scripture says about how to love them. It is a sign of commitment!
In his response to the trick question, Jesus went to Deuteronomy 6 when I think that maybe the questioner and his cohorts were looking for a Deuteronomy 5 answer. Why? Because God is looking for fully following, fully commitment followers who love Him with their entire being and others as much as they love themselves. In the 10 Commandments are fulfilled by love. When you love God and others like Jesus says in Matthew, you fulfill the commandments and Old Testament law.
A few weeks ago it was suggested that we probably identify with Peter more than any other disciple. Today, I would suggest that when it comes to church life, most churches can probably identify more with the Corinthian church than any other churches written about in the New Testament.
The Corinthian church had the same problems and challenges that churches today have. There were lifestyle issues that created dissention and conflict. There were theological issues that caused people to form groups of “us” verses “them,” and there were attitudinal issues of jealousy and pettiness that created challenges to Godly relationships.
Into the middle of his statements I Corinthians about these issues and conflicts, Paul wrote a chapter that we need to not just memorize but practice daily. We call it the “love chapter.” It is I Corinthians 13. Let me read you a newer translation of it: (overhead 3)
“If our church could hold services in five languages or our members could speak three, but we didn’t love others, we would be all talk and no action.
If our church really expressed it’s spiritual gifts with wholehearted service and we became spiritual giants, but we did not love others, what good would we be?
If our church had such faith that resulted in great healings and great miracles taking place, but we really did not love others, what would be the point? If we gave 50% of our budget to various missions across our nation and around our world so that a great deal of spiritual and physical poverty was alleviated, but we did not love others, why would we do it?
Our church is patient and kind. Our church is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Our church does not demand its own way. Our church is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. Our church is never glad about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out. Our church never gives up, never looses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
God and His love will last forever. But, our church’s pronouncements and decisions and giftedness and abilities will all disappear. Our church now knows only a little but when the Lord returns, our church will know everything.
It’s like this, “When we were still new believers, our church spoke and thought and reasoned like a new believers. But as we grew up, we became mature believers. Today, we don’t see things clearly or fully understand every thing that has happened to us. All that our church knows at this point in time is partial and incomplete, but one day our church, and all of those redeemed by God, will know everything that God knows!
There are three things that will endure beyond our church - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love.” (Based on NLT of I Corinthians 13)
Being a church, a group of people who are fully following followers is not easy. But, as Paul points out to the Corinthians, and God points out to us, that best way to serve, the best way to fully follow Him is not with razzle dazzle. It is not having the star pastor or the best of this or that. It is by loving that the church is at its best!
How well are we doing in this area? How well are we loving?
In the three episodes of Jonathan and David’s life that we have looked at this morning, something took place every time. What was it? They recommitted to one another. They made sure that they said to one another, “I’m behind you, I’m with you. We are in this together.”
One of the most important vows that human beings make is wedding vows. Unfortunately, breaking those vows has becoming extremely commonplace these days and they have seemed to lose meaning.
Many believe the same holds true for the vows we have made to God and to one another regarding our church and its ministries. As we conclude this segment of our series regarding God’s vision for us, I am going to read a slightly modified version of the traditional wedding vows for the expressed purpose of giving us something to think about as it relates to fully following God as we love one another. (Overhead 4)
Will you ___________, take your church to be your church; to live together in the holy covenant of membership? Will you love, comfort, honor, and keep your church and be faithful to your church as long as you live?
Do you ___________, take your church to be your church, from this day forward, for better or worse, in good and bad times, when the treasury is full and when it is empty, when it is healthy and growing and when it is weak and struggling? Will you love it and honor it and serve it until death, as God is your witness?
Now we can take this analogy only so far, but let us be reminded that the vows we take when we are married are not to the institution of marriage but to a living breathing and imperfect human being. And likewise, when we become members of God’s church through a salvation experience, it is not membership is some abstract idea or institution, it is with a community of imperfect human beings that need to be loved.
The reason that Jesus said that loving God is the greatest commandment and the explanation that Paul gave for love to be the greatest gift that the church can have and give, is that it the most important sign of commitment that a fully following church can give as evidence of its commitment to God and, I think must be added, to one another.
Love was a major hallmark and sign of commitment in the early church. It made others notice that there was something different about those who would eventually called “Christians.” It is the same for us today? Do the people of our community see the same evidence of commitment in us? May it be so. May it be so. Amen.
Powerpoint overheads are available by requesting 012603 svgs at firstname.lastname@example.org