Same-sex Friendships

There have always been close friendships between members of the same sex since the beginning of the world. Over the thousands of years of the history of mankind men have had close friendships with other men and women with women without eyebrows being raised over the nature of that friendship. As the moral tone of this present world degenerates, however, so those who want to see wrong wherever they look will find it; those who want to justify their own behaviour will try to see that behaviour in others and those who think every close relationship must have its sexual overtones will think it right to point the finger, or nudge one another. It is possible, however, to have a very good and a very close friend of the same sex without there being anything sexual in the relationship. John White once wrote that the difference between a friend and a lover is that ‘friends stand shoulder to shoulder, but lovers stand face to face’. Many a man has had cause to thank God for a good male friend, and many a woman for a good female friend, when those friends have supported, cared for and stood shoulder to shoulder with them, as no one else could. One of the most famous same-sex friendships in the history of mankind was that between David and Jonathan. The relationship between David and Jonathan shows us what a true friendship ought to be.

It was a selfless friendship

It probably wasn’t too long after David appeared on the scene that Jonathan learned David would supplant him. Though Jonathan’s father was the king, and Jonathan the heir-apparent, God had said He had chosen David to be king when Saul died. To Jonathan that meant, of course, that either he would die with his father or that David would take his place. Did this trouble Jonathan, did it destroy their friendship? Not at all. When David was being hunted by Saul, and his life was in danger to the extent that even he wondered if God’s promise would ever come true, Jonathan went to meet David in the woods where he was hiding and said to him, ‘Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth’, 1 Sam. 23.17. Here is a mark of a true friend: a selflessness and a longing to encourage a friend in need, even though that friend is destined for greater things. Jonathan that day strengthened David’s hand in the Lord.

It was a loyal friendship

Saul soon found out how deep was the friendship his son Jonathan had for David. Jonathan was privy to Saul’s thoughts and plans and warned David of his father’s hatred for him. He defended David to his father, and man-aged to change his mind about killing David, 1 Sam. 19. 1-7. When things got worse, however, and Jonathan saw he could no longer turn Saul’s thoughts away from murder, Jonathan was prepared to take David’s side against his father, even to the extent that it meant Saul became violent with Jonathan and tried to kill him, 1 Sam. 20. 27-34. Even when Jonathan knew where David was, and met him whilst his father hunted him, he never gave him away or betrayed him to his father. Here is another mark of a true friend: a willingness to stand up for that friend and defend him before all, and a willingness to bear trouble for a friend in need.

It was a godly friendship

One of the persistent characteristics of the friendship between David and Jonathan was that the friendship was brought together and held fast by a mutual love for God. This is why it beggars belief to think there was anything other than purity in their relationships one with another. It was David’s refusal to let a Philistine, let alone a giant, defy the armies of the living God, and his absolute faith that God would fight for him that made Jonathan love David with all his soul, 1 Sam. 18. 1-4; 19. 5. When Jonathan saw that he could no longer prevent his father from killing David and that David would have to be a fugitive from Saul’s anger, he bade farewell to David with these words, ‘Go in peace, for as much as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed forever’, 1 Sam. 20. 42. Jonathan strengthened David’s hand in the Lord in his time of trouble, 1 Sam. 23.16-18. God, or God’s plans feature strongly in virtually every incident that is recorded in the Bible between David and Jonathan. Both men loved one another in a pure way because both loved God and His ways first and foremost. They had the same thing in common; a love for the things of God.

It was a pure friendship

When David paid tribute to his dead friend, he said that Jonathan’s love to him ‘was wonderful, passing the love of women’, 2 Sam. 1. 26. This phrase has been used by some to justify homosexual love. ‘You see’, they say, ‘David and Jonathan had a love for one another that was obviously sexual and obviously more fulfilling than a heterosexual relationship can be’. But this is to read into a phrase what is not there. Though David was not married when he first met Jonathan, and though their friendship was deep right from the beginning, 1 Sam. 18. 1-4, there is absolutely nothing to suggest it was a sexual one and by the time of Jonathan’s death both David and Jonathan had been married and had numerous children. To say they were homosexual, therefore, is altogether unjustified. We must also remember that the law of Moses was very much in force in David’s day, and that law specifically said that sexual relations between members of the same sex was forbidden by God and that the punishment for it was capital – you would be executed for it, Lev. 20. 13. Some Bible scholars ‘so called’ have, in recent days, tried to water down the biblical prohibitions on homosexual relationships by saying that the law given by Moses was not God-sourced but a product of the prejudices of its day, that the same prohibition does not apply today, that such a practice was never condemned by Christ, etc. We would take issue with them on these points, stressing again that homosexual activity is never permitted by God. But even those scholars would hardly say that to be homo-sexual in David’s day was either permitted or excused by society. It was forbidden. Adultery was also forbidden and when David committed adultery with Bathsheba God shamed him publicly over it and judged him for it. Do we think that God would turn a blind eye to ‘the man after His own heart’ taking a homosexual lover? No. What David meant when he said Jonathan’s love for him passed that of women was that, because it was non-sexual, it was a pure, uncomplicated love between friends that was a wonderful help to him. Sex, by its very nature, brings emotional and physical consequences and complications that a platonic, non-sexual love, does not.

It was a faithful friendship

This friendship lasted over the years. It lasted during years of separation when David and Jonathan were separated and did not see much of one another. It also lasted beyond death. Both men had pledged to look after one another and to look after one another’s families. Long after Jonathan was dead, and long after David had become king, David remembered his friend and extended kindness to one of Jonathan’s son seven though he was lame, 2 Sam. 9. 1-7. ‘Don’t be afraid’, said David to Mephibosheth, ‘I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake’. True friendships stand the test of time. Some men and women never marry, and never know the richness of married love in the Lord. They may never know the love that stands face to face. This lovely friendship between David and Jonathan shows us what a true friendship should be; selfless, loyal, godly, faithful and pure. Do you have a friend like that? Thank God if you do. But what is more to the point, are you a friend like that? You could be. You should be. That is the sort of friendship Christian men should have with other Christian men, and Christian women with Christian women. If we abstain from all appearance of evil and are godly in our relationships with others, the friend who stands shoulder to shoulder with you will be one of the greatest helps you will ever have other than the help of God Himself.