Three Traits of a True Friend

Maybe more so than anyone else in the Bible, Jonathan demonstrates the character of a true friend (1 Samuel 18–20). He faithfully modeled what deep, Christlike friendship looks like with a brother or sister in the faith. And his example is one that we can benefit greatly from today.

In his friendship with David, Jonathan shows us three traits that should be present in any true friendship:

1. Selfless Love

Jonathan loved David as his own soul, even though David inherited what in other circumstances would have come to Jonathan (i.e. the rights to the throne). It would have been easy for Jonathan to have become jealous. After all, Jonathan had done nothing wrong. His family lost the throne  not because of his sin, but because of the sin of his father, Saul.

Honesty hour: If I were in Jonathan’s situation, I would’ve been tempted to say, “This isn’t fair, God!” And I certainly wouldn’t end up becoming friends with the guy who edged me out of the chance to become king. But not only does Jonathan refuse to resent David for getting “his” blessing. He actually respected what God had appointed, genuinely loved David, and honored God’s choice.

Your friend isn’t likely to become heir to the throne in your place. But the same dynamics are still at work, threatening to undermine true friendship with envy. Ask yourself: When your friends get the house or the recognition or the promotion, how do you respond? Are you jealous and resentful? Or are you selfless, rejoicing in others’ blessings, even when they’re ones you’d like to receive too?

2. Intentionality

Jonathan and David were not two companions brought together by shared interests, nor did they spend time together just because they made each other laugh or they enjoyed each other’s company—though I’m sure they did.

First Samuel 18:3 says that they made a covenant. In Hebrew, this is a weighty word, and it implies that they committed to looking after one another and to do so even when it was terribly inconvenient. It was more than just being around each other; it was choosing to get involved in both the good things and the bad, talking about all of it.

For many of us, friendship just seems to happen. But biblical friendship takes intentionality. It takes a choice to be involved in one another’s lives and to get into the things that matter.

3. A Commitment to Speaking the Truth

Jonathan told David hard things, things that were awkward, things that David didn’t want to hear—things like, “My dad is trying to kill you, so you better go live in the wilderness indefinitely.” I’ll bet that’s a tougher conversation than most of us have had in the past week. But Jonathan leaned into it, because he wasn’t trying just to keep the peace or make David feel good; he was trying to save David’s life.

A true friend thinks about your flourishing more than they do their own comfort. They are committed to telling you the truth, even when it hurts.

The book of Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (27:6 ESV). Kisses always feel better than wounds; and if you only have people around you who give you kisses, life will feel mostly good.

For a while.

But eventually you need someone to correct you, to confront you. And at that moment, what you need is not kisses; what you need are the faithful wounds of a friend. If you’ve got cancer, you don’t a pat on the back. You need someone willing to use a scalpel. Spiritually speaking, we’ve all got cancer. We need friends with spiritual scalpels.

Selflessly loving, intentional, committed to speaking the truth. Is that you? What friendships can you take to the next level this week by applying one of these truths?