Dear Radio Friends,
Our message for today is found in the Scriptures in I Samuel 23:16-18, an incident in the life of David. Here we read: “And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto 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. And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.”
What great joy and relief must have filled David’s heart when, from his remote hideout in the woods, he recognized a solitary and familiar figure making his way through the bush to him. He saw Jonathan, whose heart of love in Christ for David was sharper than the nose of any hunting dog, and he was able to find David to strengthen his hand in God.
For David, it was a fresh breeze from heaven as he was in the confinement of his trials. It was like a drink of cold water. It was the lifting of the load of anxious care from his shoulders. Jonathan’s visit to David greatly encouraged him in his God.
For Jonathan, the reward of his visit to David that day might well have been even greater. For it is in giving that we receive. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
The two of them, David and Jonathan, are upon the pages of the Bible to teach, among many other things, but certainly to teach the great blessing and need of the communion of saints, Christian friendship in the Lord Jesus Christ.
After the meeting that is referred to in I Samuel 23, David and Jonathan would not see each other again on earth. The pathway for David, according to God’s will, would lead for another sixty or so years over many a trial, battle, joy, deep sin, till, as an old man, he died clutching the promises of God in Christ. But Jonathan, in but a few years, would die upon a battlefield against the Philistines. Loyal to the end, being found faithful.
But both of them, David and Jonathan, were formed to be the men of God that they were through the fellowship that they enjoyed in Christ. For two are better than one, says the word in Ecclesiastes 4. Both were made strong in the promises of God through the communion of saints.
Is this true for you? For you as a young person? For you as a member of the church? I want this very beautiful example and powerful example of the communion of the saints to inspire us towards the great gift of communion in the church. I pray that it will inspire you as young people to examine your friendships and to ask whether there is any spiritual, lasting substance in your friendships—anything that is unashamedly in Christ. And I want all of us to examine our lives and our attitudes in the church. Are we committed, in gratitude to God, to practice this type of communion of saints; to strengthen each other’s hand in God as Jonathan did for David. We are not in the church to win our arguments, to be rivals, to live in distance, to hold grudges. But the purpose of God in our membership in the church is that we might strengthen one another’s hands in God, that we might hold more firmly to the promises of God. Let me put it this way: the preservation of the saints is by means of the communion of the saints. Understanding what it means to have Christian friendships will teach us that the purpose of Christian friendships is that we hold fast to God’s promises.
In the passage to which I am referring today, David stood in a great need. His hand of faith in God was weak and he felt himself slipping, falling into despair, resentment, bitterness, and hopelessness. He writes of this experience in Psalm 54, when he cries out: “Save me, O God, for strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul.” At this time David was hated. He was fleeing from Saul, who, without any mercy, and in an evil obsession, hunted him, plotting his death.
It is very hard to be hated. David had just been betrayed, betrayed by those whom he had helped, and for whom he had risked his life. There were the men of Keilah whom David had delivered from the Philistines. Even though at the first mention of his intention to do this David’s men had wanted nothing to do with it, yet David had sought the Lord, and he had risked his own life and the life of his men to help these inhabitants of Keilah.
But Saul turned the screws tight on the men of Keilah. And, understanding that they knew where David was, had told them: “Tell me where David is or I will come upon you.” And the Lord had revealed to David that the men of Keilah would deliver him up. So he would be betrayed. That had a deep sting in his soul. David was lonely. He was hiding in the wilderness, in the strongholds. And he remained in the wilderness of Ziph. He was ready to curl up in a ball; threats and dangers were on every side. Everywhere he turned, there were more problems. David was subjected by God to prolonged and constant trials.
We read that Saul sought him every day. God delivered him not into his hands, but it was humanly unbearable. It was so unfair. It did not stop. And all of his deeds of kindness had backfired upon his own head.
And it was at such a moment that Satan attacked. David could hide from Saul, but he could not hide from Satan. And he could not hide from his own flesh. We begin to lose understanding. Our minds race. We come up with a whole host of conclusions. When relief comes, we look back and say, “What was I thinking?” But in the midst of the trial we say, “Trust in God doesn’t help. Holding onto God in prayer doesn’t help. What good will that do?” We become bitter. We say, “I do not feel the love of God. I feel only resentful over what has happened.” I become bitter and hateful of those whom I considered to be the cause of my suffering. How bitter Satan must have wanted David to be against Saul, knowing that if he could plant the seed of bitterness, it would spread into a tree, into a forest of evil. And depression begins to settle in. We say to ourselves, “We can’t do anything about it. I’m left alone.” We begin to despair.
Now, how did God preserve David at this time? What were God’s means? Did He use David’s personal prayers and devotions? Yes, He did. For David was inspired to write Psalm 54 at this time, in which he cried out that God is his helper. Did God further use a marvelous providence? Yes, if you would read the whole of I Samuel 23, you will see that the chapter ends by telling us that David chooses to go on one side of a mountain and Saul goes on the other—because of the hand of God.
But the point that must reach down is that God used the communion of saints for David’s spiritual relief. The communion of saints is the means that God uses to preserve us in the faith. The preservation of the saints is a community project. It was the coming of Jonathan, the deliberate coming of Jonathan to David, that strengthened his hand in God. Now, yes, we are eternally secure in the hands of Christ. God will bring us through a thousand pitfalls and battles. He will preserve us. But the means, or one of the important means, that He uses is the encouragement that we receive through the communion of saints. Every child of God needs Christian fellowship.
Jonathan, in the Bible, is an example of what it means to be a Christian brother. What tied David and Jonathan together? The answer is: It was the one life of Jesus Christ. It was a real, vibrant faith and hope in God that the Holy Spirit implanted within them. From every point of view, David and Jonathan should have been rivals. They should have looked at each other with suspicion. Humanly speaking, they should have been irreconcilable enemies. One would say that they could never turn their back on one another. Jonathan is king Saul’s son. David will be the next king. And yet David and Jonathan are one in the Lord.
The communion of saints, then, is not shared interest. It is not simply like-social-status. It is not something you join and something that you leave and you say, “What’s in it for me?” But the communion of saints is the grace that saved you, uniting you to Christ and to one another. It is embracing the covenant in your heart. It is not isolationism. It is not saying, “I’m not important, I’m single, I’m childless, I have nothing in common with these people,” or saying, “Oh, well, she’s that way, or he’s that way.” That is not the communion of saints. The communion of saints is Christ in you and in your brother and your calling to strengthen each other’s hand in God. Every child of God needs this. David needed this. David was a strong man of faith. But David was never so strong that he did not need the strengthening of his brother. You must never think that you are beyond the need of your fellow Christians. You must never say, “Well, I don’t need them.” Even David needed the strengthening of Jonathan.
The strengthening that Jonathan performed that day was done as a result of a conscious effort. It was intentional. Jonathan did not come to David that day on the fly. We read in verse 16: “And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.” We know that there are times when we strengthen one another in the faith in a merely accidental way. We do not plan it. God gives us the opportunity and we are able to have a spiritual conversation. But this was very intentional. David was thirty miles away in the wilderness. And he was hidden. Saul could not find David. The residents of the area told Saul the area and tried to guide Saul to the spot. But they could not find David because David was very good at hiding.
And so are we when we have troubles. We are very good at hiding from other people. Well then, how did Jonathan find David? Did Jonathan get dogs to track him down and sniff him out? No. Jonathan’s love for David found him. Jonathan knew David. He could put himself in David’s shoes. He understood how David would think. And his love for David drove him on to come unannounced.
What a difference that makes in the church. When you get up on a Sunday morning and you plan to strengthen someone’s hand in God, you see that his face is drawn; you see that he has not been himself; you see that he is hardly around anymore. Where is he? And it becomes your intentional desire to strengthen his hand in the Lord.
Jonathan came that day, and said no doubt in his heart, “David is in flight. My Dad is at it again. David is in the woods. That hill over there provides a good view, cover, escape. If I were David, I’d be there.” He found him. He made it a point to find him.
Secondly, Jonathan’s efforts were intentionally spiritual. He came in order to strengthen David’s hand in God. He did not come to strengthen David’s hand in self-confidence. He did not come to say to David, merely, “Well, you’ve been in tough spots before.” He did not come to organize group therapy, to say, “David, hold on to men.” But he said, “David, hold onto God, not to me. Hold onto God.” Christian fellowship directs us to God. It points to God.
Jonathan came to strengthen him in spiritual fellowship. Spiritual fellowship is not the same as having friends. It is not the same as having a group of friends or a friend to talk to in a crisis. It is not the same thing. Spiritual fellowship is not simply sharing burdens, discussing problems. The world, too, speaks of this. It says, we have a group that provides affirmation. There are support-groups all over the world. These types of things happen all the time in bars, where Christ’s name is despised, or on the phone, where people get together to unload, vent, and share grudges and to enlist people on their side.
What makes spiritual fellowship really fellowship is God—a love, trust, obedience to God. Then our fellowship in Christ is not simply a sharing of gripes, fostering prejudices, holding resentments, being with people who think like I do on this issue. But it is instilling hope in God. It is defusing bitterness. It is praying for submission.
Jonathan’s effort was intentional, spiritual, and it was directed as an arrow to the promises of God in Christ. Jonathan said to David, “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.”
We ask the question: How did Jonathan know this? The answer is that David had told Jonathan of the promises to him that he would be the next king. And so Jonathan, to strengthen David, reminds David of God’s promises. He is reciting the promises that God had made to David. He is saying, “David, despairing, lonely, hopeless David, recall the promises of God—those promises, David, are more real than your experiences. It looks like you’re going to be wiped out? You can’t be wiped out!”
Do we see Jonathan finding David and walking with him in the woods, listening to David, responding; pointing to a rock and reminding him that God is a Rock; reminding him of the arrows that flew at noonday and never hit David or Jonathan? Does he stop David, look him in the eye, and say, “Do you remember what you wrote: The Lord is my Shepherd”?
It was a blessed experience. It was sweet with a foretaste of heaven. It lifted the load. It strengthened the weary legs of David. It soothed his troubled soul.
So blessed was this experience that you could say that Jonathan’s purpose for living on this earth is over. So important was this simple act to God. So significant that we could well say that Jonathan was raised up for this grace. Not to sit on the throne of Saul his father, not to chase Philistines with the sword, not to write Psalms, not to be the father of Jesus Christ in the flesh. But God raised up Jonathan to speak a word of encouragement to his brother, David.
We do not all have the same gift of words. We are not all equal in spiritual gifts. We are all very different. But we all have the word of God. And we are all directed by God in our lives. We are given opportunities to interact one with another in the Lord. And God calls you. He says, “Come, strengthen your brother’s hand in God.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. We pray for its blessing today upon our hearts. We pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.