“Lessons from the Old Testament: True Friendship and Self-Respect,” Ensign, June 2006, 30–33
True friendship helps give meaning to life. It is an anchor for the soul. Based on the pure love of Christ, it is security and trust between two individuals and is “stronger than the cords of death” (see D&C 121:43–44) because it transcends this mortal existence. Unfortunate is the person who has no true friend.
The Old Testament contains the inspiring story of David and Jonathan, who achieved true friendship despite difficult circumstances.
Although David may not have seemed the logical choice to be king of Israel, the Lord chose him to succeed King Saul. Young David developed the attributes that qualified him for this honor as he responsibly tended his father’s flocks, learning to obey faithfully both the mortal direction and the spiritual promptings he received. He was trustworthy, unselfish, fearless, and confident, and he had unwavering faith in the God of Israel. These attributes were clearly evident in his astonishing victory over Goliath.
Jonathan, the son of King Saul, had also proven himself courageous and faithful. Traditionally he would have been heir to the throne instead of David, so it would have been natural for him to see David as his enemy. Yet when David returned from the battlefield and appeared in King Saul’s court “with the head of [Goliath] in his hand[,] … the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 17:57; 1 Sam. 18:1).
Jonathan’s love for David is even more remarkable when contrasted with Saul’s bitter contempt. Although at first Saul rewarded David for killing Goliath, his jealousies and insecurities became apparent as word of Israel’s newest hero spread. Saul heard the Israelite women singing, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). Out of jealousy, Saul tried to kill David with a javelin—the first of his many attempts to take David’s life.
Jonathan helped David escape while he tried to soften Saul’s heart (see 1 Sam. 19:4–5). Jonathan’s loyal defense of his friend angered Saul, who tried to kill Jonathan, his own son, in a fit of rage (see 1 Sam. 20:32–33). In spite of this, Jonathan continued to secretly assist David at the peril of his own life.
Why did the friendship of David and Jonathan grow while Saul became David’s enemy? The answer to this question is a lesson for all who seek to develop the kind of true friendship and Christlike love that is illustrated in this dramatic Old Testament story.
The Savior said the first and great commandment is to “love the Lord thy God.” The second, He explained, is also a commandment to love: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37, 39; see also vv. 36, 38). David and Jonathan’s friendship exemplifies Alma’s charge to the Saints to have “their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21).
Unfortunately, many people concentrate so intensely on their personal lives that they have neither the time nor the energy to reach out to others. They develop self-centeredness, a trait that led Saul to focus on his own insecurities instead of rejoicing with the rest of Israel in David’s accomplishments.
The Israelite women who sang about David’s and Saul’s military successes apparently made no mention of Jonathan, even though he was an accomplished warrior in his own right (see, for example, 1 Sam. 14:1–15). The lack of praise for Jonathan did not harm his friendship with David, because in a true friendship there is no egotism or self-centeredness, only charity. Charity, as the Apostle Paul and Mormon both declare, “seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5; Moro. 7:45). This is the kind of love the Savior expects of His followers.
Charity and love for one’s neighbor are best developed when one has a healthy sense of self-respect. Self-respect comes from obedience to the laws of God. Those with a strong sense of self-respect have a greater capacity to forget themselves and love others. Conversely, those who are insecure about their self-worth often become more self-centered and less capable of building strong, loving friendships.
Self-respect develops as we come to understand our divine heritage. When we have the assurance that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, we not only understand our own worth but we also see the great worth of others. We need not feel threatened when others are praised and we are not, nor should we feel prideful when we are praised and others are not, because we feel our kinship as brothers and sisters, children of Heavenly Father.
Consider the tender testimony of a sister missionary: “When I came to know that we are truly children of our Father in Heaven, my soul filled with love for all of God’s family. I felt indescribable joy each time I would tell our investigators of our divine origin, and my bosom would burn within me, confirming the truth of that doctrine each time we would explain why we call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’”
Our self-respect and our love for others deepen as we gain understanding of the Atonement. The infinite love of the Father for us as His children is expressed in the sacrifice of His Son, through which each individual is blessed. “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” (D&C 18:10–11; emphasis added). Our knowledge that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) should help us to assume the same attitude toward all of His children.
Knowingly disobeying God’s commandments destroys our self-respect and limits our capacity to love. Saul was unwilling to befriend David as Jonathan did because his own disobedience had caused him to fall out of favor with God, and he knew it. “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 18:12). In contrast, Jonathan did not feel threatened by David, for he did not worry about his own place in the kingdom.
Achieving this selfless love is not easy. The natural man tends to be more like Saul than Jonathan. Nevertheless, “through the atonement of Christ the Lord,” we can overcome any selfish tendencies and become “full of love” (Mosiah 3:19). We can “cleave unto charity” (Moro. 7:46), which is the kind of love the Savior acted with when He accomplished the Atonement and “[laid] down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; see also Ether 12:33–34).
Charity is a gift from Heavenly Father “which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ” (Moro. 7:48). It comes directly and exclusively from Him, and we are required to pray “with all the energy of [our] heart” to receive it (Moro. 7:48).
When the resurrected Savior questioned Peter about the extent of his love, He taught Peter—and the rest of us—that love in its purest form overflows to the benefit of others: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? … Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
Centuries later, the Lord looked into the heart of Thomas B. Marsh (1799–1866), then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and gave similar counsel: “I know thy heart, and have heard thy prayers concerning thy brethren. Be not partial towards them in love above many others, but let thy love be for them as for thyself; and let thy love abound unto all men, and unto all who love my name” (D&C 112:11). Imagine what would happen in our families, in the Church, and in our communities if our love “abounded unto all.”
True friendship strives for unity of purpose, will, desire, heart, and mind. There must be complete trust and transparency, with no hidden agendas. True friendship transcends love as the world understands it. Based on charity, it is patient and kind. As David and Jonathan demonstrated so memorably, it does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. It is not rude, selfish, or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs; it does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It can bear anything; it always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. It never fails (see 1 Cor. 13:4–8; Moro. 7:45–47).
Our goal in mortality should be to establish this kind of friendship with each other and with the Savior, thus helping to secure our place with the Eternal Father.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions, personal reflection, or teaching the gospel in a variety of settings.
Ask family members to choose someone from the scriptures they would want as a best friend and explain why. Tell the story of David and Jonathan. Have family each pick a section of the article and find words that amplify the meaning of true friendship. Challenge them to develop these attributes in their own friendships.
Quote the two great commandments (see Matt. 22:37, 39) and ask family members to list the three people we should love. How does love of self affect love of God and love of neighbor? Read the story of Saul and discuss how insecurities and self-centeredness limit our ability to love others. Testify of how understanding the Atonement and appreciating our divine worth help us deepen our friendships.