Real Friendship


Jeffrey R. Holland
Need a guide to great friendship? There are some books …

The scriptures contain wonderful accounts of personal friendships. They reveal not only the special bond of such relationships but also the added strength given to them when gospel principles are at the heart of the association. Here are just three of the many examples of personal friendship recorded in the revelations.

David and Jonathan

Aristotle said once that friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. No definition of friendship could better describe the relationship of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. Jonathan, the son of King Saul, was a valiant soldier in his own right and a worthy young prince in Israel. But when David came onto the scene fresh from his mighty victory over Goliath, having already been anointed by the prophet Samuel, it was he, not Jonathan, who would be successor to the increasingly disobedient Saul.

To a lesser man—or a lesser friend—than Jonathan, David would have been a terrible threat, a natural rival. But he wasn’t. We don’t know that Jonathan expected to succeed his father as king, but he certainly could have foreseen that possibility. What we do know is that “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1). So great was their devotion to one another that they “made a covenant” of loyalty. As a symbolic token of his devotion to the newly anointed king, Jonathan stripped himself of the princely robe he wore “and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle” (1 Sam. 18:4).

When Saul’s transgressions brought hostility between him and young David (“and Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul” the scripture says), Saul privately commanded his officers to kill David (1 Sam. 18:12). But the ever-faithful Jonathan warned his friend, helped him hide out of Saul’s view, and continually spoke to his father of David’s virtues. He was so successful in praising David that Saul repented and made a vow that David’s life would be preserved. “And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as in times past” (1 Sam. 19:7).

But Saul was so overcome by evil at this stage of his life that he could not keep his word and once again tried to kill David. In a daring escape David fled to Jonathan, who again pledged his love and his protection, saying to David, “Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee” (1 Sam. 20:4).

Jonathan’s protection of David, of course, raised Saul’s anger against his own son. In a rage Saul threw a javelin at Jonathan—just as he had done to David earlier. Jonathan escaped, telling David he must flee for his life. Their sorrow over this circumstance was so deep and their love for one another so great that they “wept one with another, … And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch 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 for ever” (1 Sam. 20:41–42).

Although Saul continued to seek David’s life, Jonathan secretly assisted David and gave him encouragement, promising that “the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee” (1 Sam. 23:17). And always they renewed their covenant of friendship and loyalty (see 1 Sam. 23:18).

Unfortunately Jonathan was killed when the Philistines attacked Saul’s forces on Mount Gilboa, but David, who was now king, never forgot the friendship and protection of his beloved friend Jonathan. His lamentation over Jonathan’s death is one of the loveliest psalms in the Old Testament (see 2 Sam. 1:26–27).

Ruth and Naomi

An equally sweet friendship outlined in the Old Testament is that of Naomi, the Israelite, and Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law.

In the days of famine Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons had left Bethlehem in the land of Judea and had gone into the gentile country of Moab for a period of 10 years, obtaining food and refuge in that place. When her husband and sons had died, Naomi determined to return to Judea, hearing that the Lord had lifted the famine there and blessed the people with food.

To her two Moabite daughters-in-law, she said, “Go, return each to [your] mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead [their husbands], and with me” (Ruth 1:8).

Weeping at the thought of leaving these daughters-in-law behind, Naomi kissed them and bid them farewell. When the girls protested, asking to go with her, Naomi encouraged them to stay with their own parents and relatives in Moab in the only home land they had ever known. Perhaps here they would marry again, have children, and once more be happy.

One daughter-in-law, Orpah, wept, kissed Naomi good-bye, and returned to her Moabite family.

But Ruth refused to go—she “clave unto” her mother-in-law. Naomi tried earnestly to get her to follow Orpah, “Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law” (Ruth 1:15).

But Ruth said with equal urgency, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

“Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16–17).

When Naomi sensed the true depth of Ruth’s love and loyalty, she consented and the two made their way back to Bethlehem. There, through the mediating role of Naomi, Ruth met Boaz, “a mighty man of wealth” (Ruth 2:1), and they married. From this union came a son named Obed, who fathered a son named Jesse, who fathered a son named David, the greatest king in Israel’s history. Thus Ruth’s love for and loyalty to Naomi not only brought gospel blessings to Ruth, but ultimately blessed the entire Israelite nation.

Alma and the Sons of Mosiah

The Book of Mormon teaches of a very special friendship that became stronger when it was focused on gospel principles. Early in their lives Alma and the sons of Mosiah rebelled against the teachings of their faithful parents and went about destroying the church of God. They were very cunning and very successful, later confessing that they were the “vilest of sinners” in their efforts to destroy the faith of other members of the church (Mosiah 28:4).

But in response to the prayers of their parents, other members of the church, and the power of God and his angels, these young men were dramatically converted to the truth and immediately set out to “repair all the injuries which they had done to the church” (Mosiah 27:35).

The sons of Mosiah declined the kingship which their father held and chose rather to be missionaries to the Lamanite people. Alma followed in their footsteps, choosing to serve a mission among the Nephite people. What had been an unworthy and destructive association now turned into a powerful and binding friendship, solidified by acts of personal righteousness and devotion.

After 14 years of long, hard, demanding missionary service—service that had included sorrow and opposition as well as miracles of every kind—Alma and the sons of Mosiah were reunited briefly before continuing their work for the Lord. The description of that reunion reveals how strong their friendship and love had become, even in their prolonged absence from one another.

“Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2–3).

The Best of Friends

There are many other examples of true friendship in the scriptures, but perhaps noting these three will suffice. A common thread runs through them all—namely, that living the gospel and being true to gospel principles is the key to true, lasting, triumphant friendship. Weak bonds and less spiritual relationships will not hold up when confronted by a wicked person such as David and Jonathan faced, or an unbelieving background such as Ruth had known, or the youthful transgressions of the younger Alma and the sons of Mosiah. In each case it was gospel principles, commitments, associations, and covenants that led to the strong ties and triumphant friendship we celebrate in these examples.

So, too, in our relationship with our own friends and in our relationship with the Savior. As he concluded his mortal ministry, he said to his disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:14–15).

Real friends share the gospel—the living of it and the loving of it. No stronger bond nor higher compliment can be given from one friend to another.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann