As soon as we come into today’s text we see things we’ve seen many times before. David is fleeing from Saul, and Saul is pursuing David. At this point in the narrative, we see in v15 that David is hiding in the wilderness right outside a village named Ziph. This wilderness was a mountainous desert like area that would have been an easy place to hide from enemies. So, there is David hiding with his 600 men, and though Saul looked and looked, pursued and pursued, chased and chased he wasn’t able to find him. But did you notice in v16 who was able find him? Jonathan, the son of Saul. It’s a bit of irony here in our passage, that Saul couldn’t find David and that Jonathan his son could. This doesn’t so much speak of Saul’s lack of ability to track someone in the wilderness and Jonathan’s prowess to do the same. No, this irony shows us more of what God allows to happen. The reason Saul couldn’t find David was because God didn’t want him too, and the opposite is true in Jonathan’s case. The reason Jonathan found David is because God wanted him too. Here we see God’s purposeful providential planning, for the glory of His name and the good of His people.
Notice we don’t read of the risks Jonathan must have took to leave his father’s company to come out to Ziph and track David down? No, the text isn’t concerned to tell us such things. The only thing the text is concerned to tell us is the reason why Jonathan came out to find David. The end of v16 tells us why, Jonathan came to David for one reason, “…to strengthen his hand in God.” The word translated here into English as ‘strengthened’ is the word hazaq in Hebrew which means to give strength to, to repair, to encourage, to grasp hold of, or to seize in order to make repairs. How did Jonathan do these things for David? He used words, but they weren’t his own words, in v17 he said, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” Now Jonathan’s presence alone would have been a great encouragement to David in the wilderness of Ziph. To see a familiar and welcome face in the midst of distress is as refreshing to the soul as a mountain stream is to the weary hiker. But Jonathan didn’t merely give David the gift of his own presence he went further and gave him what he knew he really needed – the promises of God. Jonathan strengthened David’s hand ‘in God’ the text says, Jonathan didn’t merely strengthen David in himself, but with One greater than himself, with God.
Before moving onto a direct application about how you and I are to strengthen one another’s hands in God we must see Jonathan’s encouragement within the context of this chapter. In 23:1-5 David saved the people of Keilah from the raiding of the Philistines, yet David finds out in 23:7-14 that the people of Keilah will give him up to Saul if Saul comes to attack the city. To have just saved these people surely would’ve encouraged David’s heart. But to then see those same people be willing to turn their back on him the day after would’ve been a crushing and disappointing blow to David. Now in order to save Keilah again, he must leave it, before they seize and surrender him to Saul. Fast forward a bit to 23:19-24 where we see that the Ziphites are going to do the same thing the people of Keilah did and more. They’re not only willing to surrender David into the hand of Saul, they go further and tell Saul where David is hiding and invite him to come and take David. So after the large disappointment from the people of Keilah and before another large disappointment from the people of Ziph, what does David receive? He receives strengthening in God through Jonathan. You know, this makes me think and should make you think about the timing of God’s encouragement. Would these two episodes of disappointment been too much for David to bear without Divine aid? Would such betrayal been too devastating to David to handle back to back? Is that the reason Jonathan was allowed to find David and encourage him? Obviously we don’t know the answer to these questions, the passage doesn’t tell us these details. But, that God does send Jonathan to strengthen David in Himself shows us that God knows the fears and knows the anxieties of David’s heart, and wants David to be reminded of His promises. What a God we serve!
The scene ends as quickly as it began. In v18 it says the two of them made another covenant before the LORD. This was the last time these two would see each other, and because of that there is a heaviness in the last words of v18, “David remained…Jonathan went home.” Do you now see the weight of Jonathan’s visit in v16? Seen in this light Jonathan’s encouragement to David looms large in the midst of this chapter, large enough to take an entire Sunday to make much of it. On May 26, 1860 the Scottish Minister Andrew Bonar wrote this in his journal, “Spent an hour in my old retreat in the wood of Dunsinnane, the place which I used to call ‘the wood of Ziph,’ where God has often strengthened my hands, my divine Jonathan meeting me there.” Who was Andrew Bonar’s divine Jonathan that strengthened him so often? The Lord Jesus Christ. A century before on March 22, 1758 Jonathan Edwards asked for his ‘divine Jonathan’ on his deathbed calling Jesus of Nazareth his “…true and never-failing Friend.” Similarly John Newton once wrote a poem about his own fond memories of God strengthening him saying this, “His name yields the richest perfume, and sweeter than music His voice; His presence disperses my gloom, and makes all within me rejoice: I should, were He always thus nigh, have nothing to wish or to fear; No mortal so happy as I, my summer would last all the year. Content with beholding His face, my all to His pleasure resigned, No changes of season or place, would make any change in my mind. While blessed with a sense of His love, a palace a toy would appear; And prisons would palaces prove, if Jesus would dwell with me there.” Ages before that, it was the Apostle Paul who rejoiced over how the Lord had ministered to his own heart. Speaking of one of these instances he said this to young Timothy, “No one came to support me, everyone deserted me…But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…” (2 Tim. 4:16-18)
We are now ready to speak of why these same things ought to loom large among us at SonRise Community Church.
As Jonathan strengthened David’s hand in God, God calls us to do the same with one another in the Church. And the way we do so with one another is the same way Jonathan did it with David. Jonathan didn’t just encourage David with his own presence or even his own words, he strengthened David by reminding him of God’s promises.
We live in an age that is far too soft and cuddly, that makes much of sentiment and shallow comforts. It is true that when one is in despair, our presence with them goes a long way. But we must come to see that our presence doesn’t go and cannot go far enough. What does? The sure and abiding strength of the Word of God. We encourage best not by merely being with people, but by giving people what they need most. What do all people need most? God. Therefore, the deepest of encouragement from God, for all the people of God, comes from the truth of the Word of God. “Encouragement from God, for the people of God, comes from the Word of God” (Dale Ralph Davis). Do you really believe this? Or do you think that your smile and your own heartfelt words are enough to comfort your own soul or someone else’s soul in despair or while they’re on a hospital bed approaching death? News alert: you’re not enough! You’re not enough! Only God is enough for anyone, so if we really love someone we will not give them ourselves, we will do whatever we can to give God to them in all of life!
So to end, I’m going to state a truth and then apply the truth. Here’s the truth: life in Christ is life together. Hebrews 10:24-24 confirms this saying, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Because of this it is arrogant and proud to seek to do the Christian life alone. It is right and humble to seek to do the Christian life with and inside the community of the local church. This is the truth. Now let’s apply this truth by asking a question 1 Samuel 23:16 and Hebrews 10:24-25 demand of us: since we’re called to strengthen one another’s hands in God while we do life in Christ together within the Church, how do we do that? What does that look like? It looks like 7 ways:
1) Strengthening one another by speaking the truth in love: Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ.” By doing this to one another we stir up one another in comfort and loving confrontation. This means we agree to be honest with one another, and this also means we agree to be honest about one another when talking about each other before others. How much would it change our conversation if we sought to do whatever we could to uphold each other’s reputations? It would change a great deal I can tell you that. The great benefit of speaking the truth in love with one another and about one another is that we all will ‘grow up into Him who is our Head, into Christ.’
2) Strengthening one another by humility: Philippians 2:3-4 speaks of us considering others as more significant than ourselves, even putting the needs of others before our own. Humility is a call not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less. By doing this we stir one another up by serving one another. This humility is a two way street, a giving and a receiving. Giving when we give of ourselves to serve the needs of others, and receiving when we push away our pride and allow others us to serve us. Did you know it’s prideful to not allow others to serve you or know your needs to pray for you? Here me loud and clear: you cannot be humble and have a prideful swagger at the same time. As Jared Wilson says, “The Church is to be filled with people who have had their swagger gospel’d out of them.”
3) Strengthening one another by listening: I think it’s true that the way we listen to others is usually a reflection of how we listen to God. With God listening to what He says to us in His Word is the way to grow closer to Him. With one another it’s no different – listening to what another is telling you is the way to grow closer to that person. I’m afraid this means at times you will have to put away your cell phones and actually look someone in the eyes when you’re interacting with them. By doing this we stir one another up in serving as well because good listening is often the beginning to serving one another because it’s in listening to them where we find out how to serve them.
4) Strengthening one another by helpfulness: 1 John 3:17 says, “If you anyone has worldly goods, sees a brother in need, and closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” If you cut your leg would you say to it ‘Oh, I’m sorry leg, I hope you feel better, I can spend some time with you next week.’ Of course not, no sane person would say such things. Yet when a member of our church body is hurting, that’s too often exactly what we say to them, if not by our words we do so by our actions. We refuse to get involved, or refuse to allow others to get involved with us. But being helpful to one another means being willing to jump in for another’s good.
5) Strengthening one another by bearing: Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This is one of the most gospel centered ways we can serve one another. Because it was Jesus who carried the burden of our sin on the cross and in doing so He left us an example of how to carry the burdens of one another. Doing this will cost us much in life, but it will yield us much in the life to come. By bearing the burdens of others and allowing others to bear your own is to show that person what the gospel is. Since Jesus did it for us, how could we not do it for one another?
6) Strengthening one another by confession: James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” By confessing to one another we allow others to be sinners rather than forcing one another to wear masks of phony piety. By confessing to one another we live in honest fellowship rather than creating a culture of shadows where people feel unable to be truthful about their sin. Confession reduces the power of sin. Confession unites what sin has separated. Confession kills the old man and grows the new man. When true confession to take places among a church, the doors fling wide open for growth in holiness. So we must confess, not to impress, but to be honest and open with one another.
7) Strengthening one another by fellowship: the community of saints is to be just that, a community. If the only time we see one another is on Sunday morning or evening, we are not doing life together or loving one another as we ought to. Fellowship is about sharing life: knowing and being known, caring and being cared for, loving and being loved, pursuing and being pursued, serving and being served, praying and being prayed for.
By doing all these things, we strengthen one another in the gospel, because in our love for one another we’re making the invisible gospel visible to one another. To follow Christ is to love other Christians…love between believers isn’t a sign of maturity; it’s a sign of saving faith.
In his anger Cain once asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Well, for the Church the answer is clear: yes, you are.
This is why here at SonRise one of the questions we ask those desiring to be members is, “Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?” By answering this question in the affirmative the new member promises to not only do his or her part to contribute to the church through their time, their talents, and their treasure, but they also promise to do the hard work of loving one another.
Did you know this is one of the few actual church growth principles given to us in the Bible. When all the members of the church love one another John 13 says the church becomes a compelling community to the city because in our mutual love for one another the city around us sees God’s gracious character on display.
And once people see Him, everything changes.