My friend Greg invited me to join him for a four-mile run after work one afternoon. Now, Greg was a marathoner, but as for me, let’s just say I ran for health. So as the two of us set out, Greg ran a shoulder ahead of me. I felt bad for slowing him down, so I picked up the pace, now running a shoulder ahead of him. He, in turn, notched it up a step, and so it went, each of us silently accelerating the both of us for four miles. As we finished, Greg said, “You set a strong pace; I was trying to keep up with you.” “I set the pace?” I gasped amid chest-heaves, “I thought you were setting the pace! I was trying not to hold you back!” It was a metaphor for life—people inspire others to reach deeper than any would do alone, for we grow stronger and excel more when we expend ourselves for others and receive the same from them in support of us.
The son of Israel’s king, Jonathan showed greater bravery, humility and wisdom than his father, Saul. Yet his greatest attribute, and the one for which he is best remembered, was his love for a friend, which exceeded self-interest. “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”1 Then for a season in life, these two men ran life’s demanding race together. Once when pursued by Saul, who in jealously had sworn to kill him, David went to Jonathan and asked, “How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die!” he said, adding, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”3 It was the assurance David needed while fleeing the volatile sovereign. The last time David and Jonathan saw each other was an occasion like so many others—Saul seeking to take David’s life and Jonathan seeking to preserve it. “Jonathan went to David … and helped him find strength in God.”4
Friends in Christ help friends in Christ grow strong. Exhorted Paul, “Encourage one another and build each other up.”5 He said we ought not focus on pleasing ourselves, but “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.”6 Whether we run “a shoulder ahead” of our friends for a time, selflessly urging them upward and onward, or it be they who outdo themselves for us, let us “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”7 Let us speak strength, as Jonathan did.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 NIV)
Father, thank you for those you send to strengthen me. Please bless them, and grace me likewise to encourage others, that they may grow strong in Christ. Amen.
1 1 Samuel 18:1 NIV
2 1 Samuel 20:1-4 NIV
3 1 Samuel 20:1-4 NIV
4 1 Samuel 23:16 NIV
5 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
6 Romans 15:2 NIV
7 Hebrews 3:13 NIV