Johnny was in a great spot. He was well liked and really skilled at whatever he did. Along with being outstanding, he had the added benefit of knowing the position was guaranteed to be his. He was literally born to do this. You can imagine his shock when he found out it was given to someone else before he even had a chance to prove himself.
This has nothing to do with sports.
Johnny was a biblical character referred to as Jonathan. His dad, Saul, was the King of Israel. As his son, Jonathan was the rightful heir to the throne. But don’t imagine him as some stuck-up rich kid. Jonathan was very capable. He would have been a great king, but wasn’t given the opportunity. Rather than complain, Jonathan chose to make the best of the situation. And because of his unselfish attitude, he became one of the greatest teammates this world has ever known. He is a model of a great teammate and there are 10 things modern day athletes can learn about being a teammate from his life.
Great teammates have ambition
“One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father.” (1 Samuel 14:1)
Before David arrives on the scene, we catch a glimpse of the character and ambition of Jonathan. As the son of King Saul, Jonathan has the rights to the throne after his father’s reign is over. He does not have to prove anything. The spot is his. But he is not satisfied by with playing it safe. Without his father’s knowledge—or permission—Jonathan sets a plan in motion to conquer the Philistines.
Why? Was it because the Philistines had been a thorn in the side of his father Saul for the majority of his time as king? Did Jonathan feel like he had to prove himself? Were his motives actually pure? The truth is we don’t know the real reason he pursued the Philistines. But we do know from this interaction with his armor bearer that Jonathan was anything but passive. When an opportunity arose, his response was to take action.
What does this have to do with being a great teammate? Simple. Great teammates are not passive. They have a personal ambition to be the best that they can be because they view their talent as a steward given to them by God. Even if they are the frontrunners for “the spot” on the team, they don’t take it for granted.
Great teammates learn from other great teammates
“And his armor-bearer said to him, ‘Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:7)
After Jonathan shares the plan, his armor-bearer, the only other person to go along with him, has his back. He puts Jonathan’s interest above his own. There is a huge difference between “I support you,” and “I am with you heart and soul.” They were going to succeed together or die trying together. His armor-bearer was a great teammate. As we will see later in the story, Jonathan takes on a similar role to his armor-bearer in his friendship with David. Jonathan was willing to do anything for David. Did he learn this type of selfless friendship from his armor bearer? Maybe. He certainly did not learn it from his father.
What’s the point? Great teammates do not learn how to be great in isolation. They pay attention to those around them who are doing it well. The look. They learn. They ask questions. There’s a level of humility involved in knowing that you can always learn something from someone else. Great teammates honor the people around them—and God—by having a consistent posture of learning.
Great teammates are skillful
“Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.” (1 Samuel 14:13-14)
While Jonathan will be remembered because of what he did for David later in the story, it can be easy to forget an important truth about him. He was a beast. Jonathan was a skillful warrior. It can be easy to forget this since the book of 1 Samuel spends so much time talking about how he supported and loved David. Jonathan was not a junior varsity athlete vying for a varsity spot. The kid was all-state. He was great at what he did. Why is this important?
Because it’s easy to assume that “great teammates” are just role players. We figure they have to be great teammates because that’s the role they fill on the team. But that’s far from the truth. Being a great teammate isn’t limited to the armor-bearers and the ones’ who ride the bench. If you are reading this and play a key role on your team, it is still your responsibility to be the best possible teammate you can be. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Philippians 2:7 speaks to this: “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Regardless of our standing on the team, when we die to ourselves to serve others, we become great teammates because we follow the path of Jesus.
Great teammates take responsibility for their actions
“Then Saul said to Jonathan, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ And Jonathan told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.’” And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” (1 Samuel 14:43-44)
After Jonathan’s victory over the Philistines, King Saul forbid anyone within the army to eat anything until he avenged his enemies. Jonathan didn’t get the memo and tasted some honey. He didn’t blame anyone else, and he didn’t try to justify his actions. He accepted the consequences, even if they seemed unfair. The rest of the men in the army intervened on his behalf, sparing his life.
Great teammates aren’t perfect. They will make mistakes and do things they regret. They do not, however, hide under a rock when their misdeeds are exposed. Great teammates don’t blame other teammates. They don’t use social media as a passive aggressive outlet. Even if the punishment seems unfair, they accept it and learn from it.
That’s the beauty of the Gospel. The only role we play in God saving us is providing something for him to save us from! Our sins! If you are involved in sports at any level, you will make mistakes. It’s part of the beauty of sports. It provides a fast-paced, emotional environment that reveals what is really going on inside of us. Whatever comes out, be quick to confess and move on.
Great teammates fight against entitlement
“As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.” (1 Samuel 18:1-2)
This verse comes on the heels of David killing Goliath. By this point in the story, David is pegged as the next king of Israel. None of Saul’s sons, including Jonathan, would succeed their father on the throne. The young shepherd who had killed lions and bears—and now Goliath—had the nation’s attention. He had just moved into the starting lineup and taken Jonathan’s spot. How did Jonathan respond? He loved David as he loved himself. He committed to being one in spirit with David. How would you respond? Maybe you have had this exact situation happen to you as an athlete.
The disease of entitlement runs rampant in the world of sports. “I deserve this spot.” “I worked hard for my position.” “I am next in line when he/she graduates.” “I am better than them.” “What they did was not that impressive.” It is so easy to become bitter at those who “steal” our spotlight or our playing time. Great teammates seek to put others above themselves, especially in moments when it is most difficult to do so.
Maybe you have been on the other side of this situation where you actually “took” someone else’s spot on the team. You don’t need to be apologetic about this—but you do need to be sympathetic to your teammate’s situation. What would it look like for you to move towards them in a moment like this?
Great teammates do not have a hidden agenda
“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.” (1 Samuel 18:3-4)
Jonathan was all in on his friendship and loyalty to David. What we see in these verses is Jonathan giving up everything given to him and everything he worked for in order to help David advance. It’s evident that Jonathan wasn’t just trying to get on David’s good side so he could leverage that position later. His words and his actions reflected his heart’s desire.
Great teammates truly want what is best for others on the team. Their actions and words are not just a strategy to get back in the coach’s good graces, but are an overflow of a desire to see others succeed. Even if it comes at significant cost to themselves.
How do you get to a place where this is the true desire of your heart? If you are like me, it probably starts with admitting you are not close to being there. It means confessing to God that your motives are not pure and there is an existing gap between where you want to be and where you currently are. It means inviting him into the process of changing the desire of your heart or asking him to bring you to a spot where you want what is best for those around you more than yourself. That is a Gospel-centered mentality. And it’s the mark of a great teammate.
Great teammates speak well of their teammates privately
“And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, ‘Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.’” (1 Samuel 19:4).
As David continued to grow in popularity amongst the people, King Saul was increasingly jealous and wanted to kill David. It would have been so easy for Jonathan to start piling it on his friend David. “Oh yeah dad, that’s only half of it! You’ll never guess what he was doing a couple of weeks ago. And did I ever tell you what I saw him do when we first became friends?” This was Jonathan’s chance to reclaim his spot. Teaming with his father, the current king of Israel, would go a long way in helping him leapfrog David on the way to the throne.
He did not take the bait.
What does this mean for you? Great teammates don’t lurk behind the scenes looking for an opportunity to capitalize on the misfortune of others. When necessary and appropriate, they advocate for their teammates behind closed doors. Anyone can champion a teammate in public. It takes a great teammate to do it when no one else is watching.
Gossip is a deadly disease that sucks the life out of a team’s culture. More importantly, it makes ambassadors of Jesus look really bad when they are piling it on others behind their backs. Let’s throw away the old and dated playbook that encourages athletes to speak negatively behind their teammate’s backs and trust what the Word of God encourages us to do when faced with the opportunity to go negative. Let’s look toward the example of Jonathan and practice being a great teammate by lifting others up—especially when they’re not around.
Great teammates let their teammates know they have their back
“Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Whatever you say, I will do for you.’” (1 Samuel 20:4).
When David was desperate, he came to Jonathan. He knew that Saul wanted him dead. Jonathan did not say “good luck” or “I will keep you in my prayers.” He looked his friend in the eye and said: “I will do anything you ask me to do.” When life got really hard, Jonathan became the person David ran to for comfort.
Do you have that reputation on your team? Are you the type of person your teammates will come to when times get tough? Why or why not?
Great teammates don’t put limits on what they will do for others. They are willing to be inconvenienced to help a teammate get out of a jam. This stands in stark contrast to the me-centered attitude of our sports culture. This willingness to help comes out of a growing awareness of the lengths to which Jesus went to serve and sacrifice for us. If sin didn’t get in the way for him, surely we can’t let sports get in the way for us. The best way to become the type of teammate that Jonathan was to David is through service. Look for ways to serve your teammates wherever and whenever you can. This builds trust—and when the time comes for them to need someone to offer them hope—you will have set yourself up to be a trusted confidant.
Great teammates enter into their teammate’s pain
“And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him.”
“As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most.” (1 Samuel 20:34,41).
Saul finally reached his tipping point. He expressed to Jonathan his disdain for him as a son and his intentions to kill David. In a moment when he had every right to isolate himself and recover from the personal attacks of his father, Jonathan chose to hurt with David. At that moment, he decided to enter his friend’s pain rather than his own.
Great teammates allow themselves to hurt and enter into the pain of others. What does this look like on a practical level? If a teammate gets injured, they imagine what it must be like to be in that person’s shoes. If a teammate loses or performs poorly, they encourage their teammate and try to lift his or her spirits. Great teammates don’t try to fix the problem or minimize the pain. They use phrases like: “I’m really sorry.” “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” “What do you need from me?” “I’m in your corner.”
Great teammates celebrate their teammate’s success
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
The Scriptures don’t record many celebratory moments between David and Jonathan. It’s pretty safe to assume, however, that when good things happened to David, Jonathan was joyfully celebrating with him.
Romans 12:15 implores believers to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” Great teammates enter into the joy of others and celebrate with them. Can I be honest? Sometimes a teammate’s success will come at the cost of your own. If you can’t muster up the energy in your heart to find happiness for your teammate, it becomes an opportunity for you to confess that to the Lord and repent.
An inability to celebrate others is a terrible, joy-robbing way to live. A great teammate embraces the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” because part of loving your neighbor—and your teammates—is being happy when good fortune comes their way.
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