Johnny was in a great spot. He was well liked and excelled at everything he did. Along with being outstanding, he had the additional benefit of knowing that the position was guaranteed to be his. He was literally born to do this. You can imagine his shock when he found out that it was given to someone else before he even had a chance to prove himself entirely.
Note, 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.
However, it would be wrong to pigeonhole him as being a stuck up rich kid. Jonathan was a flat out stud. He would have been a great king. Despite unfortunate circumstances, Jonathan chose to elevate his character instead of complaining. And in doing so, became one of the greatest teammates this world has ever known.
Jonathan gives us a model to strive towards as he embodies a gospel-centered teammate.
They 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 comes on the scene, we get a glimpse at 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. We see that he is not satisfied by settling. Without his father’s knowledge—or permission—Jonathan sets a plan in motion to conquer the Philistines.
Great teammates are not passive. They have a personal ambition to be the best that they can be. Even if they are the frontrunners for “the spot” on the team, they don't take it for granted.
They 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, bro” 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 role similar to his armor-bearer in his friendship with David.
Great teammates do not learn how to be great in isolation. They pay attention to those around them who are doing it well around them. There is a level of humility involved in knowing that you can always learn something from someone else.
They 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
Jonathan was a beast. 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?
In the conversation about being a great teammate, it is easy to assume the one’s who are called to be “great teammates” are just the role players. They have to be great teammates because that is the role they fill within the team.
No! Being a great teammate is not limited to the armor-bearers and the one’s that ride the bench. We are all called to the higher standard of excellence, attainable within the gift set that God has given us to steward.
They 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 did not get the memo and tasted some honey. He did not throw anyone under the bus. He did not 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 are not perfect. They will make mistakes and do things they regret. They do not, however, hide under a rock when their misdeeds are exposed. They do not blame other teammates. They do not use social media as a passive aggressive outlet. Even if the punishment seems unfair, they accept it and learn from it.
They 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 him as himself. He committed to being one in spirit with David. How would you respond?
The disease of entitlement runs rampant in the world of sport: 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.