Three is Better Than One
August 2, 2015
We’re in week 4 of looking at Life Lessons from Ecclesiastes. This is not very optimistic literature, but Solomon always includes hope in this book. Solomon, the king of Israel, is the writer and he’s trying to find every avenue to experience pleasure and success in life. Even thought he was already king, had amassed a fortune and led the strongest nation in the world, there was still something missing.
He was trying to gain everything through his own works. It was all about Solomon, and periodically he would get his heart and soul in order and realize it’s about God, not about him, but, that didn’t seem to last long.
And that’s the beauty of this book. It’s raw and honest. That’s the Bible. That’s God! How many of us will stop and say, “wait, I need to get back to God, I need to change my life, I need to get my priorities straight.” We do it for awhile and life changes for the good. We seem more at peace, less anxious . . . but then we stop! For some strange reason we stop doing what we were doing. We go back to our old ways. We pursue life, liberty and happiness . . . but from all the wrong sources. And we end up with no life, shackled and unhappy.
At the beginning of chapter 4, Solomon spoke of oppression and the fact that it would be better if you were never born. That would save you from suffering. Then he made several observations about working and life.
Solomon offers 3 thoughts when it comes to work. In Ecclesiastes 4:4, He wrote ~
4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
First, is the person who is all about the victory. They have to have the most toys to win. They have to have the most sales, the most victories, the most of whatever it is. There’s nothing wrong with the most wins or sales or whatever it is you’re striving after.
But the point Solomon is trying to make is what’s the real driving force? Is it your ego? Is it what others think of you? Is it all about you? That’s what often drives us, then in the end we have no contentment. That’s really what Solomon’s talking about.
When we are envious of our neighbor, our drive and motivation is based on the wrong things. In the end, he says it’s like striving and chasing after the wind. It’s vain, it’s meaningless. We have no happiness.
In 2:24, Solomon told us work is a gift from God. But like all of God’s blessings, work can also be distorted by sin.
We this in all aspects of life. We work harder, but are less productive, we end up running in vicious circles. We’re constantly on the go, yet, we get nowhere.
Solomon says there is another option . . . In verse 5 he explained . . .
5 The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
That doesn’t sound like a very good option either. This second approach to work shows the opposite approach to the envious person. Instead of being extremely competitive, there are others who do not work at all. They simply fold their hands and do nothing. Ever work with some folks like that?
Now the part about eating their own flesh is really a metaphor. Their disinterest is just as destructive as the person who is envious and all about competition. Doing nothing is destructive. Often times, doing nothing takes away a person self-respect and view of themselves.
Both of these approaches to work are wrong. It’s wrong to base your work as a competition with others, so that you become envious when others have success. And it’s wrong to become so idle that you accomplish nothing at all
There is third approach. It’s found in the person who has learned to be content. Solomon wrote ~
6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
It’s learning to be satisfied with one handful, rather than pushing for more and more so that you can get two hands full. But at the same time with your hands full, you feel like you’re chasing the elusive wind.
You can find story after story of people who have made it their goal in life to make more and more money. And they discover that money never satisfies.
Solomon was not opposed to hard work. Work hard, but be content with what you have. Find your satisfaction in what God provides. Most of us want so many other things in life that we struggle saying — Jesus is even enough for us.
So, we ought to live with contentment.
Paul tells us about contentment in Philippians 4. He said ~
11 for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Paul described his life when he wrote ~
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
He learned that in whatever situation he found himself in, he could find contentment, because he had Christ. That secret was learning to be content in every situation he encountered. He knew he could accomplish anything because Christ was with him.
In his book Bowling Alone, Sociologist Robert Putnam stated Americans have lost their sense of community. He wrote — more Americans are bowling than ever before but they’re not bowling in leagues, with friends or with families. They’re bowling alone.
So many people have lost their sense of community. It was in the church 40-50 years ago. But we see the church losing ground to the demands of the world. We’re busier than ever and make less time for community within the church.
That’s what was so important in the TV program Cheers, “you went somewhere where everyone knew your name.” Even today, that’s still so vital for us. But we pretend it doesn’t matter. We can do it alone, but then we find out we’re really pretty miserable on our own. So, Solomon in all his wisdom, if you’ve noticed gives us the bad news, but then he always gives us good news in the end.
In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 he talks about the exponential power of community. Solomon says there’s a better way . . .
9 TwSLIDEo are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
10 FSLIDEor if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
11 SLIDEAgain, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
12 SLIDEAnd though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
In place of loneliness and isolation, he talks about togetherness. In place of the corruption, he says those two will have a good return for their labor. In place of oppression and injustice, he says 2 can defend themselves.
Solomon is using the idea of community — two or more people working together, living together, serving together, even fighting together. He’s telling us there’s something exponentially powerful in community!
Two have more power than one. And three is even better. We need people in our lives to help us in so many different ways. That’s where the church is so vital.
Throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation we see a tremendous emphasis on the power and importance of community. I want to end by looking at Luke’s description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47:
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
In a world gone mad, in a culture that’s unraveling, the one institution that can make a long term, positive impact is the church. When the church is filled with God’s Spirit, the church is the answer to the problems of life in a fallen, broken world. The Church is the New Testament example of Solomon’s emphasis on the power of community.
The church carries the promise of justice in a world filled with oppression. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and stood up for the oppressed. He calls His people — the church — to do the exact same thing.
The church carries the proclamation of redemption in a world filled with corruption. The church is the keeper and guardian of the gospel. The last thing Jesus told the disciples was —
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth. They would tell the world about Jesus — and the world would be changed forever because they shared the good news. Why? Because this is a story about redemption — the power to transform and change people. That’s always good news.
In all honesty, let me tell you this . . . I’m not the man I want to be, but because Jesus is helping me grow, I’m far better than I was and I know He’s not done. He has come into our lives and, by the power of His church and the presence of His Spirit, He is shaping us and making us to be people after His heart.
Whether it was a parent, a pastor, a friend, a sibling or another person, there was an individual who told you and me about Jesus. They were the church — the hands, the feet, the eyes and ears of our Lord — extending the message of redemption.
The church carries the power of community in a culture filled with isolation. I don’t want to romanticize this because I’ve seen churches where there was little, if any, sense of community. But I also know that many churches, if not most churches, provide a strong sense of community. I need community and you need community and each city needs community because when there’s a strong sense of community, everyone wins.
Oh, I know the church has problems. But I also know that there is nothing like the church when the church is working right, hitting on all cylinders and functioning as a life-giving community where everyone helps everyone else and we all are victorious.
From his perspective as the king of Israel, Solomon was showing us the power of community in this crazy world. From the perspective of the New Testament, we see that a Spirit-filled church is the answer to the problems of the world because the church stands for justice and redemption; healing and grace; because of the power and strength of Jesus.
I want to encourage you to see the church — as a safe haven. I want you to see the church, to see our church as a place of community. The only way to make a difference in the world is to not move away from the church, but to move together as the church.
We make sure we’re fighting the battles that need to be fought. We make sure we are working together as brothers and sisters in Christ. We do our best to make sure that we’re using our talents, our time our treasures so that the church can be exactly what Jesus calls us to be. A place of redemption and transformation.