Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 9, The Threefold Cord

Solomon begins our study today by noticing some more things he doesn't like about the way the world works. He thinks people are constantly trying to outdo each other, working their fingers to the bone trying to "keep up with the Joneses", and he says this is a complete waste of time.

"And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person's envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:4) I'm going to have to disagree with Solomon just a little bit over this verse because he's become cynical enough to let his judgment become clouded. Not all toil and achievement spring from envy. I won't deny that a great deal of it does. There is a lot of competitiveness in the workplace, sometimes even in workplaces that are religious institutions or charitable organizations. But I can't believe all work is done from a spirit of selfishness or envy or greed. There are still some truly unselfish deeds being done in this fallen world. There is work that sincerely comes from a desire to serve the Lord, whether it's in the foreign missionary field or in our own homes or at our own jobs. It depends on the state of our hearts whether our work is honorable or not. Solomon is correct in judging that a whole lot of deeds in this world are done from a position of envy or selfishness, but as any of us might do when depressed and discouraged, he makes a false assumption about the motives of all his fellow humans.

Yet even in his cynicism Solomon finds more value in hard work than in laziness. "Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:5-6) He thinks to himself, "The one who spends all his time climbing the ladder of success is wasting his time chasing after the temporary things of this world. But on the other hand it's foolish to be lazy. It's stupid to say, 'I'd rather make do with a lot less as long as I don't have to work. I'd rather have just a little bit than to have to plunge into the rat race of the workplace every day.' That kind of person is no more honorable than the one who is greedy and selfish."

He has noticed that even men without families keep pushing themselves harder and harder every day to make more money and to advance themselves. He is able to understand a man working feverishly to leave something behind for his children and grandchildren, but he doesn't understand why a man alone would work so hard just to leave his worldly goods to someone not even related to him. Work for the sake of work is something that never satisfied Solomon. He tried it, as we learned earlier in the book of Ecclesiastes, but it left him as empty as everything else left him. We've all heard stories of people who lived alone, spending the least amount of money possible, having no family or friends, and then when they died it was discovered they were millionaires. Yet they never seemed to enjoy anything and they had no heirs to inherit their fortune. Solomon says this is a meaningless way to live. "Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 'For whom am I toiling,' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?' This too is meaningless---a miserable business!" (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8)

Solomon feels he is better off than those who have no one with whom to share their lives and their wealth. Life holds little meaning or excitement for him at this point in time, but at least he isn't alone. It's his opinion that no man should work so hard that he doesn't have time for family and friends. Life is hard enough even with the support and encouragement of others; he can't imagine going through life alone. "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

The king makes a point in verses 9-12 that is extremely valuable to us as Christians. We are not meant to walk through this world alone. God never intended us to get along without the support of the type of people who will encourage us in the faith, people who will help us back up when we fall. Satan loves it when he can isolate us not only from God but also from our fellow man. It's much easier for that roaring lion to pick us off one by one when we stray from the body of Christ, in the same way it's easier for a lion to crouch in the weeds waiting for an antelope to wander away from the herd. There truly is strength in numbers. If our jobs require us to work hard and spend long hours at them, let's never fail to maintain a good relationship with our spouses and children, checking in with them during the day and keeping the lines of communication open at all times. Let's not allow our friendships to languish no matter how busy we are. When we fall into depression and discouragement, our friends will come along and lift us up and speak the encouraging and life-affirming words of God to us.

There is a reason why the Bible warns believers to stay alert and on guard, sticking together like a herd of animals for protection. "Your enemy the devils prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8b) God did not intend for us to walk through this fallen and often scary world without the support of godly believing friends and family members. As Solomon says, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves." When we add God to the mix we become invincible, "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." When alone I might not be able to talk myself out of despair; like a one-ply cord I could snap in two. But I can pick up the phone and call or text a godly friend, or I can go online and message someone who always encourages me in the faith. I might be overpowered on my own, but a friend and I together can defend ourselves; like a two-ply cord we are stronger together. Because we are believers, this means that our God is in the midst of us, making a threefold cord that is extremely difficult to break. Successful living for believers requires that we remain connected to other believers and connected to our God. Then we need fear neither man nor Satan himself.

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