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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:Two are better than one
Text:Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 16: 1
Psalm 81: 4, 6, 7
Psalm 86: 1, 6
Hymn 9: 1-5
Psalm 27: 1, 2

Read: Ecclesiastes 4 : 1-8
Text: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters, and that includes you, boys and girls:

Recently I read a study in Psychology Today which concluded that loneliness leads to a wide range of health and social problems. It is such a serious problem that the author suggests that society should look at loneliness in the same way we look at heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes, also known as the preacher or the teacher, also did a study about loneliness and he came to some of the same conclusions. For even though he lived some 2 ½ thousand years ago, the times that the Teacher describes are not much different from the times of today. We can very much identify with the lives of the people of that day. There were a lot of lonely people in those days as well. Like us today, the people had to deal with all kinds of stresses. And for many reasons they dealt with the problems on their own. That’s an age-old problem.

Look at the kinds of things they had to deal with. In chapter 4, the Teacher speaks about the oppression that he and others had to suffer at the hands of others. He speaks about the competitive world in which he lived, a world that was also full of envy and jealousy. In the midst of such a world the people laboured all their lives, but in the end they found themselves lonely and depressed.

That’s the kind of world we live in as well. Let me quote from another article. It says “Pensioners are increasingly turning to drink to help cope with the loneliness and boredom of retirement.” For most people it’s a lonely world. And the problem is made worse by the fact that nowadays there is a high divorce rate. The emphasis is on making sure that you get out of life what you want for yourself. You are “Number one”. Relationships are discarded at will. As soon as one relationship doesn’t work for you anymore, go to the next. In the end, you end up miserable and alone. The conclusion of the editorial is correct: “There’s no getting around it, humans are truly social animals.” We need other people. Indeed, the Lord God also created us in that way. That’s also clear from the text. Today we will see that, as the Teacher says:

For the Lord created us to depend on each other:
1. For help;
2. For strength;
3. For comfort.

1. There is a familiar proverb that states, “A friendless man is like a left hand bereft of the right.” Can you imagine losing your right hand and having to do everything with your left hand all of a sudden? Especially if you do your work with your hands, that would make things very difficult for you, wouldn’t it? Well, says the Teacher, the same thing is true of a worker without someone to help him. A lot of jobs are hard to do on your own. People who labour in the building trade know that there are a lot of jobs that you can’t do on your own. You need another person to help you lift things into place, to fetch things for you while you have your hands full, and to watch out for you. You need others for safety.

You also get a lot more done with someone else to help you and spur you on. When the one is getting tired, the other one can pick up the slack. And when the going gets tough you don’t as easily give in as when you are on your own.

You young people also use that concept, don’t you? When you have a project to do in school, or when you have some difficult homework to do, then you like to do that with a good friend. If you are serious about getting the work done then with a good friend you are much more productive.

This is especially true within a marriage. A good working partnership is essential. There are certain projects you cannot do on your own. Wallpapering a room in the house, for example. It’s also a lot more fun to do that together. For a project like that you need to be a good team. You have to learn to get out of each other’s way and to cooperate. And so there’s no doubt that the Teacher’s observation that “two are better than one because they have a good return for their work” is a good one.

The Teacher also gives another example. He says two are better because “if one falls down, the other can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him!” Travel in those days was not like it is now. There were a lot of dangers on the road. Often they had to go through mountain passes with cliffs on either side and through rough terrain where you could easily stumble and fall into a deep pit. If you are on your own then your travel is much more precarious than when you travel with one or more people. You can look out for each other, and lift each other up when you fall.

These examples that the Teacher gives are not meant just for the worker or the traveler. That’s how it should be in all our activities. God did not create us as separate individuals. He did not make his covenant with this person, and with that person, and then with that other person. No, God deals with us as a people in fellowship with each other. That’s why he did not deem it good either that the man would be alone. He gave him a wife. And you know what he called her? A helper. Adam needed a helper already before the fall into sin. But, how much truer that is after the fall into sin. Because now we are prone to stumble and to fall all the time.

When you are alone then it is hard to see where you are going. You need someone beside you to help you go in the right way. And it is hard to get up when you stumble and fall. Within a good marriage you are a hand and a foot to each other. When the one is down, the other can lift him or her up. The people of the world often kick you when you’re down, but at home with your wife or husband you can find relief and understanding.

Ecclesiastes is not just speaking here about marriage. It is true that if you have a good marriage, then your wife, or your husband, is your best friend. But this applies to everybody. We all need a good friend. This passage applies also to the single people in our midst, and to the widows and the widowers. We all need a good friend who will help us when we are down.

Look at how David, in the midst of his trouble with Saul, drew great comfort and strength from Saul’s son, Jonathan. Jonathan warned David during times of danger. He encouraged him. He helped him wherever he could. Life would have been so much more difficult for David if it hadn’t been for Jonathan.

The Bible teaches us that the Lord our God is our help. Isn’t that what we all personally confessed when we started our worship service? And so that goes without saying as we go through our daily lives. The Lord God is our help in everything.

But that does not mean that we do not need other people. Of course we do. That is why God created us as a community. He created us to be part of our church family and of our immediate family as well. He also created us to be in a relationship with our friends.

There are, however, some people who have difficulty making friends. Do you know why that is? Well, there are many reasons. And the reasons are complex. The difficulty sometimes lies with the prospective friends themselves. Not everybody can be your close friend. Some people are just too critical or too irritating to be around. Or they don’t have the same interests as you do. They do things differently. You just don’t click. There are also those who have difficulty keeping things confidential. And so you don’t feel safe around them. It could also be that they are too demanding and that they take advantage of you, or that they talk too much and don’t listen to anything you have to say. Or it could be that they are gossips, gossiping about other people behind their back, and you are afraid that they will do the same to you. It’s hard to be close friends with some people.

But, if you have no friends at all, then you had better look at yourself in the first place. Could it be that you are too picky? Are you looking for the wrong things in a friend? Could it be that you are hard to get along with? Are you too demanding or too critical or too selfish to be a really close friend to somebody else?

Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, you need others to help you through life. Ministers need the support of their wives and children. They need the help of other ministers and the members of their council. And so it is with everyone. You all need your group of support. You need close friends to help you during times of difficulty. There are times when you fall down. And then you need a good friend to lift you up again.

There are a lot of enemies out there and they are out to make you stumble and fall. The devil sets many traps for you and for me, and we need others to help us avoid those traps. For you also find strength in numbers. We come to the second point.

2. The Teacher says that though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. Again we are brought back to those times that the Teacher lived. When you traveled in those days you did not only have to put up with difficult road conditions, but you also had to put up with robbers and thieves. And so it would be a lot safer to travel with another person. And that’s true today as well. Especially if you’re a woman, it is better not to walk alone at night, particularly in remote or high crime areas. Also for little children it is better to travel in pairs. You will not be as easily preyed upon when you are with another person. There is strength in numbers.

In order to make this point further, the Teacher says that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. He uses the number three for poetic reasons. You see that kind of poetic use more often in the Proverbs. He does not just refer here to three persons, but what he has in mind here is your entire support system. He says that you will find strength with two persons, but even greater strength with three or more.

That’s also true in our lives. There are different areas of our lives where we need help. At work you need the help of a friend to take you through the day, to help you to be productive, and to mentor you and instruct you and encourage you. You also need a support group for other things going on in your life. You need support within your home and outside of your home. We all have various challenges. And the more people you get to help you, the stronger you will be.

There are a lot of loners in this world, also among us. They sit staring at the computer screen or a TV screen most of the night and on the weekends. They have no friends to speak of. They don’t have a support group.

Well, if that is the case with you, then you won’t do well in life. You need to interact with others. Even if you think you don’t need others - which you do - others need you. The fact of the matter is that no one can do without other people. That’s especially true when you’re dealing with difficult things. You can’t handle them on your own. Even the Lord Jesus Christ himself needed his support group around him, his disciples. Why, you may wonder? He is almighty God isn’t he? Yes. But he is also a human being. And while he was on earth he was weak. He took on the weakness of our flesh. Look at how he craved the companionship of his disciples when he was praying on the Mount of Olives. He needed them to stay awake, to be there for him. He needed them for encouragement, for understanding.

Do you know what the greatest punishment was that he received? It was that he was totally abandoned, first of all by God, who is man’s primary and greatest help, and secondly he was abandoned by all of mankind, including his best friends. There is no greater punishment than that. The punishment of hell is loneliness. The punishment of hell is that you have no friends. The punishment of hell is that you have no one to help you, that you have no one to sympathize with you, that you have no one to carry you through your difficulties. That nobody cares about you. That, congregation, is hell.

In John 15:14-16 the Lord Jesus said to his followers, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. And the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

He chose them as his friends. Although he says that they are his friends if they do what he commands, he knows, however, that they are incapable of doing that. All he wants them to do is to try and keep his commandments. He knows that we as weak human beings only have a very small beginning of the obedience that he requires. There are so many things wrong with us. As a matter of fact, everything is wrong with us. We are corrupt human beings. And yet, he chose us as his friends. He was able to overlook all our sins and shortcomings, and be kind to us. And now, the Lord Jesus is our friend.

Do you want to have a friend to help you through your life? A friend at work, at school, at play? Well, then don’t be too picky. Be kind and compassionate. There are many reasons that some people have difficulty relating to others. It can be that they have been hurt in the past because of having been betrayed. Or they were abused as children. Those who have been physically or emotionally or sexually abused as children have great difficulties establishing relationships in later life. Try to start a friendship with such people in spite of their behaviour. And don’t have too high an opinion of yourself, thinking that others are not good enough for you. Don’t be too demanding. Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

The Teacher speaks about a cord with three strands. One strand on its own is easily broken. But if you have two or more strands, then you get a strong cord or rope. The more strands you have, the stronger the rope will be. And then, when one strand is broken, the rope is still fairly strong. However, the more strands that are broken, the weaker the cord becomes. It becomes very hard to put a rope back together again. Oh sure, you can take each strand and tie the frayed or cut ends together again, and thereby make the rope fairly strong again. But it will never be as strong as before. The cord won’t function as well either. The rope is full of knots. It doesn’t slide through your hands like it did before.

The same thing is true of friendship. Once you break up a friendship, it’s hard to re-establish the relationship. And if you do, there will be scars left. The friendship becomes more difficult. And so, be careful before you break up a friendship. Be careful how you treat your friends. Know how to establish and nurture your friendships.

If you want people to be a friend to you, then you must first of all be a friend yourself. Be a friend to those who are down and who are weak. Be a friend to those with whom you come into daily contact. It’s true that you need close friends as well, someone with whom you can share the same interests. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t help others as well and defend them when they are under attack. The Lord God created us in fellowship with others. The most important relationships are within your family, and then within the church, and within the whole Church community. As Paul says in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

This passage makes clear that as long as we never compromise our Christian principles we can have friends outside of our circles as well. We can be an example of what it means to be a friend to others, to help them when they are under attack. We can, indeed we must, be a friend to our neighbour when he needs our help. And so, don’t shun those with whom you come into contact. Show that you are a Christian. Show the love of Christ for we are all needful and vulnerable human beings.

As I said, we are under attack all the time, not just physically, but spiritually. The devil is always out to have you go on the wrong path. And he uses evil and wicked people in order to have you go astray. And then you need a righteous and loving friend to bring you back on the right path. You need your friends to defend you against the attack of the devil. When you are going down a lonely road, and you’re turning to alcohol or to other addictive behaviours, then a good friend will turn you around. Then your good friend will say to you, “Brother (or sister), you are going in the wrong way.” And if you have no friends to steer you in the right way again, then you are much more likely to continue down the wrong path. Paul says in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” We need others as we travel the road of life. We need each other also in order to keep warm. That brings us to the third point.

3. We don’t have the kind of travelling conditions today that the people had to endure during biblical times. Except for the odd pothole in the road, we don’t have too many hazards to deal with. We have warm cars to travel in that keep out the cold and the wind and the rain and the snow. And if we have to travel long distances, then a good and warm hotel is easy to find.

That was much different during the Teacher’s days. If you wanted to go any significant distance then you had to travel overnight. And then you would have to find shelter during the night. It was hard to keep warm under those conditions. And so, if you travelled with a good friend then it would be good to have a warm body around.

Although this text does not first of all refer to married couples, they are certainly included. Your partner ought to be your best friend. And when your partner is your best friend, then it is good to have him or her around to warm you up when you go to bed. It’s great to be able to snuggle together.

But we all need each other for a different kind of warmth as well. We all know what we mean when we talk about a warm person. We are drawn to such a person. It has nothing to do with looks or shape or size or age. Such a person attracts us because he or she, in one way or another, radiates the fact that he or she is sympathetic to you: open, ready to listen and to help, and to speak kind words. When someone sincerely compliments you, it makes you feel warm all over. We all like to be appreciated.

Sometimes a church is referred to as being a cold place. I’ve heard some people say that about Canadian Reformed churches as well. We are not always as inviting as we can be. Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, think about how we can change that. But, begin with yourself. Rather than looking at other people, look at yourself. What can YOU do to make this church a warmer place? Are you a critical person? Do you come up with biting and sarcastic remarks right after the worship service to the elders or the minister or other members of the church? Or do you leave right away in a hurry as if someone were chasing you? Or do you stand around in circles with your friends oblivious to everybody else, including the strangers that come into church? How do you receive those who are new to the church? How do you interact with others during the week? Are you interested in other people’s lives? Do you make visits and phone calls to those who are lonely or do you leave that up to the minister and others? Do you share other people’s sorrows and their joys or do you only talk about your own concerns? There is a saying, “Shared joy is double joy, shared sorrow is half the sorrow.”

By God’s grace, in spite of criticism, many of our churches are warm places. I hear a lot of people saying that. But that does not mean that we can’t improve. There are lots of people who do not radiate the warmth to the others that they should. They are waiting for others to do it to them. And then they complain about the church being a cold place.

Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, we need to keep each other warm. And you do that by making yourself a warm and attractive person. You begin with yourself.

Making friends and keeping friends is hard work. There is a cost involved. The Lord Jesus made you his friend. He paid the cost. He paid for your friendship with his precious blood. Are you willing to pay the cost of friendship? What are you willing to sacrifice? The Lord Jesus gained everything back that he had with his Father before he emptied himself of the glory and majesty. The world became his footstool. He is now rich beyond measure. And he made you and me very rich as well. Are you willing to share your riches and pay the cost of your friendship with the Lord your God and with your friends?

The fulfilment of the law is to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. If you keep that commandment you will never be lonely. You will always have friends. And the greatest friend that you will have is the Lord Jesus Christ. And he is the most wonderful friend that anyone can have. Amen

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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