We live a very individualistic country, independence being what we strive for our whole lives. From our first breath we keep growing in our ability to do things on our own. Independence is partly what defines being an adult and when we are no longer dependent on anyone then we know we have succeeded. The idea of rugged individualism goes back a long way. Daniel Boone best represents the view that “the best neighbors are no neighbors.” Whenever he could start to see the chimney smoke of a neighbor he knew it was time to move.
Rugged individualism is the basic idea that if you do everything for yourself then you aren’t indebted to anyone. The phrase was first used by Republican President Herbert Hover in connection with limiting government help and has grown to mean not being dependent upon anyone for anything.
But what should matter most to us is not what our American Heritage says about individualism but what the Bible has to say about it. And the Bible story is one that teaches we are all more dependent than we realize and that relying on others isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But in some sense we do realize it. How many people on their deathbed long for more more money? Very few. But many long for better relationships, being connected, dependent if you will.
From the very beginning God created within us a desire not to be individualistic but to work together. In the garden everything was very good except for one thing...Adam was alone. Adam had God but he was still incomplete until God gave him Eve.
We were created to need others and to be with others but we have been corrupted by sin and sometimes it seems to be easier to live alone. As we read last week, we live in a wicked world. We live in world that is filled with envy and a desire to get ahead of others even if it means sacrificing meaningful relationships.
That’s one of the reason’s so many of the 10 commandments guard against us from working in a way complete independent of our neighbors.
- You shall not steal from your neighbor.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet what belongs to your neighbor.
- You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18).
In Micah 6:8 we’re reminded of what God requires. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Walking humbly with God as an individual isn’t all He requires. He also expects us to do justice and show kindness...to others.
In today’s text the primary keywords are the numbers 1 and 2. One is used 5 times and two, or the word “second”, is used six. This repetition helps us understand what the main point is.
The main point is this: since working alone is futile, we ought to cooperate with others. The passage is teaching that we shouldn’t try to go it alone but instead to work alongside others.
To make this point this section has two stories and a proverb.
First is the story of a solitary rich person whose life is vanity.
7 Again, I saw futility under the sun: 8 There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things?” This too is futile and a miserable task.
Literally in verse 8 the text reads “There is a person and he has no second.” This man is all alone. He doesn’t have a companion. Riches are what he struggles for but it’s not enough. He struggles but is never content. His life is miserable without others.
Compare this with the two most common regrets at the end of life…
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
There’s a connection between these two regrets. One often prevents the other. Working too hard prevents deeper relationships.
This is what the rich man came to see. He finally came to his senses and asked, “What’s the point of all this struggle?” He was tired all the time and didn’t have time to even enjoy his blessings, especially the people around him.
It’s very interesting that last week we learned that when it comes to riches, more is not better. “Better one handful with rest than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind” (4:6). But this week the teacher’s point is that when it comes to relationships two, or more, is definitely better than one.
He makes this point with a general statement and then three illustrations.
First, the general statement…
9 Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.
Obviously two are better because they can share in the fruits of their work. They have a good reward. This is true generally but now listen to three illustrations of this in verses 10, 11, and 12.
10 For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?
12 And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
These are three illustrations about how two are better than one when traveling. Traveling in the Middle East was dangerous. At night it was dark and there were no flashlights. Trails weren’t always well marked. Even today people are encouraged to have a partner when they go off hiking. Kids is school are taught a “buddy system” when they go off on field trips.
So the first illustration points out that two are better because if one falls the second can pick him up.
The second illustration points out that if you have to stay over night along the way. Two are better than one on a cold night.
The third illustration points out that two are better than one for security reasons, too. Like in the story of the Good Samaritan the man didn’t have a chance by himself. He was robbed and left for dead (Luke 10:30).
But when it comes to security, three is even better than two. Some think this “cord of three strands” may be a reference to the Trinity but that probably isn’t what the author had in mind and the plain meaning makes perfect sense. Two people are good but three are even better when you’re traveling in dangerous places.
But the application of these three illustrations applies to more than just traveling. God created us to be social as I mentioned at the beginning. Married people live longer, cope better with stress, are healthier, for example.
But the application goes beyond marriage because not everyone needs to be married. Whether married or not we all were created to be in relationship with others. God himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has been eternally been in relationship and we have been made in His image. We too were meant to be in relationship with others.
Now, one final story. It’s the story of a popular king whose life is vanity
13 Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings.
14 For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom.
15 I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds him.
16 There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
Now, we might have a little trouble following the story because of all the pronouns but basically the story goes like this...
There’s this old king who doesn’t listen to anyone anymore. Perhaps he once did but not any more. He’s too smart for that. He doesn’t listen to warnings and he’s called foolish. In contrast there is a young, poor kid who once spent time in prison. He’s got very little going for him but somehow he becomes the new king and does what old foolish king didn’t, he listens to others. The text says there is “no limit” to the all the people around him. He is wise. One King doesn’t have people around him, the other does. But there is a little more to the story.
Let’s break it down.
The old king was foolish because he rejected counsel. Proverbs 12:15 says “A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise.”
The text makes a point of saying he is old. Of course, we can be foolish at any age, but older people are particularly susceptible because they think “they’ve been around.”
In Israel the elderly were highly honored, and rightly so, and I’m sure this verse ticked off a lot of people who thought they were too old to be told what to do.
Like the rich man in the first story who didn’t have any companions or even a single person, the old foolish king fired all of his counselors. He decided to go it alone.
Then along came this young “whippersnapper” who was poor, had served time in prison, to take his place. The old king is foolish because he won’t listen. The young king is wise because he does.
But maybe you noticed that this story has a twist at the end. The young king is certainly wiser but there is limit to how far cooperation will get us in this life. “This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.” All of our "great accomplishments" will be forgotten eventually.
How many remember all of the teamwork that went into building the parsonage? What about VBS a couple years ago? It’s fading. The point is that even as we work together we should be humble about it. Life is short.
So the challenge for us is to work with humility with and for others. Having a "Lone Ranger" attitude is futile.
Individualism is the way of our culture and our heritage. We all may aspire to be a little bit like Daniel Boone, but Christians are called to be a part of a community. Christ has a church and when we become Christians it's a package deal. When we become Christians we don't have the option to accept Christ and reject the family he loves.
Sports teams are better when they cooperate and church’s are better when they work together too. Church’s made up of a bunch of individuals each seeking their own agendas might continue to exist but they don’t thrive. Instead they bicker and argue over issues that the Bible doesn’t deem very important. What the Bible does emphasize is unity.
In fact, right before Jesus went to the cross. In John 17:20 He prayed “20 “...not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. 21 May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. 22 I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.”
Of course, He didn’t pray that we would be unified at all costs. He also taught that we should be willing to give our very lives for the truth of the gospel. But so many of the issues that divide churches aren’t gospel issues.
The early church worked together. Acts 2:44-45 reports they sold their possessions and distributed them to those that had need. Can you imagine that working in American churches? I can’t. We’re too individualistic. But that’s how it worked in the early church.
Of course the early church had it’s problems, just read 1 and 2 Corinthians. But the early church was also a strong community of believers. The early church wasn’t a group of individuals off doing their own thing.
I talked with a Buddhist the other day who described once being invited to a Christian church. She went and said she really liked it because of all the friendliness and fellowship. Of course there is more to a church than just friendliness and fellowship but we must not under emphasize it’s importance as a witness to the world.
Paul pleaded with the church in Phil 2:1-4 “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Now there’s purpose we call all unite behind! Look out for the interests of others! We may be many members but we are one church. The church is a community. Two are better than one.
Our individual accomplishments may be forgotten in the future but what we do together for God's kingdom will last. Paul says, "Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." May that be true of us.