“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:”
Ecclesiates 4:9 NIV
Normally, when I run, I run alone. This is an issue of pragmatics. It is just easier to fit my running into my schedule that way. Earlier in the summer, I decided to organize a group run on Saturdays to prepare for the Mankato Marathon and to promote Team Bethel. My effort was not very successful, but, on one occasion, a young college guy showed up to run with me. We ran from church to county road 90 and back; a distance of six miles. As we ran, we talked about running, church and life. When we finished our run, I was struck by a couple of thoughts. We had kept up a pace faster than I normally run, but I did not feel winded. While we were running, I felt relaxed and energetic. I actually ran better, because I ran in partnership with someone.
The author of Ecclesiastes came to that conclusion many centuries ago. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV) he writes these powerful words:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him 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.”
Partnership is an important aspect of life and one that is often neglected. The emphasis in our society has been on individualism and making it on your own. We have accepted this as the norm; the way things are supposed to be. But the outcome of this philosophy has been disastrous. More than any other time in our history, people feel abandoned, alone, insecure and hopeless. Why? Because, for the most part, they are facing life, and all of its challenges, alone. We have learned the hard way that you just cannot lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.
The author of Ecclesiastes makes a strong case for interdependence above independence. He begins by asserting a basic principle. Two are better than one. Over the years I have learned the reality of this principle. It is not that a person cannot do things on their own. They can. But, we can do more and better work if we work together. Consider a couple of simple examples. Folding a set of queen sized sheets and blankets is much easier if you have a partner. Washing dishes goes much faster if you have a partner. Almost any building project becomes easier when you have a partner. Pick almost any aspect of life and you will discover that two are better than one. Ecclesiastes goes on to give us some practical applications of this principle.
Two are better than one when we are facing hard times. Several years ago, we took a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior and we invited Suanne’s grandmother to go with us. She was in her early 80’s at the time. One day we were taking a walk in one of our favorite woods. Grandma, who was always game to go along, was walking with us. As she walked, she caught her foot on a root and feel into the underbrush. For a second, everyone froze as we watched her spill to the ground. Then Suanne shouted, “Help her up.” Snapping out of my immobility, I jumped over a fallen tree and helped Grandma off the ground. Fortunately, she was not hurt, but she did need help to untangle herself from the underbrush.
All of us have times in our lives when we “fall down.” Ecclesiastes tells us that at those times it is better to have a friend to help us get back on our feet again. I have often found this to be true when I have faced times of discouragement or failure. To be able to go to a trusted friend and sort out the issues is invaluable. I have had many opportunities to work with people who are facing life’s trials alone. They often come to me out of desperation, because they have realized that they cannot face these situations on their own.
Two are better than one when we feel insecure. On my many trips to Ukraine, I have always felt a sense of insecurity going through customs. Entering a foreign country can be a challenge. I knew that I had nothing to hide, but in a country like Ukraine, you never know what to expect. On the other side of customs was a set of electronic doors that opened as you approached them. Every time I went through those doors, I was faced with a sea of unfamiliar faces. Then I would see my contact person and a wave of relief would flood over me. Knowing that there was someone there to guide me through took away my anxiety.
Ecclesiastes tells us: “If two lie down together, they keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” We often use the term warm to refer to our emotional state. When we feel secure, loved and confident, we feel warm inside. When we feel insecure, unloved and afraid, we feel cold. Life has a way of stealing our emotional warmth. Our individualistic approach to life tends to make for cold, hard people. But when we can come along side of each other and support and encourage each other, then we can begin to warm up as people. It really does take two to make for a truly warm person.
Two are better than one when we are under attack. In Acts 9 we read the story of Saul’s conversion. Two interesting things happen to Saul shortly after his conversion that demonstrate the reality of the need for partnership. Acts 9 tells us that Saul began boldly preaching the gospel of Jesus in the synagogues in Damascus. Some believed because of Saul and some resented him. A group decided to put an end to this nonsense by killing Saul. Some of his new friends found out about this plot and helped Saul escape. In Acts 9:25 it says, “But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” What a humbling experience for Saul, yet what a valuable lesson. When we are attacked, we need help. But, Saul still had more to learn. When he arrived in Jerusalem, instead of being received with open arms, he was rejected by the church, out of fear. Another man, Barnabas, came along side of Saul and defended him before the church. Because others were willing to stand with Saul in his time of need, he was able to go on and be a powerful force for the Kingdom of God.
There are going to be times in our lives when we feel attacked. If we face these times alone, we are vulnerable to being overcome. But if we can face these situations with a partner, we are better able to withstand the attacks. This does not mean that we will also overpower our adversaries. It does mean that we will be less vulnerable and better able to stand our ground.
Finally, Ecclesiastes concludes that there is strength in numbers. I grew up in an independent church. It was a good church. I received solid biblical teaching and gained a strong foundation for my faith. But, being independent, we didn’t have any ties with other churches. I often felt isolated and confused by this. When I attended seminary, I learned about the Baptist General Conference. The BGC is a group of churches who have bonded together to accomplish common goals. Being a part of the BGC helps me to face the pressures of life better, because I have friends I can lean on.
Partnership is an essential part of our spiritual journey. When we were called by Christ to follow Him, we were called into a community of faith. As Paul says, we are the body of Christ, and each one of us is part of it. I am a better follower of Jesus, because I am a part of a worshipping community. I am a better follower of Jesus, because others are accompanying me on the journey. Two are better than one!