11 June 2020Ecclesiastes 4:9-16
Love and unity, in marriage and fellowship.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either 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.”
We are created to have close fellowship
Our walk with God is not meant to be a solitary life. We are created for fellowship with each other and with God. When we walk through life and through our journey with God, it is essential to have someone who is committed to journeying with us. For this reason, when Jesus sent the disciples out to spread the Gospel, he instructed them to go two by two (Luke 10:1). This passage in Ecclesiastes is contrasted with the preceding verses 7-8 that tell us about a discontented and miserly man who chose to toil endlessly for more wealth even though it brought him no pleasure and he had no-one to share it with. This lonely selfish life is meaningless and miserable. We are made to share fellowship with each other and to bless and support others. When we encounter challenges or setbacks in our faith, we are more able to defend ourselves if we have a partner who is able to encourage us and also to rebuke us with all authority (Titus 2:15). This reflects true fellowship and accountability. For this, we need to submit to the people in our fellowship and learn to be accountable to others in fear of the Lord (Ephesians 5:21). You cannot be in close fellowship or partnership with someone if you do not want to be held accountable to them. Deciding to “do my own thing” is essentially a reluctance to be accountable. It is disobedience to God’s word and purpose.
A loving marriage
This passage also gives us an understanding of a Christian marriage. No marriage can thrive without love. However, the kind of love that is meant here is covenant love. Covenant love is a promise to love each other unconditionally and selflessly. Paul compares love in a marriage to Jesus’ sacrificial love for us all (Ephesians 5:25). This love is very different to the romantic love that we are familiar with in songs and movies, that depends on a particular feeling. But we know that feelings are deceptive. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). A person who does things according to how they are feeling is highly unreliable. Instead, a successful relationship requires people who will faithfully honour their commitment. A faithful and committed marriage produces great reward and comfort.
Whilst a marriage consists of a relationship between a husband and a wife, it is vital to have God as the ‘third person” in the union. This is because none of us is capable of loving someone unconditionally throughout all the challenges that life can bring us, without God’s help and guidance. God himself is love (1 John 4:8). Only God is capable of perfect love (love that goes to any length to help and does whatever it takes to reach). How many of us are able to show love and compassion to our spouse all the time, even when we do not feel like it? Having been married for 20 years, I can confirm that this is not possible. This is why we need to go to God for help and guidance. We need to consistently train our mind and spirit to be guided by God, so that we will never tire of doing what is good (2 Thessalonians 3:13). From experience, I can confidently tell you that if you do not make God the “third person” in your marriage, something or someone else will come along to fill that space. It could be our own selfish desires, resentment, rage, strife, disappointment, fear or unfaithfulness.
If we examine a sturdy piece of cord or string, we see that it is not made up of one single strand. Instead it contains at least 3 pieces that are tightly wound with each other throughout the entire length of the string. This increases its strength because any weight is sustained by the three strands jointly. A string made up of one strand, or separate individual strands that are not bound together along its length, becomes much weaker and unstable. Notice that the strands of a tightly bound piece of string twist and turn along its’ entire length. This is a representation of our lives with its many different challenges. The three strands need to remain close together throughout every bend. If one strand separates and follows a different direction, you get a frayed piece of string that is weaker in that part. Similarly, in a marriage, the husband and wife should cling to each other faithfully throughout the twists and turns of life, and hang on tightly to their relationship with God. This enables a marriage to have the maximum strength in order to withstand the challenges and attacks that may come during the marriage. Genesis 2:24 states, “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife”. It is clear that the marriage relationship takes priority over all others. Each is accountable to the other. Each has authority over the other.
A loving family
We know that marriage is set up by God as the building block of families, and the devil is keen to attack it. The threats to a marriage can come from all sorts of unexpected sources. Husband and wife must remain vigilant and united in order to withstand any such attack. Parents have a serious responsibility to teach their children about marriage, commitment, faithfulness and unity. Children learn about how to love and respect others from observing their parents. Or in unfortunate cases, how not to do it. Be careful what your children observe from you!
True fellowship with others
This passage also teaches us about the importance of unity in Christian fellowship. Do we honour God and others in our relationships? Are we faithful and committed to being in true fellowship with the body of Christ throughout our lives? Do we encourage and rebuke each other as we should? Do we make ourselves accountable to others? Do we respect the authority of leaders and of fellow Christians over our lives? Or do we think we can “do our own thing”, and come and go as we like, like a frayed piece of weak string?
Almighty God, help me to learn the importance of commitment and accountability in my relationships and marriage. Teach me to be obedient to your word. Give me a loyal and loving spirit so that I may be a true disciple of Jesus. I pray for unity in my family, in my church and in the members of my Christian fellowship. Amen.