As spirituality has become more private our nation has undergone an astonishing decline in both formal and informal friendships, and organizations where people gather to make friendships.
4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
5 The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king's place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Alright, get the Bible out and go to the Book of Ecclesiastes. We will continue our study. We’re in Chapter 4 this week. This is my favorite Book of the Bible. I will pray and we will get to work in Chapter 4, beginning in verse 4.
Father God, we thank you for enabling us to gather together in this great home that you’ve prepared for us today. I thank you for the people that you have seated around us. Some wonderful stories of your goodness and your grace and wonderful stories of your love and your affection and your pursuing of them. God, as we always ask, we request that you would send your Holy Spirit to us this morning; that same Spirit that inspired the writing of the Scriptures so that he might illuminate our understanding of them. And, as always, it is our prayer, Holy Spirit, that you would open our eyes to Jesus. That we would love him. That we would enjoy him. And that we would walk closely with him as we glorify the Father. We come in Jesus’ good name, Amen.
Now, as we get into our issue today, our issue today is about community and friendship. And I need to start all the way back with God. We’ll start, then, doing a few moments in Genesis because that is the Book of beginnings and everything in the Bible finds its origins in the Book of beginnings. Now, the reason that we love community, the reason that we love friendship, is very simple. That God is a relational God. That God, in fact, exists eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit, in a community. That the Father, Son, and Spirit are actually one God, but they live with love, and communication, and intimacy, and friendship. And that God is this relational being.
Some have postulated other religions that God made us because he was lonely. God didn’t make us because he was lonely. God had perfect love. Perfect friendship in the Trinity, eternally, before time began. God is not lacking in anything. And then, God made all of creation. Said that it was good. God made the man and the woman, saying that they were very good. “God made us”, Genesis says, “in his image and likeness.” That means a great number of things. One of them is that we were built for friendship. That we were built for love. That we were built for community. We were built to be connected to each other, tethered together by grace and joy.
The first time that the Bible tells us that something is, in fact, not good is in the opening chapter of Genesis where we are told that before Eve was made, it was not good for the man to be alone. The man and woman are created very good. Creation is created good. But, Adam, all by himself, was not good. It was not good for him to be in that state of singleness. That is because he had God above him and he had creation beneath him. But, he didn’t have someone who could be a friend, and a peer, and a lover, and a wife. Someone that he could live his life with in an affectionate way, that was showing to the world sort of the love and intimacy that existed between the Father, Son, and Spirit.
So, then, God creates a woman, Eve, to be with Adam. And we see, then, that creation is complete once Adam has a lover, and a friend, and he has someone to journey with. And what we see then in Genesis 3 is that sin enters into the equation of human history. That Adam and Eve sin against God and in so doing, they separate themselves from God and they separate themselves from one another. That they hide from God and they hide from each other. And this is one of the practical outworkings and effects of sin. That we want friends. That we want community. That we want relationship. And that is good. That is the way God has made us. That us an innate part of what it means to be an image bearer of God. But, we have a hard time connecting with one another in enduring and endearing friendships because sin. Sin comes between people. Sin separates them. Bitterness, anxiety, frustration, mistrust, hurt, comes into the human equation. And this has been a perennial problem whereby people, Christian and non, want to be connected in meaningful friendships. Want to have enduring and endearing, loving relationships. Want to be part of a larger community. But, no matter how much money we spend or how many organizations we start, or how hard we try, sin is still a problem and it still separates people from each other and God.
And I took my sermon from a sociological book called Bowling Alone. Some of the statistics I’ll share with you this morning are form there. And what this researcher from Harvard has indicated is that over the last 25 years, this issue of loneliness, and isolation, and rugged individualism that kills friendship and community, has, actually, exponentially increased in the United States of America. And so, I’ve got some statistics for you that I wanted to put in your mind this morning. I wanted to start with who God is and how he has made us. The effects of sin and practically what that looks like in our culture. And then work backwards in Ecclesiastes to root causes. And the first thing I will say is this. That the number one repository of what is called social capital exists in the church.
We have different kinds of capital. Some of it is money. That’s your financial capital. Some of you is information capital. You know certain things that are very worthwhile. For us, though, too, we have social capital. These are our friends. These are the people that if your car broke down, you could call them and they would pick you up without charging you money, right?
These are the people who, when it’s your birthday, they’ll come over and eat cake. These are the people who, when you need prayer, you can call them and they will pray. Or if you get sick or go into the hospital, they will come and visit you. And that we have built into the human equation a reciprocity with our friends. It’s almost like there’s an invisible account to where, “I love you and I help you and then, as I have need, you love me and you help me”. And we don’t keep this in a ledger somewhere, but it is sort of this reciprocity and this recognition that we need each other, and we love each other, and we help each other. And what has happened is, as the church has declined, so has all civic organizations in the last 25 years. In the last 25 years, the average attendance in protestant churches had declined from 15 percent of the population to 12 percent. That’s a 20 percent decline. That’s astronomical in 25 years. And half of all organizational membership, half of all civic involvement, half of all volunteer hours to non-profit organizations, and half of all charitable giving goes to the church. And out of the church comes connection to lots of other social and civic organizations. The PTA, the soup kitchens. You can think about it, too, organizations like – organizations that we wouldn’t endorse, but organizations like the Masons. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary, things that maybe we would endorse. Those kinds of organizations, as well, as are declining in association with the decline of the church. And statistically, what this is leading to is a culture that is highly individualistic. As a result of that, people are lonely and they’re depressed. And it, in part, explains why we have such an increase in counseling, and therapy, and medication. That people are doing lives by themselves. And God already told us that that’s not good. It’s not good to be alone.
Practically, here is what looks like over the last 25 years. It’s on your notes. In the middle of the first page there, under social changes in America over the past 25 years. How many of you play cards? Okay. You are a dying breed. I hate to tell you.
Maybe that’s good news. Cards will become cheaper. Because card playing is down 25 percent in the last 25 years. Seems simple, but people used to get together and play cards. And when you play cards, what do you do? You talk.
That’s what you do. And part of the card playing was an excuse to get together with people and just have company. As well, the number of bars, nightclubs and taverns is down 40 percent. It’s not like Cheers where you get to go somewhere and everyone knows your name. Gathering places in our community are declining. You think about it. How many of you moved to Seattle from somewhere else? Okay. Where do you go to meet people that aren’t weirdos and sexual predators? There’s not a lot of places to go. There’s not the gathering places where people can connect in meaningful friendships. And this is how weird we are in this city. Where do we go when we’re lonely and we wanna be around people? The coffee shop. Do we ever talk to anyone there?
No. We get our individual cup. We sit at our individual table with our little, tiny seat and our little, tiny chair, and we feel like, all of a sudden, we’re not lonely anymore because everyone that we’re not talking to is in the room with us.
There’s just nowhere to gather. It’s so weird. People are there because they don’t wanna be alone, but if you talk to them, they will call the police.
The number of full service restaurants where you go in, sit down, and eat is down 25 percent. The number of bars, including coffee bars and such and luncheonettes is down 50 percent, but fast food has doubled in the last 25 years. What that means is people don’t get together with friends, go to a restaurant, sit down and have a bite to eat. They drive up to some clown. They order something from a high school kid in a uniform. And they eat it in their car while they’re talking on their phone all by themselves.
As well, having a social evening with someone from your neighborhood is down 33 percent in the last 25 years. Most – the Bible says we should love our neighbor and most people don’t even know their neighbor. Have no idea who lives near them, let alone have them into their home. Attending clubs and meetings is down 58 percent. All kinds of clubs and meetings. Family dinners – just mom, dad, kids, getting together and having a bite to eat is down 33 percent – 33 percent. As well as just having friends over to your home is down 45 percent. People just don’t even have people over to their home and this is reflected in the way we do architecture. It used to be a large front porch, so you could sit out and your friends and neighbors would walk by and you’d say, “Hi” and they’d come visit. You have a few extra parking places for guests. You’d have a large living room and a large dining room. Now, you don’t. There is no front porch. What has happened now is that additional space is turned into walk in closets, home offices, and home entertainment centers where you sit by yourself. The kitchens, the dining rooms, the living rooms, architecturally, are being reorganized around an alteration in values. No large common spaces.
And in this city, too, it’s going into an increased community of condominiums. Three thousand condominiums are in the process of going up within just a few miles of this building. Places where there will not be parking. There will not be kitchens. There will not be living rooms that enable you to have friends over. They are built to assume that you will live a very isolated life and you only need to have room for yourself or your roommate, or potentially your spouse. And this is the mindset that has crept in. That people have accepted the fact that they are disconnected from one another and are not doing anything to combat that.
A couple of other things as well. From 1992 to 1999, the amount of time spent caring for our pets is up 15 percent. We don’t know our neighbor, but we really know our cat or our dog. I know some of you are cat ladies. Some of you are dog men.
Caring for our pet is way, way up, but loving our neighbor is way, way down. Time spent for personal grooming is up five to seven percent. So, we brush our hair. We brush our pet’s hair. Everything’s going pretty good. But, going to church is down 20 percent and having friends over is down 20 percent. So, you know, I’m – everybody shaves and waxes and whatever else it is that you’re supposed to do. The cat, the dog is well groomed, well bathed, well bred, well fed; but, our friends, we don’t have time for them because we’re too busy taking care of ourselves and our pets. It’s very interesting values.
The number one – how many of you are bowlers? Alright, you can admit it. It’s okay.
Bowling is the number one sport in America. In an election year, more people bowl than vote. Right? People say, “What’s wrong with our government?” Well, it’s because bowling is more valuable than government in the United States of America. More people bowl than vote. Now, it’s curious. Over the last 25 years, the number of bowlers is up 10 percent. Everybody’s into bowling. But, the number of leagues is down 40 percent. Everybody’s bowling alone. You don’t get those cool shirts and to be on teams. You don’t get that. You’re bowling by yourself, which is very curious. All of these people are bowling. None of them are bowling together.
A couple of other things as well. Watching movies, concerts and sporting events is up. What that means is this. We’re no longer a culture of participants. We’re a culture of observers. We don’t place for us. We watch other people place for us and we talk about how bad they are.
“That guy stinks. Honey, get me another beer.” You know, not like you could actually get up and do that. You can’t even get up and go to the fridge, let alone run into the end zone. That’s what we do. We watch sporting events. We watch concerts. We watch movies. And we don’t participate. We don’t participate in our culture. It has become a culture of observers, not a culture of participants.
And in Seattle, a couple of quick things. The average person living in Seattle has moved three times in the last ten years. That’s according to sociologist Rodney Stark at the UW. How many of you have lived at least one or two other places in the last ten years. Look at the room. Right, half of you. What that means is this. There’s no longer an attachment or affinity to a place. Part of building community and friendships is you have to be there. If you know you’re gonna move into a city, be there for a year or two and then move again, the odds are, you’re not going to get involved in the church. You’re not going to get involved in the community. You’re not going to get to know people. You’re not going to build deep rooted relationships and friendships because why would you?
In Seattle, the city is largely young. It is largely unmarried. It does not have children. All of those are variables that tend to root you in a place because once you have a mortgage and a few kids, packing up and moving is not as easy. And for many of you, you’ll need to think through, “Okay, where am I going to live if and when I start a family? Where will be? What kind of architecture will we have in our home? What kind of parking will we have for guests? All of these very practical issues about having community and friendship. There are less children here than any other city in the U. S., other than San Francisco. And because of the young age of our city, there is an increasing disconnection whereby people are sort of blowing through town, but don’t get to know one another. No friendships and people are lonely as a result of that.
This is the practical outworkings of sin. This is what happens when sin comes into the world. There’s loneliness and isolation and detachment. What happens then is that we create a service based economy where we have to pay people to do things that friends would naturally do, if we had them. Solomon hit some of the underlying root causes. Sociologically, there’s two primary reasons why we are such a detached lonely culture. One is television. People spend lots of time building a relationship with a box. And what we watch now is reality TV, which is so peculiar. Rather than living, we watch other people live and it’s fascinating.
“Look at them. They’re doing things. That is so interesting.”
“That is so peculiar. Those two are friends. Hmmm.”
“I need to tune in next week and see what a friendship is like.”
“I would have my own, but I’m too busy watching television where other people are living life and having relationships. It’s very, very peculiar.” So, we sit around and we even like to watch people who, their lives, really, are just like car accidents like Anna Nicole Smith. Everybody just watches her, not because it’s entertaining or valuable or insightful, but because no matter how bad your life is, it looks pretty good by the time the show’s over.
“It’s not so bad. Look at her. That’s crazy.” The other reason why social capital has declined is because mom being in the workforce. Mom is, often times, the social networking glue. Opens the home, has people over, practices hospitality, sort of like the wise woman in Proverbs who opens the doors and everybody’s at her place. As mom is working and kids are at daycare and dad is working, and then kids get a little older and they’re being ushered around to sports and activities, and there’s no time to have dinner. There’s no time to go to church. There’s no time to have friends. And there’s no time to open your home. And there’s no time to practice hospitality. Those are two primary sociological causes. The thing I love about Solomon is 3,000 years before our day, he actually dug underneath the problem and got to some root causes for why we live our lives this way, okay? And look at them. You’ll find that they’re very painful.
Here we go. Ecclesiastes 4:4. How did we get here? Solomon says, Chapter 4:4, “And I saw that all labor and achievements spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This, too, is a meaningless chasing after the wind.” It’s a wild goose chase without a goose. First reason why we live lonely, detached, isolated lives is because we’re coveters. That’s what he says. We’re envious. We’re jealous. Some of us are lonely because we don’t like being around people that have things that we don’t have. If they’re wealthy and we’re poor; or they’re attractive and we’re not; or they’re smart and we’re not; or they get a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a boyfriend and girlfriend, we get jealous. Because it is hard for us, if we have a coveting, jealous heart, to rejoice with those who rejoice. Some of you, your friendships have taken a turn for the south because either something good happened to you and your friends were jealous. Or because something good happened to your friend or friends and you became jealous.
This is not uncommon with people that are unmarried. Someone falls in love and rather than rejoicing, those whom haven’t found that relationship, all of a sudden, get envious of that relationship. That’s gonna happen very easily. That we are a people who, often times, Solomon says, “are motivated to work, to live, not out of glory to God, but out of competition with neighbor.” But, he says that that’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong to be a jealous person. But, if there is jealousy in our heart and covetousness, which is wanting what someone else has, it may be even hard for you if you do get married to where you could have friends that are married. Maybe their relationship is going better than yours. Maybe their spouse is more pleasant than yours. Maybe their kids are more compliant than yours. Maybe your friends – one gets a job and they’re earning more than you are. And they got a new car and you don’t have a car. You’re taking the bus. And all of a sudden, envy comes in and it stains the relationship and the friendship begins to deteriorate because when your friends come to you with good news saying, “Look what happened” and, all of a sudden, you – you get very jealous in your heart and you can feel it. You know it. You can sense it. Solomon says, “That is one of the primary reasons why people live isolated lives.” Because they’re jealous. Because they’re coveters. Because they can’t enjoy the blessings that God should give someone else.
He gets to some other root causes that, quite frankly, are very painful. Verse 5. “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” This is laziness. Foolish people do nothing. If you are a lazy person, you will not have friendships and community. Community is not just birth around what we believe. It is, often times, birth around what we’re doing. So, you’ve develop friends at work. You develop friends through the ministry you’re serving in. You develop friends through places that you are giving your time and giving your energy and as you have like interest and you’re working on like projects, that is where a lot of your friendships get birthed. What he says is this. If you’re lazy, nothing happens. Lazy people don’t have the ambition to serve. To participate in their church. To participate in their social networks. To participate in their community. To do things. To work hard at their job. To put in the hours that they are supposed to put in. And thereby, what happens is they become socially and relationally disconnected because they’re lazy. They’re not going anywhere. They’re not doing anything and so, they’re not participating with others.
Some of you may struggle with your friendships because you’re a jealous person. I don’t say that because I hate you. I say that because I love you. That’s a sin and you need to own that. Some of you, it’s just because you’re lazy. Some of you even have friends that call you to go do things, but you’re too lazy to get up and go do them. And, after a while, do your friends continue calling? No. Because once they have asked multiple times and you have declined because you don’t have the ambition to go out and do something with them, then, at some point, they stop calling and you become more and more disconnected because of your laziness.
It’s got other underlying reasons. It’s painful and it will get worse. Here we go. Verse 6. “Better one hand with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and a chasing after the wind.” What he says is this. You need to live a two handed life. Work and Sabbath. People who don’t Sabbath and just keep working, their life is filled with toil. They’re burned out. They’re tired. They’re weary. Physically, they tend to get sick more often. They tend to live a lower quality and health of life. I can say that because that was me. Good, professional hypocrite. We started this church, I was far better at working than I was Sabbath and God has woven this rhythm into creation to where we are to work and we are to rest from our labors as God did at creation and then enjoy the fruit of our labors, which means if you work hard, you should take a day off to enjoy what God has provided. To enjoy your friends. To enjoy your family. To enjoy your church. To take a nap. To watch a ball game. To have people over for dinner. To go for a walk. To play on a sports team. To pick a hobby, whatever it might be. And if you don’t, what he says is this, “Your life will be marked by toil.” You will create a reality, in which you are just working, and working, and working, and working. And you don’t have time for friends. You don’t have time for leisure. You don’t have time for rest. You don’t have time for play. You don’t have time for fun. You become very, very, very serious. Very focused. Very irritable. Very agitated.
That was totally me. That was totally me. From the starting of the church until now, I was working so many hours that, even on my day off, I was thinking about my work all the time. It started keeping me up at night and I wasn’t working out of both hands. I had completely closed this hand to God’s grace and was just laboring, laboring, laboring, laboring, laboring. In that, I put on 35, 40 pounds. I was sleeping terribly. Had heartburn. I was irritable. Some of you heard those sermons. You know, right?
And God really convicted me that no – resting, and Sabbath, and friendship. And that’s the purpose of Sabbath. One of the great purposes of Sabbath is to enjoy the life and the people that God has given you through all your labors, so they go together. So, since that time, I’ve had to repent to God. I’ve had to repent to my wife and my kids and say, “I was not working out of two hands. I was a worker. I was not a person that was able to Sabbath.” And I’ve had to get my life back under control and lose my weight and get off my rear and go enjoy my friends and stop working all the time and talking about work all the time. And that’s what Solomon says. That part of the reason we may not have friendship is because we simply don’t stop working.
What country in the world works more hours than any other? This one. This one. The average worker in this country works more hours every year than any other nation in the world. Than any other nation in the world. Some of you need to learn that it’s okay to unplug your phone. To turn off your cell phone. To not check your email. To take some time to enjoy your friends. To enjoy your life. And if you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any life, to find one.
Right? To do that. A couple of other reasons underlying why sometimes we are lonely, disconnected people. Verse 7. “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.” This guy works all the time. “Yet, his eyes were not content with his wealth.” Never had enough money. Anyone here ready to raise their hand and say, “I have enough money.” You never have enough money. I don’t. If you do, give me some of yours. I never have enough money.
We all would like more money. But, to get more money, you gotta work more hours. So, we work more hours to get more money. But, here’s the problem. “For whom am I toiling”, he asked. He woke up one day and said, “Now, what’s the point again? Why do I keep working overtime?” “And why am I depriving myself of this enjoyment. This, too, is meaningless and miserable business. What he says is this. “I want money. That’s my goal. Now, to get money, I need to work more hours. So, to work more hours, I don’t have time to get married. I don’t have time to have kids. I don’t have time to pick up hobbies. I don’t have time to have friends because I’m working.” “Why?” “So I can get more money.” “Okay, you got money. How are you doing?” “I’m depressed. I spend all my money on medication and therapy.”
“Well, was that a good plan?” “No, that was a bad plan. What am I doing? I got all this money and I don’t have time to enjoy it.” How many people in our city have a boat that they don’t get to ride on because they’re always working? They have golf clubs that they never get to swing because they’re always working. They have books that they really would like to read, but they can’t because they’re always working. They have kids that they would love to play with, but they can’t because they’re always working. They have friends. They have hobbies. They have church. They have things that they could enjoy, but there’s no time because they’re always working. Why are they working? To get more money. Why are they wanting to get more money? Who knows? He says, “It is a goose chase without a goose that we make money to enjoy life. The goal is to enjoy life, not to make money. Money is a means to an end. It’s not an end. We don’t live to work. We work to live.” That’s what he’s saying. That if our goal is the money, then what we will do is we will mis-define what it means to be a wealthy person.
A wealthy person is not just someone who has a lot of money. A wealthy person is someone who takes a lot of naps. Has a lot of friends. Eats a lot of meals. Has some hobbies. Tells a few jokes. Has people laugh at those jokes. That’s a wealthy person.
That’s a very wealthy person. What he’s saying is this. If you misdiagnose your wealth as just being your income, you will find yourself not enjoying your life and realizing that it’s all a vain waste of time. Am I saying, “Don’t work”? I’m not saying that at all. Work hard. Have your work be part of your wealth. But, also your worship. And your ministry. And your friends. And your family. And your hobbies. And your Sabbath. Part of that is redefining what we mean by a people as well. I tell you what. When you die and you go to Heaven, there’s only two things that are gonna go with you. Friends and memories with those friends. Everything else stays here. And so, if you wanna be wealthy and you wanna take your wealth with you, invest it in people and memories with those people because those will go with you. Any other kind of wealth, really, is fairly sick.
Some of you don’t have friends because it’s your fault. You work too much. You’re greedy. Your whole goal is to make a certain amount of money, thinking that when you get that amount of money, then you’ll be satisfied. The odds are you’ve been doing this for a while. There was a time when you set some sort of dollar amount in your head and said, “When I obtain this amount of money, I will be happy and then I’m gonna go have fun. As soon as I pay off my school loans, my credit cards. As soon as I get a decent car. As soon as I get my first place.” Whatever it might be. You set some sort of tangible or financial goal and upon meeting it, did you stop? You didn’t. You kept going. And you kept sort of setting your goals further and further out. And in the meantime, you got farther and farther away from people who love you and people whom you could love because now they were ruining your goal of getting more money because people require what? Time. Friendships take time. Relationships take time. People take time. And if our whole goal is money, you don’t get paid for hanging out with friends. You don’t get paid for having people over for dinner. You don’t get paid for telling jokes unless you’re really good at it. The rest of us – that takes away time that could be spent getting more money. But, if our goal is our wealth and not our money, we will see that as wise investment of our days. You get the point?
A couple of others. Here’s some reasons why it’s good to have friends. Here’s why it’s good to be in community. Some practical reasons. Verse 9. “Two are better than one.” Okay, how many of you believe that? Alright. How many of you, literally, your life – you’re like me? I don’t do well alone. I got married at 21 because that’s as long as I could make it. You know, I am not good alone. Two are better than one. How much does it stink to eat breakfast by yourself? Get dressed by yourself? Go to work and sit in a cubicle by yourself? Drive in traffic by yourself while all those happy people in the carpool lane are chatting? To go to lunch by yourself? To come home by yourself? To eat your dinner by yourself? To go to bed by yourself? That is Hell. That is terrible. That is – it is not good to be alone. You do that for a while, you’re gonna get a little peculiar.
Some of you are very peculiar. Now, you know why.
You say, “Oh, that makes perfect sense.” Two are better than one. Sometimes, it’s good to have breakfast with somebody else. Or lunch. Or Dinner. Or a night out. Or a day out. Lives that are filled with people are beautiful things. Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work and more effective working together is what he’s saying. Some of the reason that many of us are so busy, putting in so many hours either at our job, or our home or our stuff, is because we’re working by ourselves. We’re not working in tandem and friendship. People who work together tend to get a lot more done. People who work together tend to share resources, which makes them more effective.
First reason is just the effectiveness of the living of your life. If you have friends, maybe you’re good at something and your friend is good at something else, and so what you do is you serve them, they serve you, and all of a sudden, life becomes a little easier. So and so, you know, is a haircutter so they cut your family’s hair and so and so is a mechanic, so when their car breaks down, you fix their car. And, all of a sudden, what should happen among God’s people is more of a bartering system of life than a transactional economy. I help you. You help me. You help her. She helps him. Everybody in this room has skills, talents, abilities, resources. That if people were working together in greater ability, it would be great.
Give you something simple like buying a home. Some of you are in that season of home buying. Get a realtor from the church. They help you. You help them. Wanna close your deal? Find one of the mortgage lenders in the church. They help you. You help them. You go move into your home. You need help moving. Your friends come over, pick up your stuff, help you move. Later on, when they move, you help them. You gotta do work on your house? Find somebody who’s an electrician or a painter or a plumber. You help them, they help you. That’s what he’s talking about. You’re more effective. You’re working with people you know. You’re working with people you trust and not all of it is just paying them. Part of it is love and friendship and part of it is social capital. I’ll help you with this. You help me with this. We work together. We love each other because one of the great metaphors for the church in the New Testament is that you and I are what? We are a family. We are a family. That God is our father and that we are a household of God. We’re a family. For those ladies in the room, you are my sisters. And for those men in the room, you are my brothers. And the Bible uses that language, in part, to tell us that we should be working together. That we should be involved in one another’s lives. Not because we have to, but because we get to. Not as a legalism and a duty, but as a privilege and a joy.
How great is it to know someone well enough to be involved in their live and them know you well enough to be involved in your life? That’s the beauty of it. You know what it looks like practically? For the members of this church, we have a member’s website. It’s password protected. It’s a separate website. On there is prayer, classifieds, announcements, theology, discussion board and I love going on there all the time. What I see is this. A couple gets married, buys a home. They say, “We need a washer and dryer.” Some of the member church says, “I got a washer and dryer. I’ll bring it over to your house.” And there is saved hundreds of dollars. I saw it this last week. A young couple in the church, a wonderful young couple. He’s going to school, working, married, two kids. Wife gets in a car wreck. Posted on the website, “Please pray. We lost our only vehicle.” Within 24 or 48 hours, 7 people had posted and said, “You can use our car.” And two people had went out and found other people that had extra cars to donate them and give them a free car. That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ. Two are better than one because they’re more effective. Now, the way it would work if they didn’t know Christ is this. They wreck the car. They need to get money to buy a new car, so he’s gotta go work more hours and not be with his wife and his beautiful children. But, because of Christ, he gets a car because he’s a brother and it’s not business, it’s family. That’s what Solomon’s talking about. That’s what he’s talking about. And that someday, as other people need help or service, this couple will help them and eventually, it all works itself out. Nobody’s keeping a ledger. It’s just grace. Two are better than one.
Verse 10. Here’s another reason. If one falls down, his friend can help him up, but pity the man who falls and has no one to help him. What he’s talking about – this. One of the benefits of friendship and community is this. There will be a day when you’re not doing so well. You’re gonna be sick. You’re gonna be poor. Catastrophe, trial, something’s gonna happen. And if your whole goal has been to make money and have business relationships, not to make friendships and have family type relationships, what will happen is this. You’re gonna be in dire straits. You’re gonna be in very dire straits.
We had a family in this church, wonderful family. Just gave birth to twin boys. One of the boys died. The beautiful thing is lots of people go to the hospital to visit. Lots of people are praying. Lots of people are supporting. Lots of people are volunteering to cook meals and bring them over. When tragedy, crisis, illness, trial, strife comes, that’s when you need your friends the most. That’s when you need your friends the most. And what he says is this. Those people who invest in their friends, they’re there when their friends need them. And when they need their friends, their friends are there. Right now, if you got in a car wreck; right now, if the place you’re living burned to the ground and you lost all your possessions, who would be there? Who would show up at the hospital? Who would show up at your house? Who would move you into their house? Who would give you the keys to their car and the right to go into their fridge? Do we need those people? We do. We do. We need those people. We need each other. In a fallen world that has the effects of sin, we really need each other when times get tough, in particular. In particular.
A couple of other reasons he says why we need friends and community. Verse 11. “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But, how can one keep warm alone?” Some of you are cuddlers, like your pastor. I am a very needy man. I just about suck the life out of my beautiful bride. I told you before, I will feign an injury to get a backrub.
I will – she comes to bed and I lay my head on her lap so that she will brush my hair. I love to get my hair brushed. I love that.
I love that. I’m pretty pathetic, really.
One of the benefits of friends is just good old human contact and touch. Now, there’s a practical reason here. When it’s cold and it’s freezing out and you’re travelers in this culture, you would need to huddle up and share body heat to live. Part of it is companionship. Part of it is just physical affection. You know, how many of you really long for human contact that is significant, but not perverted and sexual? Our culture is so messed up that any contact between a man and a woman is almost guaranteed to be sexual. But, the Bible says that we should treat one another like brothers and sisters and I should be able to walk up to my sister in Christ and welcome her. I should be able to walk up to my brother in Christ and welcome him. That there should be the ability among God’s people in a non-sexual, completely appropriate affectionate way of having human contact because lots of people don’t.
If you’re an unmarried person, it is possible that you could go some time without having human physical touch, which is a sad thing. For some of you that are married, Heaven forbid, but it is possible that you could go without human touch as well. And part of the beauty of having people in your life that you know, and you love, and you trust, and you have a relationship with in Christ, is the ability to operate as a loving family. And when things are hard, they can actually put a hand on you and pray for you. And part of that touch is not just the imposition of magical powers. It’s just the demonstration of loving affection. Jesus said this when he said, “By this, everyone will know that you’re disciples of mine if you guys love each other. Love each other”, which means that it should be demonstrable. It should be seen. That it’s okay. It is okay to be loving and affectionate in a completely appropriate way with brothers and sister in Christ. That’s what a family does.
I’ve got two sisters, two brothers. My sisters come to this church and through the course of the church, people have had lots of questions like, “How come there’s certain girls that kiss you?” Well, those are my sisters. You know, I’m very affectionate with my sisters. My one sister’s 19 years of age. Every time she leaves me, she goes home or we’ve ended the day together, she kisses me on both cheeks. She’s done that since she was a couple of years old. And that’s what he’s talking about. Love. Friendship. Affection. Human contact. Human touch from your brothers. From your sisters. From your mom. From your dad. From your friends. From your pastors. From those who care about you.
Thos of you that are married, when you come to church, you should hold hands during the service or snuggle up because you can. It’s a gift that God gives you. How many of you, when times are tough, and there’s nothing that anyone can say, and there’s nothing that anyone can do, they can’t fix it, just the fact that they take time for you and maybe they just lay hands and pray over you or sit next to you or give you a hug, that that physical contact and that demonstration of affection, it’s what you needed? It’s what you needed? You see this with Job. Job’s whole life comes part. His kids die. It’s total mayhem. His friends come and rather than just laying hands, and praying over him, and sitting with him, and taking him out for a beer and to shoot pool and get his mind off of things, they wanna sit there and argue and debate theology. Which I’m all for it, but there’s certain times where you just need someone to love ‘ya because things are a mess. That’s what he’s talking about. The beauty of companionship and friendship.
The last one is just plain old safety. Verse 12. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” What he’s saying is this. “If any of you wanna fight me, bring somebody with you.” That’s what he’s saying. Why? “because I fight dirty, but if there’s two of you, your odds go up.” That’s exactly what he’s saying. “I grew up in the hood. I grew up in the ghetto.” This is genius, really. This is the way it works.
“We’re gonna go – I’m gonna go fight this guy.” “No, we’re gonna go fight this guy. “Ahhh, much better plan than I had.”
Part of it is just this issue of protection. Let’s say, for example, you’re a a young woman in this city. You don’t have any father, mother, pastor, friends. Are your odds of being abused, maligned, taken advantage of greater than a woman who has a dad, a mom, pastors, friends, church? She’s insulated with a loving community that really adores her and is looking out to make sure that whoever should get to her isn’t doing so in an inappropriate way for an inappropriate reason. There’s safety in numbers. That loving relationships are insulation against people who would try to do us harm. People that get prayed on in our society are single women who are detached from meaningful, supported relationship. Elderly people who are detached from meaningful protective relationship. That those people are most vulnerable to people ripping them off, or people lying to them, or people abusing them, or taking advantage of them. But, those of us that have lots of friends and family and church and layers of people who love us and are connected to us, we are better insulated and we are more safely protected. That’s what he says. It’s just good insurance for the quality of your life.
Here’s where he goes with it, verse 13-16. This is one of the most debatable sections in the text of Ecclesiastes, but I think it’s very important. He says, “Better a poor, but wise youth than an old foolish king who no longer knows how to take a warning. The youth may have come prison to the kingship or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them, but those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This, too, is a meaningless chasing after the wind.”
Here’s his point. Our society is filled with institutions and organizations. At the top of those institutions and organizations, there is a leader. Here, it is the king. What happens is this. That the people become unhappy with the quality of their life. In alignment with what we’ve just studied, probably a lot of that has to do with the condition of their relationships. Their friendships, their family, their community is not coming together. It’s not well organized. They’re not well connected. It’s lonely, isolated. It’s depressing. It’s sad. And it’s highly individualistic. So, what they tend to do, then, is people try to find a reason for that. They try to figure out why is it that my life looks like this? Why is it that my life is this way?
Now, we only have two options when we start to investigate why we’re unhappy with the quality of our life. We can put the blame out there or we can put the blame in here. What is our greatest propensity? Out there. Just like Adam in Genesis 3. “Gonna find somebody else to blame for the condition of my life and the unhappiness that I live in.” What inevitably happens then is that people look at institutions because they’re more visible and they blame the leader. “I’m not happy. I don’t have friends. My life is not going well because it’s his fault. We need a revolution. We need to overthrow. We need a new leader.” And what happens then is that there will be a movement of criticism against organizations. They tear down that leader. They tear down that organization. They usually thrust up some young guy who’s got all these great ideas. This naïve optimism and hope, but pretty soon, he’s the king. He’s put his plan in place and what happens to him?
The next guy comes along and says, “You know what? I’m not happy. It must be that new king. We need another one.” This is where children blame their parents. This is where students blame their teachers or their principles. It wasn’t reported in the news, but there’s a high school here in the Seattle area, that this week, two students were caught with guns on them going to school to shoot and kill their principal. Why? Because they’re not happy with the condition of their family. They’re not happy with the condition of their life. They’re, obviously, frustrated about something, but rather than asking if the problem is in here, they assume that the problem is out there. They blame it on an institution, namely their school, and they attack the person is the figurehead of that organization, the principal. That’s what we do.
This is important for you. The reason you don’t like your job is not because of your boss. The reason you may not like your church is not because of me. The reason you may not like Christianity is because of Jesus. The reason you may not like your family is not because of your mom or dad. The reason that you may not like your social circle is because of the most influential person in that social group. The real reason why you and I fall into despair, and loneliness, and isolation, is because the problem isn’t just out there. The problem really is in here. It really is. It really is. And some of you will even come to church and sit there and leave bitter because you didn’t get the attention you were hoping for. All the while, around you are 1,000 other people thinking the exact same thing. And rather than you talking, there’s a propensity to blame somebody else and since I’m up front, I’m the easiest target. That doesn’t happen here a lot, but as this church grows and as it does get bigger, Solomon warns. That is – that is the risk that we all take.
Many groups, many churches, many people, many movements are held together by what they’re against rather than what they are for, and all they can agree on is that they don’t like that guy. So, they get rid of him, get a new guy. They don’t like him. And this is the cycle that just keeps on going. Am I saying that your boss, your pastor, your parent is perfect? No. Am I saying that they haven’t made your life painful? I know I’ve made your life painful. I fully recognize that.
But, that does mean that you and I need to own the underlying causes that he has just listed for us, which are covetousness. And greed. And laziness. And apathy. And selfishness. And pride. And work. That those aspects of our life are under our jurisdiction. Your life is your life. What you do is under your jurisdiction. And what I wanna invite you to today is to take it back. And don’t waste all your time blaming institutions. Blaming organizations. Blaming leaders. We just saw that in this city, didn’t we? We fired the man who was in charge of the school district. Now, you can say whatever you wanna say about him, but we still have the same schools. The same teachers. The same curriculum. The same special interest groups. And the same politics. Changing one person, without changing the hearts of everyone else involved in the system, is just really silly. And when people are dissatisfied, it’s easier to blame someone else than it is to own your own participation in that culture and be an agent of change. It is. It’s easier to blame than to do.
Jesus says in John 15, something that is beautiful. That he has come and he extends to us a hand of friendship. That he is our friend. That God has reached out his hand in friendship to us. Now, as I told you previously, the real problem is sin. Sin disconnects us from God. It disconnects us from each other. Jesus comes to die for our sin. He says, “Man has no greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his” whom? “Friends.” Jesus came to die for my sins, for the sins of all of his people because he loves us and he wants to take away our sin so that we can be reconciled to him and we can be his friends.
And what Jesus also enables us to do is to forgive the sins that are between us. We don’t need to be angry – we don’t need to be angry and bitter. We can actually forgive each other. That’s what Ephesians 5 says. That we should forgive one another as God, in Christ, has forgiven us. That Jesus forgives our sin by dying on the cross and rising for it. He makes us his friends. Then he calls us to be about friendship with others. Forgiving those who have sinned against us and embracing those who need to be loved. And the practical outworking of the Gospel is not just that I’m a Christian and now I’m connected to God, in this independent, individual, isolated relationship where it’s just me and Jesus. There also is a horizontal aspect to this, not just a vertical aspect where I am not just connected to Jesus, but by virtue of being connected to Jesus, I am connected to all of you as well. That you and I are a family. That you and I are friends in Christ and that we should and can live together in a way that someone without the Gospel, someone without Jesus’ work, doesn’t have that opportunity because they don’t know what to do with the sin that gets between them. And, ultimately, it ends up pushing them apart. But, Jesus comes to forgive that and to take that away so that we can be continually reconciled. What Paul calls, “This ministry of reconciliation.”
In this room this morning, there are some of the most outstanding people, honestly, that I have ever met in my whole life. I am continually amazed by the kind of people with the varying backgrounds and stories that God brings here. Some of you are connected. Some of you have relationships. You have friendships. You have people who know you. You have people who love you. You have people here that you can’t believe that you actually have this kind of social network, and as you survey the city, you don’t see other people that have the kind of loving relationship and friendship that you have.
And some of you are completely disconnected. Church, for you, is like your life. It is something that you observe, but it is not something that you participate in. And, as a result of that, the quality of your life suffers and your understanding of Jesus’ work is diminished. I’m not gonna do this out of guilt or legalism or shame, but I will invite you to is the same thing that I’ve experienced. The beautiful of gift of people who love Jesus. That’s your wealth. Friendships. And as you build those relationships, that is the perfect place to bring the people that you work with that don’t know Jesus. To bring the people who are family and friends and neighbors that don’t know Jesus; not just to tell them about Jesus as some disembodied concept, but to bring them into the life of his people. To have them over for dinner with his people. To show that his people have been and are being transformed by his love and that he is making them into friends that act and look like him.
And the way that the least church city in the United States of America that we’re in this morning will change is not because I can out preach the pagans, but because you can outlive them by grace. That you can love each other. That you can serve each other. That you can care for each other. That your lives can be connected together in a way that the rest of this city has not seen. And as you see through the Book of Acts, almost every time that the Gospel is preached in the early church, it is because non-Christians saw the lives of Christians and asked, “How come you guys feed each other? How come you house each other? How come you love each other? How come you help each other?” And the answer is always, “Jesus. Jesus loves us. He forgives us. He has made us friends with him. He has filled us with love, and joy, and grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can be friends with each other. Would you like to be friends with us? Would you like to be friends with him?” It’s really that simple. It’s really that simple. What we provide for you with the church, and this is gonna be your response to the sermon, God initiates with you through the teaching of his Word. You respond to him, which is your act of worship.
We provide opportunities for you to meet each other. Practically, this building is a great opportunity. Finally, we can all get in a room. And we can hang out over there. And we can drink coffee. And we can meet each other. You should do that. There’s 33 Bible studies meeting all over the city and I guarantee you this. Some of the people that are hosting those are wonderful, amazing people. I laid in bed the other night and I told my beautiful wife, I said, “Man, when we were new Christians, I wish we would have had one couple out of the hundreds that are in this church that we could have hung out with because that would have been great.” We couldn’t find one and now we have so many people that are so great, we don’t have time, physically, to get with them as much as we would like. There’s too many good people. Too many loveable, enjoyable people.
Getting into a community group. The reason we do our Bible studies that way is this. You will get together. You will study the Bible. You will pray for each other. You will help each other. You will serve one another. You will have some worship. You will eat some meals. And the goal, really, is to let you get to know each other and love each other. That’s really the goal.
As well, we do larger events like our outdoor ministry where you can go rock climbing. You can go kayaking. You can go white river rafting. And just get out of town and have some fun with some people, getting to know them in a situation that is informal and not rushed.
We have larger events like film and theology to where if you’re an arts person, you get together and talk and discuss and talk about culture and film. We have a midweek service where we teach on the prayer life on Jesus and then people break out into prayer and discussion groups. It’s an extension of our community groups, our small group ministry.
Just our Gospel class is a place where we teach you in theology and how the church works so that you can become a leader in it and help connect other people to each other, okay? Our church is here to provide conduits so that you guys can live your lives together. That’s why we’re here. And that Jesus would be in the midst of all of that and he would be tethering us all together by grace. And I would just invite you, make sure that you know Jesus, and you love him, and you turn from sin to trust in him, and first, be his friend. And then, take some time to get to know some people who are also family. You’ll be with them forever in Heaven. It’s really good to get to know them. And open your home. And open your fridge. And open your life so that there is a place for them and they should do the same for you. And what we want Mars Hill to be is a movement that exists throughout this whole city, not just an event that people come to one day a week. I’m glad we sing. I’m glad I get to preach. I’m glad that in a moment we’ll take communion and remember Jesus’ body and blood. We’ll take our offering to pay for our bills. I’m glad that we do all of that, but really, the most important thing we do is you and you loving each other in Christ.
And so, Father God, I think you for a chance to get together today to study your Word. God, I thank you that we do live in a world that wants community. That wants friendship. That wants connection. That wants significant relationship. And I thank you, Lord God, that the Scriptures are the only place that we find any sort of real answer why that’s not happening. That the problem really is sin and the answer really is Jesus. And, God, I thank you that you’ve sent the Son. And, Jesus, I thank you for extending a hand of friendship to me and to us, that you have died for my sin, past, present and future. That you’ve taken it away so that I could be a friend of yours, and that you have laid down your life and risen from death in conquest of Satan, sin and death, because you have chosen me to be your friend. You have chosen us to be your friends.
Lord Jesus, I pray this would not be guilt or shame. I thank you for your words that if we love you, we will obey your commands. I pray that we would be friends of yours and that because of that, we would naturally find ourselves being friends with others. I pray for our city, God, as it is one of the most disconnected, lonely, isolated individualistic cities and non-Christian cities in our country. I pray, God, that we would not win this city because we are more organized or because of our preaching, or our band, or our building. But, ultimately, the real work would be done as people open their home and cook dinner for friends and family and neighbors. That as people’s cars break down, that brothers and sisters pick ‘em up and take ‘em to work. That as people are sick, others chip in to pay their light bill. That, God, as babies are born, people cook meals to help feed those families. Just the simple things of being a family. We love you. We thank you for this. And we thank you that, by your grace, Lord Jesus, it’s all possible. And I thank you that, more than any other church I’ve ever seen, that it is actually happening here. And I pray as we grow, that we would grow in that way. Amen.