Friends – Ecclesiastes 4

 

Solomon, the royal preacher, is musing about life – its qualities, problems and purpose. He has tasted, tested and eventually rejected a great many things which lesser men think are important to life. He deals with the same things men and women are pursuing nearly 3,000 years later. Look around you – does the average piece of advertising really illustrate the important things of life? I saw an ad the other day for a new kind of snack, which appears to be just like a dozen others, but in a lighter, fluffier form, and therefore less expensive to make, but which will probably cost even more. Do we need another kind of snack food? And what about bumper stickers? What do we learn about life by studying the back-end of cars? If not on cars, then perhaps today’s t-shirts reflect the true meaning of the American dream. We are told that If you have tasted everything else, but not the new Diet drink, then you have not tasted life. And then we come to the beer commercials, the car commercials and Carribean Cruise commercials. Solomon says, “Wait a minute, I’ve done all of those things and a hundred more.” “I have found that everything I have ever done, outside of Jehovah God, has been vanity and vexation.”

In this chapter 4, the divinely-gifted wise man says, “Here is one true necessity for a well-spent life – “ Good companionship is essential; fellowship is important. “Two are better than one.” On a very cold day, how can a single person really be warm? “A three-fold cord cannot be broken.” Usually two people can get three times as much work done as one person. A pair of people with very little else are usually happier than a single miser with the wealth of the world. For the sake of application, let’s confine our thoughts to a narrower circle than Solomon originally intended.

Think first about the handicap which exists in isolation.

How many professed Christians are there in America today? According to Google, there are 173 million professed Christians in the United States – one out of seven. And how many of those 173 million attend one of the Lord’s churches at least once a week? Only a small fraction.

Why do so many Christians choose to live outside the blessing of one of God’s churches? What are the reasons? Sometimes it is due to things completely beyond their control. There are a lot of Christians who live in places where good Bible-believing Baptist churches do not exist. And there are cases where churches or missionaries worked towards establishing churches. But then for some reason or other, the work closed down and the pastor died or moved away. There might have been a true convert or two who were left behind without companions or fellowship. I know of some cases like this. Or perhaps a lady came to know the Lord, but then her husband moved the family away to a place where there was no church. Maybe in a period of foolishness a young Christian moved to a place where there was no church. Then again, sometimes there are Christian’s, who through sin, isolate themselves from Christian fellowship. They have perceived sin and hypocrisy in the saints and in pride disfellowshiped themselves. Or they’ve been confronted with some tasty sin and in choosing that direction, they forsook the people of God. Pity the poor saint, who has either been cast adrift or jumped off the bridge into the polluted river below.

Verse 5 speaks about one of Solomon’s favorite kinds of fools. Solomon’s other book, Proverbs, is filled with choice thoughts about the lazy, slothful, indolent fool. Young people ought to be taught about the sins of indolence, and the virtues of hard work. But what about those immature Christians, who become spiritual equivalents of the sloth? What do they do with God’s money in their pockets? What incentive do they have to tell others about their faith in Christ? Since they dislike the Lord’s prophet, why would they spend a moment inviting another person to join them in church? Do they study God’s word on their own very often, and if they do, with whom do they share what they have learned? Are their mouths filled with songs of praise to their Saviour? Would I be too bold to say that only church-going people awake in the morning humming the hymns of faith? How many of these people really strive for purity in their lives? I have yet to find Christian loner, recluse, or hermit, who was diligent in serving God. They need, we all need, the exhortation and encouragement which comes with the fellowship of saints.

Verse 1 speaks about the poor soul who has been unjustly oppressed and who has no comforter. Just to have someone with whom to share the world’s attack, gives strength to endure the next attack. Can the solitary Christian, toe the doctrinal line very long? Like the gazelle which has been separated from the herd, he is an easy mark for the lions. Solitary Christians, are more easily pushed about by every wind of doctrine, because they haven’t any human comforter and counselor. Thousands of such people end up among the J.W.s or charismatics or 7th Day Adventists. I read of a little girl who came to her grandmother, saying that her three best friends all went to different churches. “But that’s all right grandma, because we’re all Republicans.” Sorry, little girl but that just isn’t the case. Verse 8 states the obvious – “There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.”

What are the advantages of Christian fellowship?

First, fellowship makes labour more effective. Two have a good reward for their labour, but what they do as individuals may not be as effective. When the Lord Jesus was beginning his ministry in Galilee and then in Judea, He had a little nucleus of disciples, which were fired out like arrows. They scattered in six directions, while He ministered as well. But we notice that they scattered in only six directions and not in twelve. They carried out Jesus’ work in pairs – not as individuals. Brother Nimmo, who was a Baptist Bible Fellowship missionary, got in trouble with his directorship. From his study of God’s Word, accentuated by experience, he determined that mission work should be done by pairs of missionaries, not by a single man or even a man a his family. This is the Biblical way. When Paul was sent out on his various missionary enterprises, he did not travel alone. On the first occasion, he went with Barnabas and others. And on his second and third missionary journeys he traveled with Silas, Timothy and others.

So even in the powerful and Spirit-blessed work of the gospel, two are better than one. One can pray while the other one preaches. John Bunyan’s “Christian” was blessed to have the companionship of “Faithful” in his travels toward the Celestial city. Christian individuals are encouraged to pray, but we are also see that group prayer is better than individual prayer. Quite some time ago, Judy gave me a devotional book, illustrated with the cartoons of Charles Shultz. In one“Peanuts” cartoon Lucy came into the room, demanding her brother give her the TV remote. “What makes you think that you are in charge?” he asked. Lucy took her hand and said: “See these five fingers. Individually they are nothing, but when they unite they become a weapon to be feared.” Linus then looked at his fingers and said, “Why can’t you guys cooperate like that?” Christians can either be like a hand or fist, or like a bunch of digits laying on the autopsy table.

And that brings us to the second blessing of Christian fellowship: comfort and consolation.

Solomon speaks about the blessing of having someone to help us to stand up after we have fallen. This kind of ministry brings us near to the ministry of the Lord Jesus himself – To raise the fallen, to strengthen the weak, to relieve the needy, and to assist the orphan. These are the things that are praised about true religion.

Here, I think, is one of the areas of Church membership which is often looked on backwards. It is natural to our fallen nature to think primarily in the area of receiving rather than giving. If I am not being spiritually fed or challenged, the church and the pastor is failing. And they just might have a point. Even Christians have the modern “victim mentality,” when they ought to be comforting the victims. But how much time do they spend in feeding or up-lifting and encouraging their neighbors? And how do they behave towards the Christian who has sinned, especially the one who has sinned against HIM? “Off with his head!!!”

In fellowship is the promotion of comfort, spiritual well-being and joy.

On a cold day, how can one be warm alone? One of the things we see every year at camp is that children love fires. With a little observation they can learn the in’s and out’s about the campfire. And one of those lessons is that if the old coals are kept close together, they do much better. Take a hot coal or half-burned log and push it aside away from the rest of the fire, soon it loses its red-hot look; the edges turn a white/black, rather than orange and red. While the rest of the fire may be merrily blazing away, the separated log cools rapidly. And the same thing is true among the children of God.

I have known over my 45 years in the ministry many good saints of God – on fire for their Saviour. But then they got into some doctrine, some practice or some other Christian caught in their throat. In disgust they pulled away and built a wall between themselves and their offender. Like a callous on the side of a toe, they think they’ve protected themselves. But few things are as uncomfortable as a problem on a toe in a tight shoe. The body builds that callous, thinking to protect itself, but it ends up causing itself pain. As soon as the offended brother falls by the way-side, dropping out of church, that is the moment his spiritual vitality and fervency is doomed. He may vow that it won’t happen to him, but it does happen – 110% of the time. He was better off with the pain of conviction or relationship problems while in the church, than not having that pain out of church. He may say that he had a good reason to quit, and logically there may be some truth. But spiritually it is not true, and there will soon be an infection in that toe. It is impossible to be a proper servant of God outside the Lord’s church. And with a little time, we can all think of specific people who illustrate that truth.

And that brings us to our last point:

Fellowship imparts strength, stability and the power of resistence.

Two men, shoulder to shoulder, can fend off twice as many as if they stood ten feet apart. The three-fold cord is not quickly broken. It must be remembered that the work to which we have been called is not child’s play. There isn’t room here for quitters, babies and cowards. God’s enemy wants to destroy this church, along with every other church that believes God’s Word. What is more, he has had 2,000 years to hone his scythes and sickles. He knows the fallen nature of man, better than the fallen nature of man knows itself. There has never been a day when God’s churches need to be strengthened, braced and fortified more than today. I could give you the names of various churches in danger, but we don’t need to look any farther than our own.

A few years ago, a woman named Melody Schmid, sat in a store front window for 5 hours and 43 minutes. She was wearing a Raggedy Ann outfit and carried a stuffed teddy bear. For nearly 6 hours she never moved except to blink her eyes once in a while. And for her labors she got her name in the Guinness Book of World Records for at least one issue. Are there any church members who could unseat the do-nothing queen.

In order to succeed as we should, two things are needed. First, greater dependence upon the Lord; faith in Him. The Lord is our strength and our supply. In Christ we can do all things and without him we can do nothing. And secondly, we need genuine Christian brotherhood and Philadelphian love. And as Solomon might have said, “Without these two our Christian labors will be vanity and vexation of spirit.”