Unbreakable | Ecclesiastes 4:1-16
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 4:1–4:16
Introduction | Rewind
Good morning! This week we are continuing our series of Ecclesiastes called The Pursuit: Chasing Meaning Under the Sun. Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? Is this all there is to life? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. The message of this sermon of Ecclesiastes isn’t all of life is meaningless and nothing matters; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! Our pursuit in this series is to mine the wisdom of The Preacher in the hopes of seeing and understanding the world, our lives, as they truly are, as accurately as possible. While life “under the sun” is actually more like a dark basement there is light that penetrates the darkness. As bright the light coming in every basement still has it shadows. In our basement world there is still the question of what do with all the injustice we see and how to respond to constantly feeling alone and isolated.
Ecclesiastes 4 | Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.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 kings’ 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.
Verses 1-7 | Alone!
We do not live in a perfect world where there are perfect relationships or perfect justice. Sin has entered the world and has real consequences in our hearts, lives, families, communities and world. Sin separates. This separation causes pain, suffering, oppression, and loneliness in this world. Sin takes many forms and is experienced in different ways but the fruit of sin is separation, from joyful life, each other, and from God. While this is clearly observable to us “under the sun” what is less clear and what is easily forgotten is there is a God in heaven who is opposed to the suffering, oppression, and loneliness of this world.
Last week Mark Moore with IJM was able to show us a very clear picture of what tangible oppression and injustice looks like. There is also a spiritual separation and oppression that occurs in our heart and soul because of our sin and sin committed against us. Separation creates an unholy world where oppression and depression reign. It creates isolation in our lives. When pain happens we are moved to sadness and tears. When we’re alone there is no one to comfort us. When we are alone we are weak, and that which seeks to oppress us (whether addiction, or affliction, or rejection) seem so overwhelmingly powerful. Their side has power where I am powerless. We can become aware of the pain in the world and weep with and for others, there are also times we experience oppression so deeply or so long it leads us beyond a breaking point. When that happens when all we can see is the darkness and we believe we are truly alone we can sometimes come to chilling and disturbing conclusions. “I’d be better off dead! Or “I wish I was never born.”
The Seattle area ranks #2 out 33 metro areas for attempted suicides rates. This is pain leading to hopelessness; depression falling into despair. So we begin to believe it would be better to be gone then continue in this broken world of tears and oppression alone. Still better is those unborn who have never experienced the pain of this world. “I don’t think I would want to bring a child into this world.” This might be the saddest and most hopeless portion of Ecclesiastes. Sorrow is not always wrong. There is Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and life and there is god-less sorrow that leads to suicidal thoughts and longings.
Verse 4-5| Worldly Response
We respond to the separation and sorrow in ways that are less than profitable and unsatisfying.
When we are alone and separate we strive to be greater than others. If I am going to be apart from everyone in this world then I want to be defined by being above and better than everyone else. This is the creative angst or competitive nature that the world says can lead to greatness. Watch any “30 for 30” of Sports Heroes, documentary great leaders or artist and you’ll see a trend. Athletes who had nothing using that to motivate them to beat their opponents, leaders who we belittle when young rise up to lead others, musicians whose pain leads to artistic greatness (Grunge movement or hip-hop) Great innovations can come from rivalry and competition (facebook, Apple vs Microsoft) we run a little faster when we run with someone, we run a lot faster when we run against someone! Sometimes this can be healthy and productive. However, there is a drive (envy) that is all consuming and it leads to greater division and fragmentation. We live in a neighborhood between two other houses with the same design as ours, so when one of our neighbors get new garage doors or paints all of the sudden our place don’t look so nice.
2 Cor 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
When we are along we easily give up and fall into self-destruction. Sometimes we respond to separation by just running harder, other times we respond by dropping out of the race entirely. This is unhealthy competition, this is shameful complacency. The term “folding hands” means laziness or not working.
Proverbs 6:10 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
I can’t keep up with the Jones so I am not going to try. In fact maybe I’ll just vote for people who will give me some more of the Jones’s money. Rather than face the challenges of the world you drop out of it. Rather than all-consuming drive you have self-consuming sloth. Idleness leads to a lack of self-control, eventually your concept of reality becomes skewed as your dignity is eroded. God has created each of us for a purpose, when you’re not productive in some way you begin to have your value diminished. Our cities can easily become divided into areas with each of these two groups. Who is your community? Are you surrounded by “high achieves” who are never content and always pushing harder? Are you in a constantly depressed area where healthy ambition has been replaced with ambivalence and entitlement?
Which ditch are you more likely to fall into? Where do you need to repent of sin and get to work, or rest?
We are called to contentment in abundant life. We are not called to have nothing but to be content with what we have. Work and purpose are gifts from God but we need to be careful not to abuse these gifts.
Proverbs 23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. Rest with “enough” don’t strive for “more” it will not lead to peace. The “quietness” can also be translated as tranquility, rest, or peace. This is God’s desire for us and it can sometimes come as a gift of allowing us to lower the bar (not God’s commands) but in our unrealistic expectations and demands from this life and ourselves. Where can we find this contentment? It’s not going to be found going it alone.
Verse 7-12 | Gospel Community – Stronger Together
Here we meet a workaholic with no relationships. He is “successful” but this guy doesn’t have a spouse, friends, business partners, close relatives, or children. He is so focused on accumulating wealth and has no one else he is directly responsible for, or accountable to, so he never even has moments where people stop him so he can ask Why am I doing all of this? Who am I doing all of this for? This is work that becomes so extreme it is dehumanizing when we realize we were not made for work, but work was for us to have life.
So we have hyper competitive rivalry, disconnected dropping out, or single striving and none led to joy.
Gen 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” No one watches the movie Castaway and say “yeah I want that!” We are not made to be alone. More wealth or more toil isn’t better but more people is better. There is something wrong when we say “I have enough relationships.” or “I just don’t want to meet, or care for/about, anyone else.”
The answer for the broken aloneness and separation of is being brought into a Gospel Community. “Community” without gospel is just broken people closer together. These verses on life together are more specific as examples of purposeful life on a road together. This is the road of following Jesus.
When we are together our work is rewarding. Earlier striving and work are classified as chasing after wind, toil or “unhappy business” now working together even toiling in fallen world leads to a “good reward”.
When we are together we are picked up when we fall. Galatians 6 talks about lifting off burdens from a brother. As we travel down the road of life together we quickly realize there are pitfalls that we can fall into. When one of us falls when we’re in community there are others to reach out and pull us back out. When we fall on our own we die in the pit. “Woe” is a painful sadness. When someone falls alone there is no one help them out of the pit. We need gospel community so we fall we’re not the old lady who says “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” We settle for fake support (Vague facebook posts “Why are people so terrible...”) rather legit community that actually cares. The answer for the old lady, and us, is community.
When we’re together we can comfort one another. We, in a world apart from God, are all outside of Eden. Life is harsh, cold, and difficult. When we’re tired and alone, even rest doesn’t come because we’re being pounded by the elements. Gospel Community warms and comforts our lives as we get rest from the weary road together, finding enjoyment in one another. There is a mutual benefit “they” keep warm.
When we are together we can protect one another. There is an actual enemy that seeks to destroy there is actually hostile adversaries that need to be overcome. “We fight together!” 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Notice what the preacher says… He doesn’t say “call for some help when you’re caught alone.” Or you might get cold then go look for someone, or when an enemy arise against you call 911. Gospel Community can only be effective in the hard times when it is genuinely present all the time. There is a concept you are always on the road with others. If you only begin looking for or pressing into community when there is an emergency it is likely too late. Profit, resilience, comfort, and strength these are all good things!!! Gospel Community requires we give up our independence for interdependence. We might have to be the brother that picks up, that fights others battles with them and…. And yet we all win together!! We have been made for relationships and community. Jesus didn’t send out individual missionaries he sent out missionary teams. There is no question there has been both added fruitfulness and joy from last year to this year with Randy join me on staff. If we’re going to grow as disciples we need to be in community with one another, if we’re going to “go and make disciples” we need to serve and be on mission together. Where is your community? Individually we have.. Family… Individuals and Families have the church…. And our church has other churches…. 3Strand.org In all of these communities we each have Relationships and responsibilities.
This is the point in the wedding sermon where I get out 3 cords and show you how easily it is to cut one with cheap scissors but how if I have three I can’t do it. A two strand cord ain’t enough. Why not? Two is a great plan until you come to points when both of you are broken. There are times I’m up and Tara’s down and vice versa, but the scariest times would be when we’re both down. What then? “You” and “me” are weak and quickly broken, “we” is stronger but still breakable. Even a three strand cord can be broken. It only takes more time and more pressure. We cannot settle for “not easily broken”, if we are truly going to have peace in our lives we need to have something greater than merely “we”. We need something holding us together that is truly unbreakable. Then it doesn’t matter how much the other two strands get cut up or beat up everything is still going to be held together. Growth in the gospel does not lead us to places of greater independence, but places of greater interdependence. Not simply us relying on each other but in us constantly point each other back to Jesus. Community says “we together are stronger” Gospel Community says “He alone is strong” Col 1:17 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Verse 13-16 | Jesus Unbreakable Kingdom
In these last verses we see this picture of a sad king who has passed his prime and how people began to follow a new king who also will eventually peak and be forgotten. Rather than going from prison to the throne- In Jesus we see a king who went from the throne to prison for his people. Rather than rages to riches – In Jesus we see a king with all the riches of heaven trading them for bloody rags of our sin.
2 Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
In Jesus we see a king whose kingdom will have no end. He will not be forgotten! In Jesus generations after generations will rejoice in who he is! King Jesus doesn’t have a hill he reaches and then his influence dwindles, He has a grave he is put in and then rises for eternity!!
Luke 1:32-33 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” We are going to pray. Then we are going to take communion remembering Jesus broken body and shed blood make the unbreakable tie that binds us all together as we Trust Jesus!
More in THE PURSUIT | Ecclesiastes
January 3, 2016Season Finale | Ecclesiastes 12:1-14
December 20, 2015Bridled Joy | Ecclesiastes 11:1-10
December 13, 2015Farmers Market of Foolishness | Ecclesiastes 10:1-20