"If the iron is blunt,and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom help one to succeed."
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 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! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken."Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
As "the Preacher" continues through his list of vanities, he seems to make a few positive observations along the way. Here he explains that two people working and living together are better than one. There appear to be four reasons given for this. First, “they have a good reward for their toil” (v. 9). Two people working together produce more than one. This seems obvious by simple addition. But I think more is in view here. Two people working together will produce more than the same two people working individually. Couples, packs, teams, and communities have a dynamic that is encouraging and motivating.
One reason they produce more is also the next and separate reason two are better than one: “If they fall, one will lift up his fellow." Two people working together are better than one because they help one another in weakness and failure. People who work together can complement and fill each other out. Sometimes our individual weaknesses and failure become our destruction. But not if someone is there to help us. It’s like a safety net.
This idea is also tied into the work. Its not just the fallen person who would suffer, but the work. In the context of the mission of making disciples, this is a critical aspect to Christian community. It is not an individual task; we are to work together to accomplish it. And so we are called to exhort, correct, restore, forgive, strengthen, encourage, love, pray for, and bear one another up.
There is one other important dynamic to such teamwork: willingness to be helped. “Well, of course, why would anyone not want help?” PRIDE! We don’t even want to admit we have fallen and need help. Independence and self-sufficiency is the virtue of our culture that makes us weak.
I spoke with a friend this morning about this challenging Proverb, so I am reposting this entry from April 1 of this year.
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” Prov 12:11
What a great standard for the activities we choose for ourselves and our children! First is the priority of work. Our provision should come from our own work. We cannot train our children or allow adults to expect others to provide for them. Everyone works!
Second, not that everything we do must be work, but everything we do must have worth; it must have value and benefit. We are an entertainment driven culture and many of our activities qualify as worthless pursuits. Entertainment is not inherently bad since it is a form of relaxation that we all need. However, there are so many spiritually and intellectually nourishing forms of relaxation and entertainment! Instead of justifying our entertainment habits as "relaxation we all need," we can raise the standard and engage in activities that qualify as "worthy pursuits."
“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of this neighbor” (Eccl 4:4).
I am beginning to see more clearly the genre of this book. It is Wisdom Literature and closely resembles the Proverbs. This is helpful for seeing that some of the challenges of understanding Proverbs apply here. There are times, like in this verse, that we see a generally true observation stated as an absolute maxim. I really don’t think that he means every single person who ever worked did so out of envy. However, it is basically true that humans strive and struggle to find success in this life on earth. They want to be the best at what they do. They want to make enough money to have the best material possessions. They want to be in charge of others. They want the honor of men. And so, the writer concludes, “This also is vanity and striving after the wind.”
I am free from this vain striving in Christ. I am able to serve someone besides myself. I serve the Lord of all creation and I serve the people he created. I work for the benefit of others. And I work for eternal things. I will lay up treasures in heaven, where it will never be destroyed.
"I perceived that there is nothing better for [people] than to be joyfuland to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil--this is God's gift to man." - Ecclesiastes 3:12
I started reading Ecclesiastes today and am fascinated by the mystery and wisdom is holds. I enjoy poetry and riddles. The reoccurring theme is:
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (1:1)
Vanity literally means vapor. And we are not just talking about vapor, but the vapor of vapor! Vapor is fleeting and elusive. As I work through the book, I will be considering what the writer means by this. Verse 2 immediately presents at least one concept of vanity: “What does man gain by all the toil?” I just taught on 1 Cor 15, in which Paul explains the vanity of preaching and faith if Christ was not raised from the dead (v. 14). In Greek, this word translated vanity can mean without result, reason, or purpose. The suggestion that man gains nothing from his work is the vanity of no result.
The obvious answer to the Preacher’s question is “a living.” When one works he is able to provide food and shelter for his family. But the question forces the reader to go deeper than this. The Preacher is pushing us past the obvious cycles and assumptions of this world to consider the meaning and value of food and shelter, the meaning of existence at all. The writer has come to a point in life, as many of us do, when we are desperate for a deeper purpose. “Surely food and shelter is not what this is all about.” Food and shelter are no the end, but a means. They are simply necessary for survival according to God’s design. The purpose of our existence must be something more. At least that is what depths of my soul cry out for. “What is this all about anyway?” Amazingly, though, so much of our culture has become a half-dead mass of humanity that is satisfied to run the rat race for the prize of food and shelter. They have only modified it in that they hunt for greater and more glamorous food and shelter. I will live for more than this.
“Never tire of doing even the smallest things for Him,because He isn’t impressed so much with the dimensions of our work as with the love in which it is done.”
- Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
(Thanks for the quote, Brad.)
As I tweeted on Saturday, the whole family (except for those unable to work) spent all day working in the garden together. And I really mean all day. We dealt with some complaining at first, of course. But something amazing transpired as the day passed. The kids really caught the vision for our garden and taking pride in their work. By the end of the day, attitudes of helpfulness and contentment abounded.
It helped that we were able to harvest some produce as well. It wasn't much, though, since not only do we have a later planting time up here, but we also had three weeks of rain when we could plant. You can see the beginnings of some cantaloupe on the left. We harvested some sugar snaps, green beans, and zucchini.