The Cord of Three Strands (Ecclesiastes 4:4-12)

The pastor who is now at my previous church before I came to Tri-State Fellowship 24 years ago is a very young fellow. Actually, I think he might have observed what is his 30th birthday just yesterday. When I am with him and am speaking at that church, I like to have some fun with him by pointing out how he is too young to understand an illustration or remember some event I’m talking about. I have regularly had the same fun with Trent and Chris. But I had it boomerang on me today!

There is a saying, “Keeping up with the Joneses.”  I’ve always wondered what it was about the Jones family that was so envious. So I looked it up to see where the idiom originated. I had no idea!  Did you know that there was a comic strip by this name that ran in newspapers from 1913 to 1940?  The Joneses were never seen in it. Rather, there was a McGinnis family that in varied ways were forever attempting to compete socially with their neighbors, the Joneses.

Though this saying is rather new “under the sun,” the concept long predates a century ago. Solomon saw it happening and writes about it in the first of three sections of our devotional study for today …

Ecclesiastes 4:4 – And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

5 Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves.

6 Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.

Stating that ALL toil and achievement comes from envy is literary hyperbole, but we know it is not rare. For many, contentment means having more than others rather than having sufficiency. Whereas the fool is an underachiever by being lazy, there is an opposite folly in being motivated by envy and accumulating through excessive striving twice as much as is needed. He says it is better to have a sufficient handful than to have twice that amount along with the concomitant problems those efforts bring.

The writer goes on to speak more about selfish greed …

Ecclesiastes 4:7 – Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: 8 There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”  This too is meaningless—a miserable business!

Here is the picture of a hard-working man who is all alone and who is not content with his personal account’s bottom line. What is the purpose or enjoyment in this?  There is greater pleasure in gaining wealth with a view toward how it helps others near and far. It is a principle of life that there is always greater joy in giving than there is in gaining.

Here are some illustrations as to how life is enhanced by not living selfishly …

Ecclesiastes 4:9 – Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The takeaway points here about how two people are better than one are: a greater return on labor, help in the time of difficulty, comfort in the time of need, and protection in the time of danger. And if two are better than one, then three is even better yet!

Though there are benefits from times of solitude and introspection, it is a timeless principle that life is better lived in serving together with others. Back to the beginning with Adam, it was seen that he was not benefitted by being alone. The body of Christ is all about the interdependent needs that each person has of others. And all of the “one anothers” of the New Testament teach us to look away from ourselves – to be dependent upon God and interdependent with others.

A mirror is helpful in the morning, but looking through clear glass at others is the way to spend the rest of the day.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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