WoW: Bridges and Community (Eccl 4:9-12)
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. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)Charles Bridges not only wrote a commentary on Proverbs, he also wrote a commentary on Ecclesiastes. So, for this "Wisdom on Wednesday" post I want to move out of Proverbs and into Ecclesiastes and look at the subject of community. You should also check out JD Hatfield's The Lone Ranger in Danger post dealing with the same subject.
The General Application
It has been noted that these verses are structured like a proverb. One evidence of this is the numeric progression that takes place at the end. It also fits that this is proverb is meant to reinforce the message of Ecclesiastes 4:7-8. In this regard, Bridges writes:
We have seen the misery of solitary selfishness. 'The man is so absorbed in covetousness, that he sacrificeth all his interest with his fellow-creatures.' Contrast this dark picture with the pleasures and advantages of social bonds. Bacon quotes from Aristotle, that 'whosoever delighteth in solitude is either a wild beast or a god' - that is (as Abp. Whately explains it) - 'to man - such as man is - friendship is indispensable to happiness; and that one, who has no need, and feels no need of it, must be either much above human nature, or much below it.'
Solomon speaks from observation of the world around him. There is an advantage to having a companion. Frequently two people can do more than double the work of one. If one falls, the other can lift him up. If it is cold, shared body heat makes the night warm, and two are more likely to withstand an assailant. And if two are good, three are even better.
We forget however the deep and weighty substance of Scripture, if we confine these illustrations to their literal application. The most sober principle of interpretation will admit a reference to all that glowing contact of united hearts, where each part has a part and responsibility in helping and comforting the other.
After making this transition, Bridges points us to Genesis 2:18, which states "Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'" If this was true for Adam in the Garden, how much more so for us now. He then recalls Jesus sending the disciples out as pairs, which continued frequently with the early church (Peter and John; Paul and Barnabas; Paul and Silas). This brings us to what I want us to focus on, the need for fellowship with other believers. Bridges writes:
We need scarcely remark, how clearly the principle of membership is here involved. The live coal left alone soon loses its vital heat. But heap the coals around it, and we have a genial atmosphere. The most lively professor left alone is in danger of waxing cold in selfishness. But the precious 'communion of the saints' warms the Christian from the very centre. . . .Today, there are many who feel like they can make it without the aid of other believers. After all, no church matches their doctrine. But we are called into communion with one another. God exists in relationship within the Trinity. We cannot adequately bear the image of God as individuals, because a foundational truth about God is this intra-Trinitarian relationship (which we must understand at a basic level if we are to know what it means to say God is love).
This principle also rebukes the religious solitaire - that isolated being, who belongs to no Church, because no Church is perfect enough for him. . . . Surely it is better to belong to an imperfect (not heretical) Church than to none; better to "continue steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42); not only "first giving up our own selves to the Lord, " but "unto" the whole body of the church "by the will of God." (2 Corinthians 8:5) There can be no real membership with the body, except by the communication of mutual helpfulness "according to the measure of every part." (Ephesians 4:16, ut supra) The solitaire just described is in continual danger when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him. The soldier falters alone; but, in fellowship with his comrades, he advances with confidence.
This means we have been created in such a way that we are dependent not only on God but one another. We require support and encouragement and strengthening. It is part of our very nature.
All the kindly offices of friendship - especially when cemented in the Christian bond - apply to this point. The united prayer of "any two, who shall agree touching anything they shall ask," is sealed with acceptance. (Matthew 18:19) Mutual faithfulness (Galatians 2:11-14; 6:1), consideration, inspection, and godly provocation (Hebrews 10:24) - all enter into the sphere of Christian responsibility, and minister to the glory of our common Lord. Each of us has something to impart, to prevent discouragement - to receive, to teach us humility. The receiver is united to the giver by gratitude - the giver to the receiver by tender compassion.
In this sympathizing union of kindred spirits, "ointment and perfume rejoice the heart; so doth sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." (Proverbs 27:9, 17) The inferior may be the helper. The great Apostle acknowledged instrumental support through his own son in the faith. (2 Corinthians 7:6, Titus 1:4) Jonathan, no less than David, "strengthened" his brother's "hands in God." (1 Samuel 23:16) Here the two were better than one; when each was employed in lifting up his fellow.
It matters not who we are or how gifted we may be. If we are called of God we have a role to play in the church. We can minister to someone. Sometimes to those more advanced in the faith than we are. We might remind them of the simplicity of faith, or the joy of salvation, or the need to be dependent on Jesus. And, none of us is above being encouraged by other saints. This was Paul's acknowledgement in Romans 1:11-12. If the Apostle expected to be "mutually encouraged" should we not expect the same when we gather with other believers?
Oh! let us ponder well the deep responsibility for our social obligations. Are we discharging them as unto the Lord - for the honour of his name, and for the edifying and increase of his Church? Did we but pray for each other as we ought, what a brotherhood would the family of man be! The time is short. Opportunities are passing away. Happy those, who have been fellow-helpers upon the earth! They shall rejoice before their gracious Lord with joy unspeakable - uninterrupted - without abatement - without end.