Two are better than one.

I like to run.  I used to hate running.  After four years of track and cross country in High School, I actually remember thinking during my last race, “I never have to do this again”!  But after a year sabbatical, I started enjoying it for mental discipline’s sake (and for the wonderful sleep that accompanies a good workout) and now I pay to run 5Ks, and half marathons.  Running is not always easy, however.  Some days I can go out and knock out seven miles with plenty of energy to spare and some days I am ready to quit after two.  I have found a friend who likes to run, though, and we run together 2-3 times a week, so probably 60% of my runs are with her.

We run almost the exact same pace.  You can always tell who is feeling better because the other drafts about a half step back.  Some days we are both rocking it and are right in stride together.  Some days one of us just has to quit for a walk.  But most days one of us feels a little better than the other and the weaker one wills to keep going because the stronger one is rolling along and chatting away.  When I got out to run without her, the miles are longer.  I just know the miles are longer.

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Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

– Ecc 4.9-12

This passage is often quoted in marriage ceremonies: the most profound teaming up of people.  But the fundamental reality is that God did not create us to be lone rangers.  He created us to be in community, specifically in the community of the Church.  We are part of the body of Christ and we have roles and functions to preform in order to push one another on to maturity, to faith, to perseverance, to holiness.  There will be days that we are weak, that we are tired, that we just need to take a break and walk…and having someone running along side of us will encourage us to keep going and support us when we a weak.

Solomon emphasizes the personal benefit of having a partner or teammate:  if one falls the other can help him up, they can keep each other warm with their body heat if needed, and if they are attacked they have a partner to help resist.  If you have a teammate, you can be strong for one another and you will receive benefit from the other person.  However, Solomon opens this passage with an outward focus:  “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor” (V 9).  We all know this to be true:  Four hands will get a job done twice as fast.  Have you ever had to move?  The help of even just one friend cuts your time in half.

But consider the Spiritual ramifications.  Yesterday I wrote on the call of all Christians to make disciples of all the nations.  If every single Christian in the world took that calling seriously and made two disciples, the work would be done overnight.  Jesus said,

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

God is sovereign and He has a perfect plan for the timing of the end, so I do not believe that we can “speed it up” by getting out and sharing.  However, if we all caught the vision and had the end goal of eternity, if we all made two disciples immediately, that could be the avenue by which He brings about the end!  One thing is certain and that is the fact that the end will not come until all the nations have heard.  Every people group.  6,500 people groups still do not have the Gospel.  2.9 billion people.  At our current rate, the end is still going to be quite a ways away.  2 billion people around the world do not have access to the Gospel.  If we team up, we can sow the seeds more quickly.  Our return on our labor is greater.  And we can pick one another up when we fall.  We can push each other on when we are tired.  We can encourage one another when we are refused and rejected.

Finally, after looking at the return for our work when we function as a team, after pointing out the personal benefits of having a partner, Solomon concludes that a chord of three strands is not easily broken.  The strongest ropes are composed of three individual strands.  You, me and God.  If two of us are running together, if we are planting a garden together, or trying to stay warm when we are camping in the fall, then two of us will get the job done more quickly and will help one another out.  But if we want to be unbreakable, if we want to see eternal goals met, if we want to be changed from the inside and see the world come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, then we need the third strand.  We need the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, unite, humble, teach and sanctify us.

Who do you run with?  Is God your third strand; leading, directing and sanctifying you?  Are you partnering with a local church and sowing seeds like crazy to see the best return for your labor?  Let’s get to it.

A True Friend

I saw this post on my facebook feed yesterday and my heart just broke for the egotism and immaturity expressed therein:

“A true friend doesn’t care when you’re broke, being a bitch, what you weigh, if your house is a mess, what you drive, about your past, or if your family is filled with crazy people.  They love you for who you are.”

Yes, a true friend accepts you, and they will not be found or won based on how nice of a car you drive.  Blanket acceptance and tolerance is what we preach and value in the United States today:  you do you, I’ll do me, we’ll live in perfect harmony…as long as you don’t tell me I am wrong or offend me in anything that I do, and as long as you function within the laws of the land.  Well, the important laws anyway.

Oh Christian, this is a lie from Hell.  Accountability is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us.  “A friend loves at all times” (Prov 17.17), but love is not blanket acceptance, irregardless of sin.  Love is pushing one another on to holiness and good deeds (Heb 10.24).  Love is helping one another to know and honor God better every day, not to settle into sinful tendencies and enable one another to backslide.

I have a good friend whom I have known for 6 years now.  She is not an accountability partner, but she is a friend.  A true friend.  I was going through a struggle about a year ago, in which I had been grievously sinned against.  A third party became innocently (and possibly unknowingly) involved and my emotional reaction towards the third party was terrible.  This friend, in whom I was confiding, called me out in love.  She said, “Alison, you need to check your heart” and straight up denied some of the statements that I had made in my frustration and hurt.  She caught it at the very moment it entered my heart and came out of my mouth, and because she stopped me in my tracks so quickly, truthfully and kindly, the sin of bitterness had no opportunity to take root in my heart.  Solomon advises in Ecc 8.11 that it is best to address sin at the moment of conception: the longer it is left unchecked, the easier it is to get rooted in someone’s heart and mind:

“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.”

A true friend does care how you are acting, about your past, about habits and tendencies that easily entangle you – and helps you to navigate victory over these things through the power of the Holy Spirit.  A bad friend is one who enables you to “just be you” and let your sinful side reign.  We have seen enough Intervention shows, and had enough exposure to rehab stories that we know the difference between an enabler and a coach or sponsor.  When we want to continue to live in our sin, we consider enablers friends.  But it is no secret that those who truly love and those with whom we bond the most are our sponsors.

God disciplines those whom he loves (Heb 12.5-6).  And he gives us families to discipline and train us as we are growing:

“A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.”

– Prov 15.5

He gives us community to push us on to holiness and good deeds.  The Bible calls the person who does not listen to sound advice or to someone who would hold him accountable a fool.  A fool!  And he who neglects discipline despises himself.

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.”

– Prov 15.12

“He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  He who neglects discipline despises himself, but He who listens to reproof acquires understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.”

– Prov 15.31-33

Let’s not buy the lies.  God wants you to be happy and friends do love at all times.  But true friends love through the trials to see success on the other side.  They help conquer sin, they help fight temptation, they help care for temporal issues.  Be a friend.