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.
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.