Monday, February 27, 2012

Two are better than one

Note:  Llewelyn and I had the privilege attending the "Sweethearts' Banquet" at Emmanuel Baptist Church of Verona last Friday evening, where I gave the devotional on "Two are better than one" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).  Here are my notes:

The book of Ecclesiastes comes from the pen of Solomon, who calls himself “the Preacher” (Hebrew Qoheleth; see 1:1).

The passage we look at tonight begins, “Two are better than one….” It is often applied to the marriage relationship. We might first ask if this is what Solomon is addressing in context. Could he be speaking about national life, telling the people that there is strength in numbers? The appropriateness of applying this passage to home life, however, is supported by context, particularly by 4:6: “Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.”

Solomon first describes what we might call the economic benefits of marriage: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour” (v. 9).Two people can generally complete a task faster than one working alone, whether it is painting a room, preparing a meal, or raking a yard. Contemporary sociologists confirm this truth by telling us that persons who are married generally are more financially stable and prosperous than those who are unmarried.

Next, Solomon describes the social benefits of marriage. If one falls down, he has his partner to pick him up: “For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (v. 10). So, marriage adds to our security and health.

It even insures that we have heat. Think of the weight of this verse in a culture without central heating: “Again, if two lie down together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?” (v. 11).

Next, Solomon suggests that marriage is good for defense: “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him” (v. 12a).

Finally Solomon adds, “And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (v. 12b). I think Solomon is describing the way a marriage relationship is strengthened when the Lord blesses the union with children. The two become three. The familial bond is strengthened, the marriage enriched.

As I reflected on this passage I thought of at least seven practical benefits and blessings of marriage:

1. Those who are married can share in the managing of the home and in the division of labor. We do not have to do everything ourselves. This is particularly true in the area of raising children. We have someone to help us.

2. If you are married you have someone to care for you when you are sick.

3. If you are married you have someone to give you practical help. Example: If you have to drop your car off at the mechanic you have someone to pick you up.

4. If you are married you have someone with whom you can share good news.

5. If you are married you have someone with whom you can share bad news. You have someone to console you.

6. If you are married you have someone to counsel you. A wife, for example, is a tremendous blessing to a man if she is willing to hold up a mirror to him and let him see himself as he is.

7. The married have someone to be with. You have someone to share a meal with, to converse with, to sit by on the pew in worship.

These sorts of things are implied in Solomon’s simple declaration that two are better than one.

As a side note, we might mention that this meditation should also remind us as believers of our duties to the widows and widowers. We here tonight are married. We have our spouses. But one day, many of us will lose these partners to death and we will be alone. Consider how our widows and widowers might be suffering who have already experienced this loss. Consider also our other single people in the church, who might be yearning to find a marriage partner. Contemplation of our blessing should also motivate us to minister to the widows and to the single.

I want to close by meditating on one final blessing of marriage, one other way in which two are better than one. A godly spouse is a providential provision of the Lord for our discipleship. You probably did not know how selfish you really were until you got married and had to begin living not only for yourself but also for another. Then, if God blesses you with children, you experience dying to self 2.0. You cannot reason with the infant who wakes you crying at midnight to let you sleep a few more hours. No, you have to get up and serve that child. Marriage and family is a workshop of discipleship. In marriage and family, we learn to die to ourselves. One of the greatest benefits of marriage is that it helps us to learn how to die to ourselves so that we can lives to Christ. We are learning to deny ourselves and to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).

Did you ever consider that if God allows your marriage to last long enough, your spouse will probably have the biggest spiritual impact on you than anyone else. My wife and I have been married for 24 years. We were married when we were both 22. We now have been married for a longer period of time than we were single. I spent 18 years in my parent’s household, but I have now spent more time than that in a household with my wife. She will probably have a deeper formative influence on my spiritual life even than my parents. God has provided her for my spiritual good.

The Puritan John Flavel acknowledges how God directs our marriages for our spiritual good in his book The Mystery of Providence:

“There is very much of Providence seen in appointing the parties for each other. In this the Lord often goes beyond our thoughts and plans; yea, and often crosses men’s desires and designs to their great advantage. Not what they expect, but what His infinite wisdom judges best and most beneficial for them takes place. Hence it is that probabilities are so often dashed, and things remote and utterly improbable are brought about, in very strange and unaccountable methods of Providence” (p. 82).

Indeed, consider how God has given you the wife or husband that you have in ordr to work toward your spiritual good.  Consider how he has given you your life partner to more nearly conform you to the image of Christ.  Two are better than one.

3 comments:

Mad Jack said...

Two people can generally complete a task faster than one working alone...
Unless one of those people is a younger sibling who begins by offering to whack the nail with the hammer while said nail is held by his elder brother, and then fifteen minutes later upsets the wheelbarrow full of sand, and then runs and tells mom that his patient, blameless older brother said a bad word.

...whether it is painting a room, preparing a meal, or raking a yard.
Bets? Give me your address and I'll send my younger brother over to your place to help you with your plumbing problem - and if you don't have one now, you will have once he's been with you a while.

Contemporary sociologists confirm this truth by telling us that persons who are married generally are more financially stable and prosperous than those who are unmarried.
This may have been true from, say, 1945 through 1980 or so, but I don't believe it holds water any longer.

If one falls down, he has his partner to pick him up
At least you hope so, but my experience has varied greatly on this. It seems I was doing a lot of lifting, but when I sprained my ankle I got kicked to the curb.

It even insures that we have heat.
I have lived without central heating in the winter, and there are worse things than a fire in the fireplace. As for sleeping and staying warm, you go and get your good old dog to sleep with you, and I'll tell you this much padre: A man could do a whole lot worse than to share his bed with his dog.

Finally Solomon adds, “And a threefold cord is not quickly broken”
This is Soloman we're talking about here - how many wives did he have?

1. Those who are married can share...
First off, you're supposed to have a wife before you get any children, so I would hope your wife would help civilize the little monsters. Secondly, it's true you don't have to do everything yourself, but you also have two or more people to take care of. Think about that for a minute.

2. If you are married you have someone to care for you when you are sick.
True only if your wife will care for you, and not all of them will.

3. If you are married you have someone to give you practical help.
Yeah, help you find new ways to keep Herself contented. Never happy mind you, just contented.

4. If you are married you have someone with whom you can share good news.
But if you're smart you've learned to keep such things to yourself, because just as soon as you show her your year end bonus check, she's got it spent.

5. If you are married you have someone with whom you can share bad news. You have someone to console you.
Yep, you can share the bad news. Consolation now, that may be in short supply.

6. If you are married you have someone to counsel you. A wife, for example, is a tremendous blessing to a man if she is willing to hold up a mirror to him and let him see himself as he is.
Some of these women will not only hold up the mirror but they'll make sure it's clean and free of streaks. Then they'll helpfully point out the imperfections, and if that doesn't work they'll bring their corpulent, Wagnerian mother to assist them. What a joy to come home to something like that every night.

7. The married have someone to be with. You have someone to share a meal with, to converse with, to sit by on the pew in worship.
You won't see all these people on Sunday, padre.

Pastor Jeff said...

MJ,

Thanks for your comment.

You paint a pretty bleak and cynical picture of marriage. Yes, sin can do this in a marriage, but a Christian marriage should rise above the kinds of petty things you describe.

As for Solomon's views being affirmed by modern sociological study, I believe it still holds that married people are generally more prosperous, happier, and healthier than single people. To back this up, see Maggie Gallagher's book "The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, & Better Off Financially" (Doubleday, 2000).

Because of sin, two are not always better than one. The point is that two should be better than one in a marriage where Christ is at the center and each is encouraging the other to grow in Him.

JTR

Mad Jack said...

Petty things? Petty? You just wait until you have to reload 100 pounds of sand into a wheelbarrow, and this in the middle of an August heat wave while you use a long handled shovel while your thumb still hurts like blazes. I'll bet you'd have a few un-Christian thoughts.

You're quite right about a Christian marriage, however these days many marriages are a long way from Christ. When I was in my early twenties I remember a married couple who lived across the hall from my girlfriend because the man asked me quite confidentially how long I thought she and I would remain together. For his part, he expected another two to three years, then he planned to file for divorce. For my part, that's not what I wanted in a marriage.