4 I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind. 5 The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. 6 One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. 7 Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. 8 There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task. 9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 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. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
Is anyone surprised where we find this passage today? Verses 9-12 are commonly used and I have even used them in sermons and lessons before but only now do I fully realize its significance and power. Before we go further, I’d like to present a verse that we find towards the end of the Old Testament: James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” What does James’ assertion have to do with Solomon’s words about work?
Our society strives to achieve. Whether it is at work earning salary or getting a promotion, on the ball field getting better stats, or on our iPhones beating our friends at making words we are constantly working towards being better than someone else (even if it’s ourselves). We work religiously at improvement. This word outside of its spiritual context means, “treated or regarded with a devotion and scrupulousness appropriate to worship.” Certainly we can see where it gets its spiritual meaning, yet everything we do in life signifies worship or “worth-ship” to something. We pay so much in rent a month because where we live is “worth” what we pay (or at least we agreed to a contract that said so). We give our kids gifts because they are “worth” giving to. We spend time with our mates because they are “worth” spending time with. We put in 50-80 hours a week at work because it is “worth” what we do or maybe we look at it as our families as “worth” working that much time at work to provide for. Solomon is revealing to us that the only thing that is “worth” doing is working with God and for your fellow man (or woman).
He is quite practical about his approach. Why would we do something like that? Because in working together we have a better return for our labor. Or, if one falls, the other can help him back up. A concept we learned in the military when trying to prevent hypothermia is if two lie together, they can keep warm. We are stronger in numbers. Now before I get to the last one, let’s look at what Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 18, “18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Solomon has been talking about pairs this whole time and suddenly he jumps to 3, why is that? Because the third strand is God.
When we put our worth-ship in God and work for our fellow man, we will begin to find fulfillment in life. We will witness the strength of His love because we will experience it and give it to others. This is one of the purposes God has given to us as humans living on earth. He talks about it all the way through the scriptures. Striving for achievement (even in spiritual disciplines) is but a prideful and worthless task unless it is out of reverence and worship of God. How do I know this? Because Jesus said so in Matthew 22, “ 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” It’s not about what we do, it’s about the relationships we cultivate.