By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr
Loneliness can be debilitating to the human soul; it can sap joy and meaning out of life. According to the Jewish Talmud, “A man without a companion is like a left hand without the right”. But how often do we appreciate the blessing of being with another? If you suddenly found yourself in a world of vast emptiness with no one to talk to, smile with, hold hands with or work with, how will you feel? Will you enjoy the moment? It will be such an eerie experience!
No one consciously desires the icy embrace of loneliness because God created us to be sociable and loving. But God’s gift of love and companionship goes beyond just making us sociable or affectionate. It’s a powerful social and spiritual tool for higher productivity, prosperity and security. Companionship brings a wealth of blessings into our lives. This is the message of the text I have chosen for this wedding. Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 reads:
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.
"For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up.
"Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone?
"And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Eccl. 4:9-12).
The author of the text, Solomon, in the spirit of the general theme he addresses in the Book of Ecclesiastes—the meaninglessness of life without God—extols the value of companionship, but does not leave us without pointing out the futility of following its opposite: loneliness. In his characteristic succinct but profound style, he says in verses 7 – 8: “Then I returned and saw vanity under the sun. There is one that is alone, and he hath not a second; yea, he hath neither son nor brother; yet is there no end of all his labour, neither are his eyes satisfied with riches. For whom then, saith he, do I labour, and deprive my soul of good? This also is vanity, yea, it is a sore travail” (RV).
In other words, the lonely life is the preference of the miserly, selfish soul who relentlessly labours to amass wealth but only for himself! “This is useless, too—and a miserable way to live” (Good News Bible GNB). The better alternative is companionship, stated simply “Two are better than one”.
The Great Marriage Principle
In analyzing the text, we see that all the clauses explain why "Two are better than one", the opening statement. Marriage is the foremost example of this truth that celebrates ‘two as better than one’!
By its very nature and social function, God presents marriage as the optimal example of the loving relationship He wants His people to have among themselves. With marriage, there’s love, there’s intimacy, there’s unity of purpose, and there’s sharing. Without love and companionship, the beauty of life itself is marred, and we are left to contend with dysfunctional relationships in which selfishness rules and everybody seeks his/her own interests.
So how is this marriage principle of “two are better than one” played out in everyday life?
Two People Mean Higher Productivity
Teamwork is the point. When God created the world, He said be “fruitful and multiply” only after He had created Adam and Eve, not when He had Adam alone. With Adam as the only one, He said: "It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him" (Gen. 2:18 GNB).
So, two people mean higher productivity which yields greater returns (v. 9). The Apostle Paul cited an example of such increased productivity when he wrote, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1 Cor. 3:6).
In the Book of Acts, we come across two married couple Aquila and Priscilla who used their marital companionship to increase both their personal and spiritual productivity. A missionary couple, they worked as team mates in both their professional and spiritual work. The Apostle Paul became acquainted with this fine Jewish-Christian couple in Corinth during his missionary work there. Like Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were tent-makers and also committed to teaching the truth of the gospel (Acts 18:1-3; 26). But the beautiful thing about the couple is that they had common goals and interests, and they worked in harmony to achieve them.
Judging from the way they are portrayed in Acts and the Pauline Epistles, Aquila and Priscilla could easily pass for the ideal couple in the New Testament. Luke finds it important to record that Aquila and Priscilla were Paul’s travel companions on leaving Corinth after over one and half years in the city as well as the fact that the apostle left them in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19). In his letter to the Romans, the first people Paul greets by name are Priscilla and Aquila, whom he describes as “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well” (Rom. 16:3-4 English Standard Version ESV). In writing to the Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8), again, Paul does not fail to mention Aquila and Priscilla and that they send their greetings (1 Cor. 16:19). Having gone back to Ephesus by the time Paul was writing his second epistle to Timothy from Rome, the Apostle, now in prison and approaching his death in Rome (1:16-17; 2:9; 4:6-8), tells Timothy (bishop of Ephesus) to “ Salute Priscilla and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Tim. 4:19).
It seems the Apostle found it impossible to get this wonderful couple off his mind! They were so bound together in their common cause that the fruits of their productive marriage were evident to all, not least to the apostle Paul. They ran a church in their house (1 Cor. 16:19) and took such great personal risks to ensure Paul’s wellbeing that not only did the apostle thank them for that but also “all the churches of the Gentiles”. The marriage of Aquila and Priscilla bore enduring fruit in both their spiritual and personal life because they understood the power of companionship and put it to good use.
Will a couple here prove as loving and cooperative so that generations unborn will continue to be blessed and inspired by them?
The principle has been set forth: When two people are united in love and in purpose, they are able to achieve more for “their labour” (not for idleness) in return for greater rewards. However, when a person shoulders a responsibility alone, productivity is slowed or even crippled.
That was why Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, advised him to appoint competent, God-fearing, and trustworthy leaders to settle the smaller matters among the Israelites, while the major cases were brought to him, to ease the workload on him in judging Israel all by himself (Ex. 18:13-26). It was for this same reason that God, in response to Moses’ complaint that he couldn’t shoulder all the burden of the children of Israel, asked Moses to assemble for Him seventy elders of Israel in leadership positions so that He might take some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on them, “and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Num. 11:10-17 ESV).
Never think you can do it all alone. Whether in business or in the church, a ‘helpmate’ is required for success. God is a firm believer in teamwork, which explains why He does not give all His spiritual gifts to one individual but distributes “to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11 NASB-Update, NASU). He “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13 NIV). Now what is the message? By their cooperative effort, the different spiritual officers in the church are to train the saints for the work of the ministry so as to achieve the “good return” of building up the body of Christ (the Church) “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God”.
This is a far-cry from the meagre return a loner who works at a snail’s pace will ever hope to make.
Two People Mean an Extra Shoulder of Support
It’s an avoidable phenomenon: People are prone to fall on occasion. But he’s to be pitied who has no companion to support or lift him up (v. 10). When people fall, they ought to be a lifted up (Jer. 8:4; Ps. 145:14; Prov. 24:16). So then, he who has no companion to support him when he falls is at a disadvantage.
When Paul felt downcast in Macedonia because of the troubles he faced on every side, “God, that comforteth those that are cast down,” comforted him “by the coming of Titus”, his son in the Lord (2 Tim. 1:3) and his ministry companion (2 Cor. 7:5-7).
Can you think of such a loved one in your life whose mere presence in your time of crisis beams comfort and encouragement into your depressed soul? The scriptures exhort us to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11 ESV).
As God did for Paul, so He did for Job when the time came for Him to comfort Job by restoring his fortunes. He motivated his relatives and former friends to visit and sympathize with him. “And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold. And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys” (Job 42:10-12 ESV).
So don’t shun company because of your present predicament; God may use a friend or a relation to lift you up or restore your lost blessing. It’s certainly “better off to have a friend than to be all alone” (CEV).
This is especially true when the extra support a friend provides is of such critical importance to our work or success that, we only spurn it to fail miserably! This was the case with Moses as Israel fought Amalek. True, it was his responsibility to hold up “the rod of God” on top of the hill to ensure Israel’s victory, but if Aaron and Hur had not provided him that critical support of holding and keeping his hand steady, when his hands grew tired, there was no way Israel would have won that decisive war with Amalek (Ex. 17:9-13). Meanwhile, Joshua with his warriors engaged the enemy in real combat on the battlefield.
The lesson comes home to us that at one time or another in our lives, we will need a friend’s extra help to succeed in what we are doing or get us back on our feet when we stumble. Surely, “Two are better than one”! Don’t you agree?
Two People Mean Complementary Roles
Some people interpret Eccl. 4:11 to mean sexual intimacy between husband and wife. But that’s not the real issue—at the very least, we might admit to a double entendre! The principle at work is what is stated in Prov. 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17 NKJV).
Accordingly, the two companions decide to sleep in the same bed to keep each other warm. Otherwise, it’s a cold night, and if the two fellows sleep apart, none will have warmth. Thus they need each other to for both to stay warm.
The moral is that the strengths and advantages of two united individuals complement each other. This is the great truth taught in 1 Cor. 12:14-27. As all the parts of the body need each other to be complete and functional, so people united in a common cause bring their individual talents and gifts to complement each other for the common good. The Apostle Paul begins philosophically:
“The body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts.
“If the foot were to say, "Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body," that would not keep it from being a part of the body.
“And if the ear were to say, "Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body," that would not keep it from being a part of the body.
“If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell?
“As it is, however, God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be.
“There would not be a body if it were all only one part!
“As it is, there are many parts but one body.
“So then, the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" Nor can the head say to the feet, ‘Well, I don’t need you!’
“On the contrary, we cannot do without the parts of the body that seem to be weaker;
“and those parts that we think aren’t worth very much are the ones which we treat with greater care; while the parts of the body which don’t look very nice are treated with special modesty,
“which the more beautiful parts do not need. God himself has put the body together in such a way as to give greater honor to those parts that need it.
“And so there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another” (1 Cor. 12:14-25 GNB).
The first powerful point the Apostle makes is that since it takes many parts to constitute the body, and not a single part to do so, it’s an illusion for any part to think of itself as being on its own (vv. 14-16).
The apostle emphasizes the need for a sense of belonging meant to address the divisions in the Corinthian church as well as impress on them their essential oneness in the body of Christ(1 Cor. 1:10-13, 3:3-4; 12:12, 27). At no point in time is any individual an island to himself—except perhaps a hermit. You are part of a society, a family, a church or some other social grouping. So it’s quite pointless to behave as if you are entirely on your own.
Even so, do you tend to think that you don’t really belong? That you are not really part of the group, but only tags along for what you will gain from the group and not because you have any contribution to make? Friend, you only shoot yourself in the foot if such is your attitude; the state of the group, whether good or bad, equally affects you as a member since, willy-nilly, you are an appendage!
The second point the Apostle makes is that the body needs all its parts to function fully and effectively. If only one part were to dominate with its particular role, where will the other functions of the body be (v.17)?
Don’t ever think your contribution or talent is of no significance as far as the effective functioning of your church or society is concerned. You are part of the whole for a reason—to play a peculiar role without which your group will be deprived of a something vital to its operation and success. You are part of the whole to chip in!
The third observation the Apostle Paul makes is that the different parts of the body and their positioning in the body is not a haphazard arrangement but in accordance with God’s plan to make the body of many parts (vv. 18-20; see Ps. 139:14).
You are not in this world nor in God’s church by chance or mistake. God created you for His glory (Isa. 43:7) to make a unique contribution in cooperation with other human beings, equally created with their own unique gifts and talents. Discover your unique talents, then, and contribute your quota for the common good.
The fourth and final point Paul makes is that since all the body parts together make up the body as a whole, no part, irrespective of its stature or appearance, can do without the others. As a matter of fact, those parts which are considered less important (in terms of strength, etc) are treated with even more care. And the purpose of it all is to ensure harmony and cooperation in the body among all the parts, so “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (vv. 21-25). The clear message is that, all the parts are important; none is unimportant, and each part must relate to the other on that basis.
What is in it for us? God made us to be interdependent. You need me as much as I need you. So let no one dare look down on his brother, just because he’s not rich nor articulate. God, in His infinite wisdom, did not deposit all wisdom and talents in you but gave you limited gifts in relation to others, so that at any given time you will need others to be complete.
The bottom line is that, whatever our standing in society, abilities and life experiences, God wants us to cooperate with one another, as each of us plays his or her respective role to complement what the other has. So then, leaders of organizations in the public eye are not more important than those in the background getting things done behind the scenes. Nor are church members who get seats arranged in the church less important than the pastor and the church elders. Each individual is important and has an important role to play, or the body will suffer a lack. We need each other to stay warm!
Two People Mean Strength of Unity
It’s an obvious truth: Two people can better withstand an enemy attack (v. 12). However, ‘little strength’ in the day of trouble exacerbates your weakness (Prov. 24:10).
The answer to ‘little strength’ is to increase your strength (Isa. 40:29). And one of the best ways is to draw on the strength of a trusted friend to augment your own strength. (But beware which friend you enlist. Prov. 25:19 warns us: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint”).
With your companion by your side, you are now on firm ground. The enemy you would otherwise fight alone now has two determined, well prepared opponents to contend with. As a threefold cord is not easily broken so a strengthened front is not easily subdued.
Jesus teaches the same truth from a different angle: “a house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matt. 12:25).
So strengthen your front. Don’t face it alone. If the challenge you are facing is particularly hard for you to overcome by yourself, ask a friend for support. God might have brought him into your life for just that. “Two are better than one”!
Love is the Foundation
All the evidence shows companionship has great benefits. But love is the foundation. Without love, where will marriage and companionship be?
That’s why the one overarching commandment our Lord gave us is "love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples" (John 13:34-35). As believers, love can never take a back seat in our lives. It’s vital to the Christian fellowship and, indeed, to our family and personal relationships.
So, is there a broken relationship to mend? Patch up with your estranged wife or husband. Or is it a friend or brother you have fallen out with? Take the first steps to reconcile with him (see Rom. 2:18). God intended you to be together; you did not come together by accident. Reconciliation is such an imperative that He commands us to "pursue peace with all men and holiness”, or else we will not see Him (Heb. 12:14).
God insists that we love one another because the alternative does nobody any good. Hatred is a canker which destroys both love and companionship. But GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:8)!
Therefore, put away hatred and selfishness and learn to forgive. What heals love also heals companionship. Forgiveness is the way:
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience;
“bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:12-14 NASB-Update).
Praise God! When we get rid of hatred and bitterness, what we have in place is "love which is the perfect bond of unity". With this "perfect bond of unity", we do ourselves a world of good: we are able to achieve more, we have a pool of support to draw on in time of need, while the different strengths and talents from our supportive circle of friends and loved ones are harnessed for the common good. And our front is strong and impregnable.
May the God of love help us all to have this "perfect bond of unity" so love and companionship will thrive for the glory of His holy Name. Amen!