Back To Church Sunday
Good morning and welcome, everyone! It’s so good to see you all here this morning. It’s so good to be here together!
We’re honored that you’ve chosen to be here with us this morning. As you probably know, we are excited to be participating in and celebrating the national movement of Back to Church Sunday. All across the country, the body of Christ is gathering together to reflect on and to reclaim the true nature of the church as a place of Christ’s love and hope for ourselves, our friends, neighbors, communities, and world.
As a church, we are the collective hands and feet of Christ, who reflect Him and do His work in the world as we grow in our relationships with Him and with each other. That’s not just us as a group of friends and family within Idaville Church—it includes those who are gathering in the church up the road, down the road, and in the other small towns surrounding us, and virtually at home, and on the other side of our country, and around the world.
Sometimes we do a better job than at other times. And sometimes we’ve all done a lousy job of that calling to represent Christ. I know that everyone here today has a personal story and experience with the church—some good and life-giving; some bad and painful. For those of you whose experience with the church may have been painful, I’m sorry. I may not know each of your individual stories, but I do know how deep and how wide and how high and how pure God’s love is for each of you. And I am truly sorry for the pain you may have experienced when the actions of one or some of His followers fell short or contradicted His love for you.
But whatever path has led you here today, let me say that we are honored to welcome you and to get to know you. We are excited to be here together. This is a Sunday of belonging, and together is where we belong. We are stronger together!
If there was ever any doubt, or any sense of taking it for granted, the COVID-19 pandemic has sure reminded us how much we need each other. ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ may be a cliché, but it’s cliché because there’s truth in it. Having to distance ourselves from each other sure has provided a powerful reminder of the value and importance of our need for connection. We have all been living through the most tangible reminder in our collective lifetimes that we need each other, that we belong in community, and that we are much stronger together.
For many years I hunted alone
I didn’t have a buddy to go hunting with
Those years were tough and I didn’t hunt as much as I wanted to, because it was lonely
I didn’t have someone to motivate me or that relied on me to be there for them
There wasn’t anyone to rejoice with in a successful hunt
God has provided a couple of guys that I get to hunt with now, and it is such a joy to be together with them and share stories
Every one of us is probably part of a group that we cherish
I know we have some scrap bookers here
There’s also those of us who have our “shopping crew” for Black Friday
Maybe we’re thinking about our hunting, fishing, boating, golfing, disc golf, tennis, basketball, football, soccer, rock climbing, camping, hiking, kayaking, video game, genealogy crew (enter whatever activity you enjoy doing together with others
Think about those groups and what draws us together through them
In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12, the writer of Ecclesiastes mentions another thing, that he has observed in his life, that is meaningless. He talks about a man who is isolated and alone, without any one to help him. Then he contrasts that with the benefits of having at least one companion, but probably more. The writer of Ecclesiastes wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – We were created for community.
GOD (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12)
Ecclesiastes is one of the Bible’s wisdom books. Its narrator is the Teacher or the Preacher, depending on the translation
Most scholars credit Solomon as the author or someone writing for Solomon (it is not mentioned in the writings)
Most of us are familiar with the book of Proverbs
Solomon is the author of that book and he has packed it full of wise sayings
There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, so it’s easy to read one Proverb a day for most months (I’ve done that in past years)
So, I’ve read and reread Proverbs a lot, but I can’t say that about Ecclesiastes
Perhaps we’re all the same when it comes to Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes can be a little hard to read
It can sound downright bleak in spots as the writer explores the futilities and emptiness of life
The same saying is repeated throughout the book, “this too is meaningless.”
Ultimately, the book walks through the ironies and empty pursuits of life, pointing toward trusting God as the only absolute, and it offers many wise insights along the way
The Teacher begins with the negative and then turns to the positive – from the bleak to the hopeful
Isolation (vv. 7-8)
The Teacher begins this section by repeating the statement that He saw something that was meaningless
The man that the Teacher observed did not have a son or a brother as a companion
Nothing is said of a wife, daughters, or sisters
Perhaps he had one or all of those
As we see in the remainder of theses verses, it seems as though work is the primary focus
In the Ancient Near East, most of the time, the men would be tasked with working in the fields or at a trade, while the women would focus on the housework (there were exceptions to this depending on life circumstances; i.e. – a widow, orphan, etc.)
The man not only has to work alone, but he doesn’t have anyone to pass on his possessions or trade to – there is no male heir for his inheritance
Some of us can relate to this man’s loneliness
We don’t have siblings or children that can work alongside of us or take over the family business when we retire
It can be very lonely and tasking
It can cause us pain as we think about having to sell the business that we’ve worked so hard to create and develop
Perhaps some of us are feeling the same way as this man – everything is meaningless
We may also be feeling burned out
No end to his work and no contentment
Because he is all alone with no one to share the work load, he recognizes that there is no end to his work
Those of us who own our businesses know exactly what this man is feeling
There are farmers and small business owners who have never taken a vacation – or have rarely taken time away from work (they understand that the buck stops with them)
When asked about a vacation, they will probably respond, “What is a vacation? I’m not familiar with that term.”
They know that to be successful they have to work and work hard
Many times, these hard workers are not content with the wealth they have accumulated
Proverbs 27:20, Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.
The Apostle Paul gives us the key to contentment no matter what our circumstances may be right now
Philippians 4:11-13, I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Trust in God for His strength, no matter what my circumstances are right now.
Since this man does not have an heir, he asks two questions
Who am I working for?
Some of us would answer this question with, “I’m working for the man!” (talking about our boss)
And in some instances, we may even say, “I’m going to stick to the man!” (again referring to our boss)
Paul helps us to change our perspective on this question
In writing to the believers in Colossae he provides some rules for Christian households
In that section it talks about slaves obeying their earthly masters, which for us can relate to obeying our bosses
Colossians 3:22-25, Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.
No matter what job you have, as Christians, we are working for the Lord
Perhaps that little reminder will change our perspective as we prepare to face another work week
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Begin my work week by asking the Lord to help me remember that I’m working for Him.
The second question is just as important
Why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?
Those of us who are workaholics know that we have missed some important events in our family’s lives, because of work
I know a mother who missed her daughter’s preparation for her senior prom, because she felt like she needed to be at work
Illustration about Craig Groeschel from The Christian Atheist
I’ve known other people who have been reprimanded by their supervisor for prioritizing time with their children, for important events, instead of being at work
Others have been criticized for not participating in a work related event due to medical concerns with their spouse, child, or parent
I want to encourage everyone this morning to take time to enjoy life, especially with family
Let me paraphrase what Andy Stanley once said, there are hundreds or thousands of people who can do your job as good or better than you, but you are the only one who can be the husband/wife to your spouse and the father/mother to your children
That should change our perspective about being a workaholic and prioritizing our family
The man in this passage says that being a workaholic is meaningless
Toiling endlessly without a break is not how God designed us to function
We have to make time to be in community, because we were created for community
We are stronger together
That’s what the Teacher shares next
Community (vv. 9-12)
A few thoughts as we consider the importance of community
“The old aphorism applies: ‘I went out to look for a friend and they were nowhere. I went out to be a friend and they were everywhere.’” [Moore & Akin, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 58]
“Unfortunately, true community is not what people in many churches really want. What they really desire is either people meeting their needs on their terms or what some prominent sociologists have labeled ‘lifestyle enclaves’ (Bellah, et al., 71-75). Lifestyle enclaves are artificial communities. They are groups of people with the same socioeconomic background who exist solely to satisfy their individual and collective desires. This is not the biblical meaning of community.” [More & Akin, 58]
Work (v. 9)
The lonely man sees no end to his toil and doesn’t have any one to share his workload
The Teacher tells us that two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work
Genesis 2:18, The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Luke 10:1-2, After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Acts 13:1-3, In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Even after Barnabas and Saul/Paul parted ways over John Mark, Paul took Silas with him and picked up Timothy along the way (they were serving in ministry together)
Pastor Marc and I have experienced this here at Idaville Church
We are a great team!
When either of us gets stuck with sermon preparation the other person is always ready and willing to listen and give ideas
When there are important decisions that need to be made, we are talking them through together
Pastor Marc knows I’m a verbal processor and is always willing to listen
I praise the Lord for Pastor Marc’s friendship and partnership in ministry
We’re not only stronger together when it comes to work, but also as it pertains to hurt
Hurt (v. 10)
Do you remember the catchphrase, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”
In 1989 LifeCall began running commercials using this phrase [show picture of woman who has fallen in the bathroom]
This was probably new technology at that time, to have this pendant that was worn around the neck in case of an accident or emergency
All someone had to do was push the button on the pendant and it would alert a dispatch service
Importance of having a companion to help when we fall
It’s certainly important to have a friend and community who can be there to help us when we fall down physically
When our boys were small, I woke up one night in the middle of the night, with something in my eye that could not flush out
I needed to go to the emergency room, but knew that Judy would have to get all three boys up for her to be able to take me
I called my best friend, Dwane, and asked him to take me, which he willingly did
How many of you have experienced the love and generosity of the community here at Idaville Church when you have gotten hurt or had to recover from surgery or another illness?
When Jesus was teaching about the final judgment, in Matthew 25:31-46, He talked about taking care of those who were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needing clothing, sick, and in prison
Matthew 25:40, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Galatians 6:9-10, Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
It’s also important to have a friend and community that surrounds us when we fall down spiritually
Galatians 6:1-2, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-20 what our responsibility is when a someone sins against us (one-on-one; one or two others with us; before the whole church; treat them as we would a pagan or tax collector)
Even in our hurt, we were created for community
There are times when we need each other just to survive
Survival (v. 11)
“The warmth of lying beside each other does not refer to sexual activity, nor are the two necessarily husband and wife. It is an image derived from that of travelers who must lie beside each other to stay warm on cold desert nights.” [Garrett, The New American Commentary, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 308]
This passage has been used during wedding ceremonies and can certainly pertain to a husband and wife (if you’re married, you understand sharing body heat to stay warm in the winter, especially when your wife’s feet are like ice cubes and she puts them on your legs to warm them up)
In the Ancient Near East, those who were traveling together needed the shared body heat of two people as they slept under the stars or in a tent
It was a survival technique
Some scholars see this reference to staying warm as a metaphor for “emotional comfort against the coldness of the world.” [Garrett, 308]
2 Corinthians 1:3-5, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Perhaps every one of us can remember a time when we have experienced the comfort of others who have gone through the same things we have
In God’s sovereignty, He provides the right people at the right time to comfort us
Maybe God is prompting someone here today to be a comfort to someone else
I encourage you to listen to that prompting, because we were created for community and we are stronger together
We need each other in work, when we’re hurt, for survival, and finally for protection
Protection (v. 12)
Standing our ground
It’s difficult to stand our ground when we are standing all alone
Most people are bolder and more outspoken when they have some friends standing with them
If those same people were alone, they may not speak out or stand up at all – they may just remain silent
Mark 3:23-26, So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.
It’s a reminder of the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
We need each other to help with accountability
Hebrews 10:24-25, And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Ephesians 6:12, For our struggling is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
We need to encourage each other to put on the full armor of God
“If one is bad, and two is good, how much better is three! In this regard note the Targum’s interpretation, ‘if two righteous people in a generation are useful, how much more useful are three righteous people in a generation!’” [Longman III, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Ecclesiastes, 143]
Cord of three strands
Most of us have used rope at some point in our lives
Have you ever taken rope apart? (it’s made up of different strands braided together)
Individually each of those strands might hold a little bit of weight, but it’s when those strands are woven together that their strength multiplies exponentially.
Would you rather water-ski behind a boat with a line of craft string or with a braided nylon tow-rope?
Would you rather rock climb on the thousand-foot rock faces of Yosemite attached to a long line of yarn? Or tied into a climbing rope?
Would you rather strap your harness to a tree in your tree stand with jute twine or a thick racket strap?
The important thing about rope is that it has always been made by twisting and weaving multiple strands or fibers together to make it stronger than one strand alone
We are very much the same
We are like rope
We are stronger as we are woven together by and with Christ, and that happens when we are in community together
We were created for community
“The point of the image of the three-strand cord is rather that strength can be gained through human relationships.” [Longman III, 143-44]
#3 – My Next Step Today Is To: Commit to being in community with other believers.
Do you need to trust God for His strength for a situation in your life?
Who are you truly working for? (God or man?)
We all need to remember that we were created for community and we are stronger together
“Pachomius was an Egyptian soldier won to Christ by the kindness of Christians in Thebes. After his release from the military around A.D. 315, he was baptized. Serious about his new faith and determined to grow, Pachomius became a disciple of Palamon, an ascetic who taught him the self-denial and solitary life of a religious hermit.
In early Christianity, the model of devotion was the recluse dedicated to resisting the corruption of society. These hermits wandered the desert alone—fasting, praying, and having visions. Many went to extremes: eating nothing but grass, living in trees, or refusing to wash.
Such was the popular image of holiness: solitude, silence, and severity. And such was Pachomius's early spiritual training. But he began to question the methods and lifestyle of his mentors.
How can you learn to love if no one else is around?
How can you learn humility living alone?
How can you learn kindness or gentleness or goodness in isolation?
How can you learn patience unless someone puts yours to the test?
In short, he concluded, developing spiritual fruit requires being around people—ordinary, ornery people. ‘To save souls,’ he said, ‘you must bring them together.’
Spiritual muscle isn't even learned among friends we have chosen. God's kind of love is best learned where we can't be selective about our associates. Perhaps this is why the two institutions established by God—the family and the church—are not joined by invitation only. We have no choice about who our parents or brothers or sisters will be; yet we are expected to love them. Neither can we choose who will or will not be in the family of God; any who confess Jesus as Lord must be welcomed. We learn agape love most effectively in our involuntary associations, away from the temptation of choosing to love only the attractive.
So Pachomius began an ascetic koinonia, where holiness was developed not in isolation but in community. Instead of each person seeking God in his own way, with the dangers of idleness and eccentricity, Pachomius established a common life based on worship, work, and discipline.
In community with flawed, demanding, sometimes disagreeable people, followers of Pachomius learned to take hurt rather than give it. They discovered that disagreements and opposition provide the opportunity to redeem life situations and experience God's grace. Thus began genuine monastic life.
Pachomius, while largely forgotten in church history, points out to us that as attractive as solitary sanctification may seem, it is life amid people, busyness, and interruptions that develop many of the qualities God requires.”
Condensed from our sister publication Leadership journal, © 1993 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit Leadershipjournal.net.
Marshall Shelley, "Developing spiritual fruit requires being around people – ordinary, ornery people," Leadership journal (Spring 1993).