“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:9-12)
When my wife and I got married a little over 15 years ago, we received as a wedding gift not one but two framed prints of that last phrase: “A Threefold Cord is Not Quickly Broken.” It was the exact same print in the exact same frame. Two different people, same gift. Some people get duplicate bedspreads or hand towels or butter dishes, but my wife and I got a duplicate framed Bible verse. Honestly, it wasn’t until this week that I realized how funny God thought it would be to underline that prior verse: Two are better than one.
I have to admit that I wasn’t initially impressed. Clearly, the designer and well meaning gift giver were suggesting that God would make a good “third cord” for our marriage. But I was suspicious that Solomon hadn’t meant that. It was also a cheesy looking font. I just don’t get into that sort of thing.
Besides, Ecclesiastes isn’t exactly the most cheery book of the Bible. In fact it’s one of the more sobering, honest parts of the Bible. It’s about life being hard, disappointing, and unpredictable. So it’s actually fairly startling when Solomon rouses himself for a few verses and says something positive like this. He’s saying it’s better to face the hardships of life with friends and family, in community. The only thing worse than suffering hardships in this world is suffering all alone. Solomon agrees with the song: One is the loneliest number.
But Solomon is not just speaking from experience. He’s also affirming a biblical truth that goes all the way back to when God created the first man, Adam, and God said it was not good for man to be alone. This wasn’t just the first joke about bachelors; it was a statement about what it means to be human. We weren’t made to be alone. Isolation is isn’t good. God made the world and filled it with glory meant to share. Think about all of your favorite things – your favorite book, your favorite vacation spot, your favorite music. We were made to instinctively want to share those things with others. That’s why we have a button on Facebook now.
So God put Adam into a deep sleep and broke him open, removing a rib, and formed the first woman. At this point, when God has created man in His own image, male and female, He says it’s all “very good” – in other words, two are better than one.
Two is the beginning of community, of friendship, but Solomon goes on and says that three is even better. In other words, human beings were made for community. But why were people made for community and friendship? The clear answer given in the Bible is that we are made this way because our Maker is this way. The One God who made all things has revealed Himself as a community of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Trinity seems like something out of mythology, but honestly it is a far more rationally satisfying answer than chalking it up to evolutionary instincts.
Evolution followed consistently actually pushes against community. It functions on the assumption of scarcity and competition – survival of the fittest. And if survival is the central doctrine of existence then everybody else is a threat. Other people are demands, mouths to feed, distractions, competition – other people get in the way of my personal survival and success. Other people at best are stepping stones for me to achieve what I want out of life, and at worst they are baggage and dead weight, especially if they are weak or disabled or elderly.
It’s no accident that a culture that has largely embraced this evolutionary description of the universe is now living that creed out through embracing childlessness through abortion and homosexual marriage. This isn’t about party politics, this is all about the future of the human race, and whether we will live as the unique image bearers of the Maker who is and made us for community or whether we will live as though we are the result of a random cosmic car accident.
In other words, we’re asking if friendship and community is actually real. Are we just chemicals reacting in certain deterministic patterns or are we human beings who are alive and experiencing all the beauty and heartbreak of this world – and is it really better to do that together as family, as friends, as community?
If friendship is real, then it is real because we were made in the image of a Maker who is Himself somehow a Friend, a community of persons, and He made us to not only enjoy and share this world together, but He made it to enjoy with us, so that we would know Him and walk with Him together.
In other words, even though I don’t think Solomon meant it as the first application, that threefold cord not only includes the strength and glory of community but it certainly also includes the kind of strength that God gives when we walk together though this world with Him. So I think the quote works, even if I still don’t care for the font very much.
Of course part of the brokenness of this world is that despite the blessing of family and friends there is still something unmistakably lonely about living in this world. Even the most extroverted people in the world can still feel isolated – there are feelings we cannot express or share, there are experiences that are unique or haunting, and no matter how hard we try many relationships strain and break or fade.
If you think about it, our isolation and loneliness is incredibly difficult to pinpoint. You can’t just rearrange the furniture of your life. Changes seem to help for a little while, but wherever you go, there you are. It’s still you. And there you are with your loneliness and relationships still seeming to mysteriously fall apart.
This why Christians make such a big deal about Jesus. He came to rescue the world from this pervasive isolation and loneliness. He came as the perfect friend who laid his life down for us. He was betrayed by one of his closest friends and all of his other friends abandoned Him. He was falsely accused, convicted of crimes He didn’t commit, and was crucified on a Roman cross where He was abandoned even by God the Father. He experienced our isolation, and He took our loneliness, our abandonment. He received it and took it away so that we could begin to be truly human again, so that we could begin to love again and live again in true community.
Sheridan and Kirby, Solomon lists several ways two are better than one, and the last one he mentions is that two can prevail over an attacker. Two can be more aggressive than just one. You are both athletic and competitive individuals. And I want to encourage you to think of this moment, your marriage as the moment in which God is formally assigning you to one another, so that you will be more effective, more aggressive, stronger to prevail over your enemies than you would be apart or alone.
Sheridan, the Bible says that as the husband you have the duty to love your wife like Jesus loved the Church. Jesus demonstrated His love through His faithful friendship to us. And He did this before we cared, before we even knew His name. He’s that kind of friend, the friend of sinners, the friend of even His enemies. Sheridan, you’ll need to prepare yourself to be that kind of friend to Kirby. Lay yourself down for her good whether she notices or not, whether she gives you kudos or not. You need to be an initiator of love, pursue her, befriend her, seek her good before she even realizes what’s going on. That’s Christian friendship: not merely loving others when they deserve it or ask for it. Christian friendship is a conspiracy of love, drawing the lonely in.
Kirby, the Bible says that as a wife you have the duty to respect your husband, and in this you are modeling the submission and obedience of the Christian Church. Of course friendship applies to many people, but the marriage friendship is designed by God to work best when you embrace the fact that you are a woman made in God’s image. You are not an interchangeable part with Sheridan. You are a woman with particular gifts and strengths that Sheridan needs. And the Bible says that you will be in the best position to share those gifts when you adorn yourself with the beauty of respect. Look up to Sheridan. Admire him. Praise him. Thank him. Speak highly of him to those around you. Pray for him. Ask him for advice and counsel from him. This must not a slavish idolization; but trust God who gave Himself for you and is now giving this man to you. As you honor and respect him, God will cover you more and more with true feminine strength and beauty.
Sheridan and Kirby: As you begin your life together may your home be a place of true friendship and community, a place where loneliness and isolation are driven away because of the presence of Jesus in your midst. And may the Lord use your friendship to prevail against the enemies of His Kingdom.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.