If you will open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes chapter 4. Ecclesiastes chapter 4. Good morning to you! Trent read that just as I wrote it, so that’s great! And, it’s good to be with you this morning and to share some of the things that the Lord’s doing around here—and in our lives.
One of the things that I wanted to say to you right at the start of this is that, I feel that anyone stands here and opens this Book, this is a sacred responsibility that we don’t take lightly. And so, as I come here this morning and share some things, I want to let you know that, to the best of my ability, I’ve wrestled with the text and want to be faithful as an under-shepherd to share with you some thoughts this morning, and don’t take it lightly.
And I also am just moved, every time that – we’ve talked this morning—in the other services and in this one as well—I always believe that when the gathered community is together that God has a word for us. When the Word of God is opened, God speaks, and I believe that He has something for everyone of us today. So I’m going to be having “ears to hear” and I’m asking you to do the same thing.
One of the things that Trent asked me to do as I got started today was to let you get to know me a little bit better. Because I know that there are a number of you that I have known for years, and several of you have never seen me before. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take this room and we’re going to kind of transform it into a small coffee shop.
I’ve got my coffee. If you’ve got your coffee, raise your cup. We’re going to “sit across the table” for a little bit and I’m going to do the assignment that my boss gave to me—which is to talk about myself—which is not really what I want to do. But in the story, I hope you hear God at work. And He’s been good to me, and I want share some of what He’s done, and that’s going to happen maybe twice; you would think (I’ve already done this two other times) that I would be done with that, but I’m not.
So, anyway. So, one thing that you know about Trent—and, and he’s been faithful to let you know this over time—is that he’s from Oklahoma, and that’s great. Oklahoma’s great, and I am married to an “Okie.” And you know the motto of Oklahoma, right? “Oklahoma is OK!” And so I’m glad. And my in-laws are in Oklahoma. We spend a lot of time in Oklahoma. I love Oklahoma, don’t get me wrong. I just want to say this though: I’m from Texas. That’s all I’m going to say about that, but that was fun! Anyway, I grew up in north Texas, right on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. And when you smash Texas and Oklahoma together you get “Texoma.” So, moving to “Michiana” years later, I understand how this works, right?
So, I have a boring testimony to share with you, and someone recently told me that that’s the best kind of story to give. I don’t have a dramatic, you know, “I was deep in this and then the Lord rescued me to that,” but I do have a conversion story. And I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a public servant, worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. And he, Joe, married Evelyn and they had Joe and Valerie (my brother and sister) and then I came along a few years later. And, it was a Christian home; it was a good place to live. It was idyllic in many respects. But my dad raised us to be a good citizen—I mean, he loves his county; he’s a good public servant—but he also raised us to be a good citizen of Heaven as well. And every time the church was open, we were that family—we were there, right. If the church wasn’t open, he would find a key and find a way to get in!
And we did things like bus ministry. My dad would drive the bus around to—it looked like the Partridge Family bus—and we would go to under-resourced families in the area and pull kids into church that wouldn’t have a chance to do that otherwise. So it was a very other-centered kind of life. And we lived in Tornado Alley, so we were doing disaster-relief every other day, it seemed like, with disaster relief. So it was a great, great upbringing, and we talked about the things of the Lord and it was very comfortable to talk about Him. And it was a purposeful home; we would be in the church, gathered, we would be growing together and we would be going regularly.
When I was fifteen, I felt the call of God on my life to spend my life in some kind of full-time Christian pursuit. I didn’t know what that would look like—I’m still trying to figure that out!—but it was to dedicate this one little life that we’ve got to Him and His purposes. When I was sixteen, a youth pastor picked me up from school one day—and said, “I’m going to the local Christian radio station; I heard that they’re doing DJ try-outs. Would you like to go?” I’m like, “Sure.” So I tried out on a Thursday afternoon, got hired (I guess they were hurting!) and I started on a Sunday morning at the local Christian radio station. And I found really quickly on that that was a captivating kind of place for me. I loved the idea of using the arts and creativity in communication in a one-to-many kind of way in getting the gospel out.
And so my life has actually been a life full of mentoring. I mentioned my family and, if you grew up in Southern Baptist circles, you grew up around something called Royal Ambassadors. I don’t know if anybody in the room ever experienced that. What that was, it’s like AWANA and Christian and Boy Scouts just kind of infused. And it was very missions-focused and Bible-focused, and I had the same counselor from second-grade all the way through college. And this guy just poured his life into me.
Now what I didn’t–around here we talk about making disciples—and this is “a discipleship factory”—I didn’t realize that that was my spiritual formation and I was getting discipled. I just thought I was doing cool things, but it was the Bible being pressed into my life in practical ways. And so, my life has been one of a lot of mentors and a lot of friends pouring into our life.
I went to college to pursue Communications, and the other pursuit was to find a Christian girl to date, and had this prayer, “Lord, send her to me; send her to me fast!” And this is what happened: I went to the Baptist Student Union for the “spiritual” reason—not of studying the Bible, but of finding her, whoever she was. And opened the door, and then, there she was! First person I saw when I walked in. I had two thoughts; the first thought was, “I could date her!” Second thought was, “I could marry her!” She didn’t have those thoughts originally, but we got there. And then thirty years later, this is what we get. So, it’s a gift of God! Carrie said “yes” to my question, “Would you, would you marry me?” And then we began this journey, and along the way we added people.
So, Graham is our Texas-boy. Pray for he and I—we’re the Texans so we’ve got this pride issue! Then Maggie is, we moved to Dallas/Ft. Worth after we got married—or we were in that area serving at a Christian radio station, and then we moved to Chicago to work with the Moody Bible Institute and Moody radio and that’s where Maggie was born. And then from there, God called us to work at FamilyLife in Little Rock. And then we have our two Arkansans, Benjamin and Emma. And one of the things that was great about the different places that we’ve gone, is the mission of the Great Commission continued to be pressed into me in all of these different places. If we were actually sitting over coffee, I would tell you all of these stories about how God did things that were far-and-away more than I could ask or, or think or imagine–the experiences.
FamilyLife is a great ministry, by the way. It, it was a ministry that I was at for about three years. It is also the ministry that we send Trent out to serve with about four times a year. He goes to FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember conferences (that’s where he’s at this weekend), and I had the privilege of serving with the speaker-team that he serves with now. Now, we didn’t know each other until I got to Michiana, but you need to know, as a congregation, something that he can’t tell you—but I can—is that he’s a part of a very select group of speakers. There’s only fifty-three of these couples; they’re sort of the premiere of premiere. And so, to have Trent and Andrea as a part of this congregation is a distinct honor and blessing.
Out of curiosity, how many of you have been actually been to a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conference? Okay, so, I’m telling Trent, my friend, “Get the word…”– you guys have got to go! You. It’s a marriage-fortifying kind of thing. By the way, this is what he put on Instagram last night. Now, that’s Trent in front of eight-hundred-and-fifty couples, and they’re all taking selfies! He’s says, “My selfie with eight-hundred-fifty married couples taking selfies.” And then he says, “The fifth threat to marriage is your selfie.” So, that’s his pun—not mine. So, that’s FamilyLife.
When I was at FamilyLife, we partnered with Life Action Ministries here in Michiana to begin a women’s ministry called Revive Our Hearts. And if you’ve heard Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth, or read some of the books, that was the ministry. And we felt drawn to help that ministry get started, so fifteen years ago we moved from Little Rock up here—and discovered the cold, and Michiana, and what God can do through women’s ministry. I know that the Lord has a sense of humor. I’m a Texan boy. What do Texans want to do when they grow up? You know, wrestle something, or I don’t know what we want to do, but you don’t ever hear a Texan guy say, “I want to be in women’s ministry in Michigan!” So—the Lord’s got a good sense of humor on that.
A few years ago, Carrie wrote a book. One of the things that she wrote about in the book was she struggled for years of having a quiet time. Does anybody identify with that?–where you hear a preacher come up here and say, “You need to be in the Word!”—and you’re like, “Absolutely!” Monday, you’re in it; Tuesday, you’re in it; Wednesday, you’re like, “I forgot where I was.” And so she struggled with starting/stopping, starting/stopping.
And then she decided one day, she came to me and she said, “I’m done with quiet times!” Okay? What does that mean? And she had “loud times.” What she did was, she decided she was going to read the Bible out loud—a chapter a day—with the kids. I would go to work early—and the kids were all five and under—and she would just read a chapter a day, whether they were listening or not. Anyway, she’s plowed through this now; she made her way all the way through the Word. What journey are you on now? Five. So they’re on their fifth trip through, right now, of reading the Bible one chapter a day at a time.
Now the book that she wrote is called Together Growing Appetites for God, and that’s a little bit of the cover there. But, as I was thinking about it this morning, that is in some ways, I think, our mission statement. We care intensely about getting God into our lives and into other people’s lives as well. And that it’s not just information, but it’s actually a hunger—an appetite—and you do that together, right?
Now, here’s the thing. We are in a series called Made for More, and there, this planet is spinning with about seven-billion people on it, and there’s really–it seems that there’s only a fistful of us that actually know that you were made for more than this life, and just existing and getting by. “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy;”—says John 10:10. Then Jesus says, “[But] I [am] come that [you might] have life, and have it to the full.” This planet needs to know about Jesus, and so Trent asked me to share with you guys some of our passions. I’ve already shared–coffee’s a passion, right? My family’s a passion; Carrie’s a passion. I have a passion for having a growing hunger for family and the Bride of Christ is a passion of ours as well.
Christ died for you! He gave His life for you, and if He gave His life for you, whatever’s on the heart of God, I want it to be on my heart as well. So to the degree that I can grow in a love affair with the Bride of Christ, I want to do that. And I want to see more people brought in, drawn into that. And I want to see this planet reached with the gospel, but not just this planet—the planet was made for more—but Michiana was made for more!
If you and I could, every one of us, go up and put a pin on that map and show me where you live—we would be scattered all over the place. And then, if we added another one that said, “Now show me where you work”—more pins. “Show me where you go to school.”—more pins. Do you see how God, in His creativity–God’s got His people, and carefully they are placed. So, He already has us on mission in Michiana. Michiana was made for so much more than what your neighbors and your coworkers and your schoolmates are dealing with. There’s lost-ness all around us, and even though we look great—I mean, it’s an affluent area in many respects–we look good—there’s emptiness and there’s darkness, and we need to reach Michiana!
So, Michiana was made for so much more, but I think also that this church was made for so much more as well. A hundred-thousand years from now (I keep thinking about this thought, as we’ve been thinking about the idea of being made for more)…a hundred-thousand years from now, if the folks that originally cleared this field for farmland—if they’re in Heaven and they have conversation with you—I think it’s going to go something like this a hundred-thousand years from now: “Okay,” they come up to you and they say, “Alright, we originally cleared this field for corn; that’s all we had in mind. But God had a bigger plan in mind! So a few years later, they cleared out the cornfield and they dropped in a church called Cornerstone.
“And in Cornerstone, these people had a hunger for the Word, they had an appetite for things of the Lord, but they also had an appetite for the neighborhoods of Michiana and for the world. And so people started to be reached. And then a few years later someone said, ‘Two are better than one!’ So Harvest comes along and Cornerstone come along and they’re fused into this one thing, and you just kept getting more and more dangerous with the gospel—more people in Michiana were being reached—more people in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, the United States, South America, Liberia, Africa.
“You guys started flinging people all over this planet in a very purposeful way, and now—a hundred-thousand years later—there are thousands of people here because of what you guys did in 2018 in that cornfield. That is not what we expected for that cornfield. We expected corn on the cob—and you guys have got people in Heaven!” So, this field was made for so much more. And so, I’ve done what Trent asked me to do, which was share a little bit about who we are—and our passions.
Now, let’s look at Ecclesiastes chapter 4. Today we’re going to look at some things that are hurting our community; that are hurting the Bride of Christ; that are hurting some of your relationships. And I want you to know, right out of the gate here, that you were made for more than isolation or alone-ness or, also, to be someone that is creating isolation or alone-ness for other people. You were made to gather! And we’re going to see that in this passage.
Let’s read it. This is Ecclesiastes chapter 4: “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” [4:1-3]
“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, ‘For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This also is vanity and an unhappy business.” [v. 4-8]
Verse 9: “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—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” [v. 9-12]
So, in the story, again, we’re going to see that we were made for more than isolation; we were made to gather. And in Ecclesiastes we see that there is a main speaker in the book—and this is probably Solomon (there’s a little bit of debate about that], but this is a preacher—sometimes he’s known as The Preacher of Joy—and, remember, Ecclesiastes is wisdom literature. And so, in wisdom literature, you have Psalms, and you have Song of Solomon, you have Proverbs, you have Job and you have Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a sequel to Proverbs.
So in Proverbs you get this neat and tidy kind of book. “If you do this, then you can expect this kind of thing. So, Wes, don’t live stupid; live smart and you can generally expect some decent things.” It’s not promises to live by, but they are guiding principles and we, we know that there’s so much truth in Proverbs.
Now, Ecclesiastes comes along. One commentator says that it’s the strangest book in all the Bible (thank you, Trent, for letting me fill in for you today!) So it’s the strangest book in all the Bible, and it’s a dark and brooding sequel to Proverbs. If you’ve spent any time in Ecclesiastes you know what I mean. Now, here’s the gift of Proverbs, it doesn’t hold back; it just lets us know—“Life isn’t right! Things happen, things go sideways. If you think you have life figured out, you know, wait till Tuesday and things are going to flip upside down!” And that’s what Ecclesiastes is like. Emma, could you come here?
So, Trent last week, talked about the word. There’s several words in Ecclesiastes to keep in mind…“under the sun”—by the way, “under the sun” means everything under the sun, I mean, it just means everywhere you look, right? And everywhere the Preacher looks, he sees life is marred and tainted, sin has destroyed things—and so that’s under the sun.
There’s also this idea of vanity—and there’s this other one that Trent talked about, which is “hevel.” She’s brought some hevel to show you. Okay, this is hevel—enjoy it, it’s not going to last long! You’ve got that guy and that guy and these are different—they’re beautiful, and they’re going away, and that’s Ecclesiastes right now. Thank you everybody, thanks for being here—we’ll see you later! But Trent said that there’s great meaning in our life as well; God created us with great purpose! It’s interesting, even in that little example. We see some beauty, but it’s fleeting, right? Life is quick, and we just need to realize that. By the way, I think there were some happy bubbles; and I think there were some sad bubbles.
So that’s Ecclesiastes. Today, again, we need to know that we were made for so much more! We were made not to be living in isolation. We were made together. You were not made to be alone or perpetuate aloneness and solitude on others. And we’ve got to realize that life is not a solo sport. Two are better than one. But regularly, in all of our relationships, we fall into some traps, and Solomon has given us some of these traps today. And let’s look at them; there are five that he mentions in the text and these are community-killers. (So, by the way, this is not a Valentine’s Day message. Like, you probably already realized that! Valentine’s Day is this Wednesday, that’s a public service announcement for whoever needs to know that.)
And this is good for every relationship. And all of us, think about the myriad of relationships that you are in: father, mother, son, brother, worker, church member–we’re all in all kinds of different relationships. And there are five community-killers that we see: oppression, envy, laziness, lack of contentment and overwork. First we’re going to look at oppression and what oppression does.
Okay, so the Preacher lingers in verses 1 through 3, and he sees all of the oppressions that are done under the sun. It’s almost like, I said to the 9:45 guys, it’s almost like he goes to Buffalo Wild Wings—and you know all the TVs that are in there?—and they put it on only news channels, right? And all you’re getting…wouldn’t that be fun? And you get this obliteration of everything that’s wrong under the sun. He sees all of the oppressions under the sun. He sees the oppressed, he sees their tears, he sees that they are alone and there’s no comforting companions. He also sees that the oppressors seem to have something that the oppressed don’t have. What is that? It’s power, right? They have the upper hand. Then he repeats himself: “I don’t see anyone comforting these people.” Oppressors who don’t let up, oppressed who don’t get relief, comforters who aren’t comforting, and power in all of the wrong places.
So, the question for us this morning is, all of us probably have been guilty, and/or are guilty currently, of oppressing someone. We’ve got the upper hand in many relationships, and we don’t even really realize it sometimes. You’re physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally isolating, harming, hurting people. You idolize control; you see power as a tool for your ways. You want to be lord when there’s really only one Lord.
We see this in little and large ways, but it is—it’s palpable. Husbands who dominate wives and are oppressive relationally and physically; older, oftentimes (but sometimes it’s younger) brothers and sisters who bully one another. Sometimes it’s just little barbs, but oftentimes it’s a series of things and it becomes oppressive over time; employers pushing on employees and taking advantage of them, not paying them their fair wage, not giving them the right conditions to work in; teachers and coaches using their position to push down students. Right now one of the things we see a lot of is–we see it every time we do turn on the news–in the Me Too movement, you’re seeing a number of men in public life and the entertainment industry who are being called out for their years and decades of abusing women and subverting their position for their own perverse pleasures. This is a picture of oppression.
Meanwhile, let’s move to the oppressed. The oppressed feel the weight of all of this wrong, and this is how it feels (see if you don’t identify that this is how you feel when you’re feeling oppressed): you feel isolated, you feel trapped, cornered, absolutely helpless; you feel numb. Working nearly fifteen years in women’s ministry, one of the recurring things that I heard oftentimes was how women feel numb because of they’re emotionally or relationally trapped because of some sort of oppression.
And then we start to understand what the writer was saying when he says, “Hey, you would be better off dead!” You know what I’m saying? When you’re really under oppression, don’t you sometimes feel that? Like, “Lord, I’d just rather go home to You now,” or, “It would have been better if I were never born!” That’s what it feels like to be oppressed. And then, there are too many people, we see in verses 1 through 3, that could be coming to the rescue to bring correction and comfort, but they’re too busy doing their own lives, and oftentimes that’s us. So we see, in the passage we see the oppressed, the oppressors and the lack of comforters.
A couple of points of application: if you’re oppressing someone, you need to confess that and repent. Now I know that you woke up this morning and you didn’t probably think, “I’m an oppressor.” But again, all of us at some level—if we have the upper hand in a relationship—we probably are oppressing in some ways. If you think you might be oppressing some way, there’s a good chance that you are. If you’re doing this, and it’s illegal, you need to turn yourself in. And I want to encourage us all not to take this moment lightly or casually.
In many cases, it’s not going to be that dramatic. It’s going to mean that you just own your selfishness and your sloppiness and your carelessness in your relationships and especially those relationships where you have some sort of upper hand. Power, not used well, can be sinful very quickly and very easily. So, application: Ask the Lord, “Lord, am I using my power and my relationships well? Am I using it for Your glory? Is there anything in my relationships where I’m oppressing someone?” Why do we misuse power and why do we oppress? We do it because we really want to replace God; we want to be a god, we want to be a lord—and we just need to repent.
A word for the oppressed…and again all of us at some time are an oppressor, and many of us at times are oppressed as well. A word for you—and this is a very simple, clear and urgent word: seek companionship in the church. The church, and particularly this church; we have all kinds of leaders, we have biblical soul care leaders. Nathan Scroggins heads up both our biblical soul care ministries and our discipleship ministries. And if you’re in a place, and if you’re in a position of oppression and you don’t know what to do, let me ask you to come to the church and ask for help. At the end of the service we’re going to have pastors here. But there are small group leaders and there’s people are around you. Don’t go in isolation! You were not made to live in isolation, you were not made to be alone. You were made to gather.
Now here’s the thing—if we turn in when we feel like we’re being oppressed, we’re not going to think right thoughts. We need others to help us think right thoughts about our situation. If Trent is oppressing me on my job, and I don’t have someone that I can that talk to with confidence about how to think right thoughts about that, then I going to think wrong thoughts and I’m going to move. Sin will compound on top of sin. So, go to someone. (By the way, Trent’s not oppressive. Just want to mention that.) The oppressed–we need comforters, and comforters are here in this room right now, but sometimes you have to have a boldness to say, “I need some help!” And get ready, by the way, to be imperfectly comforted by imperfect people. So, you were not made to be alone. Oppression is a relationship-killer.
Another relationship-killer that we deal with is envy. By the way, is this a “feel good” sermon so far? It gets better. But not yet. Envy is defined this way: “The distress people feel when others get what they want.” Great definition. That doesn’t come to us from a Bible commentary, by the way—that came from the Harvard Business Review.
Harvard Business Review, of all people, did a multi-year study on the effects of envy in the workplace. Here’s something that they wrote about in a recent article: “As you enter your recently-promoted colleague’s office, you notice a photograph of his beautiful family and their new vacation home. He casually adjusts his custom suit and mentions his upcoming board meeting and speech in Paris. On the one hand, you want to feel genuinely happy for him and celebrate his successes; on the other hand, you hope he falls into a crevasse in the Alps! Envy, the distress people feel when others get what they want, is universal.” Again, Harvard Business Review. “Over the past ten years, we’ve studied hundreds of executives and their organizations in an effort to discover what role this deadly sin plays in the workplace. We have found, that regardless of the economic climate, people at all levels of a firm are vulnerable to envy.”
It goes on to say that envy damages relationships, disrupts teams, undermines organizational performance. “Most of all, it harms the one who feels it. When you’re obsessed with someone else’s success your self-respect suffers. You may neglect or even sabotage your own performance and possibly your career.” Tim Keller says the following about envy. He says that, “Envy makes us mourn when others rejoice and rejoice when others mourn.” By the way, Instagram and Facebook is a great envy machine, when you scroll through that, right? John Piper said, “Envy is this evil mingling of a desire for something with a resentment that another person is enjoying it and you are not.”
Do you see how envy is a relationship-killer? We consider ourselves better than others. We get self-centered, we don’t get other-centered. We compare, and we’re never satisfied. Someone has said that envy is the sin that we never get to enjoy (not that you should enjoy any sins, but there’s no enjoyment).
Ultimately, here’s what we need to do with our envy: we need to rest in our identity in Christ: We have everything that we need in Christ. We were once dead, now we’re alive; we were once in darkness, now we’re in His light; we were once far off, we’re now His children. We are now friends with Jesus. We have nothing to lack. And yet, we have the sense that “somebody else has it better than I do.” No envy is required anymore. We can celebrate what God has given us.
One of my favorite memories from our family is, when the kids were much younger—I think that Graham was probably six or seven and his younger brother (obviously) was younger, and Benjamin was opening up a package, and Benjamin’s just going after this package and he’s loving this moment!—and Graham just blurts out, “Benjamin! I’m so happy for you!” Yeah, and it’s like, “ehh, ehh,”—all the moms are just like that.) That’s what I want to be like, but envy comes in and wrecks that attitude. Envy’s usually like, “Shoot! Benjamin got that and I didn’t.”
So, okay, we’re going to continue on and have some more fun. Laziness is our next community-killer. So, we’ve seen oppression kills, envy kills relationship. Now laziness. Laziness is inaction, passivity, distraction. Who do you hurt? You hurt yourself. The passage talks about in verse 5, “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.” It’s almost this self, this idea of, self-cannibalization. You have characteristics like this when you’re lazy, these are my characteristics when I’m displaying laziness: Wes loves sleep—too much of it; I love myself—too much of it; I don’t get started with work easily—I don’t finish work; I make excuses—which is another way of saying I lie; and I am also very defensive whenever I’m lazy. Proverbs 26:16 says, “[A] sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.”
Laziness is a community-killer because we are passive when we need to be active, we have a lack of care and concern, we have a lack of others. And so I, this morning, was thinking about Jim Elliott; Jim Elliott, that martyr from 1956, married to Elisabeth Elliott. Jim Elliott has this great quote that you should all get and put on your wall, because it’s rich. Here it is. Ready? Let me make sure I get this exactly right: “We don’t need a call; we need a kick in the pants!” Okay? There you go, that’s a direct quote from…so, consider yourself “kicked” this morning; you got your kick in the pants: “We don’t need a call; we need a kick in the pants.” So, laziness is a community-killer.
Lack of contentment is also a community-killer. Lack of contentment. We see this in verse 6: “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” Striving after wind is, okay, these bubbles that we saw just a moment ago. I’m trying to grab all that I can in that. That’s the picture. We’re striving after something that’s hard to obtain—wanting more, but the wrong kind of more. Listen, we were made for more. God put into your heart and your soul a capacity to experience so much more. That’s what Heaven’s going to be. Every day is going to be unfolding more and more and more riches in Christ! So you were made for more, it’s okay to want more, but our lack of contentment–we’re finding, finding and pursuing all of the wrong things. You’re tired of what you already have and you’re thinking thoughts like this: “I don’t have enough!”
Oftentimes husbands and wives are looking into—at their other, their significant other and they’re thinking, “You’re not enough!” You think of that in your small group: “This small group’s not enough.” “Work’s not enough.” And you’re constantly distracted. Your mind is never with us, when you have a lack of contentment. The application for us is that we need to learn Paul. Paul said what? That he had “learned to be content in a few circumstances” in life, right? No. He said [Philippians 4:11] he learned to be content in all circumstances in life. So we need to learn from Paul. Proverbs 15:16 says, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure [with] trouble…” If you’re experiencing a lack of contentment, too, just continue to ask yourself and the Lord, “Why do I want all of this?” It’s a great diagnostic question!
Another community-killer that we suffer with is overwork, or workaholism. Now, obviously, this is going to take place in the workplace, but it can take place at home and in the church as well. Often this is a search for significance. You’re trying to measure up to somebody. Oftentimes you don’t even know who. Sometimes it could be your mom or your dad or the employer or some wrong-thinking of the Lord. It’s a search for significance, security, meaning and it comes with discontentment, and it can be on the job, in the home or in the church, in the community.
The way that it becomes a community-killer for us is this: you just don’t have time for us! When you’re with us, you’re drained because you’ve expended your energy in other places; you don’t have the energy to receive and to give for God-given communities. And the application for us when we’re overworked is to talk to your family and say, “Am I guilty of overwork?” and to talk to this community and to seek some help.
So those are five community-killers that we see in the passage. If you walk through again, verses 1 through 8, you’re going to see those community-killers of oppression and envy and laziness, a lack of contentment and overwork. So, before we move to some hopefulness and some benefits of community–why does community, why do you think that community matters so much to God? Well, think about this: Before Genesis 1 and 2 came on the scene, what was there? There was always the triune God. God was always pre-existent and He was always in the perfect uncommon community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was an uncommon community that was the best community that has ever been and ever will be. And He lacked nothing in that community, but it was a community—God in One.
Genesis 1 and 2 come along and we got Creation, and God creates man, and He says this is all very good, right? But there was one thing that He said wasn’t good. What was the thing that wasn’t good? “It[‘s] not good [for] man [to] be alone.” [Genesis 2:18]—and so He gave the man woman. Now, obviously, that’s in the marriage context, but it’s, as we see in this passage [Ecclesiastes 4:9], “Two are better than one…” [Genesis 2:18] “The Lord…said, ‘It[‘s] not good that…man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” So man already had relationship in the community with God, but God said, “I’m a community Creator.” God is the ultimate community-Creator and He says, “I’m going to create more community,” and then He makes people.
So, not only were you not made to be alone—our Big Idea today—you were made to gather. You were made to gather! And, practically, there are some benefits to gathering that we’re going to look at quickly this morning; here they are: The oppressed find comfort; work goes better; daily life goes better; journeys go better; battles go better. And we’ll take each one of these in turn.
So, if you look back to verses 1 through 3 again and let your eyes fall on those verses, here you see that the oppressed aren’t finding the relief that they need. But when we’re acting the way God wants us to, the oppressed do find relief. Rather than wanting death, they see that life is possible. Jesus said, “I[‘m come] that [you] may have life and have it to the full.” [John 10:10 NIV] “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” And that’s what the comforter’s message is; the comforter comes and says, “John 10:10 is still alive and well.” Families and neighborhoods and schools and workplaces need us to be actively bringing comfort. So, the oppressed find comfort. The world needs more comforters, because the world is in a world of hurt. Your family needs you to be a comforter on the move, your workplace needs you to be a comforter on the move, your neighborhood. We need be active, both proactively and reactively, in rendering aid to people who are in all kinds of oppression.
There may be some of you in this room (by the way, that’s practical on an everyday basis, but) there may be some of you in this room that are called to something that’s dramatic and life-changing. There could be some in this room that say, “I need to move to another place to help people be let go from their oppression,”—that you get sent out from this place to help sexually-trafficked women and children find relief from their oppression. Some of you may need to pray about going to North Africa or the Middle East or Syria to be with refugees and the war-torn. It may not be that life-altering.
Some of you may need to invest in Michiana. There are many ministries here that Harvest is partnering with that you should be a part of, where you can be a comforter on the move and help the oppressed in our communities. And I invite you to talk to someone today if the Lord’s speaking to you about that. So the oppressed find comfort.
Number two, work goes better! Look at verse 9. Verse 9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for [all] their toil.” [ESV] Work of all kind is easier and it’s just better in partnership! Caring communities are really uncommon. When we get stuff done with a passion for the mission, and for each other, this is just uncommon. This is true if you’re starting a business or you’re in a large corporation. Work just goes better when you’re in partnership and you’re others-centered. So, work goes better when we’re gathered.
Daily life goes better. Look at verse 10: “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!” Every day, there’s stuff that breaks in our home. Ben Hannah, sitting over here, he can give you testimony of a furnace that went out this week. That was fun, wasn’t it? That was great. And his small group and the church responded. I didn’t know that there were so many space heaters available in Michiana, but they showed up at his house. That’s what we’re talking about—daily life goes better when we gather and we have friends, and that’s what the church does. We live for one another. We overcome physical problems. If we actually physically literally fall, someone is there to pick us up and we find that help is just an amazing thing!
Verse 11: Journeys go better. “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” By the way, this is not the biblical basis for cuddling. So, that’s not what this is about. This is about the warmth of friendships. So, my heart grows cold sometimes when I’m on the journey of life—and I need somebody like you to warm it up for me, to tell me to keep going, to not grow weary in doing good. I need the warmth of your wisdom, I need the warmth of relationship with you and your friendship—real depth and camaraderie.
And battles go better. Verse 12: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.” And so, if I’m in a fight, I don’t want to go it alone. I want to go with, uh, most of you. I’ve seen some of you fight. No, I actually haven’t. So the fight’s going to go better if we battle together, right?– than going it alone. So those are some of the benefits of gathering.
So we’ve seen some of the things that kill community and we’ve seen some of the benefits of community. Let’s push it down into our lives, and how do, how do we apply all of this to, to this context and to this church? We do community as those who believe that Jesus is true and genuine and He’s called us to live out His Great Commission to go and make disciples. If we were made to gather, how do we do that?
Out on the wall out there we’ve got three W’s. You see “Worship,” you see “Walk” and you see “Work.” Another way to say that is, “We gather together, we grow in gatherings together and we go as the gathered church together.” So, first of all, let me just ask you to not forsake gathering weekly in a gathering like this. If Harvest isn’t the right place for you, find the right place for you, but don’t give up on corporate worship. Romans chapter 10, verse 17, says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Men and women are preparing every week to lead us in worship. Guys like Trent are faithfully digging into this Bible, into this Word, to be able to bring to you a word that you need to hear.
And when we come and we gather, we reorient ourselves to, first things like Colossians 3: Christ is all—to have our hearts gladdened in the gospel, to be turned from wrong to right, to realize again and again and again that we tend to place Christ with idol, and nothing else satisfies. We do that together as a corporate gathering weekly. I like to think of it like this. During the week I am a worshipper scattered, and on Sunday I’m a worshipper gathered with you. And this is really a rescue mission for my soul. I need to be here to have my life reoriented around—at times my oppression—and my sin-sick soul just needs to know that Christ is all. So, commit always, always, always to being a part of a gathered body. This is Christ’s body—it must matter!
Secondly, we’re made to gather and grow daily in small group context. We live out the “one-anothers.” That’s really our lab. So here, we hear preaching—a one-to-many kind of thing. But when we come to a small group context, we have the opportunity to help one another know, “How what Trent said on Sunday. . .”—how does that apply to your life? And we open the Word to one another. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another [and] by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So, if we don’t gather like this, we’re not going to experience some of the practical benefits of gathering that I mentioned a moment ago. Ben Hannah wouldn’t have gotten the space heaters this week if he hadn’t been a part of a small group. But also, think about this: you have something that I need, too, and whenever you’re not gathering in smaller context, someone is not benefitting from the wisdom and the life experiences. You’re not reaching someone with what God has put into you.
So, you were made to gather corporately, you were made to gather in smaller context, and you were also made to be a gatherer—to go. We’re going to talk about that in, more in some of the coming weeks as we look at—we’re not only made to gather, we’re made to grow, we’re made to go. Finally, let me ask you to hear this. If you hear nothing else today–we are not called to go it alone. We are called to gather. But this is the great good news. Christ died to gather you to Himself. That’s the good news! Christ is the Great Gatherer and you are called by Him to be in community with Jesus. He wants you to thrive, He wants you to know Him, and let me ask you to you to pray with me right now.
If you’ll stand, bow your heads. A few questions as you start to pray here. Hey, if you’re doing some things that you know are oppressive—and you’re hurting relationships—would you turn to the Lord and repent and ask Him for fresh help today? If you are being oppressed, and you’re in some hard situations—would you seek the Lord, what He would want you to do and ask someone that is oppressed and seek help and be brave and find help? If you’re lonely and in isolation, would you seek the camaraderie that the church provides to you? By the way, don’t just think about your age group. Think cross-generationally; if you’re a young person, you need someone that’s older; if you’re older, you need someone younger. And then don’t forsake the great calling of your soul—friendship with Christ. You were not made to go it alone into eternity. You were made to be a friend with Christ. Go to Him right now, do not delay. Friendship with Christ is everything.
Lord, thank You for Who You are! Help us to realize today that we are not made to be alone. You love community. We do things that kill community. Yes, Lord, convict us of our sin—of community-killing actions and inactions—but, Lord, thank You for the fresh grace that we get, that though our sins are many that You stand ready to forgive. We can move forward with You. I pray that if there’s anyone in this room that is alone, that they will find—not only a friend in the room today and community here—but that they will find out that You, Jesus, are the Friend that sticks closer than a brother! Thank you, Lord, for gathering us! In Jesus’ Name we pray, amen.