Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/28/17 Sermon - United We Stand

“United We Stand”

Ecclesiastes 4:1-16


Last week Solomon gave us a glimpse of hope concerning God making everything beautiful in its time. However, Solomon ended Chapter 3 last week with despair over the problems with injustice. Chapter 4 continues in the same vein and we read how Solomon considered the oppression he viewed throughout his lifetime. The topic of the oppressed was a common one in the Old Testament. The list is long:

  • Oppression of people by a king (Proverbs 28:16)

  • Oppression of a servant by his master (Deuteronomy 24:14)

  • Oppression of the poor by the affluent (Proverbs 22:16)

  • Oppression of the poor by the bureaucratic (Ecclesiastes 5:8)

  • Oppression of the poor by other poor people (Proverbs 28:3)

  • Oppression of the alien, the fatherless, and the widow (Jeremiah 7:6; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10)

  • Oppression by charging high interest (Ezekiel 22:12, 29)

  • Oppression by using false weights and measures (Hosea 12:7)


Solomon summed up the existence of the oppressed by the presence of their tears, which were a result of having no comforter. Let us not forget the outlook of Solomon.

His eyes were not on the LORD. He had not been in relationship or centered on God in any way, other than to acknowledge He existed. So from the standpoint of:

  • God not being involved in one’s life,

  • where your world exists of only what is “under the sun”

  • where the only things that exist are here and now,

  • with no concept of life in a world to come,

  • the “tears of the oppressed” would be bitter

  • and one would expect no comforter.

Because of oppression and sadness, Solomon then went directly to the understanding that humans with such a life were better off dead. Solomon went so far as to say that it would have been better not to have existed at all, were oppression and sadness to be one’s existence.  In fact, Solomon looked at both the oppressed and the oppressor and considered it was better that neither of them had been born. Solomon wrote this from the perspective that life did not exist after death. And these two verses have to be two of the saddest verses in the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Yet, there is a similar statement in the New Testament when, Jesus himself said almost the same thing in Matthew 26:24,

“But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” speaking of Judas.

For what it is worth, the great despair of which Solomon spoke exists still today and demonstrates the moral need of an afterlife and of a coming judgement. Jesus stated that it would be those who did the oppressing, that would receive punishment, not their victims, in Matthew 18:6-7

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

Solomon was on a roll and continued with his observations of meaningless things in life. This time he viewed how bittersweet, accomplishments can become. Success can often lead to the envy of one’s neighbor. When success produces envy, these too are also vanity and grasping for the wind. Here Solomon saw individuals toil and be successful in skillful work and how these seemingly “good” things could bring about such negative responses from others. Being successful could bring envy and sometimes hatred from others and who needs that?

That response does not leave much room for encouragement to do good or to act upright. Such was the essence of Solomon’s vain and empty system of human life.

 

Solomon did recognize that for many of those who were envious of the success of others, well, they tended to lazy. Solomon called them fools, not because they were jealous of the success of their neighbors, but because they folded their hands and did nothing, which caused them to waste away, or as Solomon put it,  “ruins himself.”

 

Solomon contrived an answer for avoiding the jealousy and need for grasping for more and getting to the top. Solomon’s answer was to understand the value of “contentment.” Solomon understood that it was better to have less and have tranquility than to have more and constantly toiling and chasing.

Paul had a Christological viewpoint and came up with a similar understanding of contentment which he wrote to the Philippians in chapter 4:11-13

 

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Solomon combined some interesting thoughts together. Hard work and success were good in and of themselves. They were not to be envied but to be emulated. Which leads to the idea that laziness was wrong and destructive. However, one must be aware that even with success and hard work, there was the need to learn to seek contentment as the guide to just how much one strived after.

 

Solomon continued to share with us what he saw as he looked around him. His eyes continued to focus on the things that were meaningless. He focused on the one who was alone, without a companion. This particular person was one who worked hard and desired to gain more and more, but for what?

As this person had no time to share what had been gained, and without family or friends to share in the bounty, the person was left with vanity and a grave misfortune.

Remember Solomon’s viewpoint came from the “under the sun” perspective, not the viewpoint of a heavenly perspective, and with the “under the sun” premise, Solomon had no eternal accomplishment, of serving the LORD and viewing rewards in heaven. And without family and friends, there was no gratification for one to gain by passing on one’s accomplishments to others. Solomon may be offering us an excellent gauge for us to use in evaluating our lifestyle. The picture of lonely, pointless busyness, combined with the jealous rivalry we read in verse 4, may well produce a life that has placed an emphasis on the wrong things. God is more concerned with relationships and that goes without saying that so should we. This is the opposite of what the world keeps telling us. It is the opposite of what students hear from their teachers and colleges and the media. We are being brainwashed from every angle, on the concept that happiness and contentment come from having more, making more, and consuming more. Which in order to do so, takes up more time and allows less time for relating and living with others.

 

Solomon continued to expand on the need to not become an island. For “Two are better than one.” Living alone made life worse and Solomon wasn’t speaking solely about the marriage relationship in this context. He was speaking about any relationship where there was a partnership.

 

When you consider yourself a partner, whether in marriage, in work, in friendship, two can accomplish more than each one individually. The sum will be greater than the parts.

 

Two can be there for each other, especially when one is down, the other can be there to help through difficult times. Solomon understood that everybody needs help, and that blessings are received by both giving and receiving. They can keep each other warm and bring each other comfort. There is security and safety when you know you have a friend. Especially a friend who “has your back.”

 

“United we stand, but divided we fall.” This phrase was first attributed to John Dickinson, a Founding Father of America, who wrote it in his pre-Revolutionary War song, “The Liberty Song,” which was first published in the Boston Gazette in July 1768. Solomon understood the value of human relationships and of working together. The four things he gave as advantages:

  • Productivity

  • Help in need

  • Comfort in life

  • Safety and security

Are advantages for us as individuals and advantages for us as a community, and a country.


Solomon didn’t stop with just having a companion, he went on to say that it was a “threefold cord that was not easily broken.” The strength of a three-ply cord was proverbial in the ancient world. For us in the church we would apply God as the third strand.


Solomon ended this section with more vanity, and included the vanity of fame and its short life. Solomon began this section with an old proverb of how it was better to be poor, wise and young! Than to be wealthy, of high status, foolish and old.

Solomon gave an example of a young man who after coming out of prison, where he had to have been poor and wretched, but rose out of that misfortune and obscurity to achieve great wealth, status and fame. But what eternal good did it do him? From Solomon’s “under the sun” viewpoint, what difference would it make? Once dead, this man would quickly be forgotten. Again, vanity and grasping for wind. What was a human to do?


The thing we should do, is remember, as we are reading through Ecclesiastes that we need to be doing so with a Christological perspective. For those of us who have experienced Christ’s salvation we need to look at the four topics Solomon discussed in this chapter from the eyes of  the redeemed.


First, Solomon wrote about the tears of the oppressed and concluded that it would have been better had they not ever been born. With Christ’s resurrection, we can look at the injustice that exists in the world and rely on the Righteous Judge who will ultimately punish all evil and injustice.



Second, as Christians we must keep our lives in proper balance and with proper motives. Our labor should be done for labor’s sake and we should quit overworking, which generally produces envy, jealousy and frustration. Paul directed the Corinthian Christians to pursue labor for the right motives and with the purpose of glorifying God in their work when he wrote, 1 Corinthians 10:3 “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”


Thirdly, Solomon’s view on the value of companionship has benefits that psychologists today confirm. Companionship is better than isolation for many reasons. From a business perspective companionship is better because it produces a larger profit. From a practical/personal perspective, companionship gives people help in a time of need. In fact, recent research has proven that those without or with limited social connections develop both physical and mental health difficulties more readily than those with positive connectedness.  The New Testament demonstrates the unity of Christians and how those in the first church lived in support of each other. God’s metaphor of His believers is called, “The family of God.”

Perhaps, dysfunctional at times, but when centered on Christ, as our example, the idea is that we stick together, support one another and help each member feel a part and not alone.


I close with the reading of Ephesians 2:19-22

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.


Let’s pray.


God, help us to continue to grow in you as a family. To lift each other up through good and bad. May we be built together and become a dwelling place in which your Spirit resides.