“Relationships” – Ecclesiastes 4:4-16

November 24th, 2013

Ecclesiastes 4:4-16

“Relationships”

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Background information:

 

                        The Book of Ecclesiastes explores life under the sun, life without God.  And it exposes the ultimate bankruptcy of trying to find, meaning and happiness and security, and significance apart from God.  This book is depressing.  And it is suppose to be.  That is why it is here.  It is intended to drive us to despair, and to cause us to cry out, “Is this it?  Is this really all that there is?” . . . But Ecclesiastes does not give us answers.  The whole book is intended to help us find freedom.  By realizing that life without God is meaningless.  That if you and I ever, ever hope to find true, long-lasting happiness, real meaning it is going to have to come from above the sun.  Outside my experience.  Beyond the facilities of this world.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

 

The question to be answered is . . . What does Koheleth want us to see in Ecclesiastes 4:4-16?

 

Answer: You were not made to be alone.  You don’t thrive when you are alone.  You are not as safe when you are alone. You are not as comfortable when you are alone. You are not as happy when you are alone.  But your sinful, selfish, fallen nature, competing to be better than everyone else, drives others away so that without grace you will ultimately end up all alone.

 

Dictionary = compete = Striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.

 

Healthy competition among individual workers and rival companies leads to world-changing discoveries and increased productivity.  Unbridled rivalry, however, leads to destruction, imprisonment, and even murder when winning becomes everything.  (John A. Stewart, Lamplighters Self-Study: Ecclesiastes, 15)

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Compete

 

Competition by itself is not wrong.  It is when we use competition to find our worth, meaning, or our value.  Then it becomes lethal.  Beating you means I am better than you and it becomes a way to gain approval, to reduce our fear of meaninglessness.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

The desire for achievement is good in itself, since God never intended man to be static or simply passive.  The challenge to be the best and to be breaking fresh ground always involves some rivalry of ideas and has led to notable scientific progress; but rivalry between individuals and nations may divert healthy competition into bitter envy.  In industry, moreover, where the average worker has little scope for creativity, there is envy for another man’s money or status.  So a healthy drive becomes yet another frustration and a chasing after the wind.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1166)

 

What does Koheleth (the writer of Ecclesiastes) want us to see in Ecclesiastes 4:4-16?:

 

 

I-                    Sinful, fallen man has become Darwinian.  He has created a self-obsessed, competitive, dog eat dog world. (Eccl 4:4-6; see also: Roman 3:9-20)

 

What makes people work?  Job satisfaction…the need to provide for themselves and their family…the desire to be creative or to contribute something to society?  No, says Koheleth, it is just “a man’s envy of his neighbor” (v. 4).  It is rivalry, the competitive spirit that urges you to go one better than the person next door.  We want to be able to drive a more expensive and more luxurious car, send the children to a more select school, or perhaps move to a more select locality.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 28)

 

People take advantage of one another, Solomon insists, when their only frame of reference is the temporal/material horizon of experience.  Here there are no abiding values or ethical principles to keep men from doing as much as they can get away with to aggrandize their own well-being at the expense of anyone and everyone.  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, May 23, 2011)

 

We think that if we can establish enough self-worth on our own by convincing ourselves  that we are better than others, then maybe life will take on new meaning, maybe I’ll matter. Maybe I’ll be  significant.  So instead of our identity being anchored in what Jesus has done for us, we anchor our identity in what we can do for ourselves..  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

Some of the most competitive people I know are the ones who have the fewest friends.  They actually keep everyone at arm’s length because everyone is a potential threat.  I’ve got to be on top in order to feel important. Therefore I can’t get close to anybody because every single person is a potential threat.  I can’t be passed.  If I am passed I am meaningless.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

Beneath the surface of human energies the Preacher sees the restless desire to outclass others.  Elsewhere the wisdom writers describe the destructive influences of envy which ‘enrages’ a man and makes him harsh (Prv 6:34) and destroys him physically (Prv 14:30).  This is one more depressing aspect of life ‘under the sun’ for it means man’s efforts are damaged at every stage.  If his toil originates in ambition (4:4), if its progress is liable to be inhibited by folly (2:19, 21), if its results may be nil (1:3; 5:15), any hope of gain can come only from God (3:13, 5:18f.).  Admittedly the Preacher is generalizing, and a different perspective will come later (9:10); but the fullest outlook is reserved for later days (cf. 1 Cor 10:31; Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22f.).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 92)

 

In a highly competitive society, where pride and greed play such a large part, a person who attains success may have to both hate and be hated.  What a miserable life if indeed it takes on such a character!  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 75)

 

People really do not want things, they want to be admired for the things they have.  What they want is not the new car itself, but to hear their neighbors say, “How lucky you are to have such a beautiful car!”  That is what people want–to be the center, the focus of attention.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 64)

 

A sinful world is a world of selfishness.  Men–instead of feeling themselves to be members of one great body–each bound to each other in mutual helpfulness–live only to “seek their own” (Eph 4:16, with Phil 2:21) at whatever cost to their fellow-creatures.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 79-80)

 

Why do people “under the sun” go to work?  Partly, we suspect, to find some meaning for their lives.  But what our current recession has highlighted so clearly is that for most people work is primarily a way of making a living so that they can possess the good things of life.  But then, what standards do people employ for determining how much “stuff” will make them happy?

They look at the people next door.  “Keeping up with the Joneses” is a way of life for many people.  We have to own all the latest gadgets, or to live in just the right neighborhood and drive only the best cars if we want to be happy.  We need more of this and that and everything else–just like the people with whom we associate–or we’ll be seen to be less than successful, less than happy.  Thus we live in a kind of perpetual adolescence.  Without eternal standards of value we get our values from one another and from the temper of the time.  That, too, is vanity and striving after the wind.  (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, May 25, 2011)

 

David Brooks’ book On Paradise Drive describes what he calls “the professionalization of childhood.”  From the earliest years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything.  Brooks calls this “a massive organic apparatus…a mighty Achievatron.”  The family is no longer what Christopher Lasch once called “a haven in a heartless world,” a counterbalance to the dog-eat-dog areas of life.  Instead, the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated.  (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, pp. 78-79)

 

 

II-                  Man was not made to be alone and yet his sinful, selfish, competitive, fallen nature destroys meaningful relationships  (Eccl 4:4-12; see also: Gen 2:18-23; Lk 10:1-3; Acts 13:2)

 

We all suffer under this burden of wanting to win.  It could be an argument, it could be position, it could be respect, it could be affection, it could be approval; I mean you think about this be in the context of a disagreement with your children or with your spouse, I mean what you may not realize is there is a competition going on. In some small way.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

It is impossible to have a moral community or nation without faith in God, because without it everything rapidly comes down to ‘me,’ and ‘me’ alone is meaningless…Great moral societies have a common belief in something beyond themselves.  -Georgie Anne Geyer  (George Barna, The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators, p. 105)

 

What does competition do to friendship?  It makes community, and relationships impossible. (Tullian Tchividjian;  in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God– Pt 6)

 

We evaluate people based on where we are standing, and we of course become the standard by which we evaluate everybody else.  It is the competitive spirit.  It breeds terrible self-righteousness and it absolutely crushes closeness.  You can’t be close with people and you can’t be a close knit community of a church if we’ve got this competition taking place. (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God– Pt 6)

 

Real, lasting friendship is hard to come by in our age of mobility, competition and superficiality.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 44)

 

In most relationship, if you win, you lose.— Lloyd J. Ogilvie

 

Too many single persons become strange because of their self-focus.  They magnify every little problem, become quite taken up with the things that they are doing (and become colossal bores because all they have to talk about is themselves), and often spend inordinate amounts of money on themselves and their comfort.  You will notice how much they talk about food.  Food is one of the new joys of the self-centered life.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 46)

 

In the long run the real loser is the person who suffers loneliness, loss of identity, and the fatal flaw of leaving no heir to carry on the family continuity and preserve its name.  To the Hebrews, the hope for permanence lay not in eternal life or bodily resurrection but in the durability of their name, perpetuated by their sons and their sons’ sons throughout the generations.  No amount of wealth could compensate for that loneliness and virtual annihilation.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 123)

 

Competition crushes your ability to celebrate someone else’s successes. It crushes your ability to weep with those who weep. Because it has the tendency to establish pride when you are doing better than others and despair sets in when you are falling behind others.  And so you neither have the freedom to celebrate someone else’s successes because your worth and your value is being ahead of them not behind them, and it also fails to empower to weep with those who weep, without thinking you are better than the person who is suffering.  And so competition just kills whatever possibility community and friendship we might have.  When you conclude that worth requires winning . . .life becomes very lonely.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled: in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

“If I had it to do over again, I would make more friends. — Ty Cobb (ultra-competitive Detroit Tiger baseball player)

 

If a man be acute, and dexterous, and successful in his business, he gets the ill-will of his neighbors, v. 4.  Though he takes a great deal of pains, and goes through all travail, does not get his estate easily, but it costs him a great deal of hard labor, nor does he get it dishonestly, he wrongs no man, defrauds himself to his own proper business, and managing it by all the rules of equity and fair-dealing, yet for this he is envied of his neighbor, and the more for the reputation he has got by his honesty.  This shows, 1. What little conscience most men have, that they will bear a grudge to a neighbor, give him an ill word and do him an ill turn, only because he is more ingenious and industrious than themselves, and has more of the blessing of heaven.  Cain envied Abel, Esau Jacob, and Saul David, and all for their right works.  This is downright diabolism.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1002)

 

In pursuing out of envy the neighbor above us on the ladder, we inevitably step on the head of the neighbor below us.  As disastrous as this is for the people who are trampled on, it is also futile for the person who is upwardly mobile at their expence.  It is pointless, “a chasing after the wind” (Eccl 4:4).  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 105)

 

If we were not familiar almost from birth with this inner war, it would strike us as extremely odd.  The animals can apparently boast nothing analogous; the nature of a mouse or a lion is all of one piece.  Man is the only house divided.  The Christian explanation is telescoped in the story of Adam and Eve.  It is a tale of a splendid beginning and a ruinous downfall.  Man, as designed by God, did not carry a battlefield inside him.  As long as he made God the center of his life he was in joyous harmony with himself, God, and his neighbors.  The schism in human nature began when man ejected God from the central position and set himself up on a makeshift throne.  Instantly, dozens of clamorous demands arose.  The new center was inadequate to maintain harmony.  Each facet of the personality warred with every other, and each individual man was in competition with his fellows.  (Chad Walsh, Early Christians of the 21st Century, p. 70)

 

To begin at the beginning–with that ordinance, where God declared his own mind–“It is not good for man to be alone.”  (Gn 2:18; Comp. Ps 58:6) If it was “not good” in Paradise, much less is it in a wilderness world.  What claim, then has a monastic or a celibate life to higher perfection?  When two are brought together by the Lord’s Providence (Gn 2:22)–and specially when each is fitted to each other by his grace–“dwelling together as heirs of the grace of life” (1 Pt 3:7), in abiding union of hearts–having one faith–one hope–one aim–who can doubt the fact–Two are better than one?  Love sweetens toil, soothes the sting of trouble, and gives a Christian zest of enjoyment to every course of daily life.  The mutual exercises of sympathy give energy to prayer, and furnish large materials for confidence and praise.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 90)

 

“We don’t want to forgive others because it makes us even, not superior.”   — Steve Brown

 

Some of the most competitive people I know have the fewest friends.  They actually keep everybody at arms length because everyone is a potential threat.   I’ve got to be on top in order to feel important. (Tullian Tavidgian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God Part 6.)

 

We are the standard by which we evaluate everyone else. (Tullian Tavidgian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God Part 6)

 

III-                There are no exceptions to becoming vulnerable to foolishness.  Even kings can become so isolated and self-obsessed that they believe they are in need of no one. (Eccl 4:13-16; see also: Prov 1:23-33; 3:11; 5:12; 10:17; 12:1, 15; 13:10, 18; 15:5, 10, 12, 22, 31-32, 19:20, 25; 20:18; 27:5; 29:1)

 

A man may begin life in humble circumstances, willing to learn, open to the wise counsel of others.  He may better himself sensationally, exchanging a prison cell for a palace.  He may achieve a life-time’s ambition, but at a cost, the cost of becoming a different person, arrogant, no longer willing to listen to advice.  The passing years do not necessarily bring wisdom.  There is no age limit to a fool!  There are people who, as we say, become too big for their boots, who pay a heavy price for that power and success which can turn out to be so fickle.  Today’s popular hero may be tomorrow’s forgotten man.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 32)

 

Despite the large following the young king received, it was not lasting.  People are fickle and may cast their palms before a new arrival, only to cry ‘Crucify him!’ a few days later.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 96)

 

It is better to be poor, and wise, and young than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice, he was on top.  Distancing himself.  Coming to the conclusion that I am on the top and I need therefore nobody.  And as a result of being on top and not needing anybody he becomes a fool.  He begins to believe his own press (clippings). (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

The loss of community breeds foolishness.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God– Pt 6)

 

One of God’s great gifts in helping us deal with problems of oppression, poverty, loneliness, and injustice is the company of others.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 124)

 

The “foolish king” loses his grip on the throne when he no longer heeds advice that would keep him out of trouble.  “Be admonished” recurs in 12:12, where the teacher warns against the making of books.  It is a favorite word in Ezekiel where it describes both divine warnings, and the kinds of alarms sounded by alert watchmen (chaps. 3, 33).  The senile king’s foolishness lulled him to sleep at the switch, and he was too foolish to know it.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 125)

 

The final scene (v. 16) describes a vast multitude of subjects acclaiming their loyalty to the second young king who stood before them as their newest ruler.  Yet the ringing cheers serve only to sober Koheleth, knowing as he does that the next generations (those who come afterward”) will take no more joy in this king than his generation took in his predecessor.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 126)

 

CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How does this passage drive us to Christ and community?:

 

 

 

  1. A.                   Grace Costs: Jesus paid it all (Lk 19:10; Jn 3:16; Rom 3:21-30; 5:15-21; 6:23; Eph 2:8)

 

God’s Riches At Christ’s Expence

 

Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother.  Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart.  He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy.  Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 118)

 

Those who say “The more I see of men the better I like dogs”–those who find in animals a relief from the demands of human companionship–will be well advised to examine their real reasons.  (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 53)

 

A passage written by John Owen, one of the greatest Puritan scholars ever: “The person who understands the evil in his own heart is the only person who is useful, fruitful, and solid in his beliefs and obedience.  Others only delude themselves and thus upset families, churches, and all other relationships.  In their self-pride and judgment of others, they show great inconsistency.”  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 64)

 

To choose to associate with humble things might also imply a rejection of the materialism in our world gone crazy over luxury and self-indulgence.  To accommodate ourselves to humble ways flies in the face of the upward mobility of our culture, and it certainly sets the Christian community apart as an alternative society following the downward pattern demonstrated by Christ.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 247-48)

 

If we can’t accept our own failure and sin, then we can never escape it.  Paradoxically, we can find the good life only when we understand we aren’t good.  Denial of evil always produces tragedy, in our own lives and in the community at large.  We have to understand the evil in ourselves before we can truly embrace the good in life. (Charles Colson, The Good Life, p. 33)

 

  1. B.                   Grace oils relationships: Jesus demonstrates the range of grace (Mt 9:10-12; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk 2:15-17Lk 5:30-32; 7:36-50; Ch 15; Rom 5:8; Gal 6:1-2; 1 Pt 3:7; 1 Jn chpts 3-5)

 

Ten Commandments of Human Relations

1. Speak to people. There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.

2. Smile at people. It takes seventy-two muscles to frown, only fourteen to smile.

3. Call people by name. Music to anyone’s ears is the sound of his/her own name.

4. Be friendly and helpful.

5. Be cordial. Speak and act as if everything you do is genuinely a pleasure, and if it isn’t, learn to make it so.

6. Be genuinely interested in people. You can like almost everybody if you try.

7. Be generous with praise, cautious with criticism.

8. Be considerate with the feelings of others. There are usually three sides to a controversy: yours, the other fellow’s, and the right one.

9. Be alert to serve. What counts most in life is what we do for others.

10. Add to this a good sense of humor, a big dose of patience, and a dash of humility, and you will be rewarded manifold through life.   (Adapted from the Bible Tract Bulletin).

 

It is the struggle of the natural man for self-justification.  He finds it only in comparing himself with others, in condemning and judging others.  Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 91)

Vanstone says, In false love your aim is to use the other person to fulfill your happiness.  Your love is conditional: You give it only as long as the person is affirming you and meeting your needs.  And it’s nonvulnerable: You hold back so that you can cut your losses if necessary.  But in true love, your aim is to spend yourself and use yourself for the happiness of the other, because your greatest joy is that person’s joy.  Therefore your affection is unconditional: You give it regardless of whether your loved one is meeting your needs.  And it’s radically vulnerable: You spend everything, hold nothing back, give it all away.  Then Vastone says, surprisingly, that our real problem is that nobody is actually fully capable of giving true love.  We want it desperately, but we can’t give it.  He doesn’t say we can’t give any kind of real love at all, but he’s saying that nobody is fully capable of true love.  All of our love is somewhat fake.  How so?  Because we need to be loved like we need air and water.  We can’t live without love.  That means there’s a certain mercenary quality to our relationships.  We look for people whose love would really affirm us.  We invest our love only where we know we’ll get a good return.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 98)

 

In his audiotape series According to Plan, C.J. Mahaney pleads with men to recover this sense of sacrifice.  He points out that sacrifice isn’t sacrifice unless it costs us something, and then he leaves a challenging question hanging in the in the air: “Gentlemen, what are we doing each day for our wives that involves sacrifice?  What are you doing each day for your wife that is costing you something?”  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 185)

 

The essence of the Christian life is a love relationship with God.  Our standing in the Christian life rests with Christ; when the virtues take on too much importance, that is, when acquiring virtues and avoiding sin become the primary focus of our walk, we have elevated the (admittedly important) secondary over the primary.  Another way of putting it is that we have made an idol out of our own piety.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, p. 79)

 

Our culture says that ruthless competition is the key to success.  Jesus says that ruthless compassion is the purpose of our journey.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 168-69)

 

If everyone would do what I am doing this would be a better place.  (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

Wisdom displays itself not so much in the successful competition of man with man as in co-operation with one’s fellows.  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. V, 54)

 

To count others more significant (which is what Paul says in Phil 2) to esteem others more higher than yourselves, to count others more significant is to invalidate the competitive spirit from the very get go. (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

Dale Carnegie observed that we can make more friends in two months of showing interest in others than in two years of trying to get them interested in us.  And Andy Rooney has said that good old friends are worth keeping, whether we like them or not!

All that we see around us will pass away, but every person you ever meet is an eternal creature.  Treat people with profound love and respect as the fellow citizens of heaven they are, or could become.  Guard your friendships as you would guard the world’s largest diamond, because you can be certain the least of your friends is infinitely more valuable in the eyes of God than any jewel.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 99)

 

Competitive comparison is the main way elder brothers achieve a sense of their own significance.  Racism and classism are just different versions of this form of the self-salvation project.  This dynamic becomes exceptionally intense when elder brothers pride themselves above all for their right religion.  If a group believes God favors them because of their particularly true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile.  Their self-righteousness hides under the claim that they are only opposing the enemies of God.  When you look at the world through those lenses, it becomes easy to justify hate and oppression, all in the name of truth.  (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, p.54)

 

Both the Old and New Testaments place great emphasis upon love, faithfulness, and submission within the family structure.  The man or woman who withdraws from parents and siblings, mate or children and seeks to live only for self cannot help but be lonely and unfulfilled.  And the person who uses others for the gratification of his own sensual desires also transgresses the divine plan.  The voice of experience tells mankind that love-filled homes are an essential element in a well-ordered society.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 83)

 

To love my neighbor as myself is to be concerned with my neighbor’s troubles, needs, pains, sorrow, problems and issues of life as I am with my own and to use my own resources to resolve those issues with the same investment of time, creativity, abandon, and perseverence as I do trying to resolve my own issues.  — Pastor Keith with conceptual credit to Tim Keller

 

Central to our theology, then, is giving up our attempts to love.  This does not imply a giving up of self-discipline.  Much to the contrary, what I am suggesting demands greater self-discipline.  However, we choose discipline freely as a response to God’s love.  The Hilarity of God’s immense grace for us makes us want to grow to be more loving and to love without hypocrisy.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 146)

 

  1. In Christ we are empowered to be the Body of Christ and refrain from prideful competition so we can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4)

. . . Competition inside the church kills community (Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

Competition between spiritual gifts: Evangelism, mercy, administrative. “What I am doing is more important than what you are doing.  In fact, everybody should be doing what I am doing.  This kind of competition in the church kills the church..  —  Tullian Tavidgian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God Part 6.

 

The search for community in our Western postmodern world is, unquestionably, both real and pervasive.  But just because people want community does not mean that their approaches to finding greater unity and purpose in relationships, or fulfilling important tasks together, will bring intimacy or any sense of real community.  More specifically, in the evangelical Christian world, when the focus on community in team or small group life does not move beyond the wants, needs, or task fulfillment of the individual, it is extremely difficult to build a depth of lasting unity in relationships.  Put simply, it is difficult to find the communion of the Holy Spirit when the spotlight is on the self.   (Paul R. Ford, Knocking Over the Leadership Ladder, pp. 34-35)

 

The move from independence to interdependence is our next strategic step.  According to Peter Block, the move from self-interest to service is the critical step because it changes everything: “When we choose service over self-interest, we say we are willing to be deeply accountable without choosing to control the world around us.”  Note that we are not using the word dependence here.  The reason is simple: in the body of Christ, life together and ministry are the responsibility of everyone.  All are to be stewards of their gifts and their relationships so that the full impact of the Spirit’s work in the world can take place.  (Paul R. Ford, Knocking Over the Leadership Ladder, p. 147)

 

Imagine what would happen if our congregations truly functioned by means of each person offering his or her gifts to the working together of the whole, if we all understood ourselves not so much as individual Christians but as members within the framework of the unity of the Body.  For example, envision how much more our pastors could concentrate on the Word and prayer (see Acts 6:2-4) if we could set them free from all the “administrivia” that bogs them down.  Or perhaps congregational members who have gifts for compassion and mercy could focus on some of the pastoral calling so that a professional worker could be free to use his or her gifts more effectively in other areas.  Each person contributing his or her special gifts to the whole in the Christian community would create so much Hilarity.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 79)

 

. . . the minute you say, “Thank-you” there is a bond there.  Almost a little covenant.  When you say, “Thank-you.  I really appreciated that.”   You actually . . . you’ve just lost some of your independence.  You owe that person to some degree.  You owe it to help out that person. You’ve lost your independence.  There is obligations of community now. That are now around you in a bond, you’ve been bonded to that person.   In the smallest of ways.

But, if a hundred times a day, you put their needs ahead of yours, and they say, “Thank-you”; what happens is joyfully, slowly, but surely we are becoming a community.(Tim Keller’s message; A Counter-Cultural Community of Grace referring to Thomas Howard in the book Splendor in the Ordinary)

 

  1. D.                   Becoming a friend of King Jesus promotes eternal relationships. (Mt 11:19; Lk 5:17-26; 12:1-10; Jn 15:13-16)

 

Because Jesus was strong for you, you are free to be weak.

Because Jesus won for you, you are free to lose.

Because Jesus succeed for you, you are free to fail.

Because Jesus was someone, you are free to be no one.

Because Jesus was extra-ordinary, you are free to be ordinary.  The Gospel declares that you have nothing to compete for.  Everything you are trying to win has already been won for you.  So, the Gospel alone is what cuts the head off of competition and the way that we employ it.  Freedom from the pressure of competition happens when we realize that the thing that we are competing for has already been secured for us.(Tullian Tchividjian; in a sermon entitled:  Life Without God – Pt 6)

 

Why would a triune God create a world?  If he were a uni-personal God, you might say, “Well, he created the world so he can have beings who give him worshipful love, and that would give him joy.”  But the triune God already had that–and he received love within himself in a far purer, more powerful form than we human beings can ever give him.  So why would he create us?  There’s only one answer.  He must have created us not to get joy but to give it.   He must have created us to invite us into the dance, to say: If you glorify me, if you center your entire life on me, if you find me beautiful for who I am in myself, then you will step into the dance, which is what you are made for.  You are made not just to believe in me or to be spiritual in some general way, not just to pray and get a bit of inspiration when things are tough.  You are made to center everything in your life on me, to think of everything in terms of your relationship to me.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 9-10)

 

By logical syllogism we deduce a very important fact.  If a person is not loving, John says, he or she does not know God.  How will that individual become more loving, then?  Can we grow in love by trying to love more?  No, our attempts to love will only end in more frustration and less love.  The solution, John implies, is to know God better.  This is so simple that we miss it all the time: our means for becoming more loving is to know God better.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 146)

 

As long as we look for our needs to be met by persons, we will always be disappointed.  This is especially true in marriage relationships, because such an expectation imposes a terrible burden upon one’s partner.  No person is perfect; no one can take the place of God in our lives.  Rather, in Christian marriage and in true community we learn together that we will find our needs thoroughly met only in our relationship with God.  Our alienation from him prevents us from discerning ways in which other persons can minister to our needs.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 86)

 

Seen within the context of grace, the NT view of man is neither fully pessimistic nor larely optimistic, but rather melioristic.  Man is not what he may become; he is dependent and unfulfilled, and no genuine realization of his potentialities is possible apart from the restoration of his fractured relationship with his Creator through Jesus Christ.  Man normally exists in society, in human community.  Within this context, he is loved by an everlasting Heart which seeks to draw him into a higher community, through the transformation of his nature by the agency of the divine Spirit, for whose indwelling he has a basic capacity which survived the Fall.

In the Incarnation, the eternal Logos appeared in human form to show what redeemed man might become.  In One who was “very God and very man” man beholds the Image to which he is to be conformed through being transformed by Him who, for us men, shared our common life in the days of His flesh.  In Him man can glimpse human nature as it ought to be, and as it will be when He brings many sons to glory.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 4, 53)

 

Worship point: When you see the wisdom of God in creating us to live in community, and how he redeems our sinful, fallen nature that drives others away, so that now, in Christ, we can once again live in community; then you will see the glory of God in relationships and you will be able to truly worship.

 

Spiritual Challenge (4 Questions): What are you doing that is killing grace?  What are you doing to drive others away so community becomes nearly impossible in your life?   What do you need to do to become more like Jesus who fostered grace rather than destroyed it?  How might you look at God’s mercy towards you and allow His grace to make you more gracious as a result of the renewing of your mind?

 

So I use the word Hilarity to describe the ideal Christian community, and my intention is to make us stop and think: what would it be like if the Christian Church were truly a community that thoroughly enjoyed being itself?  It seems to me it could change the world!  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, xi)

 

 

Quotes to Note:

We need to further explore the power of human love to feed our divine love.  Rather than seeing marriage as a cosmic competitor with heaven, we can embrace it as a school of faith.  Maximus the confessor (580-662) observed that the love we have for God and the love we have for others are not two distinct loves, but “two aspects of a single total love.”  Jesus suggested the same thing, when in response to a question about the “greatest” commandment he declared that there is not just one, but two–not only must we love God, but also our neighbors.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 267)

 

One of the joys of surrender is a deep peace.  Rebellion means war, so it is no surprise that surrender means peace.  This peace gives us a new freedom in our relationships.  As always, true Christian spirituality has implications for community living in families and churches.  Thomas a Kempis said if we are not surrendered to God, we will be at war with others.  “He that is well in peace, is not suspicious of any man.  But he that is discontented and troubled, is tossed with divers suspicions: he is neither at rest himself nor suffereth others to be at rest…He considereth what others are bound to do, and neglecteth that which is bound to himself.”  (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, II:3:1)  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, pp. 99-100)

 

Koheleth saw “riches” as more of a gift than an acquisition (5:19; 6:2).  He goes so far as to list them with the boons that happen by “time and chance” (9:11).  The goods God has given were not intended to make the rich richer.  They were intended to serve the needs of all God’s people.  The drive to acumulate goods must be accompanied by an urge to share them.  If not, then injustice is the sure result.  Persons with ingenuity, energy, and opportunity can hoard huge resources while others go begging.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 123)

 

Fame and station are fickle and not even wisdom is powerful enough to overcome the chronic lack of memory which is a notable human foible (see on 1:11; 2:16).  The enigma of why this should be so evokes another frustrated conclusion from the Preacher, as he closes his Second Demonstration of his major theme: All this is another instance of our elusive, baffling failure to draw sense from human experience.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 126)

 

Thank God! there have ever been such men–generous, disinterested, broad-hearted, God7-inspired men–men who are doing the “right work.”  They are the “salt” of the State; remove them, and all is putrescence.  How are these men treated by society?  Here is the answer.  “For this a man is envied of his neighbor.”  It has ever been so.  Cain envied Abel, Korah envied Moses, Saul envied David, the Sanhedrim envied Christ, the Judaic teachers envied Paul.  To see society envying such men is a sore “vexation” to all true hearts.  (Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. V, Ecclesiastes, 127)

 

In the Bible, oppression involves cheating one’s neighbor of something (Lv 6:2-5 associates it with expropriation, stealing, retaining lost property that has been found, and swearing falsely), defrauding him, and robbing him.  It involves making an unjust gain, including the profit made from interest on loans (e.g., Ez 22:1-29; exp. vv. 12, 29).  It is the abuse of power, financial and otherwise, perpetrated on those who are not so powerful and are indeed vulnerable–the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers (e.g., Ez 22:7, 29; Am 4:1; Mic 2:1-2).  Thus it is often associated with violence and bloodshed in the OT and with the denial of rights and justice (e.g., Jer 22:17; Ez 22:6-7, 12, 29; cf. Also Prv 1:10-19).

Oppression is accumulation–the seeking after profit–without regard to the nature, needs, and rights of other people.  There is a fierce insistence in the OT that people should not thus oppress each other.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 103)

 

Power, economic or otherwise, is not to be abused; people, whether less powerful than we or not, are not to be treated as objects out of which profit can be squeezed, but as human beings made by the same God who created us all.  This includes our employees.

Human beings as we find them “under the sun” are, however, in rebellion against God and thus generally careless of the neighbor, as Qohelet sees all too clearly.  They are out for “gain,” and in their desperate attempts to climb the ladder of success they will happily kick and trample on the heads of those beneath them.  This is simply the way the world is (cf. 5:8-9, with its injunction that we should not be surprised by it).

The world is, therefore, a miserable place for many people, who live without anyone to comfort them with the real prospect of change in their circumstances (cf. Ps 23:4; 86:17, for the understanding of “comfort” not simply as empty words, but as carrying with it the promise of help and protection, and thus real comfort).  They have been deprived even of the most modest means out of which to live their lives.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 104)

 

 

Nothing costs as much as caring . . .

except not caring.

Our Daily Bread November 20th, 2013

 

 

 

Christ:

the key to

relationship

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