Calvary Road Baptist Church

“FRIENDS”

Ecclesiastes 4.7-12

 

Turn in your Bible to Ecclesiastes 4.7-12. When you find that passage, stand, and read along with me:

 

7      Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.

8      There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.

9      Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

10     For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

11     Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

12     And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

 

Before we examine our text, let me introduce you to this book of Ecclesiastes by reading comments made by some notable men your have heard of in the past:

 

Charles Spurgeon, in Spurgeon’s Devotional Commentary, writes:

 

In the book of Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher, Solomon has left us his own biography, the progress of a seeker after pleasure, the history of Solomon the prodigal, written by Solomon the preacher. . . . it has well been styled the saddest book in all the Bible.[1]

 

Matthew Henry writes:

 

We are still among Solomon’s happy men, his happy servants, that stood continually before him to hear his wisdom; and they are the choicest of all the dictates of his wisdom, such as were more immediately given by divine inspiration, that are here transmitted to us, not to be heard, as by them, but once, and then liable to be mistaken or forgotten, and by repetition to lose their beauty, but to be read, reviewed, revolved, and had in everlasting remembrance. The account we have of Solomon’s apostasy from God, in the latter end of his reign (1Ki 11:1), is the tragical part of his story; we may suppose that he spoke his Proverbs in the prime of his time, while he kept his integrity, but delivered his Ecclesiastes when he had grown old (for of the burdens and decays of age he speaks feelingly Ec 12:1-14), and was, by the grace of God, recovered from his backslidings. There he dictated his observations; here he wrote his own experiences; this is what days speak, and wisdom which the multitude of years teaches.[2]

 

John Gill writes:

 

The general scope and design of it is to expose the vanity of all worldly enjoyments; to show that a man’s happiness does not lie in natural wisdom and knowledge; nor in worldly wealth; nor in civil honour, power, and authority; nor in the mere externals of religion; but in the fear of God, and the worship of him. It encourages men to a free use of the good things of life in a moderate way, with thankfulness to God; to submit with cheerfulness to adverse dispensations of Providence; to fear God and honour the king; to be dutiful to civil magistrates, and kind to the poor; to expect a future state, and an awful judgment; with many other useful things.[3]

 

So, in this book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is a very old man who is looking at life’s experiences apart from God, as evidenced by the recurring phrase “under the sun.” His conclusion is that life is utterly meaningless apart from God, which is why he makes frequent use of the word “vanity,” referring to emptiness and meaninglessness.

No wonder Spurgeon referred to Ecclesiastes as the saddest book in the Bible. How would you like to end up your life and have to look back on what turned out to be an existence of utter meaninglessness? Yet that is exactly the kind of life most people live, is it not?

Focusing on our text for this evening, Ecclesiastes 4.7-12, Solomon zeroes in on one of the many instances of vanity in this world. He observed that frequently the more men have in life the more they want to have, concentrating so much on acquiring more that they enjoy very little of what they presently have.

Do you know anyone like that? A man or woman who is lonely and isolated, but who works and works and works to make more and more and more money, but possessing no capacity to enjoy the life he presently has?

Consider what Solomon, after being caught up in much of that himself, had to say about ravenous accumulation of stuff and some of the trappings that go with such a life:

 

First, SOLOMON SHOWS THAT SELFISHNESS IS THE CAUSE OF THIS EVIL

 

7      Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.

8      There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.

 

Understand that there is nothing at all wrong with being unmarried, or being without siblings or children. As well, it is entirely possible that Solomon had in mind a man who is married, but who is nevertheless all but alone in his life. There are many, many couples who might as well live in complete isolation, for all the good their marriage does to satisfy their social and emotional needs. So, Solomon is considering the virtual reality of a selfish person, who is alone in effect if not in actuality. The problem has to do with how a person is this way.

Consider that he may very well be a slave to his job. Though he really has no expenses or obligations, with no dependents to take care of that he really and truly cares about, he works and works and works and works. If he is single, it may very well be that the reason he is not married is his fear of the expenses of marriage, and not any other reason. Oh, I am sure he plans to marry someday, and perhaps he will marry some day, but we are looking at right now. Whether he is stuck in a marriage rut with a wife he has no love for, or whether he is actually alone, people observe that he is at it night and day. He seems to barely rest. In addition, if he runs a company, or occupies a management position, he only grudgingly allows those who work for him to rest.

He never thinks he has enough. He always wants more. It is not that he doesn’t really have enough, since he has enough for clothes on his back, for food for his belly, for his family (as I said, he may actually have a family, though he is really alone in a house full of people), and he has enough for a decent living. He just doesn’t have enough to satisfy his eyes.

You see, he denies himself the comfort of what he has. He denies any good for his own soul. If our souls are being denied any good, it is we ourselves that do the denying. Others may deny us outward good things, but they cannot rob us of grace and comforts to the soul. They cannot deny us our spiritual blessings. It is our own fault if we do not enjoy ourselves.

Many are so geared to the world, to the accumulation of stuff, that they deny their souls the good that can be gotten here, which ends up denying their souls good forever. They deny themselves the blessings of God in eternity, as well as the blessings of God in the here and now. A man simply has no excuse for behaving this way. He has neither children nor siblings, or anyone else he is bound to, really no one he has a kind disposition for, and no one’s benefit to look out for.

The sad thing about this fellow is that he is blind to the futility of his style of life and manner of existence. He never asks himself, “Why am I working so hard? Am I accumulating stuff for the glory of God, as I should, or am I gathering together what someone else will scatter as soon as I die?”

My friend, you need to consider who and what you are working for, who and what you are accumulating for. If you give no thought to such things, then it really is just vanity and emptiness in the end.

 

Next, SOLOMON SHOWS US THAT SOCIABLENESS IS THE CURE FOR THIS EVIL

 

People really become nasty when their entire focus is on themselves. What Solomon illustrates is what we read in Genesis 2.18, that it is not good for the man to be alone. What he is advocating in our text is friendship, something many these days studiously avoid, because of the financial and emotional expenses associated with having friends. However, friends are well worth the associated costs, and if Adam could not be happy in the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden without companionship, what makes you think you can thrive without the companionship of friends?

Solomon lays it down for a truth in verse 9, that two are better than one. Friends are generally happier together than the same two people are when they are separated. They are more pleased in one another than they could be in themselves only. They are also more likely to be more useful to others with each other than they are by themselves. Solomon infers that there is a trap associated with being isolated and without friends. It is bad for the one who is too much alone. His isolation exposes him to far more temptations than would be the case if he had the companionship of good friends. The monastic life of a hermit finds no warrant in scripture, is promised no advantage in the pursuit of godliness, and it should not be thought that someone who cannot find love in his heart for others will be especially able when he is alone to love God.

Solomon shows that two are better than one, that it is good to have a friend, by providing some examples: Verse 10 addresses the issue of emergency relief: “For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” It is good for two to travel together. If one happens to fall, and is not able to recover by himself, a friend will be ready to help him. But someone who travels alone and falls (whether it be a journey or through life), may face tragedy for lack of a little help. If a man falls into sin, his friend will help to restore him with the spirit of meekness. And if a man falls into trouble, his friend will help to comfort him and get him through his discouragement.

Verse 11 addresses the issue of mutual warmth: “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?” As a fellow traveller is useful when there is an accident or other misfortune, so is a friend when you are exposed to the elements in adverse weather. Two people huddled together can save each other from freezing to death. As well, in the realm of emotions, good companionship can stave off discouragement and despondency. The spiritual advantages of friendship are too obvious to need illustration.

Verse 12 addresses the issue of united strength: “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him.” If an enemy finds a man alone, he is much more likely to prevail against him. A man by himself finds defense far more difficult than when there is a friend to help you withstand an attack. In Second Samuel 10.11, Joab and Abishai recognized the benefit of friendship: “And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee.” The result was that both were conquerors, whereas without that friendship they might both have been defeated.

Solomon concludes with this little proverb at the end of verse 12: “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” If two friends increase strength, then three friends are even better. Who would doubt this? It is advice that is simply too practical and irrefutable to be contested.

So you see, without resorting to spiritual considerations, Solomon shows the emptiness of living an isolated and lonely life in such a way that even an atheist could not deny it.

A man who keeps to himself just naturally tends toward selfishness, with all his efforts and his array of accumulations being utterly without meaning.

But with friends there is much improvement. Foolish ideas are not as likely to be acted out when you talk things out with friends. When you travel through life and get in a bind a friend is always helpful. And when things suddenly and unexpectedly turn cold or dangerous, a friend provides warmth for your soul or strength for the battle, whatever the need may be.

In short, who can deny the benefits of friendship? If that be true, who can deny the importance of being a friend, as well as having a friend?

 

SERMON:

 

Some people think they can love God without loving people. But if the first commandment is the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, keep in mind that the second command has to do with loving your neighbor as yourself.[4]

Isolationism, the refusal to interact with others except in the most superficial way, is not beneficial to anyone. It does not help the child of God, the cause of Christ, or the lost.

In an article I was reading the other day, the author related a comment Mark Dever, the pastor of the Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., recently told his church:

 

‘If you don’t have friends in the church, you deprive us pastors of some of our best tools for reaching out to you, especially when you’re hurt or beginning to stray.’ Many talk about ‘community’ and ‘koinonia.’ But what do these consist of, if not God-established, Christ-focused, Spirit-empowered friendships?

 

He went on to add,

 

Friendship is one of the primary means of grace the Lord uses to keep church members growing in grace and bound to one another— the sinews between muscles. Friendship helps church members to fight sin, disciple younger Christians, and spur one another on to love and good deeds. After all, friendship is a bond of mutual affection, trust, and commitment; and two individuals will most quickly influence one another within the context of such affection and trust. It’s a basic fact of human nature, I believe, that we more quickly believe and follow individuals whom we know love us and are committed to us. Likewise, we’ll take greater care in encouraging those whom we love. That’s what friendship affords.[5]

 

I don’t think anyone here this evening would deny the benefits that friendship should play in a person’s life. But perhaps you have not enjoyed the kind of friendships that we see in the Bible, such as the friendship that existed between Naomi and Ruth, and the greatest friendship of all time, between David and Jonathan.

Maybe you once had a good friendship that came to an end, such as the friendship between Paul and Barnabas. The breakup of that friendship was no doubt as painful and tragic as it was unnecessary.

To get a better grip on some of the factors that are important to a good friendship, let me relate four of the numerous ingredients that make for a good friendship:

 

First, THERE MUST BE A LIKING FOR YOUR FRIEND

 

When I refer to liking your friend, I am not suggesting that you enjoy his every deed and habit. To be sure, there will always be things that a friend says and does that you do not like, do not approve of, and perhaps object to.

But friendship is not necessarily about approving of everything in your friend’s life. Therefore, you don’t need to like everything he says, everything he does, or every opinion he holds. Liking a friend means you appreciate certain aspects of him. It means you can get along with him and speak the same language. You can pass time together.

Liking someone can occur rather quickly. You can like someone from the first time you see him, from your first impression of him, or from the first handshake or first conversation. Very little is invested in liking someone, so it is no great investment to like someone, it is not dangerous to like someone, and there is certainly no initial commitment when you form the opinion that you like someone.

But for the friendship to thrive, for it to grow and develop, another factor must come into play.

 

Next, THERE MUST BE LOVE FOR YOUR FRIEND

 

I am obviously not referring to romantic inclinations. That is why I do everything I can to persuade young women that guys cannot be friends of girls. Why not? Because most normal young men start having romantic thoughts about just about every girl they meet who they like. That is not love, but lust for someone of the opposite sex.

When I speak of love, I am referring to love in the Biblical sense, to a decision to provide for that other person’s needs to one degree or another. What does love seek to provide for a friend? It depends, of course, upon what he needs.

Love provides companionship. Friends spend time with each other, not only because they like each other, but because at some level each one knows the other actually needs that time with his friend. Are there other factors associated with friendship? To be sure.

A Christian friend not only provides companionship to his friend, but he also prayerfully seeks to bring his friend under the sound of the gospel, because he knows that his friend’s greatest and most profound need is one no ordinary friend can meet, the need to be reconciled to God, the need to get your sins against God forgiven.

How can you be a real friend, as a Christian, and not pray for and seek the conversion to Christ of your friend? I don’t think it is possible. Proverbs 17.17 begins, “A friend loveth . . . .” How can you love someone, who you also like, and let him go to Hell without comment? I don’t think you can.

 

Third, THERE MUST BE LEADERSHIP FOR YOUR FRIEND

 

Psychologists tell us that women tend to establish peer to peer relationships, while men find such arrangements almost impossible. To put it another way, women who are friends with women have friendships in which both friends are equals and the one is not always trying to persuade the other to submit. One of the reasons why girls cannot have regular friendships with boys the way they do with girls is that boys, unless they are effeminate boys with few masculine personality characteristics, are always trying to get their friends to submit to them. And when a boy succeeds in persuading a girl to submit to his will, there is trouble brewing. Thus, when you are the friend of a guy, someone has to be in charge. Someone has to lead. Absolute equality in men’s friendships is not possible, and sometimes men’s friendships do not last because the struggle for assertion of leadership by one is not accepted by the other.

Consider the friendship that existed with Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus. Barnabas was a wonderfully godly man, who stuck up for Saul of Tarsus when he was converted, even when other Christians continued to fear the man who had been their persecutor and worst enemy.[6] As well, when the Apostles sent Barnabas to organize the Christians in Antioch into a church, Barnabas recruited Saul to help him in the ministry.[7] Then came the time that the two were called to another type of ministry, to start churches and to strengthen the saints.[8] As they traveled, it was obvious that initially Barnabas was the leader of the group, with Saul being one of his co-laborers.[9] However, at some point in their service to God it became obvious that the leadership responsibility had changed. Beginning with Acts 13.13, the Spirit of God inspired Luke to refer to the missionary team as “Paul and his party” instead of “Barnabas and Paul.” From then on, until their tragic breakup as friends, they were almost always referred to as “Paul and Barnabas.”[10]

The reason I mention the friendship of Paul and Barnabas is because they were two of the most spiritual and godly men who have ever lived, yet their friendship was very obviously comprised of one who led the other in certain respects. Initially it was Barnabas who led Saul (who later became known as Paul). Then, as his Apostolic calling became more prominent, Paul led Barnabas.

Sometimes friendships are complex, with one friend being the leader in certain aspects of the friendship and the other leading in other aspects. But particularly with men, it is wise to recognize that there will always be a leader among them. With respect to spiritual issues, when one friend is a Christian and the other is not, the Christian must always step up and provide spiritual leadership when it is appropriate.

 

Finally, THERE MUST BE LOYALTY FOR YOUR FRIEND

 

Friendships get stressed. There are times when temptations arise that threaten the friendship, like the time King Saul became envious of David and tried to kill him. Jonathan discerned that God’s hand was upon David, and he remained loyal to David until his death, even in the face of his own father’s opposition. In the case of Paul and Barnabas, the friendship ended because Barnabas was disloyal. They had taken his nephew, John Mark, on a mission. But John Mark wimped out and ran back to mommy.[11] When they were planning their next mission Barnabas wanted to take his nephew with them. Paul refused, owing to the fact that John Mark had already shown himself unfaithful for such an important task. Thus, Paul and Barnabas parted company and never served God together again.[12]

What happened? It is clear to me that the church at Antioch, which recommended him and the man he chose to replace Barnabas for the upcoming mission, sided with Paul in this dispute.[13] No such commendation of Barnabas by the church is found. When a decision was needed, and when Paul exercised appropriate leadership, Barnabas was torn between showing loyalty to Paul and showing loyalty to a family member. Being loyal to John Mark, he was disloyal to Paul.

My friends, what usually wrecks friendships is an act of disloyalty. Depending on what happens, it is either a friend actually being disloyal, or a friend being properly loyal (but that loyalty is thought to be disloyalty by the friend who is in the wrong).

 

Though we have only skimmed the surface of friendships this evening, we can see that friendships are important. It is generally better to have a friend than to be alone, though there are times God calls for His child to sometimes stand alone. And friendships are relationships with obligations and responsibilities. You should like your friend, you should love your friend, you should lead or be led by your friend, and you should be loyal (so long as your friend’s conduct enables you to be loyal without sinning).

Are you a friend? If you have no friend, it is because you are not a friend. Decide to be a friend.



[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon Devotional Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[3] John Gill, The Collected Writings of John Gill - Version 2.0, (Paris, AK: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2000-2003)

[4] Matthew 22.39

[5] Editor Jonathan Leeman’s comments in the January 2007 issue of 9News, ©9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888)

1 543-1030.

[6] Acts 9.27

[7] Acts 11.25-26

[8] Acts 13.1

[9] Notice the order of names in Acts 11.30, 12.25, 13.1, 2 and 7 is always Barnabas and Saul.

[10] Acts 13.43, 46, 50, 15.2, and 22

[11] Acts 13.13

[12] Acts 15.36-39

[13] Acts 15.40

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org