A Cord of Three Strands

“If one will overpower him, one against two will stand; a three-stranded rope is not quickly broken.”

(Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Solomon continues his reflections regarding times of danger. Here, he imagines one walking along the way alone — perhaps on a deserted road in the wilderness or at night on the dark streets of Jerusalem — and the one walking along his way is attacked by a robber. Solomon’s conclusion is that if you are alone and a robber attacks, you may still be overpowered, but if you have a friend traveling with you, the chances of one robber overpowering two travelers is greatly reduced. The practical principle is that there is safety in numbers, a principle that is just as relevant today as it was in the ancient times.

As Christians, the final section, regarding a cord of three strands is often taken to speak of marriage: Husband, Wife, and Holy Spirit joining them as one flesh. The Rabbi’s tend to take this phrase as a reference to three generations in a family…noting that, for example, if a man was a Torah scholar as was his son and his grandson, there will be a long succession of Torah scholars in the family (what a wonderful thing!). However you apply this text, the simplest meaning ties back in with verse 9…if two are better than one, then three are better than two. It is the principle of being joined together into a community that functions and acts like a community.

One of the challenges in America is that we are driven by individualism. And, sometimes that can be a very remarkable thing…but usually the individualism is a bit of a farce. For example, the United States Army had the slogan, “Army of One,” for a short while before it was replaced by “Be All You Can Be.” The problem with the whole Army of one is simply that for every soldier on the battlefield, there are 7 or more support soldiers working in the background to support the soldier who is doing the fighting. We sometimes think of those rugged Pioneers who tamed the west, but again, every Pioneer brought with him a wife and children which worked side by side at the task of survival. And while there have always been innovators and brilliant people who changed the way the world sees technology and commerce, each one of these people had a team that worked behind him (or her) to implement the vision put forth.

While churches are often driven by the vision of the Pastor and the church leadership and most of the implementation takes place through the hands of a small group of “core” people, it still takes the whole body for the church to function. There must be people who support and pray for those “on the front lines.” There are finances that are shared by each family as the Lord so moves them. There are smaller jobs and tasks that are done, often behind the scenes, by people who contribute their efforts to fix broken toilets, weed the flowerbeds, or just to have a friendly conversation with someone who visits church on a given Sunday morning. If two are better than one and three better than two…a whole church body (regardless of whether that is 10,20,50,100, 200, or more) committed to the aim of “being the church” is best yet.

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