on community | the Preacher of Ecclesiastes

on community | the Preacher of Ecclesiastes November 3, 2021

The authentic community of the visible church, in all the beauty and forms she displays, is greatly needed now. Now she is greatly longed for. God is using the church to attract postmodern seekers, digital natives, and the rest of us once again.

Ecclesiastes 4.7-12 (KVJ, The Message) CLICK HERE

Previous articles in this series can be found in the category The Writings CLICK HERE

i. the person has no other

Koheleth (literally Preacher, most often thought to be King Solomon) relates a story about the vanity of isolation. There are various ways to translate this vignette, but the thoughtful paraphrase of Eugene Peterson captures the essence well.

I turned my head and saw yet another wisp of smoke on its way to nothingness: a solitary person, completely alone – no children, no family, no friends – yet working obsessively late into the night, compulsively greedy for more and more, never bothering to ask, “Why am I working like a dog, never having any fun? And who cares?” More smoke. A bad business. Ecclesiastes 4.7-8, The Message (MSG)

As Peterson describes this solitary figure, he relays the intent of the original language. The person is not identified as being alone. The identifying mark is the person has no other, no one else. Back then, it also means there is no heir to inherit all this solitary person gains.

ii. proof something greater exists

Seemingly in this age where terms like online community abound, it is ironic. How many people have no one walking alongside of them in real-time? Ever concerned about online “Reach,” yet experiencing shallow relationships.

How many online “Friends” do I need?… About 1,800 on Facebook… Seriously, 1,200 on Instagram… Hovering at around 180 on Twitter, if tweeting is still important… All absolutely necessary, right? Doubtless!

Persistent deep questions keep cropping up though. Everyone wonders things like, With all of these “Friends” why do I lack real relationships? Realistically, why do I desire to reconnect with the outside world? Feelings are more shallow than desires, so why do I desire something greater?

Every good student of C.S. Lewis may have a reply. C.S. Lewis is known to have said things like, “Your desire for something greater is the very proof something greater exists.” The Lewis student would be right on multiple levels.

The very natural excitement of community drives us into online venues, yet technically we remain in isolation because the digital world cannot replace community.

Ironically, real-time community can be, and often is, far greater than the digital world.

JVI | the coffee shop | Traverse City | 10.03.19

Moreover, as we emerge from this global crisis we have all been facing, it may become unmistakably obvious we need to connect again.

I believe the authentic community of the visible church, in all the beauty and forms she displays, is greatly needed now. Now she is greatly longed for. God is using the church to attract postmodern seekers, digital natives, and the rest of us once again.

iii. man’s vitality in connection with others

Without anyone to connect with, the person turns all of his/her focus and energy toward work. He is, “compulsively greedy for more and more,” or, “neither is his eye satisfied with riches” (Eccl 4.8, MSG, KJV).

“The eye is used to express knowledge, character, attitude, inclination, opinion, passion, and response. The eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of man.” (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, Moody Press, p. 1068)

The eye is not only the receiver of outward visions, but the instrument for searching for what one is craving internally.

The solitary man does not stop to question “why” or “who cares” (Eccl 4.8, MSG). These questions do not, but should arise from the “soul” (KJV). The soul is the term nephesh, and is often used in reference to a person’s inner man.

In Hebrew thought, the inner man is connected with all of life. Soul is man’s vitality in connection with others, community, and the world around him. The idea is very holistic. So Koheleth says this person is chasing riches and has isolated himself from the very essence of life, connection, and wholeness, without stopping to question it all.

What would Koheleth say about our career-driven, materialistic, consumer-based society?

This is also vanity.

iv. effects of synergy in community

Synergy, perhaps an overused business term, describes people working together in community to do more than they are capable of doing on their own. It is really a principle of the multiplication of effort and production, rather than just addition.

In stark contrast to isolation, Koheleth describes the synergy of two working well together. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour” (Eccl 4.9).  W.J. Deane reframes this thought:

“The joint labours of two produce much more effect than the efforts of a solitary worker. Companionship is helpful and profitable.” (“Ecclesiastes,” The Pulpit Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, vol. 9, ed. H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Wm. B. Eerdmans, p. 89)

Koheleth then offers some concrete examples of synergy. If one falls, as in battle, the other can lift him up or help him to take a stand again (Eccl 4.10). However, if one is alone, specifically without anyone else, then he is in trouble.

If two lie together, then there is heat, but one cannot be warm without another, especially in the fairly cold winter nights in those days and region (Eccl 4.11).

Koheleth is using military language about the synergy of an army working together in multiple ways to advance. In effect with synergy, the objective achieved is greater than the sum of the parts (individual contributions).

v. power in unity

This thought from Koheleth has Theological implications.

And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Eccl 4.12, NASB)

Again, military language provides the backdrop for relaying this truth. This may be an idiom, a saying of the time period, expressing strength.

“The cord of three strands was the strongest made. The number three is used as the symbol of completeness and perfection” (W.J. Deane, p. 90). Three is significant in the Old Testament as the smallest complete cycle, and is a number frequently found in Scripture as the smallest number of finality.

There are a couple ways this thought foreshadows truths made clear in the New Testament.

First of all, where there are two together in battle, they fight as if a third is with them. Scripture makes it clear, where two walk together in the name of Christ, He is with them.

Secondly, the very idea of the completeness and finality of three ultimately points to the unity of the Trinity. It is not uncommon for revealed truths in the Old Testament to be a type or shadow of greater truths revealed in the New Testament.

What are some Scriptures pointing to the unity of two or three?

Can you recall some New Testament stories where God shows up for just two or three believers?

vi. one takeaway

Literature in the ancient Near East (aNE), including The Writings of the Hebrews, does not often raise us to the lofty heights of abstract philosophy.

Instead, The Writings, aNE philosophy, and even early Classic Greek Philosophy, often produce Virtue Lists for practical living, guides for socio-political relations, Household Codes, etc.

In the same way today, Christian wisdom literature abounds offering ways for us to open the doors and be a welcoming community, as well as ways we can actively engage with our region.

We may have to participate in a little deconstructionism (with wise mentorship) before we build up what God is calling our community to become in this era. However, if people are isolated not by their own choice, but because we are failing to find ways to reach them, then perhaps we should look a little closer at the words of Koheleth in this Scripture… and heed the Preacher.

Previous articles in this series are in the category The Writings CLICK HERE

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