Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
This passage highlights a truth that is so important and often neglected by members of Christ’s body: we are better together than apart. Regardless of the imagery used to describe the Church in the New Testament, a body, a temple, a bride; all of them illustrate the importance of the individual part belonging to a larger, collective whole. Just as the bride is not complete without the bridegroom, the member is not complete without the other complementary parts of the body, nor does one “living stone” alone comprise a temple. We are all part, but none of us is the whole.
God has made the members of the body dependent upon one another, and regardless of the excuses believers might make for their non-participation in the house of God, it amounts to disobedience to the plain truth of scripture, a wanting of concern for those into whose lives we should be investing, and a false sense of one’s own completeness apart from the body. The fact is, we are better together than apart, and we simply cannot do what God has called us to do by ourselves.
I believe there are several things that being a part of the community of believers does for us that are established in scripture. Here are just a few:
It gives us support and strength. The text we quoted from Ecclesiastes beautifully illustrates this. Regardless of our bravado, we all have times in life where we need a friend. The local church as a community of believers supplies that support with those who understand your priorities and values and can be there to lend aid when times are tough. If you have no one to lift you up, you may end up staying down far longer than was necessary.
It keeps our personal role in perspective. It can be easy to get into the rut of taking ourselves way too seriously, like Elijah did when He tried to tell the Lord that he and he alone was left in the entire nation in regard to his devotion to the One true God. In 1 Kings 19:18 God deflated his balloon a little by letting him know he was just one among seven thousand still faithful to Jehovah. While it might stroke our ego to think we’re the only one doing anything for God, it’s simply not true, and it can lead to us putting unrealistic pressure upon ourselves. In reality, it is a relief to realize that while we might not see the results we’d like on any given Sunday, we’re not the only ones out there serving God. When God spoke this word of encouragement to Elijah, it was set in the particular context of God’s new commissioning on his life.
“Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.'”
(1 Kings 19:15-18)
In much the same way, we need to realize that if we are unable to get the job done on our watch, there are others who will come after us who may be able to finish what we began, or those serving beside us who may be gifted to do what we are not. Either way, it’s a win for the Kingdom when we realize we are not alone in this and that there are others positioned to catch what we might think has fallen through the cracks.
It keeps us humble. The apostle Paul warned us, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). We are all uniquely gifted by God, but none of us is gifted to do it all. Similar to the point we made above about keeping things in perspective, it is also vital to realize that regardless of our gifts, we are merely one link in a more comprehensive chain. The context in which Paul is speaking is in regard to the gifts of grace we are given to serve Him. The grace or ability God has given us is limited to the gift or gifts He has bestowed. Wherever there is grace, there is a measure of faith or confidence we have to walk in that calling. There are some things I KNOW I can do. That is not a boast. Rather, it is confidence in the calling and grace God has placed upon my life. However, I am also keenly aware of my deficiencies, which makes me all the more grateful for those with gifts that complement mine in the work of the ministry. Again, none of us are an end in ourselves.
It keeps us selfless. As members of a local body we are called upon to realize that we are “members of one another” (Romans 12:5), a community called to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) toward one another, and invest our spiritual gifts into one another’s lives (1 Peter 4:10-11), to the end that the body as a whole body comes into maturity and fulfills its corporate function (Ephesians 4:15-16). Being a part of a local church is not about simply finding the church that best suits our needs, but which provides an environment where we can invest into the lives of others. Even in the famous passage most often quoted about maintaining the fellowship of believers, the focus is not on ourselves but on what we can do for others.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I’ve often said in one way or another, “In all my years of ministry, I never saw any believer who avoided the house of God because they thought that by doing so they could better edify their brother!” In fact, their brother was the last thing on their mind. The writer of Proverbs 18:1 makes this clear when he writes, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.” The Message Bible paraphrases this, “Loners who care only for themselves spit on the common good.” We are called by God to use what He’s given us to contribute to the mission of the Church; to become disciples and make disciples.
It keeps us growing. While we’re investing into the lives of others with the truth we know and the gifts God has given us, others are doing the same for us through our connection with the local church. Not only do we profit from the Word ministered to us on a weekly basis by an anointed Shepherd whom God has given to feed and nourish our spirit, but we have the relationships with others in the body who are striving alongside of us to fulfill God’s purpose. In my life it has often been the personal relationships I have developed with other believers that has provided the answer, the encouragement, or the direction I needed from God. He speaks to us, ministers strength and correction to us, and demonstrates His love to us through His Church.
There are more benefits than these our connection with a local church provides, but one should need no more evidence as to the importance which God places on the Church in general and the local church in particular. My heart hurts when I see believers struggling alone when I know God has provided an enormous resource for them that they are overlooking. The truth is, we can continue to pray for answers, but until we are taking advantage of what God has already provided, there is little reason for Him to give us more. Purpose to be a doer of the Word and become a part of a local church family. One of my favorite verses along this line is in Psalm 68:6, which says, “God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” I don’t want to see any believer lonely or feeling disenfranchised. God has provided a home for you. To you, the lonely believer, we say, “Welcome home.”