************ Sermon on Ecclesiastes 4:12b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 3, 2000
"A Strong Marriage"
Topic: FamilyIn view of these observations we can only conclude that America will soon join the ash heap of Greece, Rome, the U.S.S.R., and every other failed empire.
Sociologist and historian Carl Zimmerman, in his 1947 book Family and Civilization, recorded his keen observations as he compared the disintegration of various cultures with the parallel decline of family life in those cultures. Eight specific patterns of domestic behavior typified the downward spiral of each culture Zimmerman studied.
* Marriage loses its sacredness; is frequently broken by divorce.
* Traditional meaning of the marriage ceremony is lost.
* Feminist movements abound.
* Increased public disrespect for parents and authority in general.
* Acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity, and rebellion.
* Refusal of people with traditional marriages to accept family responsibilities.
* Growing desire for and acceptance of adultery.
* Increasing interest in and spread of sexual perversions and sex-related crimes.
This is now my eighth sermon on marriage and the family. What does God say to us today? He tells us today the recipe, the prescription, for a strong marriage and a happy home. I have two points. First, what a strong marriage/home looks like. Second, what makes a strong marriage/home.
I What a Strong Marriage/Home Looks Like
A Psychologists tell us that the need to love and be loved is one of the most basic needs of any person. Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker which says, "Have you hugged your kids today?" Or the one that says, "Have you given someone a hug today?" Grow groups, psychoanalysis, and many recent books, urge people to hug each other, to give and receive physical affection. I understand that at Young People conventions this message is taken to heart. When I spoke at a convention it took me a while to get used to all the hugging.
Having said that, I have to say there are people all around us who are dying, literally dying, to love and be loved. Quite often a child who keeps getting into trouble is crying out for love and attention.
Subtopic: Need For
Title: Dying Children at Orphanage
Perhaps you have heard of the little babies in an orphanage who were mysteriously dying. No one could figure out why. The babies had food, clothing, shelter, beds, medicine, clean diapers, yet they would suddenly turn listless and in a matter of days would die. It turns out the babies were dying because they were not being held, they were not being loved.
Subtopic: Need For
A man and his wife visited an orphanage from where they hoped to adopt a child. In an interview with the boy they wanted, they told him in glowing terms about the many things they could give him. To their amazement, the little fellow said, "if you have nothing to offer except a good home, clothes, toys, and the other things that most kids have -- why -- I would just as soon stay here."
"What on earth could you want besides those things?" the woman asked?
"I just want someone to love me," replied the little boy.
I repeat, all around us there are people who are dying, literally dying, to love and be loved. There are widows who are so very lonely – they miss their husband so much and their friends no longer go out with them because they are no longer a couple. There are many people who live alone – ignored and forgotten by all. There are many elderly parents who rarely see their children or grandchildren. There are many elderly shut away in nursing homes or extended care units of hospitals; their faces light up when they see someone coming because here is someone who will listen to them. In every community there are people who are shunned and rejected by those around them; no words can express their loneliness and bitterness at being treated this way. Even in the church there are those who feel left out, forgotten, ignored.
The author of Ecclesiastes saw loneliness in his world too. He saw oppressed people who had to deal with their oppression without the companionship of comforters (vs 1-3). He saw work that is lonely (vs 4-6) – a man competing with his neighbor and trying to get ahead or keep ahead of that neighbor. He saw a man without the companionship of family (vs 7-8) – a man with neither son nor brother, a man who suddenly realized one day that all his striving was in vain because he was all alone in this world. Finally, he saw an old and lonely king (vs 13-16).
What a miserable business all of this is. How terrible it is to be lonely.
B The solution is easy and simple: companionship, love.
In a strong marriage and family there is much love, much affection, much companionship. Mom and dad love each other, parents and children love each other, and brothers and sisters love each other.
Ecclesiastes tells us that "Two are better than one." It is safe to say that this principle lies behind every friendship and marriage. In marriage, for instance, a man and a woman decide it is better to go through life as a couple that as two separate individuals. But, then, that is the way God created us – to fellowship together. When God looked at Adam all alone in the Garden of Eden, He said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen 2:18). So He created Eve. "Two are better than one."
C Why are two better than one? The Teacher of Ecclesiastes tell us:
(Eccl 4:9) Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work ...And, in Genesis, we hear God saying:
(Gen 2:18) "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." This is two ways of saying the same thing.
What does it mean? Throughout life there are many sorrows, problems, trials, and heartaches that people are confronted with. For instance, you receive a phone call in the middle of the night; your son tells you he is in jail for drugs or your daughter tells you she is in jail for drunk driving. Or, there is an unexpected knock at the door and a policeman tells you there has been an accident and your child or husband or parent has been killed or badly injured. Your son comes home with news that he is gay and expects you to be accepting of his non-Christian lifestyle. Your daughter tearfully tells you she is pregnant. A child leaves the church and the Lord and refuses to listen to any talk about God. A friend advises you that your spouse is unfaithful. The doctor tells you there is something seriously wrong with your baby – something so wrong that modern medicine is powerless to cure. Companionship helps people to surmount these difficulties and obstacles. For instance, a couple helps and encourages each other, strengthens and supports each other, to endure and come through such trials. As Genesis puts it, they are a "helper" for each other. They complement and sustain each other.
The Teacher compares life to a journey. This is appropriate because a husband and wife do covenant to travel life's pathway together. The Teacher offers 3 examples to illustrate the benefits of companionship when traveling. In offering these examples, he is thinking of the travel on foot in the Palestine of his day.
The first example is that of a traveler who falls into a pit or ditch:
(Eccl 4:10) If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!For someone who travels alone, a fall might prove fatal, especially at night. If a leg is broken, if ribs are cracked, the single traveler might be unable to get back on the road and to help. The traveler with a companion, however, has someone to pull him out of the ditch or pit; someone to splint the broken bones or ribs.
In a Christian marriage and family you do not travel through life alone. You have each other. You have each other to look to for help when physical mishaps like disease, accident, and hospitalization occur. We also think of other kinds of mishaps: slips of judgment, wrong behavior, a momentary falling away – family members can help and encourage each other at such times too.
The second example mentioned by the Teacher is that of a traveler facing the cold night:
(Eccl 4:11) Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Don't forget, back then there were no Holiday Inns and no Coleman Campers complete with propane heaters. The traveler usually had to sleep under the stars or in a cave. And the Palestine night, even during the summer, can be very cool. Most travelers found it necessary to sleep close together in order to stay warm and comfortable.
The Teacher is speaking here of companionship in adversity, temptation, or grief. When things are not going well, when a particular sin is being struggled with, when there is the pain of death, there is nothing on this earth like the support and warmth of a family member or companion to see you through.
A third illustration used by the Teacher is taken from the burglar or wayside bandit:
(Eccl 4:12) Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.The single traveler may be overcome by a bandit; safety is found in numbers.
In marriage and the family, once again, family members can strengthen and sustain each other. They can look to each other for support, comfort, and strength. They uphold and defend each other.
D There are so many who neglect and forget to give their marriage partner companionship. Over time they stop doing things together, they stop communicating with each other, they start to drift apart. They lose the joy of companionship they had during dating and the first year or so of marriage. I say to every husband and wife, don't ever forget or neglect your friendship with each other. Remain each other's best friend: share with each other, talk with each other, do things together. Don't ever let a hobby, a profession, recreation, or even church and kingdom work take so much of your time and energies that you start to drift apart.
A number of years ago The Banner contained the touching story of a Mr. and Mrs. Cooper. Because of an illness, Mrs. Cooper spent most of her married life in an iron-lung. Her husband was urged to leave her and find companionship elsewhere. He refused and spent his waking hours being his wife's companion, nursemaid, and friend.
I also think here of my grandfather. During the last 5 years of her life my grandmother was in a hospital because of Alzheimer's. She reverted to her childhood, played with dolls, and no longer remembered who grandpa was. Yet every single day she was in the hospital – for over 5 years – my grandfather was her constant companion: he went to visit her, walked with her, fed her, and attended to her needs.
II What Makes a Marriage/Home Strong
A God's will, God's leading, is that in a strong Christian home and marriage there is much companionship, much love, much affection. Husbands and wives fully realize they have made a life-long commitment to each other regardless of wealth or poverty, health or sickness.
But now we ask, what makes a marriage and home strong? How can our marriage and home become strong?
The Preacher speaks to this at the end of our Scripture reading in our text for this evening:
(Eccl 4:12) A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.The rope-makers of the ancient world discovered that a rope made of a single or a double strand of thread could be broken so easily; however, a rope made of three strands was not so easily broken.
The Teacher does not want to teach us about ropes; rather, he wants to teach us about marriage. A person by him or herself, without companionship, support, and love, is like a cord of one strand – they are not very strong (HOLD UP SINGLE STRAND). Two people who support and love each other, like a rope of two strands, is stronger (HOLD UP DOUBLE STRAND). A three-stranded cord, however, is even stronger (HOLD UP TRIPLE STRAND). In marriage and the family, a three-strand cord is husband and wife and God. This sort of marriage is not easily broken. This sort of marriage can endure the trials of life's journey.
Title: The Only Right Marriage Triangle
A newly married couple were riding on a train on their honeymoon. A silver-haired man leaned across the aisle and asked, "Is there a third person going with you on your honeymoon?" The couple looked at him strangely. Then he added, "When Sarah and I were married, we invited Jesus into our marriage. One of the first things we did in our new home was to kneel and ask Jesus to make our marriage a three-stranded cord--Sarah, myself, and Jesus. And all three of us have been in love with each other for all 50 years of our married life."
I ask you, is your marriage a three-stranded cord (HOLD UP)? If you are getting married, will your marriage be a three-stranded cord? If you want a strong marriage and home, then you have to have Jesus at the center. If Jesus is not at the center of your home life, then don't be surprised if your marriage and family are not able to withstand the trials, agonies, and hardships of life's journey.
B "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." This says something about the kind of spouse we choose for ourselves. In the first church I served as a pastor this one family could not say enough about the young man who had proposed to their daughter and sister: nice, friendly, handsome, good job, polite, gentle. "But is he a Christian?," I asked. You see, it is not good enough if someone is a "nice guy" – no matter how nice they may be. Far more important is whether or not he is a Christian.
Young men and women, what do you look for in a spouse? Good looks, money, manners, breeding, education? What is the most important thing that you want your spouse to have? Let me tell you, if your first priority is not a Christian, a fellow-believer, you are headed down the road with an easily broken two-stranded cord.
C "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (HOD UP). A strong marriage and home has Jesus at the center. What does this mean? Joshua tells us when he says, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Josh 24:15). A house that has Jesus at the center, serves the Lord.
In ending his book, the Preacher says (and I just love his ending),
(Eccl 12:13) Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. A house with Jesus at the center, fears God and keeps His commandments.
Of course, one cannot have Jesus without having His body, the church. So in a three-stranded marriage and family the members worship and fellowship with other believers. Theirs, in other words, is a living relationship with the church.
Finally, a house with Jesus at the center has a family altar, a time of prayer and Bible reading. The husband and wife pray together and study God's Word together.
"Two are better than one." Yes, but three is even better than two because "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (HOLD UP).
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