Written by Paul J Bucknell on January, 03, 2019
Ecclesiastes 4:9 The Meaning of “Two Better Than One”
The Meaning of Ecclesiastes 4:9
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”
Look carefully at what Ecclesiastics 4:9 is saying. We should caution ourselves from making a quick interpretation of the verse. The three following ‘if’ clauses clarify that Solomon is not simply stating that having two of something is better than having one, like two hundred dollars are better than one hundred, or two televisions are better than one. He had hundreds of concubines, many stables with the best horses, many wives, lots of pieces of gold. He is not speaking of the volume of possessions or even the number of people he had around him. He had all of these. In the midst of his pursuits, he found that he did not have quality relationships with those around him. This is what he missed despite the many projects he completed.
- Two are better than one
The ‘two’ speaks not just of a couple such as a married couple but of a relationship between individuals. Two is the minimum number needed for this relationship, and so it is used to describe what Solomon is speaking of. Solomon, essentially, was denouncing the value of getting what he wanted in life while disregarding those around him. He pursued his life rather than God’s will. No doubt, he like many of us would have said, that his life goals were God’s will. I would like to suggest that when said with a hidden independent spirit, then it no longer can truly be God’s goal.
This does not mean that it might not be a special burden or vision that God has given to us. Each person has a special task that God has for him or her alone, but the question is whether the individual might compromise God’s ways to get what they think God wanted. Abraham had a worthy goal of being a great father for God, but his reliance on his own resources made his sexual intimacy with Hagar twisted and not in conformity to God’s will. Can’t people do things in unloving ways to get a ‘worthy’ task accomplished? It happens all the time.
- Team Work
The world tries to take advantage of this concept by developing teams. They see value in it. That is because it is truth taught in the Word of God that, “Two are better than one.” When anyone utilizes this truth, they will be blessed. Let me ask you, what is the difference between a team and a group of people? They might both have the same amount of people, but they are very different. Solomon is speaking of a synergy of spirit that happens when people are living with the same common purpose. The word ‘synergy’ is made up of two Greek words meaning “work together.” They are not living in that context for themselves but for the good of the whole.
Of course, just stating that a group is a team helps but does not in itself create a good working team. Each individual needs to be committed to the joint task, but also to that of working with and valuing the contributions of others. Sometimes the pull of success helps people overcome their selfish goals, but the real attitude needed to fuel a team is Christ’s Spirit. The divine Godhead is the greatest team. God has brought this team concept, the synergy of spirit, into two particular institutions foundational for human civilization: marriage and the church.
#1 Husband and Wife
Behind the family concept, is the “two are one” concept of marriage. The husband and wife are two distinct people with their own wills and desires, but in marriage, a special synergy takes place that creates more than what they would each have by themselves. Jesus said, “The two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mark 10:8). The question is whether the couple lives as one. Allow me to ask a few questions on husband and wife relationships.
Great marriages trust in God’s plan. A married couple’s faith helps them look beyond their spouse’s problem and increasingly toward God’s greater work. A strong marriage is largely built on this truth and the mutual commitment to carry it out.
- How important is your wife’s perspective on things?
- Do you share your plans with your wife? If not, why?
- Do you, as a husband, understand that God often tries to help you through your wife?
- Do you, as a wife, submit yourself to your husband? Why or why not?
#2 The Church
Behind the church concept, we have a “many are one” concept. We believe that more good can come from many working interdependently rather than a number of uncoordinated and uncommitted individuals. Taskmasters get this done by authority and threat. How else was the Great Wall built? But the church is dependent on volunteers. Each person must be convinced of their part in the whole, or the church will be weak. When this perspective of God’s truth becomes established in our lives, then the church is strong. Members sincerely care about others. If church leaders do not have this concept well embedded in their soul, then despite all the team talk, they will selfishly act independently and hurt each other.
Did you ever realize that this synergistic spirit was behind the way Jesus raised up a team? He knew more could be done with them than without them. Forgiving faults and learning to value differences would all become something that needed to be endured so that the great love and power of God would be manifest. The same is true of the church. At the foundation of great leadership training is the concept that others have an important contribution to make. We might not know how, but we trust God to maintain that relationship and continue on in hope. Look at the Word of God.
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Notice how Paul spoke to the church when they were getting a bit divisive. They together form the temple of God. Each of us is like a living stone. God chose to dwell in His people as one. If we hurt any, then we are defiling the whole temple of God where God dwells. The way something is done is as at least as important as to what is being done. My attitude toward my boss is more important than just working on that project for him. The project, in the end, will be gone. Nobody will remember it. He might not remember it. You might not remember it. But whether you loved and respected that boss at that given moment becomes an eternal matter. Two are better than one. When we work together for a common cause, valuing and treasuring those close to us, then what we do will flourish. We have talked about the first truth from this verse, but there is another that we have already alluded to: it is the blessing.
Solomon says that when two or more work together for a common purpose that they will have a good return for their labor. I do not know if he is suggesting instant success here, but he is saying in a general way, that things work out much better if you do it by observing God’s mysterious way. Just as in a marriage, fruit comes from working closely together whether it is in the family or in the church. Let me give you an example of this.
- Good Return
One brother was involved in a startup company. As the CEO, he has invested a lot in the company and employed a number of people. When the startup was in a very shaky state financially, he realized that there was not enough money for everybody’s salary. Now as the CEO, he should get the first pickings, but he decided he would lead as a servant-leader. He didn’t use this word, but this is what he did. He gave others their salary but did not take one himself. This went against what he liked, but he chose to live for all rather than live for self. He humbled himself and by doing so prospered the others. He could have just fired one or two employees or lessened their salary. Instead, he chose to sacrifice his own. What was he doing? He valued the livelihood of the others more than his own. The Lord then used this fiscally tight time to reveal His love through this CEO and test and train the CEO. He later told me, about six months later, that God turned things around and things prospered.
Here is a man who is trying to practice his faith in real life. Does God care about startups? Yes and no. Is He concerned with how the people in the startup work together? He sure is! It is the same as other areas of our lives. Each becomes a setting for a person’s choices. This CEO made his choices. He will, like us, have many more choices in the future to affirm this truth. We can be confident that it is always better to care about others than simply trying to get what one can from life. Something better will happen. A greater reward will come from hard work. This verse becomes a promise to inspire hope and encourage us to make the right decisions in life.
I have made some decisions as a worker and father. Let me share one. I take time aside each day to train my children in God’s ways. We have worship time each day. I could easily say that the more I work, the better the results will be, but I have allowed other values like training up my children in the Lord to shape my thinking. I am unwilling to compromise on this one thing in order to secure work hours. My pursuit of excellent service is shaped by concern for those around me. When I value those around me, I pay attention to them as God desires. This truth, then, shapes the way I do something. When I am faithful, I trust God to prosper me in each endeavor. I need not fear. Somehow a greater return will come from each situation; even if it takes a miracle.
A number of people in the last few months have commented on how much quality material has been produced at BFF. I don’t know how it happened either. When you do things God’s way, he brings about a good return. We can trust Him even if we do not see it right away.
If we value those around us, their welfare becomes an important end goal. We must be willing to make sacrifices in our great life pursuits; for our spouse, for our children, and for others. It might look like a foolish decision at first, but in the end, we learn to put our faith in God that it will turn out for the better. We can allow for the close cooperation of others because we believe there is a greater good that can come out of it. A Christian must live by faith in God’s promises.