The Benefits of Gathering - Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
In 2001, the father of Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, passed away of cancer. And during his father’s battle with cancer, Bono wrote a song which he titled, “Tough” which is how he always saw of dad – strong and self-reliant. Bono wrote,
“Tough, you think you've got the stuff
You're telling me and anyone / You're hard enough
You don't have to put up a fight / You don't have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches / For you tonight
Listen to me now / I need to let you know / You don't have to go it alone.”
A few years would pass before the song was finished and recorded. During that time, Bono added this chorus: “And it's you when I look in the mirror / And it's you when I don't pick up the phone. Sometimes you can't make it on your own.” That last sentence would be the song’s final title, and it speaks to what we all know to be true: We naturally think that we are sufficient in and of ourselves and we don’t need others. But we do need others. We need God and we need the body of Christ. We need their companionship, we need real connection with both, and God redeems us from sin so that we may have those things.
Because God redeems us for companionship and connection, we should gather regularly. At the top of the inside cover of the worship guide, you see our mission statement and then our vision: to be “a multi-generational congregation worshipping according to Scripture in a contemporary style, gathering as one body on Sunday mornings and in small groups throughout Florence during the week, and introducing more people to the life-giving community of the local church.” Gathering on a regular basis is an essential part of the vision of Good Shepherd. The Scriptures describe God’s command to gather and the benefits of gathering.
But what are the benefits? I spoke last Sunday about the first essential part of our vision: God’s command for worshipping together on the Lord’s Day according to what God has expressly told us in the Scriptures. That is one reason for gathering. But Lord’s Day worship is not the only time or reason that we should gather. Many passages of Scripture describe the benefits. Ecclesiastes 4 is one of those. Now, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes has three over-arching themes: the difficult nature of life (we all agree that life is very hard and can feel futile at times), finding joy in life (we all agree that there is satisfaction to be found even in the hardship),
and fearing or revering God as a way of life. In other words, humbly living in awe of God and giving him all glory and all our worship. The writer gives an honest, hard-hitting evaluation of these things to offer wisdom for life. As a result, we refer to Ecclesiastes as “Wisdom Literature.” Here’s one interesting and helpful thing to know. Why do we call the book “Ecclesiastes?”
Well, in the Hebrew tradition – as this book was originally written in the Hebrew language – the book is referred to as Qohelet – spelled Q-O-H-E-L-E-T. “Qohelet” is the second word of the first chapter. It means “gatherer,” one who gathers proverbs or gathers people in order to teach them. When “Qohelet” was translated into Greek, they used the word “ecclesiastes” which means, “a member of the assembly.” We translate the word as “Preacher.” So, the book’s name itself implies the gathering of the people of God. In fact, you might recognize the similarity of “Ecclesiastes” to “ecclesia,” the Greek New Testament word which means “public assembly” and which we translate “church.” Churches are gatherings. Jesus loved his “ecclesia” and gave himself up for his “ecclesia,” his gathering. Ecclesiastes 4 talks about the benefits of companionship and connection. Basically, we gather because we need each other. We don’t need just any group of people – we need the people of God. We get benefits from gathering, and you see them listed on page 6 in the Worship Guide.
Why gather? By gathering, we develop relationships with those who will: pick us up when we fall, keep us warm in the cold, and help us fight in the attack. Falls, cold, and attacks: these things are inevitable in life. God’s vision for his church is that we gather to know him and each other better.
Look again at verse 9. The preacher of Ecclesiastes points out that “Two are better than one” when it comes to work. Why?” because they have a good reward for their toil.” “Good reward.” In other words, “pleasing wages.” Especially with manual labor, two can accomplish more than one can.
When I was a kid, my parents had a huge garden, with many rows about as long as the hallway here at Briggs that runs from the lobby to our nursery. To me, as a child, it felt like it was about 10x longer than that. We would plant many things: for instance, beans. One person would walk the row and hoe small holes. The next person would drop a few beans in each hole. And the next person would cover the beans with dirt. With help, it just went by quicker. We would have to weed the garden, eventually we would pick the beans, and it was always better to have more than one person doing it. You never see just one person building a house, or fixing a road, or running a restaurant. Multiple people get more done. In fact there are some things that can’t be done efficiently by one person. That certainly applies here at GS each Sunday morning.
But look at another reason not to work alone, probably the main reason in the writer’s mind. Verse  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Manual labor is dangerous. You can fall; you can be severely injured. You don’t want to be out there by yourself. Often, folks will go out working alone, and time after time, they have no issue. So, they think they will always be okay. They think they don’t need anyone. And then there’s an accident – a fall of some kind – and no one is nearby. Question for you: what do we call the event in which Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3?
The fall. They fell into sin. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul warns Timothy of falling into temptation. Hebrews 6 describes people who leave the Christian faith as having fallen away. There are many ways to fall in this sense. The enemy has scattered snares all around and deep within each one of us is a sinful nature prone to falling into sin.
Galatians 6 says, “ Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
There are a host of ways to fall. Who will pick you up if you fall? You should absolutely never say that you could never fall. It’s prideful, and pride comes before what? A fall – James 4. So, we gather as one body on Sundays and in small groups throughout the week to encourage each other and care for one another, and to pick each other up. Hebrews 3 says,  Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort (or warn) one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. How pitiful is the one who is alone when he falls and has no one to lift him up!
Who will pick you up? Who listens to your heart and knows your life? Who labors in prayer with you and for you? Who is willing to step on your toes to warn you? Who would be bold enough to say hard things to you in order to save you from falling? When we started GS, it was our belief, having observed it elsewhere, that our small groups (which we call Life Groups) should be part of the DNA of our church. In fact, we met in those groups before we launched our Sunday morning worship service. Our weekly worship together on the Lord’s Day is meant to fuel those groups and lay a gospel foundation, so that we all remember that Christ defines us and approves of us, and therefore, we can be honest with each other.
Our approach is to eat together, then open up about our lives and pray for each other. James 5 says, “confess your sins to one another and pray for each other.” They gathered to do so. We don’t confess to an earthly priest. Jesus is our priest. And he encourages to open up to each other, and be there to pick one other up when we fall.
Look now at verse . “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” Scholars agree that the writer probably does not have husband and wife in mind here, at least not strictly speaking, but rather, companions on a journey.
Have you ever been at an outdoor event of some kind, maybe a sporting event, where it’s freezing cold, and you’re bundled up with winter clothing, but also, you and the people with you huddle together to keep warm? It helps! Years ago, when I worked at a boys’ summer camp, we would have big campfires. There would be campfire stories and skits that were lots of fun, but also, we would encourage the boys to walk with God. My favorite illustration which was taught to me and which I passed on to others used the coals in the fire. After a fire is going strong for a while, you’ll see red hot coals burning at the base, side by side. But if with a stick you can pull out one of those red coals and place it away from the fire, by itself, do you know what will happen to it? It will grow cold and black rather quickly.
Companions on a journey keep each other warm not only for comfort, but for survival. We keep each other going. We benefit from the heat each one generates. And so, we gather. Hebrews 10 says,  let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” What do we notice about the early church described in the book of Acts? We read about them earlier in worship. They were constantly together. Worshipping together. Praying together. Enjoying life in Christ together. Suffering together. Rejoicing together.
Why did Paul encourage the churches to visit the believers locked in prison for the faith? It was so those persecuted and imprisoned believers would not be alone. They visited them so that their faith would not grow cold in isolation.
Now finally, notice verse : And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. In Romans 7 the apostle Paul describes his struggle with sin as the waging of a war. What a blessing for a soldier of war to have someone alongside him in the trenches, someone to cover his back in the battle. Who has your back? The preacher of Hebrews, in talking to the church, says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” Now, that sounds like God’s work. What is our role? He’s telling them that in the war with temptation and sin, the goal is not just for you alone to make it out alive. The goal is for the whole unit to make it out, the whole battalion.
Perseverance in the faith is not just about you – it’s about us. Everyone is important. Everyone is necessary. Why? Because we are all members of Christ’s body. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul describes how the parts of the human body need each other, and in the same way, the parts of Christ’ body – the church – need each other. Unity is essential. Paul says that not all the parts are the same. Some receive more honor than others. But all of the parts need each other. For instance, how fascinating and complex is the human brain! But what would happen to the brain without the security of the skull? The skull is only bone, yet deserves great honor for how it protects the brain. How important is the fingernail on your pinky finger? Well, if you took some pliers and tore it off and you’d find out very quickly!
Paul writes, “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. There is no hierarchy. We all matter. And we band together to prevail against attack. Attacks can come at any time. 1 Peter 5,  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” The church all over the world – the church “catholic” or “universal” as we proclaimed earlier.
All the gathering that we do is not just to fill our schedules. We want to know each other, that we may trust each other, so that we may stand together in our time of need. Certainly, two is good, but three is better, and along those lines, I will be encouraging you in the weeks ahead to begin prayer groups of three men or three women, what we will call Prayer Triads, that would gather periodically for prayer and accountability to walk with God and know him. There will be more direction to come, and this is something different from Life Groups because we find that we can speak even more openly about things going on in our lives within a smaller group of one gender. In my experience, as well as my observations of others, three seems to be a good number, providing ample time for each person to share about their lives and then receive prayer. It will offer another way that we can gather regularly
to care for each other as Ecclesiastes 4 describes.
And yet, gathering with each other, in and of itself, is not enough. At the end of the say, what we offer each other is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ. We are the body, but Christ is the head of the body. We are unified in him. And as the head of the church, it makes sense that Jesus is the one who perfectly embodies all the benefits of gathering. As we go to this table today, we remember that in his death on the cross, Jesus Christ took the worst fall so he could pick us up. Christ went out alone into the cold, enduring the wrath of God and the mistreatment of men on a journey by himself so that you and I could be brought in and made to enjoy the warmth of peace with God. Jesus faced the attacks of the enemy throughout his perfect life as well as during his suffering – and it seemed as if the enemy had prevailed against him. But Jesus withstood. By the power of the Triune God he overcame, and he made a way for us – the only way for us – to have true companionship and connection with the living God. Without Jesus Christ, you are separated from the living God and you are his enemy. Do you have Christ? Have you trusted in him? Have you hated your sin and turned from it to follow Jesus? There are possibly some of you here today who have not. Turn from sin and trust in him today.