I was recently asked to speak at a ladies day and I was given 1 Corinthians 15:58 which says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
And I began asking the question, “How do we remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, while knowing our labor is not in vain?”
And I think the answer to this question comes by laboring with each other.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 says,
“Two are better than One.”
And today, in this post, I want to talk to you about the importance of serving together.
About the importance of doing the Lord’s work together.
And how this, allows us to be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Eccesiates 4: 7-8, reads:
7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun:
8 There is one alone, without [a]companion: He has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his labors, Nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, “For whom do I toil and de-prive myself of good?” This also is vanity and a [b]grave misfortune.
In this text, He paints a picture of a man who works alone. He is relationally poor and he never stops and asks who he is working for.
I think this paints a beautiful picture of relational poverty vs relational wealth.
In the first few verses, Solomon paints the picture of a man who works alone, without family or close friends. The man in Solomon’s thinking works hard and wants to gain more and more...And Solomon thought this unexamined life of hard work and success – without family and friends to share in it all – is vanity and a grave misfortune.The man in our text was missing out in relationships because he was so preoccupied with work.
In our text, he is relationally poor because of his job…he was preoccupied with work.
And maybe you’re reading this and thinking it doesn’t apply to you. After all, you’re not consumed with work…
but you’re not out of the woods yet. Because this disease of preoccupation has different strains…
I think It is possible to be relationally poor, not just because we are preoccupied with working 80 hours a week, but we are preoccupied with something entirely different.
It is possible to become relationally poor because we are totally preoccupied our next activity, our next sporting event, our next trip, our next adventure, our next face book worthy moment, or entertainment.. and these things are causing us to miss out on critical relationships in our lives.
Or even become relationally poor because of our phones…
Because with our phones we can be loosely connected with 100s of people but deeply connected to no one. We are loosely connected to all of these things but not deeply connected with people we should be serving with…So, as a result when it comes to serving in the church we end up burnt out or discouraged.
It doesn’t just have to be preoccupation with work… or traveling… or entertainment…or our phones... Maybe it is something like being preoccupied with not getting hurt again.
Anyone ever been hurt by a sister in Christ? I have… And when this happens, sometimes a self-defensive mechanism kicks in where you say, “never again…”
And this becomes a potential barrier to serving with others or allowing others to properly serve you.
Maybe you were hurt before at another congregation so you arrive to your new one and put walls up to avoid it happening again.
So, you become preoccupied with not getting hurt… And in that preoccupation you miss out on the chance to deeply encourage, enrich, love, and connect deeply… because you develop the attitude that says
"I will just show up on Sundays and Wednesdays and keep my sisters at arm’s length. Anything deeper than that… im out."
In that, if that is our attitude… we are missing out on an incredible opportunity to help effectively grow and serve the people around us.
So, we should look at these verses of isolation and think, is there a better way?
There has to be a better way…
And there is…in the next verses... a picture of relational wealth. A picture of:
Life together. Serving together.
Eccesiates 4:9-12 says:
9 Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 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. 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The second part of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 describes the value of having a friend to travel with.
If we leave our culture and go back to their culture… Most of the time they were walking, not driving. And so he is talking about traveling together and while doing so he reveals 3 travel hazards.
1. The first: he says, if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Have you ever fallen as a Christian and had no one to help you up?
I read a story once of a woman traveling alone once. She writes:
When I met Christ, he set me on a track, and I began running a race with fervor, surrounded by people cheering. I felt motivated, purposeful, full of joy. My eyes weren’t distracted. Jesus was in full focus, and the point of this race felt clear. But as I ran, I noticed more and more people tangled up in the weeds, to my left and right. Some of them had stopped running, distracted by something, and some of them had stopped because they were in pain.
I kept running, but I began to feel lonely. So I began to ask myself questions that were once clear to me: Why am I running again?
Then I tripped. I was hurt.
Now I was the one on the side of the road. I was tired and in pain. It felt good to stop running.I pulled myself close to some other hurt runners. We told stories and jokes, and eventually we were comfortable together. As if there weren’t even a race—as if we weren’t even hurt.
Every once in a while a runner called to me, “Come on! Come back and run with us!” But no one ever stopped to really help me. They just ran by. As time passed, I picked up some entertaining hobbies on the side of the road. The hobbies temporarily motivated me and made me feel a little fulfilled again. My injured ankle never fully healed, but I quit thinking about it—it did not hurt quite as badly as it used to. And before long, we discovered great entertainment in critiquing the remaining runners—their shorts, hair, pace, attitude.
Until one day a small pack of runners turned off the road and headed toward me. I wished they would go away. But they didn’t. I remembered passing them back when I was running; they had been on the side of the road with injuries, all tangled up. They ran right up to me and sat down.
One of them handed me water and another one had medical supplies. They asked me a question:
“Do you need help?”
For some reason I said yes, and before I finished uttering the word they were wrapping my ankle, giving me food and water, and talking to me about the race again—about how much I had missed, how much they needed me. “We want you to run the rest of the way with us. It is really getting ex-citing, and we don’t have much farther.”
Something dead inside me woke up. A fire relit itself in my chest.My ankle still hurt, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to run with all my heart again, because they reminded me of the reason that we run.
I am running to bring glory to my Father, who gave me a purpose and a hope when I was unwor-thy, on the side of the road, broken. Now our little misfit team stops for every runner we see on the side of the road. We stop and offer them the same healing and hope that was offered to us. I sense God’s pleasure as we run and as we stop for those who have fallen off to the side.
If we apply this to serving, I think we need to remember not to serve alone in case we fall.
Could you take a pen and write down 2 ladies in your congregation you are traveling with? Who you know, if and when you fall, they will be there to lift you up… Or on the other side, who are you there for? Who you are serving with? Who can you say, I am traveling and serving with her, and if she fails, I am with her... to help her get back on her feet. Or, if I fall, if I do face plant, I know she will have my back. I know she will help me get back on my feet.
This is incredibly important because life is unsure, uncertain, and wildly unpredictable.
So, road hazard number one is you might fall… and the benefit of community, is that someone will help you up.
2. Road Hazard number 2: Don’t travel alone because you might get caught in the cold: it says, "if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?" Two people have the advantage of body heat.. this my sisters, is a bible verse promoting spooning and cuddling haha. Just kidding. But I think the concept we can take away from this is that when two work and serve together they can bring comfort to the lives of each other. Because the Christian life get cold out there. It’s easy to become discouraged and fainthearted. Sometimes we need a friend to keep our hearts warm.
3. Road hazard number 3: Don’t travel alone in case you get jumped. It says,
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.” This is about coming under physical attack. Again, Travel is uncertain, unsure, unpredictable, and you don’t always see what’s around the corner. If there is two of you, you have a fighting chance. If it’s you, good luck. This reminds me of times in my life when I have posted on social media and gotten attacked. Then I had sisters in Christ comment and have my back. This is so so important... We need to have each others back. We need to defend eachother.
So Solomon concludes by emphasizing the point of having a friend.
And I think we can apply it to our serving.
You see...Spreading the gospel can unpredictable… It can get messy. And the Christian life can be so uncertain. Living the Christian life is incredibly hard sometimes. And sometimes we fall. But it gives me so much courage knowing I do not travel alone. That I have certain people in my corner, who will help me when I fall down, comfort me when I am fainthearted, and help me when I am being attacked. And it is from this, that my boldness for serving grows. It is from this, that I am encouraged to keep serving. I become bolder to post on social media, to talk to my neighbor about Jesus, and to even talk to my unbelieving family member about Jesus and His gospel. Because I know, that I have people in my corner that I can turn to despite what life brings.
Not only do these verses talk about the comfort of serving together, but I think they demonstrate the great value of serving together:
· Productivity we see this in verse 9 (they have a good reward for their labor).
· Help in need (If they fall, one will lift up his companion). We see this in verse 10
· Comfort in life (they will keep warm). We see this in verse 11
· Safety and security (two can withstand). We see this in verse 12
Imagine what the church would look like and what it could accomplish if we lived out these verses? If we served together.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to building relationships in the church is the relationships we cultivate when nothing is going wrong sustain us when everything is going wrong. The relationships you build when nothing is going wrong, help preserve your soul when everything goes wrong. Invest when there’s not a need because life is unsure, uncertain, and unpredictable.
You know, like that diagnosis came out of no where and now you’re a new bride unable to cook and clean for her husband…
The depression came out of no where…
This job change came out of no where…
You lose a loved one out of no where…
The discouragement comes out of no where…
Don’t travel alone… Don’t serve alone…There is so much uncertainty in life. There will be times when people need you at their side or when you need someone by your side. The relationships we build when nothing is going wrong help sustain us when everything is going wrong. I think this is the key to effective serving. And I think it is something missing among congregations today.
At the end of these verses, the writer turns to an image of a rope that is made up of numer-ous strands, He says,
“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
And I don’t think He’s just talking about rope, I think he’s talking about people doing life together. And I think this also could apply to people serving together.
You see, Serving alone, I am a string. I am easily broken, I am easily discouraged. And there is only so far the threads of my string can reach before they are spread too thin and snap. Serving Together, we are rope. We are strong, we are effective, and we can survive without breaking.
A thousand or so years after this is written, we have the coming of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, and the community of Jesus and it everything changes. In John 13: 34 Jesus says,
“love one another, As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Do not forget when this is spoken. The setting is the last supper, Jesus will be suspended from a Cross within hours of speaking these words. He is leaving and He looks at his disciples and He says before I go there is something you have to comprehend. Love one another as I have loved you. He washes their feet and tells them to follow His example...
Jesus’ strategy for growing, comforting, encouraging, and serving his children… were his other children. In the New Testament letters, there were encouragements given, and there are statements like love each other, serve each other, carry each others burdens, build each other up, confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other.
The best way to do these things… the best way to serve is by being invested in one another’s lives.
When you have a network of other believers that have invested in their lives and have taken the time and energy to go deeper and deeper, when something bad happens you are already connected to them, you can step in and show love, serve, and carry their burdens because you are more aware of their needs.
There’s an opportunity for someone to say, “Man I messed up last week…” and allow you to step in and help them through it. To be that iron that sharpens their iron…
I don’t know if you have ever read the book, the Lunch Ladies, but in it, Phillip Jenkins, who is a Youth Minister at Mt Juliet church of Christ writes about changing the church atmosphere into an “actsmosphere” and in One chapter of the book, he focuses on Acts 6. Verse 1 reads, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
He writes, The good news in this: the disciples were increasing in number. The bad news: some widows were being overlooked. They depended on the daily distribution of food. Their husbands couldn’t provide for them anymore and they needed assistance.
Philip writes: Id like to say that it was just a simple mistake… you know, an oversight. But there’s more bad news: this wasn’t a one-time thing. It kept happening to a certain group of widows- Hel-lenists, the Greek speaking Jews that had become Christians. In other words, widows who spoke a different language, they didn’t speak Hebrew. And so here were these widows who spoke another language and weren’t getting food that they needed. It would be like us having a food panty here at church for our widows and not including any widows from our Hispanic brothers and sisters.
Do you think this happened by accident or was this done on purpose? The motive isnt really the point. The point is the people who are in need are being neglected. That’s a problem, and in the church, if it isnt dealt with quickly and in the right way, then it becomes a real problem. The next six verses in Acts 6 talks about how the Apostles wisely handled the situation with the widows. They selected a few good men who handled the responsibility of making sure none of them were overlooked.
Phillip then goes on to show them a clip of a woman named Esmin greene. I cant show you the clip but I can include the transcript and it says,
“A sad death in New York City. Surveillance cameras in a city-run psychiatric hospital emergency room in Brooklyn capture a woman falling from a chair, writhing on the floor, and dying. Hospi-tal staff and other patients watch and do nothing for over an hour. One guard doesn’t even leave his chair, rolling it around the corner to stare at the body. Civil Liberties Union sued the facility, King’s County Hospital Center, last year over the way it treats patients. The city’s medical exam-iner has yet to determine why the woman, 49-year-old Esmin Green, died on June 20. She had been waiting in the emergency room for nearly 24 hours.
“’The reason this woman died the way she did is because there is a culture of indifference to patients that permeates every aspect of K.C.H.C.’s care’ —Rob Cohen (attorney). “The agency that runs the hospital released a statement saying, ‘We are shocked and distressed by the situation. It is clear that some of our employees failed to act based on our compassionate standards of care. (The hospital has) directed the suspension and termination of those involved.’“ “Surveillance video eventually shows a member of the medical staff attending to Green, but it is too late: she has already died.”—End transcript
Who was Esmin Green? Esmin Green was a 49-year-old woman who died in the very place where she was supposed to get help. That’s what a hospital does, right? It’s a place that helps people. The lawyer from the video talked about how they were seeking to put an end to a culture of neglect.
Phillip continues writing: "That story gives me chills...and it disturbs me, because I fear that Esmin Green walks through the doors of our church building and comes into our youth group week after week.
He says, guys, I’ve got to be honest.
This might be harsh, but I feel like I need to say this to you: There is a culture of neglect in this youth group.
What I’m saying is, I come in here week after week, and I know exactly where you’re going to sit, and whom you will talk to and whom you won’t. I know who will sit by themselves. I fear that we have a culture of neglect.
What if that became our youth group motto? “We seek an end to the culture of neglect.”
What was the reason for neglect?
You want to know the reason for neglect? The reason doesn’t matter––because people were being neglected.
What’s your reason for not talking to that person inside this room that’s a little different?
“Oh, I didn’t neglect them––I spoke to them! I mean, that visitor was in my seat, so I asked them to move because I had it reserved for someone else.” Listen, the reason for the neglect that happens in our youth group isn’t important. The reason doesn’t matter––because people are being neglect-ed. What’s important is that an Esmin Green comes in here, hurting and in need, but so many don’t even notice or pretend to care.”
Phillip was talking to his youth group. But I think this can be applied to the entire church.
Now, I do not attend your congregation so I cannot speak to whether this is an issue for you…
But, I can say I have spoken at about 4 ladies different days and visited a lot of congregations with my husband. Gone on mission trips and you wouldn’t believe the amount of women that come up to me saying that something is missing. I run an online study group and you wouldn’t believe the messages I get from people that are lonely in the church but don’t know how to reach out… Something is missing ladies. There are many Esmin Green’s among us today.
Phillip ends his conversation with his youth group by asking them, “ Who is your Esmin Green, and what are you going to do about it? Remember the security guard from the video? He came into the room, looked at her, and didn’t so much as get out of his seat to check on her. Are you like that? Do you really care for the people that come inside this room?”
Philip asked that question in his youth group, but id like to ask you the same…
I want to ask you the same question today when it comes to serving…Who are you looking out for? Who are you serving?
Because I think the key to effective serving is to start by serving each other.
Look, I can’t look out for everyone and neither can you. And It is unrealistic that I would write and tell you that everyone needs to look out for everyone, but it is totally realistic that everyone looks out for someone.
So, who is your Esmin Green? Who are you looking out for? Who are you serving? Who are you serving with? Don’t travel alone. Don’t just show up on Sundays and Wednesdays and leave in a hurry right after services because you are preoccupied with something.
Are you familiar with Aron Ralston? His right hand now has a prostatic hand, he wrote the book “Between a rock and hard place” about a climbing incident. He was hiking alone in at a national park in Utah and an 800lb rock dislodged and pinned his right arm into the canyon wall and there he stood there for 5 days, Slowly dying of dehydration. Finally in an act of absolutedesperation he used the dull pocket knife on his multi tool to amputate his own arm.
This is a pretty crazy story… I mean, if it ends in “then I cut off my own arm.” That is kind of wild.
But there is a line about the story of Aaron.. it says, “there was no search party. No one was look-ing for him because no one knew where he was.”
He was hiking alone and no one knew where he was because he didn’t tell anyone where he was going.
How many of us looking back on our own individual stories can look back and say, “ I ended up in a real mess because no one knew where I was… I was hiking alone. I was serving alone…No one knew the condition of my heart and no one knew where I was…no one knew how discouraged I had been…
Sometimes we are sooo afraid of exposure that we simply refuse to tell anyone else where we are trapped or stuck in our Christian walk. There’s a sense inside where we go “if you knew me… if you knew my thoughts… you wouldn’t want to be my friend, you wouldn’t think I was a good Christian.”
And so we show up on Sundays and Wednesdays and we keep our relationships superficial. We keep our sisters in Christ at arm’s length…
And I think it prevents us from properly serving each other. I think it increases our chances of burn out... and it prevents us from remaining steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Christian community at its best should say, “Girl, I know you, I know everything about you, and regardless, I want to serve you, to carry your burdens and lift you up, and I am here for you. Let’s travel and serve together.”
There is power in serving together.
This will come at a cost… it might require that we set our phones down more often…that we walk up and be the one willing to feel awkward for 5 seconds to break the ice with someone…It might mean that we meet more often…Or it might mean that we turn off Netflix when we want to numb out and watch other people live their lives… because its time we become more concerned with the characters in our own lives, whose lives we want to enrich.
It might mean reevaluating the amount of time I spend on my career instead of meeting with the saints on Sundays and Wednesdays… or having people over on Saturdays for a devotion when id rather lay in bed and sleep…
I don’t know what this means for you… But I know that it should mean you take seriously the strategy set up in His word for serving each other. And you say, “I will make it my mission to travel with, encourage, comfort, serve, grow a handful of other people.”
If you do not have a group of women that you are going deep within the church, that you are serving with… I write this in hopes that you reconsider this. We need to remember and recall that we are Jesus’s strategy for growing, serving, comforting, and encouraging each other.
That when He said love one another as I have loved you, it wasn’t just for His first disciples, it was a message that would travel through the years and possibly into this post today…
Serve together. BecauseTogether we are a rope… Alone we are a string.