Today the idea of a journey raises no concern (unless, of course, you are traveling with Bear Grylls). We move around the state, country and world with ease. We study abroad, travel thousands of miles on our honeymoon and do mission trips to Africa during spring break. But for someone in the ancient Near East, travel was a trial: no cars, GPS, lighting, smooth roads, roadside assistance, highway patrol and above all no Starbucks. However, there were plenty of hardships, wild animals and opportunistic thugs. Ecclesiastes 4 pictures life as a great journey through a wrecked world. Do we get a map? Are we equipped to go it alone?
Way, way back in the beginning God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This is a shocking statement because Adam had God in paradise, and yet he was still alone. This was before Adam wrecked his relationship with God. Therefore, according to this verse, humans were made for relationship — with God and others. To be human is to be relational. We were never equipped to go it alone, and so a map was given: “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
According to Ecclesiastes 4, the reasons “two are better than one” are many. First, meaningful relationships are divinely embedded with potency and reward (verse 9). Second, meaningful relationships unleash the power of “help” into the world (verse 10). We have the potential to genuinely help one another. Third, meaningful relationships release spiritual, relational and even physical warmth into the world (verse 11). We can help keep our spouse, children, family, friends and community warm in a cold world. Fourth, meaningful relationships strengthen us in hardship so that we “withstand” it rather than surrender to it or suppress it (verse 12). Fifth, meaningful relationships release intimacy and companionship into our lives, connecting us deeply in unconditional love rather than disconnecting us, as conditional love and earned acceptance do (verse 8). Lastly, meaningful relationships impart wisdom and maturity into our lives (verses 13-16).
When they work properly, relationships are designed by God to reveal us to ourselves within the context of a safe place. Without meaningful relationships we fail to mature and stop growing into our true selves. We essentially get stuck in junior high.
What is the greatest threat to meaningful relationships? In verse 4, the preacher in Ecclesiastes says it’s “envy”: “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Envy ruins relationships because envy elevates the self over others. The preacher says this need to elevate ourselves is cannibalistic; it eats us alive piece by piece (verse 5): “The fool (i.e. the envious person) folds his hands and eats his own flesh.”
What has the power to not only end envy but also begin meaningful relationships? The answer from the Bible is a better elevation than envy — the elevation of Jesus at his resurrection. The resurrection is the elevation of Jesus above everything: every performance, achievement, success, fame, honor, victory, power, control, wonder, kingdom, great event and great historical person. Jesus was elevated above everything on the planet for elevation addicts like us. The resurrection of Jesus ends envy.
When you have the elevation of Jesus, you can say, “Yep, honey. I was wrong.” No loss. No diminishment. You can genuinely say to your friend or co-worker or difficult family member, “I’m so happy for you! You won Miss America, again!” When you have the resurrection of Jesus, you have all the elevation you will ever need. You are now free to engage in meaningful relationships on this great journey.