Bible Passage: Ecclesiastes 4:4-16
In this section of Ecclesiastes, the teacher turns his attention to human relationships, and as he has done in the sections that have gone before he notices the futility of different aspects of how we relate to each other. This time though, he is not negative about everything he sees and does acknowledge the value of friendship and relationships when it is done well.
The Futility of Envy: Verses 4-8 take on the topic of envy. When one person sees what somebody else has and wants it, it can cause them to throw themselves into their work and wear themselves out trying to acquire what the other has. Even if they do get the things, they have worn themselves out for something that doesn’t ultimately matter. It is better to have less but be at peace than have more just to be like somebody else and find no meaning in it.
The Value of Friendship: Despite being verses that are often read at weddings, v9-12 are primarily about the importance of friendship. Doing life with other people is better than doing it alone, and this is the closest the teacher has come to finding meaning and significance in life so far in his journey through Ecclesiastes. In particular, he points out the economic benefits (that two working together can get a greater reward for their efforts), the ability to help one another through challenges (helping each other when you fall and keeping each other warm – imagining the scenario of travellers on the road sleeping out in the cold) and the security benefits (where one is vulnerable, two or three can prevail). The solitary life is not what we are made for, and friendship and companionship is important for all of us.
The Importance of Teachability: Verses 13-16 contrast a young person who is wise and willing to take advice with a king who thinks he knows it all and will no longer listen to others. The way it is phrased suggests that the king used to be more teachable but is no longer. The youth will gain favour and may eventually supplant the king (though as he gets further into his reign the same may then happen to him – more futility). Once we stop being willing to learn then we have left the path of wisdom.
- Challenge people to consider how much of their life is based on envy of what others have. Are we straining ourselves to acquire what we don’t need because we want to be life other people?
- Encourage people to lean into their friendships (or work hard at building them). How big a part are they playing in our lives and what can we do to strengthen them?
- Invite people to look at what they have been learning recently and how open they are to continual growth and change.
- Ask people to look to Jesus. He is the one who perfectly models friendship and was willing to lay down his life for his friends.