The Most Misquoted Bible Passage at Weddings
The Biblical value of teams over individual efforts is described in resonant and simple terms in Ecclesiastes. It is especially interesting that, although someone who held a supreme hierarchical position, namely King Solomon, wrote this passage, he nonetheless saw the wisdom and value of teams even in his day. Even from his lofty throne he thought to include these insights and the model of the triple-braided cord in his volume of wisdom.
Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Eccl. 4:9-12, NLT)
This text is used most often, perhaps, at weddings, but – sad to say – more often than not taken quite out of context. Traditionally, many Bible teachers have sentimentally assumed and conveyed that the three-fold cord represents the union of husband and wife enjoined with the presence of God. Although such exposition may comprise an appropriate, beautiful, and even Biblical, image, it does not pass the exegetical test, nor does it convey the context of the passage. When considering the verses that fall just prior to this passage, the contrasting introduction makes it clear that the purpose of this image in Scripture is not to present the need for a relationship with God, nor to provide an incentive to marry, but to emphasize the importance of human relationships amidst our work or vocation as opposed to individualism or isolation.
Consider the preface to the familiar passage:
Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless — a miserable business! (Eccl. 4:7-8)
These words set the stage for Solomon’s teaming image of the triple-braided cord. He presents the problem of individualistic efforts and expresses the futility of “a man all alone” who “works to gain as much wealth as he can.” The results are that, even though he may experience some success, he has no one with whom to share it. Thus, in the final analysis, he concludes that “it is all so meaningless and depressing.” He’s find himself right back where Adam was in the Garden – ALONE. The place that God said is “not good.”
The triple-braided cord model reflects the central image of the Trinity in, at least, a couple of ways. One, it is a clear picture of the strength that comes from the teaming together of two or three persons. This is the manner in which God has revealed his nature from the onset of Creation, not as an individualistic deity, but as God-in-community – the Trinity at work. Two, the three-part cord represents not only an effective team, but also a team that has more than one person to share the satisfaction of accomplished work and goals. Remember, even the Trinity amidst its work paused to enjoy the goodness and pleasure of it (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; Matthew 3:17.)
Solomon cites several specific benefits of the three-fold team or group, over individual, efforts, including: Greater Productivity – “[they] accomplish more than twice as much as one”; Greater Results – “get a better return for their labor”; and Greater Security – “if . . . one falls, the other can . . . help” and “two can stand back-to-back and conquer”. He also notes that the addition of another team member is an even Greater Benefit – “three are even better”.
A team is a strong union; a “triple-braided cord.”
This post is an excerpt from my new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon Press; release date – October 2012). You can read a sample chapter from the book.