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Ministers of Loneliness

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
January 19, 2021 12:00 am

Ministers of Loneliness

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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January 19, 2021 12:00 am

The Christian faith is not designed to be done in isolation. But did you know that even kings, the people every person wants to be close to, struggle with loneliness? King Solomon did. And in his journal, the book of Ecclesiastes, he provides some helpful tips so we can combat loneliness too!

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God, who comforts the downcast, comforted me by the coming of Titus.

I love that. What brought Paul out of his downcast episode? It wasn't another verse. It wasn't another. Here's a book.

Read this. It wasn't another, you really ought to go plan another church. It wasn't another gift of money. It wasn't listening to another sermon.

I don't know about that one, but it wasn't that either. It was the arrival of another believer. A moment ago, Stephen was describing an experience that the Apostle Paul had when he was lonely.

He was blessed and encouraged by the arrival of Titus. As Christians, we're called to fellowship, not isolation. But loneliness is becoming a major problem in the church today. People are surrounded, but lonely. Well, King Solomon talked about this in the book of Ecclesiastes, and we turn there again today, here on Wisdom for the Heart. Stephen Davey returns to this wisdom-filled diary where Solomon shares God's wisdom to prevent loneliness by focusing on community with others.

This lesson is called Ministers of Loneliness. Researchers created an interesting scenario I read about recently where a group of people would form a circle and play a game of catch with a small ball, young adults and older as well. The participants were told to try to keep the ball aloft and not let it hit the ground. However, one woman in that circle wasn't aware that all the other participants had been told to never pass the ball to her.

So they began their game of catch. The ball was tossed randomly from one person to another in the circle, but never to her. She appeared patient at first. She laughed when the others laughed and smiled when the others smiled. But as the game progressed and the ball never came her way, she eventually stopped smiling.

She edged a little further into the circle to draw attention. When that didn't work, she eventually, after several minutes, dropped her hands, not wanting to play or even attempt to catch the ball. After numerous scenarios like this, and with the interviews afterward with the individual who had been left out, the researchers discovered that the ostracized person began to actually believe their lives, not just during the game, but their entire lives, were meaningless. They were unwanted.

They were without purpose. It's interesting how they discovered how quickly someone could go so deep and so far down. The author that I was reading that catalogued the research went on to apply this scenario to the reality of life. Our world is filled with people hungry for someone to throw them a smile or a word or a nod, someone that will remind them that they have been seen. Their lives are not meaningless or without purpose. One study that I came across in this particular genre of research recorded that the average middle-aged person and older is in contact with a family member and or friend barely one time a week.

Sometimes not even that. The lack of friendships, relationships, family creates, in a word, loneliness. This is what many are now discovering to be nothing less than an epidemic, bringing with it a host of diseases and illnesses and issues.

A couple of years ago, I clipped an article out of World Magazine and stuck it in a file and came across it again, where the Prime Minister of England was speaking in an interview. She said that loneliness is the sad reality of modern life and it must be addressed, following a study in the United Kingdom that paralleled North America as well, where loneliness was undeniably linked to heart disease and a host of other illnesses. And then the Prime Minister announced this, and this is what struck my attention. She announced the creation of a new government position and post entitled the Minister of Loneliness. That didn't mean his job was to be lonely. It meant that his ministry and his office would be commissioned to find ways to practically and realistically deal with this epidemic.

The problem isn't new, by the way. In fact, before the fall of man, God addressed it. If you're old enough in the faith and you remember all of the events that occurred in chapter one of the book of Genesis, God would create something and then he would summarize it by saying it was what? Good. He'd create something and he would say it was good. It was good.

It was good. Long before sin entered that perfectly created Garden of Eden, in fact, even before Eve would be fashioned into existence from one of Adam's ribs, God makes this startling statement, it is not good that man should be alone. That's always struck me, frankly.

It's fascinated me. For starters, because Adam had God. Adam wasn't alone.

He was walking in the evening with God in some fashion or form of his glory. But God said that Adam was alone. What God specifically meant was that Adam didn't have a counterpart, a companion, a wife. And with that, then, following that statement, God custom designed Eve as the first living female and then brought her to Adam.

And Adam's response after he said Shazam, that's in the Hebrew Bible, you know, he makes this speech. God introduces the fellowship of marriage. But he also states a principle for life beyond marriage. Life was never intended by God to be lived in isolation. Whether it's the intimate partnership of marriage or the fellowship of another believer or even the buddy system back on the field trip in third grade, relationships are one of God's greatest gifts to combating this epidemic that is as old as man of loneliness. Whether married or single, young or old, we were never meant to live life alone. Maybe you're in need as we even begin to introduce the subject of this kind of friendship we'll discuss in our session today.

Dale Carnegie gives some good advice. He famously said a generation ago that you can make more friends in two months by showing interest in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people to become interested in you. The truth is the enemy's never stopped since he isolated Eve from her husband in that temptation to try to isolate a person from everyone else, to pull you away and to bring you down, to convince you to wait on someone else to take the initiative and throw you the ball. That can happen in marriage. It can happen in the working relationship. It can happen in the family.

It can certainly happen in the church. If you'll take your copy of Solomon's journal, we're in chapter four where Solomon has just finished in Ecclesiastes describing the lonely life of a self-absorbed, self-centered miser. We called him Ebenezer Scrooge because he just fit. He's alone. He is all about himself.

He is racing along in his mad pursuit for just a little bit more. Let me just get a little more. Never mind, I'm alone and I don't want anybody. I don't need anybody and they don't need me.

It really wasn't the truth. But he becomes the epitome of loneliness. Now we need to understand that this context really doesn't break that thought. Solomon immediately begins to commend relationships in the very next verse. We're in chapter four and now at verse nine where Solomon writes, two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. 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. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.

A threefold cord is not quickly broken. These happen to be wonderful principles certainly for a marriage relationship. You have the principle of provision and partnership and protection and I've preached this in that way before. A good marriage isn't two people competing, it's two people cooperating in God's assignments that are unwrapped over the course of a lifetime. Now the reason most people including myself until digging a lot deeper here for this study assume that all he's talking about in marriage is primarily because of that phrase I read that if two lie together, they keep warm.

We'll get to that in a minute. But Solomon is not just providing principles about marriage, he's providing principles about life in general, about relationships, godly friendships and community and fellowship in general. In fact it struck me after studying this passage that in a very real sense, every husband, every wife, every parent, every single person, every widowed person, every young person, every older person in the body of Christ has been appointed by our Lord to serve in his cabinet as ministers of loneliness. We address the epidemic.

We happen to be the cure. Togetherness is God's solution to loneliness and that's across the board. Just listen to the commands before we dive in to the New Testament church. They were told in the first century certainly for us today to rejoice one with another, Romans 12.15, to serve one another, Galatians 5.13, to forgive one another, Ephesians 4.32, to encourage one another, 1 Thessalonians 5.11, to offer hospitality to one another, 1 Peter 4.9, to pray for one another, James 5.16, to carry one another's burdens, Galatians 6.2.

And the list is longer than that. So what does this look like in shoe leather? What does this look like in the work-a-day world and in the church and in the family?

What does this look like where we live and rub shoulders with one another? Well, Solomon is going to provide for us in this paragraph what we'll call four practical ways that this can happen. We'll call them the benefits of godly relationships. And the first one is this, assistance when assignments are tiring. Go back to verse 9 and just sort of unpack it one verse at a time. Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.

Now, this is homespun, rather obvious advice. He's following up on his comments in the previous verses of the man who worked by himself, benefiting nobody, caring for no one. And by the way, if you were with us in our last session, he enjoyed nothing. Scrooge never laughs.

He enjoys nothing. Solomon, by the way, doesn't say here you can never work alone. He's just stating the obvious that another pair of hands cut the load in half, the burden in half, and double the output. And Solomon promises here, you'll notice that when you do have another set of hands, you'll have a good reward.

That word for reward can be material blessing, but it'll be used later by Solomon in chapter 9 for spiritual blessing. And you've probably discovered, if you've been around the assembly long enough to serve the Lord, what it's like to join another group of people to tackle some task. Maybe you've joined a service trip and you've gone overseas and gone through the labor of all of the travel and then you arrive and you and your teammates have undertaken very difficult work. You've been swinging hammers and swinging mortar or maybe nailing shingles and it wasn't easy. But why is it at the end of every day you sit there absolutely happy, totally exhausted, but entirely fulfilled? Where is that closeness?

How did that happen? One author, I think, said it well when he said that work is a sacrament of sweat by which God reconciles us to one another. There's nothing like joining together for some task.

And a friend who comes along and offers another set of hands, oh, that's far better than working alone. Let me give you another benefit of Godly friendship, Solomon says. It's encouragement when strength is failing. Encouragement when strength is failing.

Notice verse 10. 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. Solomon is describing here that moment when someone falls. He's imagining two companions walking along, they're traveling, and one of them falls, trips, stumbles. He's too hurt to get back up on his feet alone.

There's no button to push. I have fallen and need help, right? He's out there alone and Solomon says if he is alone, woe to him, but if he's with another, well, that's great news because that other one can lift him up. That woe is a word that refers to someone in great peril. This is a word that carries the connotation of danger.

It's loaded with warning. Whenever we struggle or fall physically or even more broadly, as Solomon implies in the verb, whenever we fail or we stumble in life, we need someone who will not walk away, but someone who will help us back up on our feet. This is the Apostle Paul writing to the believers in Galatia, saying, look, when you see somebody that's tripped up, entangled in sin, you who are spiritual, don't just stand there and point at him. Don't run away.

Go help him get back on his feet. It's the same principle. And Solomon, by the way, isn't just sort of casually suggesting that this kind of companionship is a good idea and you ought to try it. He's actually saying you're in danger without it, without this minister of loneliness who comes and offers encouragement to those whose strength is failing after falling.

Here's another benefit. Number three, godly relationships provide support when hope begins weakening. The advice is the antidote to what Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, now with the Lord, called this dangerous virus of individualism, which has infected, he writes, Christians to act as if all that matters is Jesus in me or Jesus in my family, never mind yours. And in doing so, he writes, miss the point altogether that Christianity was never intended to be solitary.

And this virus isn't new, is it? The danger to pull away from the church, from the believing fellowship is still as real today as it was in the apostles' era. How do we know that? We know that because the writer of Hebrews is scolding believers who have already made it their practice to pull away from the assembly, to not meet, to not serve, Hebrews 10. Paul had to reinforce humility in serving one another to the Corinthian church.

They weren't just random believers floating through life, they were actually gifted appointees as members of a physical body. He uses that analogy of being feet and hands and eyes and ears, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and he scolds them as well for saying to other believers, and I quote, I have no need of you. I don't need you, which is another way of saying I don't want you to need me. This is the apostle Paul describing an encounter in his own life when he admitted to the Corinthian church that he'd been depressed.

2 Corinthians 7, 6 is translated, downcast, that sounds a little more spiritual. He's in the thick of the fight. He's on the front lines. He writes that he's fighting afflictions without it, he's experiencing fears within, and he's been brought to despondency, depression, and discouragement. And then he says this, God who comforts the downcast comforted me, comforted us by the coming of Titus.

I love that. What brought Paul out of his downcast episode? It wasn't another verse. It wasn't another, here's a book, read this. It wasn't another, you really ought to go plant another church. It wasn't another gift of money. It wasn't listening to another sermon.

I don't know about that one, but it wasn't that either. It was the arrival of another believer. The arrival of reinforcement. It couldn't have happened to Paul without Titus showing up. Are you showing up in the lives of others?

Maybe someone. Where do you serve, reinforce, assist? Beloved, New Testament Christianity isn't just about believing. It's about belonging. Have you ever thought about the fact that our world longs today for what the Gospel offers and what the church is to demonstrate? The church is the antidote to isolation.

The local community of believers is described in the Bible as a family, a wedding party, a body, a fellowship. Now Solomon wraps up this chapter, and I'm going to take the next few lines very quickly because I don't want to spend another sermon just on this. I believe it ties in contextually to everything he's described, but he wraps it up by creating this parable.

The parable serves as an illustration of the danger of going it alone. Verse 13, better was a poor and wise youth and an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. Now get this, he's describing a king who's become isolated on his throne. He wasn't about to listen to anybody any longer, which is another way of describing. In fact, notice he says he no longer knew how to take advice. This is another way of describing somebody who doesn't have anybody close enough to him to tell him the truth.

He didn't want to hear it, but he is isolated. So he's reached the pinnacle of power only to be stranded there alone and lonely at the top. Verse 14, this wise youth went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor.

This is a rags to riches parable. Here's a young man, the context implies he's been in debtor's prison, but by his wisdom, by his wits, his personality, his charisma, his charm, he wins the approval of the masses. Before you know it, he deposes that old lonely king and he steps into the throne. Verse 15, I saw all the living who move about unto the sun along with that youth who was to stand in the king's place.

Now look what happens. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this is vanity and a striving after wind. In other words, the masses eventually got tired of the young guy too. The implication is he grew older and that got tired of him and here's somebody new.

The masses eventually choose someone else and in the meantime, this king is like the other king in a long line of kings who become isolated and without friends and even though you'd think they're at a place that's enviable, it's a place of loneliness and isolation. Just as if Solomon is saying in summary, all the world out there, the crowd out there is going to be fickle. There's nothing better than a friend who's faithful. Perhaps you're thinking, man, I wish I had a faithful friend like that.

Well, let me encourage you again with the words of one author who challenged my thinking. He wrote, I went out to look for a friend and they were nowhere. I went looking for someone who needed a friend and they were everywhere. If I could summarize chapter four, it would be simply don't give your priority to possessions or power or prosperity, give your priority to people. Accept your appointment by your divine prime minister, your appointment to the cabinet position in the world as a minister of loneliness. Looking, reaching, serving your church, other believers, family, taking every opportunity God brings you to reach a very lonely world around you.

And if you could describe our world, it would be that word lonely. And ask the Lord to bring someone along your path. You look for them, you take the initiative and ask God to give you an opportunity to tell them that Jesus is the ultimate faithful friend. And because you belong to Jesus, you'll be willing to be their friend as well. That's good advice today from God's word. You might be the one who's feeling lonely and perhaps the best next step you could take would be to search out someone who needs a friend and offer the companionship and fellowship of Jesus Christ. Today's lesson here on Wisdom for the Heart is called Ministers of Loneliness.

It comes from the book of Ecclesiastes and a series called Surviving Evil Under the Sun. If you ever miss one of these broadcasts, you can listen to Stephen's lessons in their entirety on our website, wisdomonline.org. Stephen has been teaching God's word for over 35 years and the entire collection of lessons is posted to that site.

You can listen to each one and you can read Stephen's manuscript. We make those resources available to you free of charge. Once again, that's wisdomonline.org. Wisdom for the Heart is a ministry of Wisdom International and you can find the Wisdom International app for your phone or tablet in the iTunes, Google Play and Amazon stores. Just like the website, the app is also available free of charge. Download that and take these resources wherever you go. I'm Scott Wiley and for Stephen and all of us here, thanks for listening. Please plan to join us next time right here on Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-05 12:05:23 / 2023-12-05 12:14:15 / 9

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