A Threefold Cord
Cultivating Community in a World of Isolation
We were created for community, which means that we need one another. Over the last several months of quarantine and isolation, we’ve witnessed and felt the necessity of true community and Christian friendship. One of the reasons that experiences like isolation, solitary confinement, and loneliness are so painful is because they go against one of our most basic needs—community.
The book of Ecclesiastes gives us some helpful wisdom on why such community is important. In chapter 4, Solomon states that, if one falls, the other will help lift him up. He goes on to say, “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (v. 12). Think about that: a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The image is one of a strong, three-stranded rope that is much stronger than if the rope were just one or even two strands. In fact, it’s exponentially stronger. All of us will face times of pain and affliction, when we feel that we are falling. We will also face seasons of loneliness. Ministers and missionaries can be especially susceptible to this, as they find it difficult to confide in others or confess their sins to others—particularly with those in their church (for obvious reasons).
The Devastating Effects of Loneliness and Isolation
A number of years ago, I took part in a project to poll teenagers about their greatest fears. The results were both surprising and revealing. The number one fear listed was “being alone.” The number two fear was “rejection,” which leads to being alone. It’s little wonder that, according to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death among American teenagers today. In fact, there has been a 56% increase in suicide over the last two decades. There’s a deep sense of hopelessness that stems from loneliness and rejection.
The statistics among adults aren’t much better (around 35% increase in suicides from 1999 to 2018). Loneliness and the resulting hopelessness and lack of support have become a common experience. It’s ironic that, in an age of increasing connectivity via social media, cell phones, and texting, we are seeing a proportional decline of relational intimacy and lasting friendship.
Ravi Zacharias once said, “The loneliest moment in life is when you’ve just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it’s let you down.” Many have chased one pleasure high to the next, and each disappointment has multiplied their sense of a meaningless existence. O how we need to treasure the all-satisfying Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!
Intimacy and Community
All of us want to be known and loved, something we call “intimacy.” Intimacy is the reward of committed love and is a tie that binds those in the household of God together—like a threefold cord. We long for someone to say, “I know you—the good, bad, and ugly—and I choose to love you anyway.” While we are not content to remain where we are, but to grow in holiness, we also need a gospel community in which to grow. We need our brothers and sisters—our fellow strands—to help support and lift us up and point us to the Savior. We need a gospel community that anchors itself in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible reveals the truth that we experientially know; namely, we need one another because a “threefold cord is not quickly broken.” No doubt you have a number of pressures placed upon you—anxiety from work, stress over marriage or finances, and even personal suffering. We need one another. We need to be able to confess sin, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. This, of course, is best experienced (by design!) in the local church. However, people can often come and go from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day without ever actually experiencing community. They’re more like spectators than participants.
How to Cultivate Gospel Community
So how do we cultivate community in a world of isolation and loneliness? Let me give you three practical ways.
- Avail yourself to the historic, ordinary means of grace—God’s Word, the sacraments, and prayer. God uses these means to fortify the resiliency of your soul. We need less self-help gurus today, and more God-ordained ministers who faithfully preach the whole counsel of God. As the old hymn states, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!” What a foundation we have in God’s Word. We desperatelyneed God’s Word, the sacraments, and regular, faith-filled prayer to undergird and strengthen our souls in a world of isolation and loneliness. Indeed, as the Gospel Reformation Network consistently maintains, faithful worship cultivates true community.
- Intentionally seek out godly friendships within the church (even as you keep that necessary connection with the entire body). While it’s impossible to know everybody equally well, we can pursue deep friendships with a handful of those who are more spiritually mature, and perhaps a few who would benefit from our gifts and graces. As the Proverb teaches: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). Again, community doesn’t just “happen”; it’s the reward of the Spirit working through the intentional efforts of God’s people to cultivate such community. We should seek out multi-corded relationships now, so that—when we face various trials and difficulties in the future—we’ll be better prepared.
- Get to know your pastor(s) and elders. Don’t just wait for them to call on you or initiate conversation. Hopefully your elders are reaching out to you, but that doesn’t always happen. I’ve known many who have been on the fringes of the community of their local church when tragedy strikes. Suddenly they feel that they have no support from their church, which makes them feel disillusioned and hurt. Don’t wait until tragedy strikes to get to know your elders. Pursue fellowship with those who are charged to keep watch over your souls. And if you’re an elder, commit yourself to shepherding, leading, and instructing the flock of God entrusted to your care.
The Spirit of God has tethered you to the Savior, so that no one and nothing can pluck you from His hand. And because you have been united to Christ, you have also been united to His body, the church. May you know that experiential bond—that threefold cord—that God might sustain you during this season of isolation. May God grant you that deep and hope-filled gospel community in the local church, for His glory and your perseverance to the end.