Three-fold Cord of Marriage
“There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-12)
Goal. Plan. Purpose. Those words come to my mind when I take a few minutes to think about the future, and I make some mental notes about where I am now compared to where I want to be in different areas of my life. Life stays so hectic and busy, but sometimes I need to stop and consider how my days are being spent. When I do, I often think, “I need to make some adjustments. I need to get my focus back on the most important things.” You know, keeping the main thing the main thing. Priority.
That is the reason why many ministries and even businesses have what they call a Mission Statement. It outlines the primary purpose for this ministry’s existence -- what it is we plan to accomplish. Though I’ve never written out a detailed ‘mission statement’ about my life, my thoughts often come back to the main ideas that it would contain, which I hope would match up closely with what the Bible says about me as a child of God and His servant, and what I should be as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend.
Coming back to those principles very often will help me stay on track. When I face a question of, “What should I do in this circumstance? How should I respond to this need or problem?” then the building blocks of my mission statement would remind me of the basics, like ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What is most important in my life?’ In many situations, it might remind me of what’s most vital to consider when making a tough decision, or motivate me to keep on even when I’m weary and discouraged, yet I know that I’m doing the right thing.
With my mission statement in mind, let me remind myself that I am absolutely positive that my main ministry and responsibility after my relationship to God is my marriage and family. Thank the Lord that I have the privilege to serve Him, not only as a child of God, but also as a wife and mother. Though I am blessed with many other opportunities, I can’t allow anything else (or everything else) to overshadow this most important ministry or cause me to give up or quit in this endeavor. When you’re busy, it’s natural to get distracted by ‘the squeaky wheel’ and let your time and attention be consumed by things of lesser importance. I can’t say I have excelled at keeping my priorities in order when it comes to time and attention, but I certainly have not forgotten what they are, and I find myself constantly refocusing and readjusting to get back to them.
Once again, let me plead for mercy! I’ve often said that if I can only teach or write about the things in the Bible that I am 100% successful at, it would be down to just John 3:16 and thank God I’m saved! But let me, once again, turn our attention to the bulls-eye for us to aim at, the ideal that is our goal, the pattern that we need to follow.
A three-fold cord. I distinctly remember the first time this passage in Ecclesiastes caught my attention and curiosity. I was reading along in this account from the wisest man who ever lived as he chronicled his search for happiness and fulfillment in this world. It’s important to remember as you read through Ecclesiastes that many of the statements saying, “All is vanity and vexation,” are the heart-cries of desperation from someone who is looking at life from only a human and worldly standpoint, not allowing God’s perspective to guide their thinking. Temporal values contrasted to eternal values. Solomon outlined his many pursuits in the areas of wealth and possessions, music and entertainment, pleasure and recreation, study and education, power and prestige. With each of those pursuits he comes back to the same hopeless despair. “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Maybe his hugest mistake is found in Ecclesiastes 2. “So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” (verses 9-11) Unrestrained indulgence. No holds barred, anything goes, give my flesh whatever it wants. If it feels good, do it. Don’t withhold any sight from my eyes, no sound from my ears, no experience from myself. There are no boundaries. Solomon says that kind of ultimate excess just ends in ultimate disillusionment. It still won’t make you happy.
In chapter four he talks about the fruitlessness of ‘laboring for riches’ and stockpiling money for yourself, and the bitter dead-end of having no one to spend it on or enjoy it with. “There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.” (If you remember, he also mentions in this book the disappointment of the frugal father who scrimps and saves and works and achieves only to have it all frittered away by a spoiled, lazy, wasteful, spend-thrift heir.) King Solomon mentions several disappointing scenarios that could describe many a life. Though two people might work at the same job for the same wages, there is quite a difference in how rewarding it is based on whether you are providing for the people you love and fulfilling your responsibilities to your family, or if you are just hoarding away dollars and cents because of greed and the love of money.
When Ecclesiastes comes to this ‘two are better than one’ passage, my thoughts immediately go to marriage, although I’m sure it could be applied to other relationships, as well. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-12) Marriage, as God intended it to be, is a guarantee that when you are at your lowest point and facing your hardest day, there is always someone to be there and to care.
King Solomon’s wisdom has caused him to conclude that two are better than one alone. Now, he could have taken God’s Word for it before he went on this wild goose chase! “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.... And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:18-24) Solomon says that two are better than one in times of falling and failure, times when we may be wounded or need a helping hand to get back on our feet. Two are better one in times of cold and need and facing the brutal elements. Two are better than one in times of opposition, the battles and attacks that we face. Those are times when it means so much to have your special someone close by, to have that companionship and partnership, and not have to face those tough situations alone. Though all of us need to spend time alone with the Lord in prayer and Bible reading, God’s plan for marriage and family definitely does not intend loneliness. “ God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” (Psalms 68:6) What’s sad is that there are married folks who still deal with loneliness, perhaps because one or both do not invest in the relationship.
God’s plan and blueprint for His people, at least most of the time, includes marriage and family. He put within our hearts, not only a God-sized hole that only He can fill, but I think there’s also a built-in void or vacuum for our soul-mate, our spouse, that can only be fulfilled through Christ-honoring, Bible-centered marriage between two saved people who endeavor to love and serve and please the Lord. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31) Together the burdens are half as heavy, while the joys are twice as sweet.
I guess my interest was stirred even more by that final statement: “...and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Notice that he’s been saying over and over in these verses that two are better than one, but then ends with the number three, instead of one or two: ‘a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.’ Now, I am totally prepared to be corrected when I get to Heaven, that probably some of the things I took away from my Bible reading were not entirely what the Lord had in mind when He wrote them! Someone else may get something completely different from this verse than I do. But after a good deal of thought and meditation, here’s what I believe God is saying to me in this passage.
Because I was the mom (and now Grammy!) of little girls, my thoughts go instantly to braiding their hair. Most every lady has some experience with that kind of a ‘three-fold cord.’ We all know that if you work with just two strands or sections, it is going to unravel about as fast as you try to twist it together. But a three-fold cord or braid will weave together and stay intact with much less effort.
In the same way, this verse is a reminder to me that in order to keep my marriage relationship from unraveling, for it to be stable and strong, it takes more than just a husband and wife to make it work and make it last. We need God to be a part of this marriage, this covenant-promise, this commitment. We need to invite Him into our marriage, and make sure the principles of His Word are applied in our lives individually, as well as in our marriage together. We need to pray fervently for each other and for our marriage and our family so that we can receive His answers, His blessings, and His supernatural power at work in our lives. Lots of people have ‘fallen in love’ and were convinced they didn’t need anything or anyone as long as they had each other, but it usually doesn’t take long to realize that we are two fallible and finite humans, two selfish sinners, and in order for this to work, we desperately need the Lord!
A principal that I had in high school was the first one who suggested to me that true love involves not two, but three. Mr. Wilson drew a triangle and wrote ‘God’ at the top, and man and woman in the lower corners. He pointed out to me that if the only effort put forth was for the couple to get closer to each other, then the relationship stayed at the same lowest level. But if both of them worked at getting closer to God as much as they wanted to get closer to each other, then the relationship between them was continually progressing to a higher plane, and the closer they got to the Lord, the closer they were to each other automatically. That’s been over 40 years ago (wow I’m getting old!) but I have never forgotten it. Marriage is a three-fold cord: God, husband and wife.
I have sometimes used this verse about the three-fold cord as a devotional thought at a wedding shower or ladies class. When I do, I also include the reminder that marriage itself is a three-fold relationship; spiritual, emotional and physical. The three-fold cord has become a reminder and a challenge to me that I ought to invest in all three areas of my marriage on a daily basis. (Now I didn’t say I was succeeding at this on a daily basis... but I do want to be trying!)
Our investments can be large or small or anywhere in between. A smile, a joke, a hug, a conversation, holding hands, making his favorite pie, a foot rub, an unexpected gift or treat, going the extra mile, remembering something that’s important to him. Consider each positive thing that you put into your marriage as a daily investment. I am very blessed in whom I am married to, that we sometimes ‘talk Bible.’ I often mention to my husband something that I’ve been reading in my devotions, or a real-life illustration that has come to my attention. He will tell me about messages or books that he is working on, truths that he wants to express. I decided long ago to take very personally the verse that says, “And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home:...” (I Corinthians 14:35) So I often pause in my Bible reading to ask him about something I’m not sure I understand. We can grow together and be enriched spiritually, as well as enjoying the emotional and physical aspects of our marriage.
What kind of ideas do you have when it comes to investing in these areas of your marriage? When no other opportunity or idea comes to mind, my husband is always game for a back-rub! I tease him sometimes that the only time he obeys me is when I say, “Turn over and let me rub your back!” But I know it’s something that means a lot to him. You know your husband and what would be special to him as a kindness, as an ‘I love you’ that is said with actions rather than words. You might even want to jot down a list of ideas that would express, “I love you,” to your husband in many different ways, and start working your way through your list! The opportunities are limitless, I just need to be looking for them.
Marriage is a three-fold cord. Just a husband and wife alone cannot generate a strong enough bond to withstand the all the pressures and problems we face. We need God’s presence and power and principles interwoven throughout our relationship every single day, because a three fold cord is not quickly broken. My relationship to my husband is three-faceted, as well -- spiritual, emotional, and physical. I want to be challenged to express love and invest in my marriage in all three of those areas all the time, because “...a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
“Let there be light,” God said
And out of the darkness it came.
He spoke the worlds to existence
And everything in them, the same.
And as He made them, one by one,
“It is good,” the Father said.
Until He saw a lonely man,
Then these were His words instead.
It is not good that man be alone,
I’ll give Him a wife, and they’ll have a home.
Together as one the two shall be
As man and wife, as you and me.
Once God saw a man who served Him
With no one to walk by his side,
No one to meet every need of his heart
And kiss away tears that he cried.
So God made a lady to love him,
And walk by his side all through life;
Someone that he’d call his very own,
His friend, and his lover, his wife.
It is not good that man be alone,
I’ll give Him a wife, and they’ll have a home.
Together as one the two shall be
As man and wife, as you and me.
(This song was a gift for our 2nd anniversary. Now we’re up to 39!)