A few years ago, in a town not too far away, there was a traffic accident involving a car and a motorcycle. The person driving the car was unhurt and was able to walk away from the accident. However, the motorcyclist was trapped under the car and unable to move, though he was still conscious and alert. A witness to the accident yelled out that the car was now on fire. If someone did not act soon, the motorcyclist would perish.
The accident and subsequent fire drew a crowd on the busy street. One person stepped forward to test his strength at lifting the 4,000-pound car off the trapped man, but it would not budge. One by one, people stepped forward to help. With the contributions of several in the crowd, they were able to lift the car enough to pull the motorcyclist to safety as emergency crews arrived to extinguish the flames. It was through the collective efforts of the group, no matter how individually small, that they were able to save the man who could not be saved through one individual’s actions.
The Bible teaches that small contributions can lead to tremendous things when used collectively in Ecc 4:12 “A three-stranded cord is not easily broken.” This wisdom comes in the middle of an instruction from the Teacher that work done solely for oneself is futile. The chapter reminds us that two people can help each other out when needed, but there is an extra measure of strength when three work or more together. The image of the rope is a powerful one. Much like the people trying to lift the car, even if three ropes are working at the same task but doing it alone, they will not be as strong as they are when they work together. If you make a three-stranded cord, the rope is exponentially stronger than when the three strands of rope are detached from one another and work alone.
Jesus repeats this promise when he reminds us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt 18:20) Even when two Christians are gathered in the name of Jesus, the Holy Spirit moves among them making that strong, three-stranded cord. One richness of our heritage as the People Called Methodists is the understanding that our faith is not to be only expressed in personal holiness. It must also be lived in community with other Christians and expressed in acts of love. John Wesley was emphatic that “[t]he gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness, but social holiness.” Some people have misunderstood this as a message to only seek to rework political systems, economic structures, or social norms. However, that misses some important points of Wesley’s message and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Social holiness is intended to help one another to grow more in the image of Jesus in every way.
The richness of the theological heritage of the Methodist movement teaches us that the use of bands, classes, and societies was an important force in the revival that began in England in the 1700s and is alive in many parts of the world today. Social holiness happens in a variety of settings: a gathering of a handful of people in a band, a group of a dozen or so in a class, or a larger worship service in a society. These can help someone grow in an existing relationship with God or introduce new people to faith in Jesus Christ. All of them provide a space for people to grow in community with one another.
There is one more interesting thing to point out about that three-stranded rope and Wesleyan Social holiness. To realize their full strength, the fibers of a rope cannot all be twisted in a uniform direction and manner. Rather, they must be twisted in such a way that they provide just the right amount of friction against one another. In doing so, they become stronger. Just as the maker of the rope has one purpose in this design, it is important that we come together for one purpose: growing more like Jesus. We expect people to put away the sin that so easily entangles and anything that hinders us from pursuing the race marked out for us. At the same time, we recognize that not everyone has to be just like us. Rather, we learn more from the richness of the diversity that God gives us.
I encourage you to find a group of people to grow in God’s grace in the Wesleyan way. If you already have such a group, invite others who need to what it means to follow Jesus. You will find yourself growing stronger in the Lord together. And, hey, you may just provide the rescue that someone else needs.