Unity and Working Together
There is a lot going on today. Including it is Veteran’s Day.
Concerning today’s message, it is a day unity and working together will be emphasized, both of which are important aspects of the military. Soldiers need to work together and be unified in purpose to be most effective. Since we are at church for a service, some Bible references will be highlighted. References that will take us beyond veterans. Unity and working together are important in all aspects of our life as a congregation.
First, a story about Jack, who had entered and was about to complete a marathon. So close was he that he had reached mile 25 of the 26.2 miles of the race.
Being so close to the finish, Jack must have felt good. However, the good feeling was only mental. Physically, he was exhausted. His strength had been spent. So it was that after stopping for a drink of water at an aid station, he sat on the ground, unable to convince himself to get back up and make it the last 1.2 miles.
After a few minutes, two other runners happened by. They noticed Jack, and though they were strangers to him, they paused long enough to invite him to run with them. At first he resisted, having resigned himself to being unable to complete the marathon, but they encouraged him by inviting him a second time to run with them.
Jack still doubted his strength, but suddenly he stood up. When he did, he found himself stronger than he thought he was. As the two other runners took off, so did Jack. Together, they did indeed finish the race.
Alone, Jack would have stopped short of the finish line. Alone, he did not have the strength to continue the race. It was because two others invited him to join them that he was able to finish what he had started.
Unity and working together are important in other aspects of life. Including spiritually. For that, I have four Biblical examples to share.
First, an Old Testament example, dating back to something recorded in the Book of Exodus. Chapter 17, verses 8 through 13.
This happened shortly after Moses, under God’s direction and with God’s authority, led the people of God out of Egyptian slavery.
The move had been successful. It included a miracle at the Red Sea. The Egyptian army had the people of God trapped, but God separated the water of Red Sea, allowing the people of God to cross to safety. When the last person was across, God brought the water back together, wiping out the Egyptian army - men, horses, and equipment. Two more miracles followed. The people were hungry, so God provided them manna. They were thirsty, so God provided them water.
Then, Exodus 17, beginning with verse 8. the people of God were faced with another very dangerous challenge. Amalek and his people, historical enemies of the people of God, approached the people of God, intent on not only stopping them, but killing them. Amalek’s aim was putting his enemies to death.
That was indeed a very dangerous challenge for the people of God. In response, Moses appointed Joshua to be the commander of the defense. Joshua’s first assignment was to choose some men to fight Amalek and prepare them to go against the enemy.
The defense was to happen the next day. The day Moses would stand on top of the hill overlooking the battlefield. Moses would stand there with the rod of God in his hand, stretched out toward the battle.
That, by the way, was a common thing for Moses to do. And for his brother Aaron to do.
With many of the ten plagues that preceded the escape from Egypt, either Moses or Aaron, sometimes holding God’s rod, stretched out their hands. Upon doing that, the plagues began.
At the Red Sea, Moses was instructed by God to lift up God’s rod and stretch his hand over the sea. When he did so, the water parted. When the last person of God was across, Moses stretched his hand over the Sea again. When he did that, the water of the Red Sea came back together.
When the people of God had needed water to drink, Moses was instructed to take the rod of God and strike a certain rock. Water gushed out of the rock.
The people were used to seeing Moses holding the rod of God. They were used to seeing Moses stretching out one hand or another. They had learned the rod and the gesture were very, very powerful, inviting God’s power and help.
That is what Moses planned to do the next day. He would go to the top of the hill. He would be holding the rod of God. As we shall hear, he would stretch out his hand.
All of that happened the next day. The men Joshua had chosen went to do battle with Amalek and his army. Moses, along with Aaron and Hur - Hur was another helper - went to the top of the hill.
Whenever Moses, with the rod of God, held up his hand over the battle, the people of God were successful. However, it is difficult - probably impossible - to keep your arms up for too long a time. To rest, Moses from time to time lowered his hands. Whichever one he used, probably alternating them. Unfortunately, each time that happened, the Amalekites prevailed.
Something had to be done. Aaron and Hur acted on that need. They found a rock. They placed it under Moses, who sat on it. Ten Aaron and Hur each took one of Moses’ hands and held it up. With that help, Moses was able to continue to do what he needed to do. He kept his hands up until the going down of the sun. The result was Joshua and his men completely mowing down - completely wiping out - Amalek and his army.
Do we get the point? Moses was very strong. He was a great leader. But he could not lead effectively by himself. In the case of the battle, he had to have the help of Aaron and Hur.
How true that is even today, even in our church. How good it is that there are so many helpers among us. I am thinking of those who work with the ministry committees we have - Education and Youth, Music and Worship, Outreach, Social, and Maintenance. Just last Sunday, when giving a tour of this building to visitors, when they learned the building was built in the very early 1990’s, they said, “And it still looks this good.” Maintenance is part of that. So are all of us who take care of what we have.
Let’s be thankful it was not just Aaron and Hur who helped all those centuries ago. Help continues today. Unity and working together are things to celebrate.
Unity and working together were evident - and critical - in the battle against the Amalekites. A second example is recorded shortly after that battle. In the next chapter - chapter 18 of Exodus - Moses was hard at work at one of his many duties, that of being a judge.
I have always thought the judging was dealing with cases of dispute. That it was up to Moses to determine who was right and who was wrong in arguments. That is part of what Moses did, but in studying for this message, I learned another part of the judging was answering questions about God and about God’s will.
Moses’ judging was difficult. Concerning disputes, there were no doubt some unhappy people. Concerning the will of God, think of the prayerfulness required for Moses to know God well enough to be a judge.
The judging part of Moses’ responsibilities was also very time-consuming. There was a huge number of people of God. So many of them had disputes or questions.
One day - Exodus 18:13 - Moses sat down to judge the people. There were so many people who stood around him that day, all wanting his answers, he was surrounded from morning till evening.
Moses had to have been very tired at the end of the day. It was then his father-in-law Jethro spoke to him, asking him two pointed questions. “What is this that you are doing for all the people? Why do you sit alone and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”
Moses had an answer. He said, “ It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. And when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor. I make them know the statutes of God and His decisions.”
What Moses meant was there was much work to be done. That is why on the judging days, he worked from sun up to sun down.
Jethro had an answer to that. “Moses, what you are doing is not good. You are going to wear yourself out, for what you are doing is too heavy for you. You cannot keep this up by yourself.”
Here was Jethro’s solution. Moses was to choose some able men. people who fear God, who are trustworthy, who hate bribes. He was to put them in charge of smaller groups of people. They would hear most of the cases and answer most of the questions. Any big, great matters, Moses was to handle, but the others would handle the rest. In this way, Jethro continued, Moses would be able to endure and the people would be happy and at peace, including because their cases and questions would be taken care of quickly.
Jethro did not demand that Moses do what he said. Instead, he challenged Moses to pray about it. Which Moses did. The answer he received from God was to do what Jethro suggested. The results were indeed good for Moses and for all the rest of the people of God as some of the workload was lifted from Moses and people’s concerns and questions were handled faster.
Very quickly, there is a somewhat similar occurrence in the New Testament. This is a third example of unity and working together. It is in Acts 6.
In the early Christian church, the 12 disciples - the 11 who had been with Jesus and one more who was added to take the place of Judas Iscariot - took care of just about everything in every aspect of the early church. But one day, when a dispute arose about the care of certain widows, the 12 said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God and praying to deal with disputes like that.”
Knowing that, they made a decision. I wonder if they thought back to what Moses did. The decision was for them to oversee the selection of seven other men. Men of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit, and having wisdom. Those seven would be given the authority to handle the day-by-day operations of the early church, thereby giving the 12 more time for praying and teaching.
By the way, one of the seven who were chosen - Stephen - worked out so well, he was able to himself have opportunities to teach and preach. I wonder if being a server is what inspired him to have the confidence to teach and preach.
Do we get the point? Moses in the Old Testament was very wise. The 12 disciples early in the Book of Acts were very dedicated to what they did. But Moses and later the 12 could not lead effectively by themselves. They needed help.
How true that is even today, even in our church - how good it is that there are so many helpers and leaders among us. I am thinking of those who serve on our Board of Directors.
Let me add this. I occasionally hear of pastors who are so often at odds with the Boards of their churches. I never have and do not now experience that. We - and this goes for all the congregation - have a very good working relationship, featuring mutual respect.
We also have people willing to serve on our Nominating Committee, whose task it is to pray about and do the work of obtaining nominees for the Board. They, too, are good to work with.
Let’s be thankful that it was not just those who helped Moses in judging and not just the seven who helped the 12 who were important all those centuries ago. Help continues today, which is of course a good thing. Unity and working together are things to celebrate.
A fourth Biblical example of unity and working together is found Hebrews 12:1-2. A passage that refers to a great crowd - a great cloud - of witnesses that surround us.
The reference is based on the idea of being in a stadium. We are on the field competing. The crowd of witnesses is in the stands.
With that in mind, to me, the witnesses are not quietly and simply watching. What do people in the stands do? They cheer on their team, which in Hebrews 12 is those of us who are currently living the Christian life. How good to know we have people cheering us on as we live as Christians.
Also know who is cheering us on. I can go, for instance, to a Husker football game. While my cheering might be appreciated, I have done no organized football playing except flag football in gym class in junior high school.
I can go to a Lincoln Saltdogs baseball game. There my cheering is appreciated, but I have nothing to back it up. When I did play baseball and softball, I was horrible at hitting, fielding, throwing, and running.
But consider those referred to in Hebrews 12. The ones cheering us on as Christians are witnesses. Those who have already lived as Christians. Those who remained devoted and dedicated to the Lord. Sometimes suffering greatly, but staying true to the Lord.
We have a responsibility because of the crowd cheering us on. The responsibility is three-fold. “Lay aside every weight.” Weight relates to too much interest in worldly things. “Lay aside every sin which clings so closely.” Everything that takes our attention off God and His will and thereby slows us down from living in ways pleasing to the Lord. And then “run with perseverance the race [the Christian race] that is set before us.”
And verse 2. Not only is it the cloud of witnesses cheering us on, united with us. So is Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus, the perfect example of what it means to stay spiritually true, overcoming even shame, for the joy of being at the right hand of God. For us, the goal is to be with Him in Heaven.
Unity and working together. Aaron and Hur did that, helping Moses. Other judges did that, also helping Moses. Seven servers did that, helping the 12 disciples of Jesus. A crowd of witnesses and Jesus Himself are doing that, helping us.
Let’s celebrate unity and working together. Let’s keep being unified and working together. The result will be more and more opportunities to affect people for Jesus. What a great thing that will be.
Today’s closing song is the hymn Blest Be the Tie That Binds. We will sing verses 1, 3, and 4, which celebrate unity and working together.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
We share each other’s woes,
Each other’s burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathetic tear.
From sorrow, toil, and pain,
And sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and joy shall reign
Through all eternity.
The benediction is based on verse 2 of Blest Be the Tie That Binds. Let’s say it together.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
Lord, thank You for teaching unity. Thank You for Your encouragement to work together. Thank You that we are willing to do that now. Help us to keep that desire, for our good and for Your glory. Amen.