This story appears in FCA Magazine’s July/August 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
As a college football coach, I witness a form of unity every Saturday in the fall. Stadiums filled to capacity, crowds roaring in unison, voices combining to deafening levels, making it nearly impossible to communicate on the field.
That kind of unity is largely based on quantity. Vast numbers of people joining forces as one. While quantity is what the world emphasizes with unity, I believe the Word of God emphasizes the quality of unity far more than the quantity.
As I’ve studied the Old Testament, the life of Jesus in the Gospels, the first century church in Acts, the church instruction age of the Epistles and even John’s Revelation penned from the island of Patmos, I see God’s math for unity is different than the world’s. In His economy, true unity for His followers (the Church) subtracts before it adds, and divides before it multiplies.
Before delving into that, let’s look at a more modern-day sports parable. ESPN recently aired a “30 for 30” documentary on the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s and early 1990s. We all remember these guys as the “Bad Boys” who won back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. Under the late coach Chuck Daly, they were known for their physical style and featured big names like Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and, of course, the relentless Dennis Rodman.
These teams were great pictures of unity because of the quality of their relationships. The years preceding the two championships were full of learning more about each other, and emphasizing how best to come together as a team. Championship teams are usually not filled with All-Stars. Generally, there are a couple stars and lots of “role players”—folks from the front office and training staff to the last player on the bench who all understand their role and put others ahead of themselves.
When Dumars’ father passed away, you could see how these “Bad Boys” showed a tender, loving touch as they came alongside a hurting teammate. Mark Aguirre, a great scorer on his previous team, agreed to a less-prominent role coming off the bench, and he contributed invaluably, willingly sacrificing for the greater cause. Even Rodman—a player with a rough upbringing and off-the-wall personality—was loved and accepted by his teammates, and it caused him to play harder than anyone in the NBA.
Outside of Detroit, the “Bad Boys” were almost universally despised, and they loved it! They embraced it. They enjoyed being in the minority. It led to an almost unstoppable bond of unity among them.
In a biblical sense, this story is played out repeatedly in God’s Word.
In Judges 6, God tells Gideon to lead a team of Israelites to fight the oppressive Midianite army. Gideon’s army starts with about 32,000 men, but the Lord calls for two major “cuts” in training camp. After the final cut, only 300 men remain, one of the most prominent examples of God subtracting to increase the quality of unity. These 300 had the “God factor” with a humble, holy swag, and they pulled off one of the greatest upsets the world has ever seen.
In John 6, many who were following Jesus left Him because they were offended by His statements. Take heed to doctrine, the Bible says, because God’s Word will sometimes separate or divide true followers of Christ from those tagging along for selfish, personal gain. With God’s version of unity, subtraction precedes addition and division precedes multiplication.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, we read in Acts how the first century church shared His Word amidst incredible persecution—unafraid of prison or death. The numbers initially reduced due to the fear of man, but then they vastly multiplied as the unsaved world saw faithful Christians living out a unique love for their “Coach” and “teammates.” As God’s Word was preached and believers sacrificially lived as great teammates, the church spread powerfully across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East—eventually reaching the entire world.
The Apostle Paul issues a great battle cry for unity in Philippians 1:27, and we can and should echo it through our families, teams, schools and FCA Camps this summer.
“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.”
Implored by God through the Apostle Paul, we should stand firm as one, joining together in peace to go out among the world and bring Jesus to the masses. The task ahead is daunting only if we try to do it alone. Together is better. Together, under His power, we are stronger and more capable to share Him, all for His glory.