Divided We Fall – Memorial Day – May 24, 2020
1 Peter 3:8-12
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The title of today’s sermon is “Divided We Fall.” Now I ask you…what was your immediate thought when I said the words “Divided We Fall”? (United We Stand. Divided We Fall.) This phrase can be seen on state seals, license plates, and bumper stickers, and can be heard in song lyrics of every genre. But the phrase actually has roots that date back long before the United States ever existed.
Aesop, who was said to have lived from 620-560 BC, actually used the line in one of his fables.1 The title of the fable is “The Four Oxen and the Lion.” It goes like this, “A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four. United we stand, divided we fall.”2
Just as the oxen were stronger together and were able to withstand opposition or danger by working together as a team, so it is with the church. We must not fall a-quarreling…over things like the unknown plans of the Lord or changes in the church or paths we did not expect to be taking or over issues that have no wrong answers…because quarreling will lead to people in the church being separated from others and the eventual result will be the death of the church.
So how do we keep from quarreling over these things? “be like-minded; be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”
Peter lists five key elements that should characterize any group of believers: (1) like-mindedness or harmony – pursuing the same goals; (2) sympathy – being responsive to others’ needs; (3) love – seeing and treating each other as brothers and sisters; (4) compassion – being affectionately sensitive and caring; and (5) humility – being willing to encourage one another and rejoice in each other’s successes. These five qualities go a long way towards helping believers serve God effectively. These qualities go a long way towards promoting unity within the church…United We Stand – Divided We Fall.
We don’t have to agree in order to have unity. Not everyone is going to agree. I have never known a time in the church when everyone agreed dating back to the time of Paul and James. I’m gonna stick my neck out and say that the only thing everyone in this room would come to 100% agreement on is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the living Son of God. Agreeing with one another doesn’t make or break a church but Unity, or lack thereof, does. We don’t all have to agree in order to be unified. Our differences help make the church stronger and our standing together…our unity…increases that strength.
We don’t even have to know where God is ultimately leading us to have unity. But as they say during the Walk to Emmaus or Great Banquet weekends, we must have a spirit of cooperation and charity. A spirit of cooperation – willingness to work toward the same goals while cooperating with one another and the Lord on that unknown path. A spirit of charity – willingness to share Christ’s love with one another as we follow God together.
During the Vietnam war, there were many who worked together toward the same goal. One of the helicopter pilots from the war shared a revelation that came to him during that time. He said, “We really stuck together. It was interesting to see. We had the same kind of stick-together feel with the grunts on the ground. … We lived to support them. That’s what we did: we lived to support the grunts on the ground. We fed them and we medevacked them and we did everything that was done for them with our helicopter because there were no roads going in. We picked up recon teams on the top of mountains when they needed to be picked up, whether it was daytime or nighttime. Everything they did we did for them as their vehicle driver. We basically lived in sync with these men. At first I was terrified by the flying in Vietnam because it was at low level and high speed and heavy aircraft at hard turns and bad weather. After a little while we realized that that is really what your job is and that is really what you were sent there to do.”3
When the journey began for this helicopter pilot, he ultimately did not know what his job would entail. It wasn’t until he was on the path that his purpose was revealed. Yet, even before he fully understood that purpose, he was willing to cooperate with the grunts on the ground toward one common goal. He demonstrated love for his fellow brothers on the ground by providing for their needs and by being there when they needed them. They were a unified team pursuing the same goals; being responsive to others’ needs; seeing and treating each other as brothers and sisters; being affectionately sensitive and caring; and being willing to encourage one another and rejoice in each other’s successes…harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility. One of the ways we promote unity is through the manner in which we treat one another. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing” (v. 9).
Any person who has a sibling – or any parent who has more than one child – knows how hard it is to follow this line in scripture. Brothers and sisters often fight like cats and dogs. All it takes is one smart remark from an older sibling to a younger one and world war 3 breaks out. If it’s sisters against one another, hair brushes are liable to begin flying. And if it’s brother on brother, it may be baseball bats or fists. Disrespect often rears its ugly head. Humility is not always at the forefront as each child wants what the other has. And unfortunately, this sometimes leads to siblings who don’t speak or have damaged relationships.
This applies to our brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Now, I haven’t seen many hairbrushes being flung at each other in the hallway, but in my lifetime, I have heard more than I’ve wanted to of insults being thrown out in a church – or at the local grocery store about those in the church. These actions create anything BUT unity!
In the world, it is often deemed acceptable by some to tear people down verbally or to get back at them if we feel hurt. Peter was writing to remind his readers – then and now – of Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and to pay back wrongs by praying for the offenders. In God’s kingdom, revenge is unacceptable behavior, as is insulting a person, no matter how indirectly it is done. Rise above getting back at those who hurt you. Instead of reacting angrily to these people, pray for them.
Over the years that I served as a Youth Minister, there was a line that we used in the youth group…Haters gonna hate…pray for ‘em. Haters…those who commit evil against us…those who insult us. Simply pray for these people instead of returning evil and insults. Verse 11 says we must seek peace – this applies in the church and outside the church as well. Too often we see peace as merely the absence of conflict, and we think of peacemaking as a passive role. But an effective peacemaker actively pursues peace. Peace is achieved by building good relationships.
We cannot stress this enough this morning…build relationships with those in the church…not just the little group around you and not only with those that are involved in the ministry area you like to help with. Build relationships with everyone you can in the church. There’s no excuse as to why this shouldn’t be happening. A lack of relationship falls on each and every one of us. We all must force ourselves to step across our comfort lines to reach out and build actual meaningful relationships with one another. I’m not talking about relationships where we just recognize each other’s faces. I’m talking about relationships where we know each other’s names and some of the struggles we are each facing…and maybe even what each other’s favorite ice cream flavor is. Good relationships lead to peace and unity.
Being a peacemaker not only means building relationships, however. It also means anticipating problems and dealing with them before they occur. Be proactive…no reactive. When conflicts arise, the peacemaker brings them into the open and deals with them before they grow unmanageable. Be proactive…not reactive. When we are proactive, we are more likely to be able to guard our tongue and keep our lips from deceitful speech. When we are reactive, we tend to respond out of our emotions and are not thinking clearly. This is where those evil for evil and insult for insult moments tend to rear their ugly heads. Seeking peace doesn’t have to mean fixing relationships once they have been broken. Seeking peace can mean defusing a situation before it becomes a situation at all. Making peace is hard work, but it results in God’s blessing. And just as we do not have to agree to have unity, we do not have to agree to have peace. Some days we aren’t going to agree with anyone around us. That’s okay. The important thing is that we agree on the one thing that matters most…Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 2, Paul writes to the Gentiles and Jews to explain that they are no longer to be separated by “the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). He continues by saying that Jesus’ “purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (vv. 15-16). Christ destroyed the wall of hostility, yet we keep trying to rebuild it. Christ gave us peace, yet we keep turning our back on it.
Paul further explains in the Ephesians passage that we “are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (v. 19). We…we…each and every one of us…along with all our brothers and sisters in Christ are part of God’s household. How displeased our Father must be sometimes when he sees us throwing our hairbrushes, fists, evil, and insults at one another in HIS house.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we seek peace and pursue it, we can focus on the one thing that matters most…Jesus Christ, our Cornerstone. Paul says in Ephesians 2:20-22 that “Christ Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
We are being built together…built together…unity!
If we keep our focus on Christ as our Cornerstone…we will have unity.
If we keep our focus on Christ as our Cornerstone, we will not fall from division, but United We Will Stand!
- Study.com. “Who is Aesop? – Biography, Fables & Morals.”
- Fables of Aesop. “The Four Oxen and The Lion.” https://fablesofaesop.com/the-four-oxen-and-the-lion.html.
- Steinman, Ron. The Soldier’s Story: An Illustrated Edition: Vietnam in Their Own Words.