A Bundle of Sticks
A little over 26 years ago, I was meeting in Indianapolis with several long-time ministers and wives. The time had come to protect and uphold our proven and dearly held biblical beliefs. Our prior fellowship had broken faith, spawning widespread organizational and spiritual turbulence.
A collective decision was reached to form a new association that would safeguard long-held biblical beliefs. At first, we did not know what to call this new association. About a week later in meetings, the name “United” emerged. From the beginning it was more than a label, it was an injunction, a command. It was to become our identity and represent the character of the future Church.
I served as one of the first speakers in the organizing group. Based on our then-recent experience, I focused on our need to be united in doctrine, resolve and purpose. As a new association, we were not yet organized. In fact, at that moment we were very fragile.
In my talk, I used a familiar historical illustration. I recounted a story from about A.D. 1100 of a Rusyn prince, an early ruler of what is now Ukraine. Back then, he summoned his sons who would inherit his kingdom. As they looked on, he tied together a bundle of sticks and asked each of his sons to try to break it.
The bundle was passed from one son to another. No one could break it. He then untied the sticks and passed a stick to each son and told them to break it. They each easily snapped the lone stick.
His point? The father told his sons that their kingdom would be unbroken if it stayed unified. But, he warned, if they quarreled and went off on their own, they would become vulnerable to surrounding nations and be conquered.
Upon their father’s death, the sons did not heed their father’s warning. Reflecting divisive views, some formed independent city-states and provinces. It was not long then that resource-rich Ukraine, which has few natural borders, would be overrun by Europeans from the west and Asian tribes from the east, the Ottoman empire from the south and Muscovite Russia from the north. For most of its history, a divided Ukraine would become subservient to larger powers, notably Russia.
When Jesus was praying in private for the last time, he prayed that his disciples would hold together by the very power of God: “Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are” (John 17:11 John 17:11And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep through your own name those whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation).
Why? As the Church—God’s assembly of called-out ones—has been Christ’s center of attention as its living Head (Ephesians 1:22-23 Ephesians 1:22-23  And has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
 Which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.
American King James Version×), it has also been the target of a powerful fallen archangel. Both the Hebrew and Greek names related to Satan the devil reflect his role—an adversary. Where he is allowed, he opposes God’s purpose, and is the one who drives all hateful efforts against humanity, tempting them to break God’s eternal laws. His favorite target is the Church. Revelation 12 is a prophecy of the devil (symbolized by a dragon) assaulting the Church (as symbolized by a woman): “‘Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.’ Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child [a reference to Jesus Christ] . . . And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:12-17 Revelation 12:12-17  Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.  And when the dragon saw that he was cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.  And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.  And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.  And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.  And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×).
Our spiritual adversary knows that the best way to weaken a people is through pride, resentment and puffed-up thoughts of intellectual vanity, sarcasm and self-aggrandizement; these divide and break apart once-strong relationships and beliefs.
Since the creation of man and woman, he has been working relentlessly to that end, both collectively and individually: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12 Isaiah 14:12How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
American King James Version×).
Once unified as “one nation under God,” the United States is being increasingly divided and divided further as people dangerously drift away from the Bible and biblical traditions. While constrained by the power of God, the devil preys where he can on the Church, working to stir up vulnerable human emotions and controversies to weaken—even sometimes exhaust—ministers and members. We have seen the fruits of this during the pandemic year, where many of us were tried and tested in difficult challenges.
Here’s a crucial point that cannot be over-emphasized: as a Church we do not fight a physical war, but we do fight a very real war—a spiritual one! The apostle Peter is careful to warn us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8 1 Peter 5:8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
American King James Version×).
The ones often easiest to devour are ones who make a terrible choice, that of isolating or disengaging from the main body, deliberately discarding the very protection Jesus prayed for from His Father. Deceived and spiritually exposed, they are the ones who can be picked off and broken, one by one. Neglecting the spiritual principle of strength (Ecclesiastes 4:12 Ecclesiastes 4:12And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
American King James Version×), they unbundle themselves, only to risk being snapped in half.
James, the human half-brother of Jesus Christ, tells us what to do: “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 James 4:7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout).
We resist and come under God’s promised protection by personally submitting to God, and by stirring up and deploying God’s Holy Spirit through the spiritual activities outlined in Ephesians 6:13-19 Ephesians 6:13-19  Why take to you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
 Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
 And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,
American King James Version×to wage spiritual warfare. These include the protective armor of God in embracing the truth, righteous behavior, doing our part as disciples in sharing the gospel, exercising faith, and protecting our minds with God’s Word. This is the only way we can fight against an unholy adversarial spirit who is intent on dividing and scattering us.
I believe this is one of the greatest lessons we as a Church and as individuals called by a holy calling can learn and put into practice. It takes action to heed these warnings. The apostle John praises those who overcome the adversary, the one who works to undermine our incredible human potential (1 John 2:14 1 John 2:14I have written to you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God stays in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
American King James Version×).
The good news? As we unite in purpose and calling, God supplies us with the ability to powerfully resist the evil spiritual influence of this world. Armed with that power, we have nothing to fear, as nothing can stop us—nothing.
Let us spiritually bundle ourselves together under the protection of God Himself, where the devil does not have a chance to harm.