When "me" becomes "we," our faith becomes stronger.
We are continuing this theme called, ‘we.’ I acknowledge that there are many of us in this gathering, who may say I’m on a journey. I am on a journey. I’m just not so sure faith is a part of that journey. That’s okay. Others of us might say, I’m on a journey and my faith is central to my journey. There might be a number of us that fit anywhere within that spectrum. The reality is what we’re exploring here together is a life journey with Jesus. Wherever we might be, it will inevitably challenge us to move from a me-oriented way of life, to a we-mindset that embraces a community. A local faith community that calls on His name as our home. There is something about this way of Jesus that asks us to move beyond our journey privately and asks us to be a part of a journey of a group. It is the shift from me to we. Every week we will explore a slightly different angle of what this might look like and how this might play out in our lives. This weekend, we’re exploring the theme of ‘we are stronger than me.’ What does that mean? It means it’s not just an acknowledgement. It’s a statement. It’s a declaration that we need each other to overcome our personal challenges, struggles, and obstacles that present themselves in our lives. We need each other. That is what, ‘we are stronger than me,’ declares.
A little over a year ago I found myself in the basement of a gym downtown in a CrossFit class. CrossFit has become a global phenomenon. How do you know somebody does CrossFit? They tell you. It became one of these things. My wife ended up joining this gym. She wanted to learn martial arts. She got stronger and better. I thought, okay. I was both motivated and challenged. I decided maybe I should get in shape too, and decided to join. She was doing her thing. one of the things they offered was a CrossFit class or group. I decided I’m going to try that out. I’ve never done it. I’m going to go try it out. I’m convinced that some of us here might do it. I might be misreading this, but I think part of CrossFit’s mission is to humiliate those who start out in it and break you down before they build you up.
I remember this one evening, I found myself in the midst of a workout. When it comes to larger settings, I usually stay to myself. I just want to focus. I’m just trying to survive. I just want to get out alive kind of deal. I don’t really interact a whole lot. But there’s this one guy who decided to befriended me. He came over and he’s this big man. He had a thick German accent. When he talked, I know Schwarzenegger’s Austrian, but it felt like I was talking to him. He was befriending me, talking to me, and encouraging me along the way. This particular evening, we had a circuit in which we had to do various exercises. We were competing for time, who could do it the fastest. I already lost before we started. It ended with a 30 pound medicine ball that we needed to lift up over our head and slam it down 30 times. My tactic was to keep enough reserve in the tank to finish and survive. I go through the first one, the second one, the third, and I get to the medicine ball. I think, “man, I got something left.” I’m just trying to survive. That’s success for me. I pick up the 30 pound medicine ball and I put it up over my head and slam it down. I think,” wow, what, 30 pounds? It’s not that heavy. It’s okay.”
I pick it up the second time, put it up over my head, slam it down and think, “man, 28 to go. We got this. I’m good.” I put it in a hyper drive and go as fast as possible. I thought I did. I may not have moved faster, but you know, I get the ball, I put it up over my head, I slam it down. I do it about five more times. I get to seven. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a wall appeared and I went crashing right into it, real hard. It felt like my legs became very weak, noodles. I started complaining. My lungs were gasping for oxygen. I started feeling what I had eaten all day. I’m sitting there and energy just ran away from me. I start to buckle down and put my hands on my knees. My friend had already finished and noticed this. He ran over to me and says, “no, no, no, stand up.” I stand up and he says, “you will take three breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth. Do it with me.” So I do it. He’s bigger and stronger. I’m smart. So, I listen to him. He says, “you will pick that ball up three times. I will count you down. Go, now.”
I pick it up, three, two, one. I finish. I’m thinking, okay, good. He says, “you have 20 left. Three more breaths.” I do my three breaths. He says, “you will do five now. I will count you down.” As he’s counting down, he starts calling other people over, pretty much the opposite of what I would like. Five, four, he’s counting, three, two, one. three breaths. Then it’s 15 left. 10 left. More people start counting. Five left. Now I’m doing those last five. I’m both afraid and motivated all at once, questioning my membership. I get down and put one on the ground. I collapse, he cheers. I’m gasping, he’s high-fiving. Everyone is like, yeah. He comes over and picks me up. It was nothing. He just gets me on my feet, pats me on the back. You’re one of us. We finish together. I was like, it just hit me. It hammered something into me. We all have a vision of what we would like to be. A goal, an aspiration, some would say, it’s a conviction, a passion. Something motivates us. Every single one of us has it. Some would say it’s a holy discontent. We would even go as far as saying, God has deposited something in our soul that we are striving for. When we lean into it, we start to discover, I can’t do it.
I was reminded of this as I was sitting there in that basement. We are stronger than me. I wanted to quit, he didn’t let me. I felt weak, he was strong. I was feeling every sensation, except keep ongoing. What I experienced there, it’s the truth. It touched on a principle of life. If that’s the case in every other realm of our lives, we know it in education, we know it in our careers, we know it. We know this. We know the reality that the image of the self-made man i’s a myth. It’s a myth. We all need each other. We need others in our lives. It becomes clearest when we are betrayed by our weaknesses. It becomes clearest when we are betrayed by our lack of integrity, courage, and strength. When everything in us is actually undermining the very thing we’re trying to do. In those places, we would be mistaken if we were to start to think that perhaps I’m just not cut out. The reality is, that is normal. It’s normal.
It’s part of the human condition. We have both working within us at the same time. It’s the reality that we all have vulnerabilities. This is why I love the scriptures because they do not paint us as anything other than what we really are. At the same time, the demonstrated God, who is far more loving, gracious, and wants to give us more strength than we could ever imagine. Many times we will discover, especially in this account we’re going to look at, God has deposited this is within me and I’m striving toward it. So I must do it. That is certainly true to a degree, but we were never meant to do it alone. It’s not how this works. We were always meant to recognize we are stronger together. Together we overcome. This movement throughout the scriptures is something God continues to move us toward and help us consider. This passage is found in the older Testament. It’s an account of a narrative that gives us a picture of a contrast of Kings. One king had his faith misplaced. The other one was not king yet, but he had his faith placed in God. We see a contrast. What I hope we’re going to recognize is that the one who had faith in God didn’t go at it alone.
We read together in first Samuel 14, “One day Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, come on, let’s go over to where the Philippines have their outpost. But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing.” What we are told here and have to understand is this is a point in Israel’s history in which they have enemies at their borders who bullied them out of the land God had promised to them. They conquered it and now are threatening to take more. A people group known as the Philistines, who were not just opposed to Israel, but they were opposed to everything Israel represented and the God they worshiped. Then you have Saul, who is the king of the land. He is a king who is not behaving like one, for his faith was placed in something other than God.
Next, you have his son, the prince of the land. We’re told that he’s stirred and moved to action. He asks his armor-bearer to go with him to where the Philippines are at their outpost. Meanwhile, verse 2 says, “Saul and his 600 men were camped on the outskirts of Gibeah, around the pomegranate tree at Migron. Among Saul’s men were Ahijah, the priest, who was wearing the ephod,” the priestly vest. “Ahijah was the son of Ichabod, brother of Ahitub, son of Phineas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord who had served at Shiloh.” Indirectly, this is saying it matters who we are connected to. The priest that was standing next to Saul came from the direct lineage of the high priestly order that God had instituted. It is telling us it matters who we are connected to matters.
“However, no one realized that Jonathan had left the Israeli camp. All 600 men, no one realized two were missing.” Verse four tells us, “To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs that were called Bozez and Seneh. The cliff on the north was in front of Michmash. The one on the south was in front of Gibeah. Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans, Jonathan said to his armor-bearer. Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few.” The narrator gives us somewhat of a word picture. We may not know where those locations are, but one thing we are certain, what he is describing is treacherous ground. He’s saying that no army could go there, but two could. It was in between two cliffs and they made their way up there. As they made their way up there, this moment comes where they’re sitting on the edge of freedom, on the edge of security, on the edge of confronting their greatest fear. At that moment, Jonathan turns to his armor-bearer and says this phrase that is a phrase we can’t describe other than it’s a phrase filled with courage and faith.
“God doesn’t need an entire army. He can use as little as two.” That’s in itself is admirable. I’d like to suggest that what the armor-bearer says is the hinge point of this entire account because the armor-bearer says to him in verse seven, “do what you think is best. I’m with you completely, whatever you decide.” Why is that the hinge point? He’s the armor-bearer. Here’s the prince of the land and here’s the servant. What else would he say? We would say, that’s the quorum. I’m going to suggest there’s more going on here. We would be slightly mistaken because I think what’s happening is something very human. I think Jonathan, in this moment, is on the precipice of doing something rather courageous. He wants to make sure. It’s almost as if Jonathan is double-checking some things. He’s looking for reassurance. The unsung hero in my opinion is the armor-bearer. Jonathan looks toward his armor-bearer on the precipice of moving forward. Almost as if you’re saying, “I’m willing to do this, I’m just not willing to go alone. I’m willing to take lead, but only if someone follows. I’m willing to face this battle, but I need someone with me. Are you with me?” The armor-bearer’s response in that circumstance, to the one he had served for many years, says, “I am with you completely. Do what you think is best. Whatever you decide, I’m with you.”
The armor-bearer is declaring so much more than his duty. He’s going above and beyond because what he is saying, in essence, is, Jonathan, this is not your battle. This is our battle. I’m not about me. I’m about ‘we.’ Where you go, I go. We’re going to do this together. We will overcome. Which in a moment like that, when the heat is on and everything is on the line, there can’t be stronger words delivered by somebody in the trenches with us. “All right then, Jonathan told him. We’ll cross over and let them see us. Here’s the plan, if they say to us, stay where you are or we’ll kill you, we will stop and not go up to them. If they take us seriously and they’re sober about it, we’ll stop. But if they say, come on up and fight, then we’ll go up. If they act cavalierly and don’t treat us as a serious threat, they don’t respect what can happen, that will be the Lord’s sign that He will help us defeat them.” The scriptures do not mince words. They describe a picture that is violent and brutal. We must not disconnect this from the larger narrative that God is on the move in human history. He was looking at secure freedom and security for His people.
We’re told, “When the Philippines saw them coming, they shouted, “look, the Hebrews are crawling out of their holes like animals.” The men from the outpost shouted to Jonathan, “come on up here and we’ll teach you a lesson. Let’s play.” Which is exactly what Jonathan needed to hear. “Come on.” He looks at his armor-bearer, “climb right behind me, for the Lord will help us defeat them.” Jonathan, not losing sight of the one he has with him, but showing him ultimate respect and care, says, “you stay right with me. We are going together.” They climbed up using both hands and feet. The Philippines fell before Jonathan and his armor-bearer. They killed some 20 men in all and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre. It was a brutal scene. “And suddenly panic broke out in the Philippine army, both in the camp and in the field, including the outpost and the raiding parties. Just then an earthquake struck and everyone was terrified.”
Two men overcoming an army. The story ends up showing that Jonathan and his armor-bearer, two men with courage and faith, behave together in unison and become the catalyst for one tremendous victory for Israel. One, his father, the man with misplaced faith, more interested in me than we, end up almost single-handedly undermining the entire event. That security and freedom, as impactful as it was for that nation, was short-lived. The larger story of the scriptures shows us that in Jesus, the desire of God to secure freedom and salvation for His people was when it was ultimately fulfilled. In the Older Testament, God wanted to secure it for one nation in a physical way. In Jesus, God wanted to secure it for the entire world in a brutally physical way.
It was on the cross that Jesus ends up revealing the heart of God. It was not simply physical security for His people, but the heart of God was not in a battle against people. It was in a battle to heal and redeem the brokenness of humanity and this world. A battle that the scriptures tell us the resurrection of Jesus has secured for us. He has done what we can never do for ourselves. Jesus is our Jonathan. Yet, as true as that is, though it might not be a direct connection, I think there is something for us to consider here. The physical account can remind us of the reality that every single one of us has a battle we are fighting. Every single one of us. Some of us might be sitting here today feeling pretty confident about where we are in that. Others of us may have walked in here crawling.
If someone could see a picture of our soul, it would show we’re in so much pain. We feel so defeated. Others of us are holding a line. it reminds me, Paul spoke to his son in the faith and used this term about his faith journey. He said to him, “look, I want you to understand that this faith requires you to fight. I want you to fight the good fight of faith. I want you to take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. The one you made a good confession before other people, that there is something about this faith, Timothy, you’re going to have to contend for. That desire within your soul that God has deposited or has been in us as long as we can remember, there is something to it. There is a need for us to contend. It is not something we are supposed to engage in passively. In a way, God is looking to enlist us. This life is meant to be actively conquered. It is not meant to be conquered so that others can serve us. It is not meant to be conquered so that we can subjugate others. It is meant to be conquered so that we can secure for ourselves a greater measure of health in our souls and relationships. Life in our neighborhoods, work environments, and ultimately, life to flow in this city. That is what we are contending for. That is why this is so important.”
If that’s the case, then we must understand a couple of things. If we are required to fight, to contend, we were never meant to do it alone. I think this highlights in a very real way the power of our faith. It is connected to our willingness to see ourselves as part of a people, rather than as individuals on a private journey. The power of our faith in Jesus has a direct connection to how we view our journey. If we view it as something privately held, then we miss out on so much of the goodness God has for us. When we start stepping out of a me-oriented way of life and recognize we are part of something, then we start to tap into the very thing Jesus came to establish.
In fact, Jesus told Peter after Peter had confessed Him as Messiah, “I want you to understand this, upon this rock, I will build my church. This is what I will do.” In Matthew 16:18 He says, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” Look at the stark language Jesus uses. He says, “All the powers of hell shall not I prevail against it.” You know that word church, it’s the Greek word ekklesia. It is a word Jesus borrowed from their common colloquial terms. It means assembly or gathering. Jesus is not saying that I came individually to empower you. That is true, but what he is saying is, I came to establish a people. As people together call on my name, the forces of evil in this world cannot withstand it.
There is tremendous power for good that flows out of a people united. We are stronger than ‘me.’ If we start to adopt this way, then we read the scriptures differently. We read the scriptures, not as a word delivered to a person, but as a word delivered to a people. We engage with the scriptures in a way of God; what is your word to my people, our people? Within that, we discover, what is your word to me? What role do you have for me in this group, in this community that I have committed myself to? In a bit more real terms, it starts to have some meaning to our suffering. Our suffering starts to find redemption in our capacity to identify with the suffering of others. It is no longer in vain that we walk through trials and things that would zap the life from us. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in the same boat and path of other people who are struggling just like us.
It was C.S. Lewis who said, “Two people become friends the minute one of them recognizes, oh, I thought it was just me.” We get comforted so we can comfort others. We get strengthened so we can strengthen others. We get encouraged so we can encourage others. It is in the giving away of what we receive, that we find our place. We get lifted so that we can lift others. This is the power of our faith. If that’s the case, then it reminds us that in the victory of our battle there is a correlation between the victory of our battle and the strength of our relationships. We are not meant to turn people into enemies. We are not to turn relationships into a means to an end. The minute we see people as a service to our agenda, we have lost the very battle we’re engaged in.
If anything, our faith is supposed to win us relationships, heal relationships, strengthen relationships, and reconcile relationships. We will see the evidence of His flow in our lives, health, and the increasing health of those we interact with. This is why I look at this passage. We see three different people; the armor-bearer, Jonathan, and his father, Saul. I will say, our community is filled with many armor-bearers. I think it’s part of the strength of who we are. A people who are willing to encourage, serve, and strengthen others. I’ve seen it over the years and I’ve been here for some time now. It never fails to amaze me how quickly our community rallies around those who need help. It’s amazing. We are the ones who will say, we’re with you. I’m with you. Your battle’s not yours, it’s ours. We will overcome. I’ve seen that happen. In our community, that is how we function. It is where we function most comfortably. We’d love to give. If that is the case, I will say, I wonder if God is asking those of us who give, who are the ones who support, will you be supported?
Will you take the courageous risk of asking for others to help you, to strengthen you? Will you be the one who says, I need a little reassurance? I love Jonathan, by the way. Jonathan didn’t look down on his armor-bearer. In a very real way, they were in two different classes. Yet he did not disrespect him. He acknowledged him. He did more than that. He says, “God can use you with me. We could do this.” Some of us need the courage to invite, “will you pray for me? Will you help me with this? I’m fighting this battle and I need you.” For others of us, it might be flipped. We might not necessarily be the armor-bearer. We might be the one who has no problem asking for help. We have no problem inviting others to reassure us. Perhaps God would challenge us. Both need courage. Would you find those who need your help, those who need your strength? Will you give out of what you have received? I can’t help but think of the man under the pomegranate tree, insulated, far away from actually fighting and contending. He was isolated, no one knows, completely disconnected. Some of us may be right there.
in a way I have to say, I understand. It is how I came in because we get burned by people. We get hurt because we let ourselves down. We let others down or we have been let down in times past. Also, I don’t want to burden you. I’m okay. I don’t want to be involved. I’ll come, but I don’t want to risk that. Yet, God might ask us to take the risk. Maybe we don’t have the capacity to go to a place of cultivating a friendship. What if we say, God, I will position myself in an environment and pray that you would send me a Jonathan or that you would send me an armor-bearer. One step at a time, I don’t even know what to do. I don’t know how to heal through this, but I will commit myself to this place, this community, I long to experience what it is like to be strengthened by others and to be one who gives others strength. I lay this prayer before you, help me do that. Help me take one step in that direction. Jesus will answer that prayer because what we discover here is that we all benefit when one of us overcomes. We all benefit. Do we understand an entire nation benefited because of two courageous people? It was not Jonathan’s victory, it was Israel’s victory. We are a place that when we move in the direction, we start to discover we are stronger than ‘me.’
We start to become one of the places where people come in weak and they get stronger. We become one of the places where individual weaknesses are overcome by the strength of others. We become one of the communities in which relationships are strengthened by those who surround that relationship. We become the place where people support one another, where there is no individual on a single journey. There is a community moving together, lifting each other up, strengthening each other. We become the place where it is okay to admit need and vulnerability. Where transgressions can be confessed, prayed for, and healed. We become the place where one person overcoming means one more person helping others overcome. We start to live out what Jesus said, you do this and you will become like a city on a hill, shining a light. That light will be filled with faith, hope, and love. The very ingredients Jesus uses to continue the good work He has started. He wants to do this. He is already doing this. The question is, will we be a part of it? Will we discover the life-changing truth that we are stronger than ‘me.’
Lord, I thank you. I thank you, Jesus, that in your grace and in your love, you do approach us each individually, uniquely. I thank you that you give us the gift of each other. I thank you, God, that your embrace of acceptance towards us is an embrace you invite us to receive through the words, through the arms, and through the prayers of other people calling on your name. I pray that you would make us a community that is able to experience the reality that two are than one. One can be easily overcome, but two can overcome, keep each other warm, get a double portion for their toil, a triple-braided cord that will never be easily broken. Would you do something beautiful? Would you help us experience each individually, we are stronger than me. I pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.