One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of an old man on his deathbed who wanted to give his sons some parting advice. He asked them to bring in a bundle of sticks, and he said to his oldest son, “Break it.” Confident in his abilities, the eldest son took the bundle of sticks and tried to break it—but in spite of all of his efforts, he was unable to break the bundle. The other sons tried to break the bundle as well, and none of them could.
The father then told his sons to untie the bundle and each take a stick. “Now, break it,” he said. Each stick was easily snapped in half with very little effort.
What is the lesson of the bundle of sticks? When you work together, you are stronger. Union gives strength.
In the Church, we are like this bundle of sticks. When the sticks are joined together, they are strong and unbreakable. A single stick doesn’t have the same strength as the unified bundle; it cannot withstand the kind of pressure that the larger bundle can. If you are by yourself, you can fail. But together, there is more strength. When we are united in our physical families and in the greater Family, we have great strength.
In the January 1981 Youth magazine, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote: “It takes a lot of people or persons to run and rule in a government! Jesus did not plan to do it all by Himself alone, without many others under him, working loyally to lead people into God’s way of life ….” God’s plan includes all mankind. They don’t plan on doing it all by themselves! They don’t want just one stick—God the Father wants and needs all of us. He needs a loyal, united people as a Bride for His Son.
The core of our bundle of sticks is God’s government and law. We are all wrapped around that core; that’s what keeps us grounded. This kind of unity is essential for being part of the God Family. We have to embrace the law, not disregard it as so many do in the world.
Working together is what makes us strong under the pressures of Satan, society and ourselves. To get this job done—to finish the Work—we need to be unified in mind and purpose. That is something that you are a part of too. As teens, it’s easy to think that this is only for your parents. But it’s not—it is for you, too. Mr. Flurry has said that our young people will have to grow up fast; time is running out. In order to fulfill our commission, we need that same unity that God and the Word had right from the beginning (John 1:1).
Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” God the Father and the Word had to have been in perfect harmony for eternity. Never an argument, never a dispute, never a difference in opinion. They had to agree on everything. Can you imagine that happening in your family, in your peer group, or in your Church area? This is how God wants us to be.
In the May 1981 Good News, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “We need to understand that character, either good or bad, cannot be instantly created by fiat. It must be developed by experience over a space of time. So God created angels with minds that could have knowledge, could think, reason, come to conclusions, make decisions. God told them of His government that He set over them. To achieve God’s purpose—eventually to finish the creation of the entire universe—it was necessary that they all pull together, in harmony and unity. His government was the way to provide that—and also the way to develop in them holy, righteous and perfect character!” In order to achieve anything lasting, we have to revolve around that government.
Each individual plays an important role. Each one of us is vital to the success of the whole. By yourself, you can be broken—but if you combine your little strength with that of everyone else, together we will come to have a united Family that will never be broken. This Work is a Work of unity, love, outgoing concern and service to others. One of the best ways we can build unity is through service to others.
Naturally, we are all dedicated to serving ourselves. We love to serve ourselves, and we love to be served. The way people often quantify greatness is by how many people are serving them. But God says in Matthew 23:11 that “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” The greatest people are the ones who are service-minded, and that giving attitude of service builds unity.
Ephesians 4:15-16 shows us that every part of the Body of Christ needs to be fitly joined together in unity just like the muscles, bones and sinews of a physical body are tightly bound together. Each part of the Body has its function to perform in the Body, and that includes you teens. You are sticks in this bundle too, and it’s really important to be a good stick in that bundle. It also needs to be a bundle that is tightly bound together. We can make a greater impact on the world together. We won’t have success as a lone Christian, a lone stick, a lone teen.
In the March 1981 Plain Truth, Mr. Armstrong wrote about the “‘private’ or ‘individual’ Christian who says, ‘I don’t want to be a part of the Church—I want to seek my salvation direct and alone with Christ.” To those who think they can go it alone, he said, “The answer is this: God Himself laid out the plan and the method by which humans may be, after begettal, trained and prepared to become part of the Divine Personnel of born God Beings that shall form the Kingdom of God.
“The Kingdom of God will be the God Family—a superbly and highly trained and organized Family of God Beings, well organized on God’s pattern of mutual teamwork and cooperation to function perfectly together. They shall become the God Family.”
“One who says: ‘I will live alone by myself in this world of Satan’s—I will be no part of the Family’ is, therefore not trained and developed in spiritual character according to God’s pattern. Such can never fit in as part of the family then, if not trained and developed with the Family, the Church, now.
“Take an analogy from Satan’s world. A football player at Ohio State says: “I want to play in all of the games, but I’ll train alone. I don’t want to be part of the team until the games start.” Would the coach let him be part of the team in the games, without having learned teamwork during practice season? Neither will God let one into His Family at the resurrection who refused to be part of it now—in the Church—in the spiritual “training season.”
If you’re a teen and you think, “I don’t need the Church—I can make it on my own,” you are totally deceived. In this Church, we are all being trained to be teachers. This is such a special opportunity! If you want to be a ruler and a teacher in God’s Kingdom, you cannot be a lone stick. We have unity in mind and purpose, and that unity is all about preparing us to serve.
Is unity merely putting up with each other? If we are just putting up with each other, that won’t get you into the Kingdom of God. This is about Godly love and an attitude of service. The more tightly-knit we are, the more unified we are and the more weight we can bear—just like a suspension bridge garners its immense strength from tightly-spun cables full of tiny fibers that, together, can support thousands of pounds.
Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (emphasis mine). And the result of that unity? “[L]ife for evermore” (verse 3). Eternal life!
We are such a small group that even a tiny crack could be incredibly divisive. If a stick is cracked, it breaks far more easily. If you have a crack somewhere—an area where you let down or allow the world in—that will weaken the strength of the whole bundle. Don’t be the weakest stick. Be the strongest.
What if you are the only teen in your Church area? How do you develop unity through service when there isn’t anybody to serve? This is where getting the big picture is important. What matters is our basic approach to unity and service. Once you get that mind-set right, you will see a lot of opportunities to serve.
Here are six simple ways to develop unity through service:
1. Have the right mind-set.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). We have to have the mind of Christ, and Christ took on the attitude of a servant. If we have that “like mind,” we will have that same attitude of service. The only way we can really take on Christ’s mind is to get to know Christ’s mind. We have to practice living that way—putting it into practice. Our lives should exude the attitude of a servant; it should be our way of life, just like shooting three-pointers is for Stephen Curry.
In Luke 22:27, Christ said, “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” Christ is the greatest because He serves. The more of Christ’s mind we take on, the more we will serve, too.
2. True service requires a humble attitude.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). We are to esteem others better than ourselves—put their needs ahead of our own. This is a truly humble attitude, which is what God is looking for (Isaiah 66:2). Are you the person who fights at the potluck to get the biggest piece of cake? Are you the person who sees a dirty job that needs to be done and pretends not to notice?
John 13:13-17 shows us the humble footwashing attitude that Christ had. Can you imagine washing those nasty, dirty, travel-worn feet? That’s what Christ did. He set us an example so we could follow it: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (verse 17).
3. Serve in silence.
The most effective service of all is when no one knows who did it. Serve behind the scenes; don’t proclaim your service (“I’m washing the dishes!”). If you serve just to be seen of men, you will have your reward. But God sees when you serve in secret, and He will reward you openly (Matthew 6:1-4). If you serve to be out in the limelight, then it’s all for vanity—and vanity is a unity-killer. God rewards our unseen service not with a temporary reward, but with an eternal one.
In Colossians 4:12-13, Paul recognizes Epaphras for his service in prayers for the brethren. No one would have ever known of his service if it hadn’t been for those two little verses. But God knew. We can all labor in prayers for each other, even if we can’t do anything else to serve. Instead of being a small service, prayer is one of the greatest services we can perform for others. Even if you’re a lone teen out there, you can build unity by praying for others.
4. Service and unity both start with the little things.
Just like the grain of a mustard seed, our acts of service can start very small (Matthew 13:31-32). But he who is faithful in the mustard-seed-sized issues will be faithful in the larger matters as well. If we pick and choose where we want to serve, that’s not true service. Service is an attitude. When God is involved, starting small is the route to greatness. We must be careful not to despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10).
Open your eyes to look for the needs of those around you—holding doors open, greeting people with a smile, giving in fellowship, pulling a few weeds when you see them. You can start this right away. Never stop serving in the small ways. You’re never too good to pick up a piece of paper off the floor and throw it away. Get in and help. You can lead by example. Be a committee of one.
Do you think Noah’s Ark just materialized? It took years and years, and it all started with one log. Or think of Nehemiah’s wall; it started with one rock at a time. When we’re serving others even in the small ways, we are displaying the character that God is developing in us.
5. Serve those who can’t serve you back.
James 1:27 tells us that part of pure religion is “to visit” the fatherless and the widows. “Visit” is not watching; it means you are actually out there, serving. Humanly, we like to serve those whom we like, or those from whom we can get something in return. But that isn’t how God views service. He loves the whole world (John 3:16), not just a select few. If we don’t serve the people we interact with every day, we’re fooling ourselves into thinking that we are really serving. Our stock goes up with God when we serve those who can’t serve us back.
6. Service equals sacrifice.
Philippians 2:25-27 tells the story of Epaphroditus, who literally wore himself out serving Paul. Because he was serving so much, he nearly killed himself with serving. None of us have ever served that much, but he did. And why? The Philippians weren’t doing their part, so this one man nearly killed himself with doing by himself what the other members should have been helping with. This story shows us how important service rendered by every member is. Each stick plays a role in the bundle, doing its part to keep the whole bundle strong.
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Look at the unity in this verse. Paul is really emphasizing the oneness that we should have in this Body of Christ. He uses the word “one” seven times!
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” These verses are all about unity. You cannot be out there on your own; you will not survive. Satan will pick you off if you’re by yourself—even if you’re on the fringe. He is walking around out there, looking to devour you. And if you’re out there away from this bundle, you will be like that lone stick and you will be broken.