From the outset of the Revolution, it was apparent that God was on America’s side. Time and time again when all seemed lost, something humanly inexplicable happened. God was shedding His grace on America. For our purposes, one story stands a cut above the rest.
General George Washington hoped in the Lord against the hopelessness of his small unprepared army facing huge numbers of professionals. On the very day the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, British army General Howe was landing the first of what would become 55,000 soldiers on Staten Island. On August 22, 1776, the British fielded 15,000 troops on the southeast shore of Brooklyn and on the 25th another 5,000, racking up nearly three-to-one odds against Washington. The already bad odds were worsened by the fact that half of Washington’s men were not trained in warfare.
The next day, the British had nearly surrounded their enemy in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. Americans were outnumbered, their munitions depleted. Washington dreaded to see the dawn he thought would display his brave men strewn, dead, on battle fields.
Backs to the wall, all they could do was anxiously wait for the British to attack. They could surrender of course, but if they wanted any way out of this fix, their sole recourse was prayer. General Howe had already taken one group by surprise the night before. For some strange (obviously providential) reason, though, he did not follow up on this victory. Had he attacked on the 27th, America would have been finished. Washington waited and waited, as it became surprisingly apparent that Howe was not going to attack.
With hours to spare, by the following night Washington was ready to carry out a wild plan. He would transport every last soldier in Brooklyn in small boats across the mile-wide East River, well within firing range of the British fleet. The risk of being detected seemed suicidal...but for the grace of God!
On the night of the excursion, God covered the men with a storm (heavy rain and a powerful northwest wind), and in the morning He hid them in dense fog. The enemy was blinded and the Continental Army escaped!
This is just a snippet from a prolonged war, and we all know the outcome: a small band of ragtag revolutionaries tackled an empire, the British Empire...and won.
They won because God gave them victory two significant ways (among others). First, He strengthened the ragtag band with a common goal. They were one mind, striving together for democracy — freedom from a government that did not grant representation. This unity of mind and determination to produce a superior, self-governing nation fueled Washington’s inferior forces with power to endure the most horrible circumstances together. Secondly, to make up for “underdog” weaknesses, God so obviously intervened on these two supernatural occasions — stopping Howe’s second attack and concealing Washington’s troops in “bad” weather.
Beloved, today the Church is that small band of ragtag revolutionaries. We’re outnumbered...but we’re going to win! There’s more malevolent evil than benevolent good in the world, but we’re going to win because we trust in a sovereign God and we’re a team, partners striving together for the faith of the Gospel.” God will give us victory through unity, and where and when we’re outclassed and outnumbered, God will providentially intervene.
Victory Through Unity
Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is [nonsense]. The [people] who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post... know [nothing]...about real battle!
—General George S. Patton, Jr., 3rd Army Speech, 5/31/44
Well, that’s not what Patton said verbatim! We took out some harsh terms — but his point was well made. Patton knew that a battle zone was no place for prima donnas — individuals who are not “team-players.” As good a dribbler and 3-point shooter as Michael Jordan (still) is, he can’t take on the New York Nicks by himself. They’d run him ragged, blocking his every shot while effortlessly completing their own. Having no effective strategy or replacements, he’d eventually collapse from exhaustion.
And so would we, if we faced our enemy alone. The enemy is too powerful.
And he’s organized. In Job, death is personified with the titles “firstborn” and “king” (Job 18:13,14) — which are ranks. Three weeks after Daniel prays, an angel tells him that’s how long it took to get through because he was resisted by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” until a higher-ranking “chief of princes” named “Michael” (the arch-angel, Jude 1:9) helped him out (Daniel 10:13). Later, the same angel tells Daniel he has to head out to fight a “prince of Greece” who’s coming (v. 20).
The New Testament pictures Satan with seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 12:3). There’s a “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and a “king” who leads 200,000,000 demons (Revelation 9:16) out of the abyss during the tribulation (9:11).
Satan’s army is organized for battle. As Paul says, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We can’t go it alone in this war!
That’s why Jesus structured His body. The true Church is not a set of loose cannons. It’s a team of soldiers, each one equipped with unique, God-given talents and skills — “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11,12).
These are complementary, not competitive, skills — many yet one, for and in battle! This truth was important enough for Jesus to highlight at the beginning and end of his ministry.
At the beginning, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this: “You [together: a Greek plural pronoun] are the light [not lights] of the world. A city [not cities] set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp [not lamps] and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand [not lampstands], and it [one thing] gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14).
Toward the close of His ministry and life, Jesus prayed that His followers “may all be one...so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21)...that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (v. 23).
Think about it — “one” so that the world may believe, “perfected in unity” so that the world might know.” The world’s peoples come to belief when the Lord’s Church is one; they come to the certainty of knowledge (mature faith) when the Church is perfectly one.
Victory in Spite of Disunity
Yet there’s disunity in the ranks. The Church is an army, but it does look rather ragtag.
It is...on the surface. But God commanded the Church to make allowances for disunity: “Allow both [tares and wheat] to grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30; italics ours).
The Roman Catholic Church didn’t settle for this. For hundreds of years, they thought they had purged out tares so that only wheat lived under their roof. Protestant reformers recognized that tares growing alongside the wheat until the end of the age meant there would always be “false teachers among [within]” (2 Peter 2:1; italics ours). That’s the way it is...on the surface!
Below this, the Reformers added, lies an advancing, inconquerable army of wheat the gates of hell can’t prevail against (Matthew 16:18). Underneath is a glorious invisible Church of true believers that partner to evangelize — to get the Gospel into the whole world so that the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
God has a purpose for superficial divisions: “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19; italics ours).
This “coming out” of the true people of God is an evidence that attracts people to Christ. Conflict reveals patience and grace to a world of impatience and self-righteousness.
God gets glory when He rescues overpowered believers like you and me. He loves to save a one-minded people with minimal resources.
Moses and Aaron were overwhelmed by Pharaoh’s army. Slaves were of no military consequence, but they were one mind in their desire for freedom. What they lacked in military strength God more than made up! The Lord plagued Pharaoh and his people until they finally let His people go!
Similarly, Jehoshaphat and his people were backed up against the Mediterranean Sea with three foreign armies converging to “push them in.” He decided to “go out” worshipping, so he sent a choir out to praise God ahead of his army (2 Chronicles 20:21). He no doubt thought — if God wants to wipe us out, so be it. But I really doubt that He’s going to allow unbelieving armies to kill a choir praising His holy name advancing “before [His] army.”
He was right. God honored this step of bold faith that actually believed He could win against big odds — with or without an army! As it was, the three foreign armies attacked each other — a massive self-defeat!
Saul’s equally bold son Jonathan knew that no number of enemies could ultimately match the power of His God: “Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6; italics ours)
We’re small, but we’re going to win because the Lord with “no restraint[s]” is on our side — the side of truth and grace! The gates of hell won’t prevail (Matthew 16:18); the leaven of the kingdom will leaven the whole lump (Matthew 13:33).
We’re going to win because the sovereign God who delights to save “by few” has joined us on the playing field — in the war zone. He’s not sidelined as a coach who advises but doesn’t play, a referee who cares less who wins, or a cheerleader who encourages but is not part of the team effort. “The LORD is a man of war” (KJV: Exodus 15:3, literal Hebrew).
We’re going to win because we’ve teamed up with each other — “one mind, striving for the faith of the Gospel.”
We’re going to win together, Beloved — joined by the Lord on the battlefield and partnering with each other.
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Host, Precepts for Life
Co-Founder, Precept Ministries International
Matthew begins with Jesus' humble birth as son of David, son of Abraham and ends with His universal authority over heaven and earth, His commission to His followers to make and teach disciples of all nations, and His promise to be with them always, to the end of the age.