Joshua 18: Working together

There are few things in life that can be as edifying – or as difficult, or even dangerous – as working together with others. If done right, a team can just “click” such that the collective output of the group is exponentially greater any or all of the individual members could accomplish on their own. If done wrong, though, a team can end up at each others’ throats, rendered utterly impotent by divergent agendas, broken communication, micromanagement, or all-out infighting.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been on both types of teams. And if you’re anything like me, you remember the frustration that accompanies partnership in the latter, and the real excitement and accomplishment which accompanies membership in the former.

In Joshua 18, as Joshua continued with the distribution of the land among the tribes of Israel, he realized that the seven tribes which remained to receive their allotments – Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, and Levi – would not remain patient forever. However, he also realized that he didn’t have the information necessary to finish the job. In particular, the surveys that he had of all but the core territories of the promise land were incomplete at best. The military hadn’t pushed through all of the smaller cities and kingdoms, so they hadn’t been able to make real maps of the area.

So he needed to send out someone to make the maps. The question was, who? Sending out one person could take forever. Sending out two or three could result in favoritism or inaccuracies. In order to expedite and improve the process, Joshua decided to call all the tribes together and dispatch three men from each tribe to scout out the area, complete the maps, and allow Joshua to get this job done.

Now, there are a couple of things interesting about this. The first is that Joshua appointed men “from each tribe” (v 4). This is important because the tribes of Gad, Reuben, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Judah had already received their allotments, and Levi was not going to receive an allotment at all. And yet, all six of these tribes were asked to provide three representatives to help map the remaining land. But you don’t hear any complaints about this. You just see that the men “started on their way” in vs 8.

This is a crucial thing. Even though these six tribes had no vested interest in mapping these territories, they still helped with the work to be done. Without moaning, groaning, grumbling or anything else. They just did it.

Sometimes, it’s essential that we work together to get a job done quickly and correctly, even if we don’t have any real interest ourselves in the finished result. As believers, called to serve, we must recognize this fact. More than that, though, we must commit to it. So the next time someone asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be, “Well, that’s not my problem,” or “I’ve done my part.” Rather, it should be “the men (or women) started on their way to map out the land.”

And a second thing that I think is important about this revelation that all twelve of the tribes were called on to supply men for this task is that they all worked together to get the job done. If you’ve ever worked on a team that didn’t work very well together, you’ll understand the significance of this statement. Teams that don’t work together not only don’t get the job done as quickly or as well, but they have a toxic effect on everyone involved. If you work on such a team long enough, it’s almost guaranteed to poison your soul. In fact, I would submit that the only exception to this rule is when the soul has already been poisoned!

It’s no wonder, then, that whenever we find ourselves on a team that truly works well together and gets things done, the vast majority of us truly relish that team and start to do everything in our power to avoid the toxic teams that none of us really like. In fact, it is this very fact which the world’s most productive – and successful – companies and organizations count on as they build the teams critical to their success!

Why is it, then, that in the Church, we have a tendency to do exactly the opposite? Now, I don’t necessarily think that we do it intentionally, and yet, time and again, we hear stories about churches that split because the decorating team couldn’t decide together on the color of the bathroom walls, close because they won’t work together to reach out to the community, or maybe worst of all, are crippled by vicious infights which ripple through the congregation and spill out into the community beyond.

The church needs to realize that we are the body of Christ. The body doesn’t work if it doesn’t work together. It is, after all, a team of parts. Each part has a job to do, and each part must get its job done. A hand doesn’t tell the foot what to do, and a foot doesn’t tell the ear how to do its job. And none of these tries to rush over and do the job of the nose or mouth. Each part has a job to do, and they’re all connected by an extensive network of nerves which provide communication between each of the parts and the brain, which controls everything.

It’s time for churches – and individual Christians within churches – to get over ourselves and start working like the scouts Joshua sent out. Stop worrying about whether or not it’s our job, and get the job done. And stop being the toxic kind of team that is constantly infighting and stepping on each other, etc. Stick to your part. Do it well. Don’t try to tell everyone else what to do (i.e., you’re NOT the head). And talk to one another so that everyone knows what’s going on.

Work together. Get things done.

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