“United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase that is well known and has been widely used to inspire unity. Wikipedia says, “Its core concept lies in the …notion that as individual members of a certain group with binding ideals… work on their own instead of as a team, they are each doomed to fail and will all be defeated.”

One of our Founding Fathers, John Dickinson (1732–1808), wrote the lyrics to “The Liberty Song” in 1768. In the song he wrote: “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” Patrick Henry used the phrase in his last public speech in which he denounced efforts to advance states’ rights.

In his unsuccessful campaign for the United States Senate, Abraham Lincoln gave one of his best-known speeches. In his debates with Stephen Douglas he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”

Many popular songs have used the theme “United we stand, divided we fall.” The Brotherhood of Man, Sonny and Cher, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Tupak Shakur, and many others have asserted that belief.

This phrase has been attributed to the ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop. One of Aesop’s Greek fables tells of four oxen who lived in the forest. They were very good friends and always went together to graze in the fields. However, every time they went, a hungry lion tried to attack them. The lion longed for their meat but they withstood his attack by fighting him as a team. They attacked him with their horns and the lion fled to another forest. One day, the four oxen fought among themselves. They started going to the forest separately.

When the lion returned, he saw that the group was divided and he planned to take advantage of this situation. Finding the first ox grazing in the fields alone, he crept from behind and ate him up. The next day, he attacked the second ox and killed it. This way he killed the third and the fourth ox too. Had the four oxen stayed together, they wouldn’t have lost their lives.

A similar phrase also appears in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus declares that unity within oneself is essential as he proclaims, “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25, Matthew 12:25, Luke 11:17). Surely what is true of the individual is true of any corporate entity.

The makeup of a human being is incredibly complex. There are several main systems that make up the human body and each has a different function. The cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous systems are not identical but when they, and other systems, work in unity a healthy individual is the result. Jesus is not suggesting a simplistic thought. But unity is essential for the health of the body, nation, church, family, and society in general.

Lord, unite our hearts, minds, and spirits so that we can stand together.

Jamie Jenkins

* This was originally written for a devotional booklet (Prayers, Politics, and Peace) for the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Monday, November 14, 2016.