In 2 Samuel 10 the king of the Ammonites has died and his son, Hanun, ruled in his place. David wanted to show kindness to Hanun so he sent his delegates to express consolation to the new king for the loss of his father. But Hanun was convinced by his princes that David’s intent was evil, so he humiliated the delegates and sent them away. David was very angry about this, and when the Ammonites heard about his anger, they sent for help to the Syrians to build an offensive against Israel. When David heard this he sent Joab and all the mighty men against the Ammonites. As it developed, the Ammonites were arrayed at the walled city to protect it, the Syrians were gathered in the open field, and Joab, with the Israelites, were sandwiched in the middle.
So Joab took charge of one group of men and set himself against the Syrians, and the rest of his men he put in the charge of Abishai, his brother, and set them against the Ammonites. In verses 11 and 12 Joab gives this great word of challenge and faith to Abishai:
If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.
What a vision for teamwork. There are six things in the word of Joab that I think should characterize every effort at team ministry in the church.
First of all, humility. “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me.” Joab was a mighty warrior, but not so foolish as to think himself wholly self-sufficient. “Abishai, my brother, I might be inadequate for the task today.” And he was not ashamed to ask for help. Humility willingly acknowledges its own finitude and need. It is open to be helped, and it is open to being taught, and it does not resent good advice or counsel.
The second characteristic of team ministry illustrated by Joab is diversification. Abishai was sent against the Ammonites; Joab went against the Syrians. It is wise battle strategy, when the enemy is widespread and diverse, that we not engage all the troops in one place. It is also wise to have everyone doing most of the time what they are best at. And it is a solid biblical principle that God has given all of us different combinations of gifts.
3. Mutual Helpfulness
The third characteristic of good team ministry is mutual helpfulness. “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you.” Diversification in the church is not so ironclad that we can’t leave our appointed bailiwicks and help one another. Fundamental to all successful teamwork is that the team members be for each other, not against each other. Competition in ministry is anathema to the Spirit of Christ.
The fourth characteristic of effective team ministry is strength. “Be of good courage and let us play the man.” More literally, the Hebrew simply says, “Be strong and let us show ourselves strong!” When the battle begins, do not limp away weak and fearful. Attack! “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10) The power that we need does not come from within ourselves. It is the strength of God’s might with which we must be strengthened. When we put on God’s armor, we get God’s strength.
5. Benefit to God’s People
“For our people and for the cities of our God!” Joab said. Even though it must be our goal to help each other, yet we must always ask, “Help each other do what?” And the answer is, “Benefit God’s people.” No Christian team lives for itself alone. We strive for gospel humility, we employ our diversification, we live in mutual helpfulness, we maintain strength not for ourselves alone but for the benefit of God’s people.
6. Surrender to God’s Sovereign Guidance
There is one final characteristic of team ministry that Joab illustrates: surrender to God’s sovereign guidance. “Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him!” And may the Lord do whatever seems good to him. O, may we always approach our work in this way, bowing together before God and saying: “God, we aim to be humble, to be diversified, mutually helpful, strong in the Lord, working hard for the benefit of your people, but, O God, we acknowledge you are sovereign and we are finite, and we would say no more than Joab: in all our plans and all our labor, you do what seems good to you!”
Excerpted from For Our People and for the Cities of God.