One of the most dynamic personalities of the New Testament was a single. Paul was an unmarried man throughout his tenure as an apostle for God.
Though single, he was surrounded by people and great with people—“all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The book of Acts uses plural pronouns to describe his travels—they/we, us/them. The last chapter of his epic letter to the Romans contains a long list of names, and even that is just a fraction of the people he valued in his ministry.
That chapter, Romans 16, uses a meaningful word in a few instances. It’s found in verse 3, when describing Paul’s “helpers in Christ”—a married couple named Aquila and Priscilla. It similarly describes Urbane as a “helper” (verse 9). Timothy, who was with Paul and offering greetings to brethren in Rome, is there called Paul’s “workfellow” (verse 21).
Paul uses this Greek word elsewhere in his epistles to describe the dedicated people who proved themselves indispensable to his work. In these places, it is translated as fellowlaborers, fellow workers or companions in labor.
This Greek word is synergos—a compound word comprised of syn, meaning with, and ergos, a form of the word for work. Literally it means to work together and, in this part of speech, it is used to describe people who were in sync with Paul’s spiritual goals for the Work.
This word also famously appears in verb form (an action word) in this epistle: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
This is where we get our English word synergy, which the New Oxford American Dictionary defines as “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”
Though the biblical definition is a little broader than that, the Bible does describe this phenomenon. Even one of the Strong’s Concordance definitions for the Greek word includes: “to put forth power together with and thereby to assist.”
Synergy, in short, is described in the expression: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If two horses can pull about 9,000 pounds, you might assume four horses could pull 18,000 pounds. That’s the result of “arithmetical” math (1 + 1 = 2; 2 + 2 = 4; 9,000 + 9,000=18,000). But four horses can pull over 30,000 pounds. Some call that “metaphoric” math—or, more properly, “synergetic” math. In this kind of math, 1 + 1 = 3.33.
The phenomenon is also seen when geese fly in a V formation: Experts calculate that the flock can go 71 percent farther than if each bird flew alone.
Synergy also works in a negative way: Combining a barbiturate with alcohol makes the former than 5, 10 or even 20 times the potency.
This concept appears all throughout Scripture. It relates to our relationship with God, as well as our interactions with fellow human beings. It has direct applications to singles in God’s Church.
The handful of New Testament verses that use the Greek word for synergy are quite well-known for members in God’s Church. Romans 8:28 is a classic example: All things “work together” or synergize. Events aren’t random, coincidental or mere happenstance. There’s a synergy among them. This one event by itself might be considered a hardship, whereas combined with this other event, it now becomes a miraculous blessing.
One rendering of the verse words it: “God worketh all things with them for good.” This makes sense, since this is specific to those God has called. God is working events to a compounded, exponentially greater effect. This is a power in your life!
Ask yourself: How much do I see the events God has orchestrated in my life as creating a synergy—a power that accumulates exponentially based on the experiences He has given me?
Faith and Works
Another example of synergy is found in James 2. Starting in verse 17, we read that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” It goes on to describe Abraham: “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” (verse 22). The phrase “wrought with” comes from the Greek word for synergy.
Faith is either zero if not accompanied with works, or alternatively it is “made perfect”—complete. Faith is dead without works—and likewise, works need faith to be of any effect. Indeed, faith and works create a synergy.
In Luke 17:5, the disciples asked Christ to “increase” their faith. The word there means to add to. But Christ inspired James to write that, if your faith manifests in action, then it’s more like multiplication.
Ask yourself, if faltering in faith: How much action is there in my life to exponentially multiply the faith of Christ in me?
Work With Christ
The Gospel according to Mark concludes: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen” (Mark 16:19-20). Mark was inspired to use synergeo when describing how the resurrected and ascended Christ empowered these first-century apostles.
This is essentially what Christ had prophesied would happen. John 14:12 shows they would be capable of far greater works than Christ performed on Earth. Christ being in heaven with His Father made their efforts, combined with His, all the more powerful.
There’s a synergy between Christ and those doing the Work. He’s not just “adding” to what we do. 2 Corinthians 9:10 states: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (English Standard Version). God multiplies our yield.
A comparable phenomenon was promised to the physical nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Granted, they were without the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit. But He still promised to make the obedient a formidable force to the nations around them. Deuteronomy 32:30 says one relying on their spiritual Rock would chase 1,000. Even one with God is not truly being alone.
Given the above math, how many would two be able to chase—2,000? No, the verse says two would put 10,000 to flight. Leviticus 26:8 offers a similar synergetic math: says five would chase 100, and 100 would chase off 10,000. Again, that synergy could be codified as x + God > 20x, but 20x + God > 2,000x.
As a member of God’s Church, you have access to His Holy Spirit. The resurrected Christ sits on the right hand of God. How much more applicable is this to us? Even if you are physically alone, are you drawing on the power available from your relationship with God?
Single-Minded for God addresses the issue of loneliness as one of the biggest problems facing singles and states: “Simply stated, we can’t, and won’t, overcome loneliness unless we are first close to God.”
Ask yourself: What kind of synergy am I as a single creating with Christ?
Several of Paul’s uses of the word synergy are found in his letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, he addressed factional thinking in that congregation: Some claimed to be “of Paul,” some “of Apollos,” or Peter, or Christ.
He asserted: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8). There was a unity in the ministry, and the great God behind it all.
Paul then added this: “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (verse 9). Here is synergos. Christ didn’t have one agenda, while Paul had different one, and Apollos had yet another. He specifically addresses a synergy between the three of them. He knew Christ was “working with” them as Mark 16:20 described.
Later, he referenced some in that area helping him who had “addicted themselves” to serving the brethren, and admonished: “submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with (synergeo) us, and laboureth” (1 Corinthians 16:15-16).
Ask yourself: What kind of synergy are God’s singles bringing to their congregations?
Then in 2 Corinthians, we read about synergy in the famous verse where Paul calls minsters “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Paul’s ministers were “synergizers” who created a godly joy among the brethren.
Ask yourself: What kind of synergy are God’s singles and God’s ministers generating to foster joy?
The Hebrew portion of the Bible has no comparable word to synergy, but it describes the phenomenon in several places.
A musical example of synergy is found in 2 Chronicles 5 at the dedication of the first temple. Present were all the Levites from the 24 rotating musical courses (12 Levites per course meant at least 288 of them). The passage indicates they were singing, while some were playing cymbals, harps and probably some ancient type of bagpipes. It also says 120 priests blew the rich-sounding silver trumpets.
Verse 13 says “the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound.” Of course, you could have distinguished the sound of a singer from the sound of a trumpet (especially since a singer can produce words). But the unity of sound produced this: “… they lifted up with the trumpets and cymbals and the instruments of musick.” This means the sound was exalted.
This wasn’t a case of subtraction, where hundreds of performers sounded like a mere one person. This was loud—which is quite a feat for an outdoor performance (as verse 12 shows they were around the brazen altar). You can see in verse 14 how dramatically God responded to this.
You’re probably familiar with musical synergy in some way—what one singer sounds like, compared to several voices together; or what one fiddle sounds like by itself, versus a violin section.
In music, there is a synergy to both unison and harmony. There is a power in unison: Say all the sopranos in a choir are singing one note, and one voice deviates slightly from that pitch, that reduces the amplitude of that section.
Harmony creates even more potent comparison with synergy. If you sing a pitch and I sing a pitch, each pitch has its own set of overtones. “Pleasing” harmonies are when there are similarities in those overtone-frequencies. Certain “partials” or “harmonics” are getting amplified in what we call the “chord.” Additionally, there are parts of instruments that are sympathetically vibrating (i.e., sounding) because of the fundamental pitches or overtones occurring in the air.
If you’d like a very clear musical example of 1 + 1 = 3, try this experiment. Go to onlinetonegenerator.com and play the default “sine wave” for 440 Hz (musicians call this “A”). The site generates a pure frequency without any overtones. Then, open the same website in another browser window, and change the frequency of the sine wave to 660 Hz (this is the higher harmonically related note of “E”). What happens when those two pure sine waves occur simultaneously? A third note emerges: You’ll hear a lower A!
This has parallels that reach into human relations. Different people and different actions can not only be complementary, not only unifying—but those complements become far more powerful than each part on its own. 1 Corinthians 12 covers this concept when describing the variety of parts and functions that comprise the body of Christ.
A practical application to human relations is found in Proverbs 27:17. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Arithmetical math says: By me giving something to you, I’ve subtracted it from myself, and added it to you. But this kind of math says: By me giving something to you, I have more of the same thing.
This proverb is describing a synergy between two people—and such that benefits both parties. It’s not being “edgy” with your friends. Any sharpness should benefit both parties. And, as the metaphor bears out, the iron is a comparison for what it does to our countenance. If you’ve done it right, you can see it on the face—both your faces.
Iron is used in the Bible as a symbol of strength. Two strong things working together strengthens the other. Apply this to dating. If each is coming into the situation trying to contribute strength, there would be a mutual benefit that compounds the individual strengths.
Consider even using both your strengths to serve another cause. Say, the date is part of a work project, or service opportunity for someone or something else. Yes, those two people on the date are serving each other by doing that, but their combining their strengths even to serve something else. They’re even embodying some of the aspects of synergy we’ve discussed to this point: putting faith into action, working with Christ, and helping someone else’s joy.
Men: What if, the next time you have an opportunity to help someone out, invite a date to come with you? That certainly would make the event less about “you two” and whatever pressure you or the girl might put on that dynamic. Then the event becomes more about the synergy you both create for some worthy cause. Perhaps it’s helping elderly member with some yard work, but because there was a “team” of two, your date created a synergy equivalent to five people (plus what iron, or strength, has sharpened each of you).
This sets up the most obvious example of synergy in the Bible: marriage synergy.
Before that, consider another example of synergy. How much can you do with one hand? Whatever it is, it’s impossible to compare that to what you can do with two hands. Your “one-handed ability list” wouldn’t just double, because two hands allow you to do things that weren’t even possible before.
Not only is that an example worth applauding (hehe), it illustrates the beauty of human relations. A marriage unit is not the sum of two people—it’s a completely new entity!
This is evident in the first chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1:27-31 shows how God made humans on the sixth day—male and female. In verse 28 He gave them some math: “… Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish [fill] the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over … every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” By multiplying and filling the Earth, they would be able to maintain control of it. And in verse 31, He specifically evaluates the creation of humankind—and its two sexes—as “very good.”
Chapter 2 describes the creation of the female sex. God says man being alone is “not good,” so He made “an help meet for him.”
So God made two people out of one person (verses 21-22). Adam declared in verse 24 that these two people “shall be one flesh”—1 + 1 = 1. Yet now they were able to multiply! When they reproduced for the first time, we had this math: 1 + 1 = 3.
Christ quotes Adam in Matthew 19:4-5. Verse 6 adds this: “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” The Greek word for “joined” here means yoked. Like those horses we discussed earlier, when God “yokes” two people together, it’s not twice the power. It’s much more. In fact, it’s more like one hand versus two: Countless new possibilities exist!
Mr. Armstrong constantly praised his wife, Loma—frequently reminding the Church that God called them together, as a couple, and that God, in fact, used Mrs. Armstrong to reach Mr. Armstrong.
In his May 1967 Plain Truth “Personal,” he wrote (after discussing how “God provided a fitting help” for Adam): “Through the wife God gave me, He called me — and us together — into His service. He chose us as a husband-and-wife team. Through us He built His end-time work, proclaiming to the whole world the good news of His coming world-ruling Kingdom, as a witness to all nations. He used us to prepare the way for Christ’s coming in supreme power and glory to rule all peoples, and to bring to earth peace, prosperity, happiness and joy. He used us in bringing many thousands to Christ, to be begotten as God’s own children, to be born into His divine Family!”
Of course, he wasn’t saying she was the end-time Elijah or the fulfillment of the voice crying out in the wilderness. But he was proclaiming he only felt useful to God for those things because there was an us (a team)—because he had a “fitting help.”
Better Than One
Do you prefer to be alone? Does it seem somehow better, at least less hassle? God says it’s “not good.” Do you feel that a mate would not really “help”? If so, then you’re not seeing it God’s way, because He made the help!
This is not to say everyone has to be married to be a success in life. But they certainly can’t be alone. Paul was not alone. As we’ve seen, the word for synergy used to describe his co-workers was often translated fellow-helpers. They were help, and Paul knew he needed it and that God was providing it.
Single-Minded for God brings up Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36), who remained single after being widowed at a young age. This wasn’t a sin, and she wasn’t a failure for it: “But since it is not good for a man or woman to be alone, she undoubtedly built strong friendships with converted people.”
Having a lot of singles in the Church is a blessing if those singles are not alone. What is not good, is if those singles were“alone.”
“Two are better than one,” begins Ecclesiastes 4:9. Solomon lists several reasons to consider, first of which is: “because they have a good reward for their labour.” There is definitely a financial synergy in a married household—where the costs of supporting two people in separate households is greater than two people sharing the same home.
Verse 10 continues: “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”—and that certainly includes falling into the emotional pits. How wonderful to have someone to help lift you up! We need that kind of companionship.
“Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?” (verse 11). This synergetic example can be taken both literally (e.g. in a marriage) or figuratively. You can combine your heat, or zeal, for the Work with another singles’ zeal and create a synergy in the form of spiritual heat.
In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey describes the synergy between two people as exceeding mere cooperation. Cooperation, he writes, is 1 + 1 = 2. Synergy is 1 + 1 = 3 or more. By contrast, he says, compromise (a commonly referenced concept when it comes to two people working together) is more like 1 + 1 = 1.5, where each has to give up something, so the total result is less than the sum of its parts.
Beyond a couple’s synergy, verse 12 adds: “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Concerning marriage, God is the third party in this “threefold cord.” He joined the two in marriage and created each to help the other.
Psalm 68:5-6 read: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious [literally, stubborn] dwell in a dry land.”
In some cases, one may need to choose singledom (and be content) for greater service to God. But it certainly isn’t the result of that single resisting marriage—stubbornly, or more likely fearfully resisting something God made to help us. And it will not result in that person being “solitary.”
This passage gives us God’s desire for singles: He puts them in families. That may mean giving them their own marriage and family. But also, by the begettal of God’s Holy Spirit, they are literally in God’s Family—part of the synergetic body of Christ, interconnected in this spiritual organism.
Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages: “The author, Christ’s apostle, can say emphatically that the apostles, evangelists, pastors and elders could not carry on the work of God without the loyal backing and continual encouragement of the lay members. Neither can the individual lay member develop and build within him God’s holy, righteous and perfect character without the operations of the apostle, evangelists, pastors and elders. All these various members God has set in his Church are interdependent—mutually dependent on one another. They form a team—an organized spiritual organism—utterly different from any secular and worldly organization!”
He continues to explain how that works in terms of prayers, financial support and encouragement. Then he describes how the “loner” Christian who wants to work out His salvation with Christ alone is not actually doing that.
So God’s Church is automatically a help to any Spirit-begotten single. It makes you more powerful than you would be alone, because you are in God’s Family.
These kinds of human interactions exceed just “forbearing” one other, “putting up with” each other, or merely “getting along.” This is a form of teamwork that mind-bogglingly multiplies our power.
Pillars of the Earth
Consider this practical example of synergy in construction. Sean Covey describes it in the form of wooden beams: “If one 2” x 4” beam can support 607 pounds, then two 2” x 4”s should be able to support 1,214 pounds. Right? Actually, two 2” x 4”s can support 1,821 pounds. If you nail them together, two 2” x 4”s can now support 4,878 pounds. And three 2” x 4”s nailed together can support 8,481 pounds.”
Compare that to what the prophetess Hannah proclaimed about God: “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them” (1 Samuel 2:8).
In addition to God setting us among royalty and offering us a royal future, He specifically describes those who hold fast in the Laodicean era as pillars (see also Revelation 3:11-12).
The image of pillars is that of singularity. With God, we are never “alone” spiritually, but we will be able to bear a certain weight ourselves. But we have to be able to stand alone, and work out our own salvation. That’s a synergy we create with God. But if we’re doing that, there we contribute to the greater synergy within His Church—and maximizing our potential for the future head.
Whatever weight each pillar can bear itself, the more weight can be borne the more pillars there are—a weight much greater than just the sum of them all!
Of course, there are other factors in the physics of how pillars bear weight: their composition (what they are made of), and their footing (where they are grounded). Likewise, our spiritual character and grounding will determine how much God can “set” on us now and in the future. But we can bear even more with other “pillars”!
In any edifice, you’ve probably never seen pillars bunched up next to each other. Their spacing is a factor to their cumulative strength (and, obviously, if the pillars are too far apart, there’s a point where the synergy is negated). An architect will tell you that several columns in a circular formation will create the strongest structure possible. We too must be able to bear up under certain weight even given a kind of “distance” (but not too much) between us and others. But like those pillars in a circular formation, we can be linked in our connections and be of greater support for God’s plan.
God wants singles who are pillars—who work with Him to make them stronger supports to His Work, congregations and ministry. He wants single-pillars who employ works to exponentially increase the faith of Christ in them. He wants pillars who exponentially increase their effectiveness (to go back to the iron-against-iron analogy) by helping to sharpen others.
God gives us other human connections. He places us in families in a variety of ways to strengthen our composition as the pillar. He may give us the marriage union—which, based on what we studied here, is not two pillars side-by-side, but a completely new and much stronger singular pillar!
God wants the most out of each of us, but He also wants to get the most out of our interactions with each other—so we can be exponentially more powerful than we could ever be by ourselves and further this great Work and plan of Almighty God!