“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.” – Psalms 133:1-3 NASB
In this series I want to talk to you about a relatively large concept—the concept of unity. I want to define what unity truly is, what it looks like (that is some practical outplay), and also how good it is to God.
Unity is not to be confused with uniformity, which is something that often masquerades as unity. I’ve said this for years now but unity is not people coming into agreement with one another concerning God. Instead, unity is what results when people agree with God, together. In this sense unity is a byproduct of submission to King Jesus.
The former (agreeing with one another about God) leads to things like denominationalism and other forms of uniformity. Meanwhile the latter, as I’ll show, leads to life and peace and true togetherness for all the people of God.
The first is quite easy—it simply weeds through the applicants to find people who already agree with its particular system. The second takes work, requires patience, employs grace, and ultimately results in maturity—this is where iron sharpening iron comes into play.
I suppose this is a warning or a disclaimer of sorts but unity is always hard work! Just as loving, forgiving, and being patient with others is hard work. I don’t think I need to convince you of how complex those things can be. It’s just worth stating that unity is the same.
This is just a thought here but the phrase ‘hard work’ can be terribly misunderstood. This is the hard work of surrendering or letting go, not the hard work of holding too tightly. Hopefully that makes sense.
Anyway, apart from the ‘hard work,’ the beauty of unity is that every church can and is genuinely unified with Christ followers all over the world. When we agree with God, together, we are placed within the context of God’s larger Kingdom.
Uniformity and denominationalism can’t promise this. In these man-made systems people are merely “unified” with those who drink their brand of kool-aid or with those who share their particular “label.” Even then, if you’ve been around long enough, you know it’s still impossible.
So we’ve distinguished unity from uniformity. Let’s take it a step further. Does genuine unity mean that we won’t have disagreements? Of course not! But unity does mean that we work through our differences for the sake of peace and to the glory of God.
We have to employ the humility we learned from the Apostle Paul in Romans 14 (I encourage you to check out last week’s message if you weren’t here). But when we do employ this Romans 14 approach what we seek—we find—peace in any and all circumstances.
We’ll give one another the benefit of the doubt. We’ll recognize that God is the master of all and that we’re not. We’ll recognize that when it comes to even doctrinal truths we are all growing and maturing, and at different levels.
Jesus taught that Christians would be known by their love for one another (John 13:35). Paul taught that as far as it depends on us we’re to live at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). Paul also taught that we’re to do good to all people and especially those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). How can we claim any of this to be true of us, if every time someone disagrees we give them the left-foot of fellowship? We break unity? Answer? We can’t!
And yet if we come into agreement with God, together we’ll experience that which God calls good—we’ll experience unity! Okay, so let’s jump in.
The opening of Psalm 133 forms the basis for the other comparisons in the psalm. The psalmist comments on the blessing of unity—how good it is. In doing this he compares this blessing 1. to the anointing oil used for Aaron and 2. to the dew that collects on the mountains of Zion—the place where the blessing of life forever was communicated.
The NASB renders the first line of this great Psalm as an exclamation, “Behold,” David says, “how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”
And this really sets the stage. I want to ask the question: how good is it?
Through David’s pen we see God’s inspired declaration that unity is in fact good, just as He declared the heavens and the earth to be good when He created them. I suppose that’s one answer to the question: how good?
When we appreciate this comparison fully (that unity is as good as God’s creation) my view is that we’ll desire to be good stewards of unity just as we’re to be good stewards of God’s creation.
Next we have David’s use of familial language which was no accident. All throughout the scriptures God’s people are likened to a family. And the term brother here is also used to describe a fellow countryman. Meaning that Israel saw themselves as brothers and sisters—they were God’s chosen family.
Several tragic instances of division show a lack of unity and its effects within the corporate family of God: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and Absalom and the list goes on and on.
However, there are also instances of great unity among God’s people with its effects. And these provide us with practical steps for what we’re aiming at as Christians. One particular story that comes to mind is the story of Abram (Abraham) and Lot in Genesis 13. We’ll dive into Abraham and Lot’s story in our next post.