How’s your local church faring when it comes to the gradual, responsible conversation of reopening in-person services? Or how are you navigating the challenge of not be able to reopen anytime soon? At our church, we are grateful for a sincere sense of deference and unity that appears to be robust, but we are realizing that it is still not going to be easy for any of us…no matter what we do. As one author recently asserted, “We’re all in this together, but we’re not all going to see things uniformly or experience things the same way. Satan would love nothing more than to sow seeds of division during this time. Though we disagree on some things, we can all agree to live out the Great Commandment by pursuing clarity and charity—for the sake of our Savior’s fame and our neighbor’s good.” There is simply too much at stake to not value unity the way the God we worship values unity!
Psalm 133, our text for this post, is extremely appropriate for our day with its rich praise of far too rare brotherly harmony. Upon what occasion did David compose this beautiful psalm? Some think it refers to the termination of the civil war between Saul and David. Others see in it the conclusion of Absalom’s rebellion. Still others point to 1 Chronicles 12:38, which records the narrative of the tribes of Israel laying down their arms against one another and rallying behind David as their king at Hebron.
In a world and way too many Christian communities that make it all about themselves no matter what relationship suffers, how do we instead worship our way counter-culturally into greater unity with others? Psalm 133 provides two uplifting steps for us to grow in our appreciation of unity.
Realize that unity is BEST.
Ps 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
In this short pilgrim psalm David exclaimed how wonderful unity is. This thought was appropriate for the religious festivals when Israelite families came together to worship their Lord. It is also fitting for the New Testament believers for which it was preserved.
First, David describes superior unity as “good.” Notice verse one’s ending punctuation with an exclamation mark; David exclaimed how WONDERFUL it is for believers to dwell together in unity. When we think of “bad,” disunity is often not as high on our list/big of a deal as it is to God! He wants His “kids to get along.” The Apostle Paul challenges us, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ep. 4:1-4). This is the gospel instead of the “gotcha” mindset, the only mindset that can produce anything good and unified in the assembly. Ed Stetzer concludes, “When we submit our inputs and outputs to the gospel, we will find that the voices of outrage dim and the peace of God grows.”
Secondly, the man-after-God’s-heart utters that superior unity is “pleasant.” “The emphasis is upon the pattern of ancient Hebrew life, in which married sons, with their children, continued to live with their parents. A wider application, however, is evident in the family and tribal reunions on the feast occasions. Proverbs 5:19 brings this thought of pleasant unity into the marital relationship, “Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.” In any relational setting, wandering family and believers are often the result of DISUNITY and the unpleasantness that it brings!
This good and pleasant unity is what Christ would later, the one who knows what is best for us, prayed so heartily for, “That they may be one” in John 17:21! To have anything less than unity in your home and church is SETTLING for something less THAN GOD’S BEST! Would you become a fiercer advocate and defender of unity everywhere/everyone that your mouth, mind, heart impact?
Realize the unity is BEAUTIFUL.
Ps 133:2-3 “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
Have you noticed that often great things come in small packages. This Psalm is short but it is a literary and spiritual gem that makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Listen. During the current and often divisive challenges of our day, to be a pursuer of unity is to join in with the ARTISTIC ACTIVITY of God Himself!
The Psalmist first asserts that spectacular unity is “fragrant” (2). As one commentator put it, “Unity is like the fragrant perfume that was used in anointing Aaron the priest (Ex. 30:22–30). It was poured on his head, then ran down on his beard, and from there to the edge of his robe. The pleasing scent was enjoyed not only by the priest himself but by everyone in the vicinity. The holy anointing oil pictures the ministry of the Holy Spirit, descending as a sweet-smelling savor on God’s people when they live happily together, and DIFFUSING the aroma of their testimony to the surrounding areas.” (MacDonald). Sadly, what are the top two negative things churches are known for: “hypocrisy and splits.” This contemporary profile of the church runs counter to Jesus’ lofty vision, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn. 13:35). Nothing STINKS MORE THAN DISUNITY; nothing is more AROMATIC AND APPEALING than a church with unity but not uniformity!
David then adds that spectacular unity is “refreshing” (3a). In characteristic Davidic style, the psalmist quickly enhances his writing with another analogy-this is so important that ONE APPEALING ANALOGY IS NOT ENOUGH! As Macdonald portrays it, “It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion. The psalmist sees Mt. Hermon as the source of cool, invigorating moisture for distant mountains. Again, the dew typifies the Holy Spirit, carrying refreshment from united brethren to the ends of the earth.” No one can measure how far-reaching is the refreshing influence of a group of believers who walk in fellowship with God and with one another. As an example, our church just received the following message through our Facebook page: “Hi Pastor Harley, just wanted to say many thanks for your word today. I was watching here in the UK and felt very inspired by your words today and also encouraged…May the Lord bless you in your ministry and I look forward to watching more of you and your church online. Grace & peace. Dan.” Praise the Lord for the expanding reach of a smaller church like ours willing to rally around the Gospel of Jesus no matter what!
Lastly, this lyrical king asserts that spectacular unity is “guaranteeing” (3b). The final point is that the Lord commands the blessing where brothers and sisters live together in unity. The blessing is explained as being life forevermore. This may be understood in two ways. When there is unity among God’s people, they themselves enjoy life in its truest sense. And not only so, they become the channels through which life flows out to others. Take Pentecost as an illustration. The disciples were living in harmony and peace, united in prayer and waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Suddenly the Spirit of God descended upon them in all His fullness and they went forth with the fragrance and refreshment of the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. And…this unified, on-mission church cannot be stopped by anything including a jarring pandemic or the varied responses to it.
Could the reason there is not more “beauty” in your life because you are “sowing seeds of discord” that only germinate into ugliness upon the landscape of your heart and life? Change that. Become an “artist” committed to planting/painting unity! As one author asserts, “When all is said and done, ambiguities remain. What kinds of boundaries should define local churches, schools, denominations, conferences, para-church ministries, city-wide prayer gathering, evangelistic efforts? Nevertheless, we are not without anchors. We are not without rudder and sails. We have the stars above and our trusty sextant. In reliance on the word and the Spirit, in humility we will arrive home — TOGETHER.“
When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of true followers of Jesus Christ. The greater the differences between us the great power our persistent unity possesses around us to garner glory for our God! Worship of self-preferences, opinions, ambition always produces disunity; worship of God will always produce unity with others! Proverbs 13:10 reminds us, “Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” Will you allow biblically-informed worship to help your local church fully appreciate that unity is BEST and the most BEAUTIFUL gift from God we can steward?
Here is a link to the video content on this Psalm.