January 16, 2019 — Unity in the Spirit

The psalmist tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! . . . For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1, 3b). In other words, there is something about the way we are “together” that unleashes unparalleled blessing that is even commanded by God. The unity that the psalmist describes is God’s gift — but it is also incumbent upon us to intentionally seek to maintain it. The psalmist deliberately uses the language to “live” or “dwell” together. This is not the idea of some fleeting visit; rather, it is to make our home, establish the place where we raise our families, put down roots, commit to each other, serve, give. “To dwell” is to persist in our unity — we stick at it.

Why should we stick at it? The psalmist paints two word pictures that capture both the radiant Shekinah presence of the Lord in unity and the imperative of His unity.

Firstly, we are told, the presence of God “…is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” (Psalm 133:2). Through this unrestrained anointing, Aaron the high priest was appointed to convey the mercy of God to His forgiven people. This brings to mind an image from the New Testament. Shortly before Jesus’ death, while He was dining with His friends, Mary took an alabaster jar of precious oil and lavishly anointed Jesus. The book of Hebrews helps us understand the significance of this act. Referring to Jesus, the letter reads,Such a High Priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” (Hebrews 7:26-27). As His permanent priesthood, the priesthood of all believers, we are all lavishly anointed with His mercy for ourselves and for each other. Mercy does for a community what oil does for a car. Like oil, mercy neutralizes friction.

The second word picture that the psalmist uses to illustrate the blessing of the presence of God is all about dew. We are told, “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” (Psalm 133:3). When we think of dew, we likely imagine something that evaporates before we take our morning coffee. The dew to which the psalmist refers is in an altogether different category. The Reverend Henry Baker Tristram, a 19th century English clergyman, Biblical scholar, traveler and ornithologist, gives us this insight: “What we read in the 133rd Psalm of the dew of Mount Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion is now become quite clear to me….The floor of the tent was soaked, our bed was covered with it, our guns were dripping, and dewdrops hung about everywhere. No wonder the foot of Hermon is clad with orchards and gardens of such marvelous fertility in this land of droughts.” In other words, this is the sort of dew in which we are thoroughly soaked, the sort of dew that would make someone ask, “Did you fall into a river before you arrived at church this morning?” Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38). That is the river that we fall into! This is the fullness of the presence of God, this is the Holy Spirit that would now penetrate and soak every part of our lives and bring His refreshment, health, and fruitfulness to the parched and dry parts of our lives.

Finally, the presence of God that we are promised in both of these word pictures speaks of a love that is lavishly poured out more blessing than we would ever know what to do with! The oil did not stop at Aaron’s head, but soaked him from head to toe and then ran from the hem of his robes. We need to imagine him standing in a deepening pool of oil that is all of the time spreading and growing. In the same way, the dew of Mount Hermon ran through the valleys, bringing fruitfulness to every part of the mountain it touched as it cascaded down the mountainside.

And in exactly this way we see that by God’s grace and design, our unity is not simply a matter of our own internal spiritual health. Critically, our unity as a church family is also the means through which God’s blessing and presence can be poured out and extended to the world around us. Across the years, I have witnessed some extraordinary ministries of love and compassion that were tragically cut short because of some internal dispute. Thankfully, I recall many more where the scale and breadth of God’s blessing were so much deeper and more impactful than anybody had ever first dreamed. As I look back, it is so clear that the Lord used His gift of unity as the conduit by which His love and blessing could be copiously channeled to a hurting world.