Unity: Keeping the Church Alive
Topic: Psalms Passage: Psalm 133:1–133:3
What comes to mind when you think about unity? A winning football team, a close nit family, Queen Latifah’s hit from the 90s? Perhaps the damage done from the lack of it? Sadly, thinking about disunity is more familiar to us and is much closer to home. Certainly we can hold up our dear United States of America as example of unity. Not if we're honest. A century after our nation’s birth, civil war divided the country. Another century later the nation is split over civil rights. At that time we were able to unite a man with the moon, but we couldn’t reconcile the races in the public life. I’m not sure how we’re had more success in outer space than in our own neighborhoods. Dillan Roof was hoping to ensure that would never happen and thank God he failed. What will the next 100 years bring for this country, that is if we survive the next 4? The United States can’t seem to unite around the idea of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Unity is in our name so we hold it as a core value. What chance then is there for the dream of a Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth of bringing together every people and nation? We’re having trouble with just our 50 states. What would it take to unite over 200 nations. What hope does the church have of staying alive and united if our country’s experiment is struggling? This morning we’ll consider how God’s ancient people thought about unity and how God established unity through his work of salvation in Jesus Christ. But first open in your Bible to Psalm 133.
Psalm 133 (ESV) — A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID.
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
Wonder why some psalms are long and some short? We trust that the Scriptures meet people whether they are young in age or young in the faith. Let’s look at the background of this Psalm. Background Psalm 133 is in the 5th book of the Psalms in a section known as the song of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). Song of Ascents is a reference to pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the three required festivals during which they song these Psalms. The journey to Jerusalem was called a “going up,” or ascent because Jerusalem was on a hill. All of the songs are suitable for use on such occasions. Hence the title Pilgrim Psalms is another name they are known by. David is its author.
Sermon outline this morning:
I. The goodness of unity v1
II. A Description of unity vv2-3
III. The Place of blessing v3
The main point of this Psalm is that unity is God’s abundant gift and our sacred duty. My first point is:
1. The goodness of unity v1
V1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Who are these brothers he is referring to? This is not a slang word for his closest male friends that he affectionately called the brothas. We know that David’s own sons did not live in unity but fought each other bitterly, so these are not his children. He’s not writing about how peaceful his house is when the children all get along. Rather these brothers are the saints of old, united by their common faith in Yahweh. And they are traveling to meet with their God and his people. They are united by a passion they share and that was expressed in an earlier Psalm of Ascent which Adam read for us. Again now picture them traveling and singing to one another as we read this psalm turn over briefly.
Psalm 122 1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” 3 Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, 4 to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. 8 For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!” 9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God.
When time came for this trip I trust no one said “oh man we not walking up that hill again with all our stuff?” Why we can worship right here God is omnipresent right? We see here that these saints loved the gathering of God’s people and they loved the house of the Lord.
In this short pilgrim psalm David exclaimed how wonderful it is for believers to dwell together in unity. This thought and feeling was appropriate for the festivals when Israelite families came together to worship their Lord. Isn’t the same true of us today as the family of God? While we now love God’s house, it didn’t start that way. Human history is a story of sin’s disruption of God’s ordained unity. God’s ideal for marriage is for husband and wife to experience unity of life, “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). God established unity between himself and man and in steps sin and Satan. Just as soon as God established a good thing in the world, than a division comes. Sin in the garden bred mistrust and accusation (3:12). Stubbornness of will continues to disrupt God’s desired unity in marriage. One of the earliest examples of unity for the larger human family in scripture was at the tower of Babel which was likewise disrupted as a result of sinful pride.
Genesis 11:6 (ESV) — 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
Israel also would later be a divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In the New Testament Jesus prayed that His disciples would experience the same unity that He experienced with the Father. Juan read for us earlier from John 17. V11 says (ESV) that they may be one, even as we are one. V23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one. We can assume that Jesus prayed as the great high priest for what was of utmost importance and that he will also get what he prayed for.
Jesus’ prayer for unity was realized in the life of the earliest church. (Acts 4:32) The first believers were together in one place; they shared their possessions and were of one heart and soul and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common . Unity wasn’t just theoretical, they expressed it in the life of a local church. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone like playing spiritual solitaire. Jesus emphasis on oneness was so that we all together might be one. This is why the sin of non church attendance is such an offense and requires a church to respond in care or for discipline.
As in the OT, sin also threatened the God-ordained unity in the NT. Also in Acts we read of Ananias and Sapphira lying to the church. Yet every time, however, the Holy Spirit led the church in working out solutions that challenged the church to go beyond dissension to ministry Paul spoke repeatedly of believers as “one body in Christ,” Romans 12:5 (ESV) — so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
For Paul the unity of the church reflects the unity of the Godhead in the holy Tri unity from which we get Triunity. 1 Corinthians 8:6 (ESV) — 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
As Christians we have the shared experience of Christ as Lord and confession of Him in baptism; the shared sense of mission Philippians 2:2 (ESV) — being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. We are united by our public profession of faith and testimony. Every member had come by faith and repentance and through the waters of baptism.
Greater unity is one of our hopes and prayers for this church. It is our prayer that our members would attend our services regularly for the upbuilding of the body. That our members would join their voices with ours when we gather to sing and join their hearts with ours when we pray. God doesn't just want our names on a roll. I remember in college doing a bunch of meaningless activities to fill up space on my resume. I joined an accounting fraternity and it was just a boring as it sounds. I dragged myself to the meetings and instead of being engaged I did my homework during the meetings. But I was a dues paying member and so I included that as an “activity” on my resume. The church is not a club for those trying to appear righteous before God or to impress men. I see that you all are here this morning, your body is here, but are you really here? Why are you here? Do you share the mind and heart of those sitting around you?
The Corinthians had a “shared concern for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25) — 25 that there may be no division in the body. They had the “same love,” and the shared experience of suffering for Jesus’ sake. Now as we will hear in detail in our next sermon series, they weren’t always a loveable bunch. Paul had to remind them to have the mind of Christ. When people say they want to be like the 1st century church they weren't talking about the Corinthians. They were a complete mess with divorce, deceit, factions, fraud, and favoritism. They had each other on judge Judy dragging Christ reputation down. Is Christ divided? Paul had to ask. Unity is so dear to the heart of God that David gives us two pictures of what unity is like.
2. A Description of Unity (vv2-3)
The first picture is of the anointing of a priest. Let’s see how V2 helps us to see this. V2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
This imagery from the priesthood was appropriate because of the pilgrims being in Jerusalem. The oil poured on Aaron’s head flowed down also onto the breastplate which was inscribed with the names of all 12 tribes. The oil thus symbolized the unity of the nation in worship under their consecrated priest. As the oil consecrated Aaron, so the unity of the worshipers in Jerusalem would consecrate the nation under God.
There was common olive oil used in everyday life, but this oil was used ceremonially at the consecration of priests and kings. This anointing was used as a mark of divine favor and a means of ordaining a person for a special task. It was symbolic of the office and of the recognition by God of his blessing on the office holder. President Trump could sure have used some of this anointing oil at his inauguration!
The anointing oil of the temple was sacred and was blended by the perfumer with myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane giving off a pleasing smell and making it holy. Exodus 30:25 In the same way the unity of the people of God is a rich perfume that is “good” for them and pleasant to God. 2 Corinthians 2:14–16 (ESV) — 14 Christ ... through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God.
In Biblical times, as soon as the sun set, the only source of light was the oil lamp. Torches were an essential part of the wedding procession. You’ll remember the scene in Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins when they failed to carry spare oil (Mt 25:1–13). Just has these oil lamps provided light and security so unity provides church members with direction and assurance. When you a vibrant part of the life of a church it provides you with confidence in the truths you believe, assurance that you believe, but also the stamina to keep on believing. This is why for the saints sacrificing for their church is no burden at all, but a joy.
A stone was used to press and beat the olives to extract oil. The word for oil press is Gethsemane where we get the name for the Garden of Gethsemane which was nearby the Mt of Olives. The garden where Jesus went after the Last Supper. Here Jesus himself was pressed and he prayed as he considered the weight of the cross for your sins and mine. So sorrowful was he says Luke 22:44 (ESV) — 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Christ would soon be spit upon, mocked and beaten. He was pressed as the world was collapsing on Him from the attacks by earthly men bellow and even worse, from his Father above. He was wounded for our transgressions. Where was the oil to anoint his wounds? No oil for the Creator and to anoint this great High Priest? In the OT, the presence of oil symbolized gladness while its absence indicated sorrow or humiliation. The absence of oil was most appropriate for this was the devil’s hour and the power of darkness. Here Jesus, the Son, showed He had learned obedience to the Father even in suffering (Heb. 5:7–9). Jesus would soon ascend and unite with his Father making a way for sinners to be reconciled to God.
The second picture we are given is that of dew which shows us that unity is a foretaste of heaven. Take a look at V3a It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
Dew is used in the Bible as a symbol of refreshment; a symbol of the loving power of God that revives and invigorates. Figuratively “dew” was sometimes used as a symbol of blessing; for example, Isaac blessed Jacob by asking that “the dew of heaven” be given to him (Gn 27:28). The Scriptures show that, though dew-fall is mysterious, its origin is considered heavenly.
In the Bible dew and rain are spoken of together as of great value. During the Exodus, dew was a source of sustenance because the manna fell with it in the book of Numbers (Nm 11:9). Dew is beneficial especially to summer crops in the absence of rain. Mt. Hermon was an enormous mountain and the dew was plentiful. By David using dew as a picture of unity he’s saying all of these attributes are true of unity in the church.
Do you depend of the church for getting through the dry times of life to sustain your faith or is that the time you drift away from the body? Do you consider our statement of faith and our covenant which support our unity to be of great value? A church member’s habitual absence from church degrades the unity of the church while their presence reaffirms the truths we hold.
The absence of dew was therefore a cause of severe plight, intensifying the drought in the absence of rain. Life may be difficult for you now, but isolating yourself makes matters worse and not just for you. The preciousness of dew is likened by Isaiah to resurrection. Isaiah 26:19 (ESV) — 19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. Hard soil can’t receive the dew. It needs to soak and saturate the soil through some opening. Are you providing any inlets into your life and letting your church in. It's just harder to hug with when their arms are folded. We also see in V3 God’s blessing is where there is unity.
- Zion, the church
V3b For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
The most common usage of Zion was to refer to the city of God in the new age. Zion was understood, also, to refer to the heavenly Jerusalem, the place where the Messiah would appear at the end of time. In surveying the saints of the OT, the author of Hebrews speaks of their “looking forward to that city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God … longing for a better country, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:10, 16). Just has the dew was heavenly so these saints looked for a heavenly city.
The church now enjoys what believers of the old covenant could never know: unlimited access to the presence of God in that holy city, “Mt Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” According to Hebrews. (12:22; See 12:18–24). Earthly Zion was but a shadow of the heavenly reality. What a day it will be when we ascend the hill of the heavenly city! What song will we all sing as we are caught up to meet Jesus in the air?
Does God care personally about our unity. As we saw last week in Philemon with Paul helping to reconcile two brothers and as we’ll see in the book of Corinthians in our next series, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, God give the church Elders because unity is such a good and pleasant thing. How have we maintained unity here at our church? It’s in no small part thanks to our senior pastor that God has planted here for over a decade. We would have no foundation for unity if he was wavering in the faith or shaky on sound doctrine. We praise God for that.
If you believe your only part in maintaining our unity is showing up and dropping money in the plate, you are sadly mistaken. Keep your money. We can’t buy unity, it’s God gift. God wants your heart, your mind and your devotion.
So what can we do as a body? Let us therefore submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. As we have covenanted together let us be Ephesians 4:3 (ESV) — 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Colossians 3:12–15 (ESV) — 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Let’s conclude. President Trump said in his inauguration speech “The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.”
I appreciate the Scripture, but not when it’s applied to Americans to fuel our pride in our own efforts. This sentiment sounds awfully like what we read of the people building the tower of Babel.
Genesis 11:6 (ESV) — 6 And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
Psalm 20:7 (ESV) — 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Unless the Lord builds the house they that labor, labor in vain.
At THBC we are more than just Dem and Reps, we are more than just ethnic groups. We are first and foremost brothers and sisters because of the blood of the lamp. Purchased and elect from every nation. Just as the oil on the priest overflowed and the dew on Hermon was plentiful, so the church of Jesus Christ must be radiant and shine with heavenly unity. Might our unity here on earth be a display of the oneness all the saints will share. Let’s pray.