Christian unity is a dangerous subject because, believe it or not, it is one of the ironic things we are divided over. What is the nature of true unity? Why should we care? Are denominations really a form of disobedience? Have we really torn apart the seamless robe of Christ?
“A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! 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” (Psalm 133:1-3).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Again, this is another psalm of ascents—one of the psalms that would be sung as pilgrims approached the Temple. Something can be good without being pleasant, but when both good and pleasant come together, it is a true blessing (v. 1). That blessing comes when brethren can dwell together in unity (v. 1). In the economy of Israel, all priests were anointed, but only the high priest was anointed on the head. This unity is like that precious oil that is placed on Aaron’s head, runs down to his beard, and from there to the hem of his garments (v. 2). Clearly a large amount of oil was used—even if you follow the ESV reading, which has the oil running down to the collar. In a change of metaphor, we read that Mount Hermon is famous for dew, descending on the mountains of Zion (v. 3). As Zion proper is about 250 miles south of Hermon, we should note the plural mountains, and take Zion as a generic name for Israel. How will this blessing of unity come? It will be the result of a command from Jehovah Himself (v. 3)—that command summoning life forevermore. This dew waters the ground, and makes it truly fruitful. That is the command of God, the blessing of God. This is His purpose and intention.
“He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, And fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6).
TWO KINDS OF UNITY
As this psalm has praised this particular grace from God in the strongest possible terms, we need to be careful not to distort our understanding of that grace. According to Scripture, there are two kinds of unity that God gives to us. We need to be careful not to muddle them up because if we do, the unfortunate result will be . . . disunity.
The first kind is given to all Christians everywhere in the Person of the Holy Spirit. “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Notice that we already have this unity, which is why we are told to preserve it. We need to be eager in this preservation, laboring at it. The word for unity is the same as that used a few verses down (henotes). The word for bond can mean fetter, or sinew, or that which binds. And the Holy Spirit is the one who ties of the knot of peace. Every Christian has this unity already, and the one charge we have is to pursue a way of life that does not disrupt it.
The second kind of unity is institutional unity. Paul is thinking eschatologically, and is looking forward to the time when the bride of Christ, the Church, is without any spot or wrinkle or any such blemish (Eph. 5:27). God will accomplish this through the governmental gifts that He has provided to the Church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. “Till we all come in the unity [henotes] of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
This is the unity of maturity, and we are not supposed to have it yet.
And no end of trouble is caused by people who think that we are supposed to have it, and on the basis of this opinion disrupt their fellowship with saints who differ. It is like the old joke about two ministers who were talking, and one said to the other, “Well, we both serve God, I suppose—you in your way, and I in His.” Because we try to seize an institutional unity we are not supposed to enjoy yet, we wind up disrupting the bond of peace that we really do have.
SIN AS BARRIER
Sin means we are falling short of a standard that we ought not to be falling short of. Sin means we are not doing what we were instructed to do, and obedience is always something that should be in our hands in the present.
Remember that the basic building block of this broader church unity is the family, and the husband and the father is responsible to set the tone for his family. Fathers, you do not have the luxury of being distant, or angry, or sullen, or quiet, or disengaged, or surly. You do not get to flop, or otherwise disrupt a unity that has already been given to you.
The household is a wonderful place for learning the basic steps of this particular dance. In fact, there is no better place. And when you learn that wisdom in the home, you will be equipped to navigate the challenges that will arise with regard to extended family, or neighbors, or companions in business, or fellow church members.
IMMATURITY AS BARRIER
Immaturity means that we are right where we are supposed to be. A three-year-old is not in sin being three-years-old. Now if a ten-year-old started acting like a three-year-old this would actually not be immaturity—it would be sin. Remember that God is very easy to please, but very hard to satisfy. When it comes to the unity of the Church today, God is very easy to please, and hard to satisfy.
And the reason this is true—the only reason, remember—is because the Father was pleased with Christ. Not only so, but the Father is satisfied in Christ. And Christ is our unity. One Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph. 4:5).