The Church’s Last Frontier – Part 2
For me, probably the most pertinent Scripture regarding unity is Psalm 133. This passage is contextually and historically rich and deals succinctly with the meta-narrative of God and his eternal purpose for man.
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. (Psa 133)
As we delve into this Psalm seeking to draw forth the richness of its message for the church today, we first take note that it is attributed to King David, one who certainly knew and experienced internal family struggles and failed relationships. David—one who was characterized as having a heart after God—brings depth and emotion to the search for a unity that satisfies the heart of God. The brokenness in his own family punctuated by Absalom’s rebellion accentuates the tragedy of missing the mark in what God ordained for his people.
At least for David, he saw God’s purpose and principle in seeking to bring forth biblical unity. Unfortunately, so much of the church today resides in vincible ignorance of God’s heart in this critical matter. Believers violate with regularity the principle of biblical unity with their petty resentments, gossip, back-biting, broken expectations, prejudices, favoritisms, jealousies, bitterness and unforgiveness. They harbor these sinful indiscretions in their hearts with seeming impunity failing to realize the severity of coming judgment for this behavior. David’s Psalm concludes with an incredible promise—that given the condition of biblical unity God will pour out his life in the body. This life, eternal life, is not a statement of longevity as much as it is speaking of the quality of God’s own life being made available to his people. It is referencing God’s eternal desire to take up residence in his people, to abide, to tabernacle with them. This is why he called Abraham and created through him the people of Israel that he might dwell among them.
When we comprehend God’s eternal purpose in this we can begin to grasp more fully the significance of failing to contend for the very condition that makes it possible. Stating the argument another way, conducting ourselves within the body of Christ in any manner that disrupts or inhibits biblical unity is tantamount to prohibiting or countering God’s eternal purpose of indwelling his people. When I choose to give vent to my personal prejudices, resentments and jealousies, I am saying to God, “Your presence is not wanted nor welcome here.” Most believers would not knowingly commit this offence, but opting to indulge our petty, trivial offences in the body rather than striving with all that is in us to create biblical unity accomplishes just that.
Psalm 133 is the penultimate Psalm in a series of fifteen Psalms referred to as the Psalms of ascent. They represent successive steps leading to union with God. In this grouping of Psalms, each Psalm represents a particular aspect of one’s coming more into fullness in Christ. Historically, these Psalms may have reflected any number of different scenarios in the lives of the Hebrew children. Some see these Psalms as depicting the Israelites’ annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the three principal feasts of Israel—Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Others perceive the ascension Psalms as reflecting the post-Babylonian era and the return of the Jews from captivity to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and the city and to restore the religious life of the nation. Still others believe these Psalms were used in the ascent of the fifteen steps of the Temple leading persons up from the outer court to the inner.
Regardless of the specific historic correlation, these beautiful Psalms capture the spiritual reality of a believer’s journey unto completion in Christ. The Old Testament picture of the Israelites journeying from all points in the land and converging in their final ascent into Jerusalem portrays the biblical unity that releases the glorious presence of God.
Psalm 133 incorporates two similes meant to help us more fully grasp the biblical concept of unity. The first compares unity to the priestly anointing of Aaron where the oil is poured out and flows down over his beard and all the way to the hem of his garment. I believe there are several insights we can discover in this comparison. Biblically, oil is a universal symbol of the Holy Spirit and Holy Spirit related things. The first message I perceive in this simile is the all-pervasive presence and activity of the Holy Spirit were unity abounds in the body. Have you ever wondered after reading the Acts 5 passage of Ananias and Sapphira why we don’t experience similar manifestations of the Spirit in the church today? How is it that the church can be literally riddled with everyone from totally corrupt believers to wholesale Satanists and all their ungodly behavior and no heavenly retribution materializes? Why is it that the average believer today is completely unconcerned about God’s chastisement in light of their unrighteous Christ-denying behavior? The direct spontaneous intervention of God notwithstanding, it is rare today to even find a church where a modicum of discipline is exercised wherein members are held to a biblical standard of accountability and lifestyle. The truth be known, most churches have effectively shut the Holy Spirit out of their fellowships and the lack of actual biblical unity is a principal reason that is true.
I believe that as the church repents and strives for the unity described in Psalm 133 it will once again experience the joy and blessing of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in its midst. One of the manifestations of this will be the revitalization of the priesthood of all believers as intimated from our simile of the anointing oil over Aaron the priest. The oil simile speaks to us of mutual ministry wherein believers are devoted to the building up of one another in Christ. So much of this aspect of the church’s life has been rendered ineffectual through the unbiblical creation of a clergy and laity class of believers.
The other simile of our Psalm, the dew of Mount Hermon, suggests the anticipation of something new and refreshing coming forth daily in the lives of those committed to biblical unity in the body of Christ. Our thoughts and attitudes regarding one another in the body should include a looking for and a calling forth of the continuing workmanship of the Holy Spirit in one another’s lives. As believers we should always view life as a journey, a pilgrimage. We are on our way somewhere, we have a destination. Our lives should always be moving toward complete union with God. Every day presents new challenges and opportunities and it is up to each of us to seize the moment toward the end that we are progressing unto the full stature in Christ.
When the Psalmist here made reference to “how pleasant” unity of the brethren was, he was using a Hebrew term that carried a significant musical connotation. Pleasant in this sense meant harmonious relationships. The corollary to this concept in the New Testament is the Greek sumphoneo. This is the root word from which we derive our words for symphony, symphonic, etc. It literally means to “sound together.” It is talking about a harmonious agreement.
There is probably no greater picture in the natural of biblical unity than that of the symphony orchestra. It is replete with symbolism depicting various aspects of the unity commanded by God. Think about all the different and varied instruments that comprise an orchestra, following the same musical score and under the expert direction of the maestro. Each of the musicians is making a contribution that, combined with the others, produces a harmonious result only possible through their pluralistic unity. The composer of the score they follow wrote down notes eliciting from each instrument sounds that combine to create a masterpiece of tonal harmony.
In order to produce this harmony, this sounding together, it is essential that each musician adhere to a standard of in-tuneness that requires scrupulous attention and discipline on the part of each. Music in reality is an exact and mathematical science. Every note played represents a tone that is defined by a precise number of vibrations per second. The last activity of an orchestra following their warming up and just prior to the entrance of the conductor is the tuning together based on the tone labeled “concert A” which is exactly 440 vibrations per second. When the orchestra is perfectly in tune with one another, the creation of the composer can be wonderfully translated into harmonious sounds and coordinated rhythms lifting the spirits of the listeners into heavenly realms. The orchestra’s conductor is analogous to the Holy Spirit interpreting the Father’s word and bringing it forth through the lives of believers.
It is interesting to note that orchestras of the caliber of the Cleveland Symphony and New York Philharmonic are not populated by novice musicians but rather persons of extreme dedication and discipline who have devoted untold years of painstaking effort to developing their particular expertise. One might say that any orchestra of this level of proficiency is comprised of musicians who were on pilgrimage from the far corners of the land to ultimately converge in pleasant unity.
The Kingdom awaits the symphonic nature of the church to emerge.