At age 18, I became a believer in Y'shua just three months before heading off to college in South Africa. The first year as a freshman in college was the hardest year of my life. Keeping the faith amidst the pressures of college life was almost impossible and I found myself backslidden. Most of my friends were not believers and I was faced with temptations left, right and center. It was not a good situation.
However one night after attending a church service I was walking back to my college dorm and walked right by a Christian fellowship group. As I walked by I heard them singing:
"Let there be love shared among us,
a brotherly love that is real.
May now your love sweep this nation;
cause us Oh LORD to arise,
give us a fresh understanding of brotherly love that is real.
Let there be love shared among us.
Let there be love. Let there be love."
I was deeply moved. I could sense God saying,
"Nici you need to go and be a part of that group."
And I knew that the brotherly love they were singing about
was what I so desperately needed to survive as a new believer in Y'shua."
It was through that little Christian group that I was encouraged in my new faith and more that that was able to grow in not only my love for God but was able to share that love with others. In fact with a people that desperately needed it! You see my years at college were the years just before Nelson Mandela came into power in South Africa and just before apartheid was finally abolished. But those 4 years prior were a very volatile time in South Africa's history. It was still a deeply divided nation and there was much anger, hurt and bitterness.
But our little Christian group was committed to making a difference by showing that unity was possible. And every Sunday we would go into the slums of Johannesburg. Where people lived in tin shacks, well below the poverty line. And we would go door to door and love these people week after week. Each Sunday their children would come running towards us, filthy dirty, hardly clothed and with snotty noses. But God gave us the most amazing compassion for these kids. And we would pick them up and hug and cuddle them. Follow them to their homes and bring their families food and talk to them about the love of Jesus. It was a truly life changing experience.
And while I could share a million lessons I learned through that experience there is one that has really stuck with me. And that is, how much God longs for us to be unified with one another.
As we all know,
"Hineh ma tov u maneim, shevet achim Gam Yachad"
"Behold how good and how pleasant it is when Brethren dwell together in unity"
The well known words of the song taken from Psalm 133.
And as I was thinking about what to share today in preparation for our congregational meeting this Psalm really stuck out. It's a short Psalm, only 3 verses but man is there a lot of good stuff to talk about.
Listen while I read it through once again, this time in the NASB:
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down
upon the beard, [Even] Aaron's beard, Coming down upon
the edge of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, Coming down upon the
mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the
blessing- (of) life forever.
This morning I would like us to take a look at 3 important aspects of unity. Namely:
* The Quality of unity
* The Nature of unity and
* The Blessing of unity
1. The Quality of unity
Firstly the quality of unity. This Psalm was written by King David and is part of the Psalms of Ascent, which are Psalms 120-134. And while the Mishnah links the collection of these fifteen songs with the fifteen steps of the temple where the Levites sang these songs of ascents, most commentators would say it is more likely that the songs were sung on route to the three annual pilgrim festivals. As worshippers "ascended" up to Jerusalem from their various dwellings outside the City of Jerusalem. Hence the term, Psalms of Ascent.
One of my colleagues Jhan Moskowitz in a message at Promise Keepers painted a beautiful picture of what it might have been like for King David, watching these pilgrims marching up to Jerusalem, perhaps looking through the lattice of his palace window. How David might have been in utter amazement to see these different tribes:
* who were once enemies
* who once carried swords to fight one another
* who once only bore curses in their mouths towards one another
NOW here they were coming up to Jerusalem
* Not carrying swords but banners
* Not cursing one another but singing songs of praise
* Not fighting against one another but united as one
And perhaps it is this awesome sight that inspired King David to write:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!
The quality of this kind of unity is both good and pleasant. In Hebrew the word for good is tov. Which can be translated not only as good and pleasant but also as beautiful, beneficial, favorable, delightful, precious, joyful , correct and right. In God's eyes our unity is a delight. It's beautiful and precious in his sight. But it's more than just these warm gushy words. It's more than just a feeling. The word tov also means right or correct. It goes beyond feelings to something God expects of us. He wants us to be correct and right in our interactions with others. Because true unity happens not only when we feel all warm and gushy towards one another but more so when we do it because it's the right thing to do, even if we don't feel like it.
And folks doesn't this kind of unity reflect God and his relationship towards us? He is willing to be united with us. He loves us even though we are sinful and down right unlovable at times. He loves us at all times.
And so in light of this Y'shua instructs us
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
And as we emulate that kind of love which God has for us, towards one another, the outside world looks in and finds something they are truly looking for. They find something good and pleasant. Something they have been longing for.
It's my hope and prayer that as we at Sar Shalom open our doors to visitors they will come in and see how tov, how good and right our unity towards one another is that they will want to come back and be a part of us.
Having talked about the quality of our unity which is good and pleasant let's now talk about the nature of our unity.
2. The Nature of our Unity
Verse 2 tells us:
2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, [Even] Aaron's beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
Here King David uses a simile to describe the nature of our unity. It is like the precious anointing oil that was used to anoint Aaron and the priests.
And in Exodus 30 from verse 22 we find a description of this anointing oil.
22 Then the LORD said to Moses,
23 "Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane,
24 500 shekels of cassia--all according to the sanctuary shekel--and a hin of olive oil.
25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.
And in verse 29 Moses instructs the people to take this oil and anoint Aaron and his sons:
29 You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.
This wasn't just any old kind of oil. This oil was special. It was sacred. It was most holy. And it could only be used to anoint the priests and their instruments of worship.
In Leviticus 8 we read about the actual anointing of Aaron and his sons. And this passage adds further insight:
1 The LORD said to Moses,
2 "Bring Aaron and his sons, their garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams and the basket containing bread made without yeast, 3 and gather the entire assembly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting." 4 Moses did as the LORD commanded him, and the assembly gathered at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
This tells us the entire assembly, all the worshippers were present and that they were about to prepare a sin offering too. Then ....
5 Moses said to the assembly, "This is what the LORD has commanded to be done." 6 Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. 7 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also tied the ephod to him by its skilfully woven waistband; so it was fastened on him. 8 He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece. 9 Then he placed the turban on Aaron's head and set the gold plate, the sacred diadem, on the front of it, as the LORD commanded Moses.
10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. 11 He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. 12 He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him.
What an amazing picture! What a comparison! Here some oil is just sprinkled on the altar that is about to receive the sin offering BUT in contrast the holy sacred oil is actually poured onto Aaron. So much so that Psalm 133:2 describes the oil as:
Coming down upon the beard, [Even] Aaron's beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It seems he is totally drenched from the top of his head to the edges of his robe.
The anointing oil would have flowed over the gold plate, which the High Priest wore on his forehead that bore the words:
"Holiness unto the Lord"
It would have come flowing down over his breastplate, which bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel symbolizing the unity of this nation in worship under their consecrated priest.
And finally it would have come down to the edges of his robe.
This was a picture of an outpouring of God's holiness.
As Alfred Edersheim in his book, "The Temple points" out:
"their mode of ordination and even every portion, material, and color of their distinctive dress were all intended to express in a symbolical manner this characteristic of holiness."
And here in Psalm 133 David wants us to understand that in the same way our unity towards one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord is Kadosh. It is Holy. Most Holy. What an awesome picture!
The unity we share as believers is not like any other unity. It's not like the unity of people in a pub watching a ball game. No this unity is something far greater, it is God ordained and God executed.
And I don't know about you but I really shuddered when I realized this comparison King David is making. How God compares our unity with one another to this unbelievable ordination ceremony of Aaron which was sacred and holy. And I thought something tells me that God does not like it when we trash around this kind of unity among the brethren.
May God help all of us at Sar Shalom to understand how Holy the Unity of the Brethren is in His sight.
We have talked about the quality of unity- that it is good and pleasant. We have talked about the nature of unity - that it is holy and sacred. Thirdly we will look at the blessing of unity.
3. The Blessing of Unity
In Psalm 133:3 we read:
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.
Here King David uses his second simile. He compares our unity with the dew of Hermon that falls on Mount Zion.
The Expositors Commentary explains:
Because of the high altitude of Mount Hermon (nearly ten thousand feet above sea level) and the precipitation in the forms of rain, snow, and dew, Mount Hermon was proverbial for its lush greenery even during the summer months and for its dew that sustained the vegetation. This is in stark contrast to Jerusalem, which gets little to no precipitation in the summer months.
Anyone who has been to Israel and especially to Jerusalem during the summer months will understand how hot and sticky it gets. Since the pilgrims took at least 2 of their 3 pilgrimage journeys during this time of the year the dew on Mount Hermon would no doubt have been a great source of refreshment and strength to them as they made their way up to Jerusalem.
And in the same way King David likens the blessing of our unity towards one another to the dew on Mount Hermon. In the same way the dew of the cold mountaintops of Hermon refreshes the hot city of Jerusalem, so real unity refreshes the body of Messiah. It is like an ice cold drink on a hot day after running a 30 mile marathon.
A commitment to unity allows us to release the stress of unforgiven sin among us. It restores our equilibrium.
Have you ever had a fight with your spouse or a close friend?
You just feel awful and torn. And because of your desire to be
re-united you come together and work it out and seek forgiveness.
And once it is all worked out, what a relief! That is the kind of
refreshing King David is talking about. True unity refreshes the soul.
There you have it, the Unity of the brethren is:
* Good and pleasant
* It is sacred and holy
* It revives and refreshes
But I think it's time to get practical. What does all this mean to you and I today? Here we are a group of maybe 20-30 people who are part of a congregation in Boston called Sar Shalom. How does this relate to us?
Well it's clear that God longs for unity among the brethen. And this is something that is really important to Him. But let's face it unity is hard. It's not something that just happens. You don't passively go about worshipping together from week to week and find yourself united. It takes effort. It's hard work. It's something we need to pursue with diligence.
Disunity, now that's easy. That happens in a flash. But to be a congregation that's united requires a tremendous amount of effort on everyone's part.
As the passage in Colossians which we read earlier reminds us,
It's a matter of putting to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature. We need to die to our:
* evil desires
* lying to each other
And instead we need to be:
* Bearing with one another
* Forgiving whatever grievances we may have against one another
* And as verse 14 reminds us:
"and over all these virtues put on love which binds then together in perfect unity"
There you have it. That's the recipe for unity. Is it easy? No way! But is it necessary, absolutely! And why?
In the words of our Psalm:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! For there the LORD commanded the blessing-of life forever.
Let's remind ourselves today and always that the unity we share with the brethren is not something that is temporal. It's not about today or tomorrow or the next week. The unity we share is eternal.
In closing I would like to read to you from one of my favorite books. It's a series of letters written by John Newton. In this particular letter John Newton offers advise to someone who was facing a controversial encounter with another brother in the Lord. Newton exhorts the recipient of his letter to keep in mind the eternal nature of our relationship towards one another. He says:
"In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you might find it necessary to oppose his views, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Messiah FOREVER."
* May all of us at Congregation Sar Shalom be people who have an eternal perspective on our life together as believers?
* May we come to understand that if we want God to bestow his blessing upon us we will need to be unified in Him?
* And may God grant us the strength and conviction to obey Him in this way?