I heard Donald Trump quote this Psalm during his Inaugural Address. While I appreciated him bringing Scripture into his speech I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this really an appropriate use of The Word?”
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.
I heard Donald Trump quote this Psalm during his Inaugural Address. While I appreciated him bringing Scripture into his speech I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this really an appropriate use of The Word?” After all, the Psalmist was writing about unity within the Church, not unity within society generally. Donald Trump was quoting this text within the context of healing the deep divisions that have emerged in American Society.
As I began looking at this Psalm a little closer I discovered that Mr Trump was actually correct. This is God’s ultimate plan for mankind, that we live together in peace and harmony. This plan can only be realised within the Church and among Christians because that is where the grace of God is triumphant. But, the people of God ought to be promoting this characteristic among our fellow human beings and showing them by example the virtue of this gift, the gift of unity.
As we view the world we discover a fallen race that is filled with hate and bitterness. Donald Trump’s election has exposed the fault lines that exist in the US; the strife between small town America and the large metropolitan cities, the debate raging between the conservative Christian community and the liberals who espouse their own version of morality; the tensions that still exist between black and white. We have never seen anything quite like it. Thousands protesting at the inauguration of a democratically elected President, not just in America but across the world. There are similar fault lines is British Society. The Brexit Debate which continues to rumble has betrayed the animosities simmering below the surface that divide the political elite from grass roots opinion. The Nationalists continue to advocate Scottish Independence and Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate within the Labour Movement show that the division with British Society is multi faceted. We have our own political problems here in Northern Ireland. The age old war between the Ulster Scot and the Irish Nationalist seems set to last as long as time itself. The eruption of the flag protests and the continued threat posed by the dissidents shows that at any time we are only one major event away from a return to anarchy and violence. International Conflicts still exist between nations. The war in Syria and the threat posed by ISIS continued to threaten stability in the Middle East. Israel continues to feel threatened by it’s Arab neighbours, India and Pakistan continue to dispute Cashmere, and North Korea is the scourge of the Far East and of the world. On the domestic front, homes suffer. Domestic abuse, abuse of children, Separations and Divorces continues to menace the place that ought to represent peace and refuge in everyone’s life. Yes it seems that all around us and everywhere we are bombarded with this one reality, Tragic yet real. Too real. Disunity, strife, hatred abound at every level. Yet, this is not the plan of God. He wants brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity. Disunity exists because of sin. The first death was caused by jealousy, hatred and violence. That was the first immediate consequence of The Fall. The peoples of the earth were split into different language groups as a judgement for their desire to establish a new false universal religion. Every division that exists in the world is present because of sin. God’s plan is that all of this division, and the sin that underlies it, will be healed so that together we dwell in unity.
This spirit of unity, must begin in the Church. For the sake of our world, of our nations and of our homes we must cultivate true fellowship and seek that which pleases God in our relationships. This is the burden of this study. That we dwell together in unity.
Dwelling Together in Unity
1: Christian Unity is Goodness
The word “good” in this Psalm literally means sweet and delightful. It is a most beautiful attribute. That which is good is the brothers dwelling in unity. The word unity means a oneness and has a reference to people gathering together. While the Psalmist had the great festive gatherings of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament in mind, the Holy Spirit is showing us the assembling of the New Testament Church. When we meet, when we gather to praise, to pray and to learn from The Word it is delightful when we enjoy the spirit of unity. This is where the blessing is.
The spirit of Christian Unity is good because it is loving. The Scriptures teach us that love is both the highest and the most basic product of God’s Work in our hearts:
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
1st John 4:7-8
This love needs to be manifest within our fellowship and in so doing is supplies the world with an example as to how society should function:
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples,
if ye have love one to another.”
Christian love, therefore leads to forgiveness:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
When Christian love permeates every desire, every decision, every word, every motive – God is there, manifested in His fullness.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
1st Corinthians 13:4-7
When this true spirit of unity exists, there is patience, toleration, self control – in one word we are at peace (with ourselves and others).
The natural man recoils against such a spirit. We are proud, we are vengeful,we are selfish, we are spiteful. These are the characteristics of the depraved nature that lurks within. Therefore we must work at unity, curbing those attitudes that hinder it’s progress and seeking the Lord’s deeper work in our lives:
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
When writing to the Ephesians Paul taught the Church to celebrate it’s common interests and never to stress the areas of contention:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
2: Christian Unity is Gracious
This spirit of Christian Unity, however, is a grace gift which God has bequeathed to the Church. It is so unnatural that no man or woman ever could produce such a spirit. This gift of unity is given by virtue of our unity with Christ and the Holy Spirit’s operation in our lives.
In the 2nd verse the Psalmist takes us to anointing of Aaron the High Priest of Israel. Instantly we by faith, see Christ, in this place, as our Great High Priest. The body of Aaron has a head, which is Christ, whereas the members of the body are the Church. The Church is one with every Christian being united to Christ in every part:
“And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
Oil in the Scripture is a type of the Holy Spirit. He is the “Holy Anointing Oil” in this New Testament age. Often we refer to the Holy Spirit’s descend upon a Christian as an anointing:
“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
1st John 2:27
The anointing of the Spirit was first given to Christ as our Head on our behalf. The anointing flows from him into every part of the Church diffusing fragrance whereever it flows. As the oil reached even the extremities of Aaron’s garments so the Holy Spirit has reached every Christian in every nation. Despite the very real and acute differences that exist between us we can and ought to achieve unity because the Spirit has bound us into the Body of Christ.
The descent of the spirit of unity from above was also illustrated by Mount Hermon as it’s elevation brought dew not only to it’s slopes but to the district gathered round. The Spirit of God has come down from above and has settled on the Church so that society would in turn be blessed. We need to pray that those homes and communities that we connect with would in turn receive the gift of peace and harmony through our witness and work.
Where there is Christianity, blessing has descended upon nations. It was the power of Christianity that freed the slaves, that promoted social justice that brought democracy and fair governance to the nations of the world.
The challenge we constantly face is – “Are we showing forth Christ to our society by our love, by our compassion, by self sacrifice towards our families, our fellow Christians and towards our neighbours. Are we living out the Gospel? Is the grace of God seen in our lives?”
3: Christian Unity is Glorious
The glory of Christian Unity is hinted at in the 3rd verse:
“…for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
Yes there is blessing in Christ Unity because eternal life will be an existence of hallowed communion with others in Christ.
Bearing in mind that we live in a world torn apart by division and strife on every level, the words of John in the Apocalypse are truly amazing and awe inspiring:
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”
The old ethnic backgrounds language groups and tribal boundaries are still present as a fading anachronism of a past life. Now there is true joy. A spirit of coming together rejoicing in the blood of the Lamb; Christ the Lamb of God.
The glory of Christian Unity will only be realised in The Eternal State when redeemed man will be one in Christ.
Yet, the eternal state is the pattern for the present. What can change the divisions in our nations and between our nations?– the Gospel. Who is our only hope – Christ. Let us then preach Christ – live for Christ and let us pray that His Person would descend upon our land with a gracious outpouring of His Spirit.