As parents, we feel joy and gratification when we see our children getting along with each other. It puts a smile on a parent’s face to hear an older child reading to younger siblings, or to see brothers and sisters happily playing a game together.
However, even the most well-behaved children sometimes argue and fight among themselves. To hear their children lashing out and calling each other names will put an exasperated frown on a parent’s face in a hurry.
Surely our Father in heaven views His children in much the same way. Jesus prayed that His disciples would manifest a unity that reflects that of the Trinity itself (see John 17:21-23), and there is no doubt that He was praying according to the will of the Father.
Psalm 133 says: “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity! 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. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.”
When Christians worship together, fellowship together, pray together and work together, it is both good and pleasant. It greatly enhances the effectiveness of our witness to the world when our unity in Christ is seen to overcome the racial, social, generational and political differences that tend to pull us apart. Christian unity is pleasing to God, and pleasant for us.
On the other hand, Christians who squabble among themselves do not present a appealing witness to the world, and are more likely to repulse than attract unbelievers. Disunity is not pleasing to God, and is not pleasant for us.
This is all straightforward and easy to understand, if not so easy to put into practice. But Psalm 133:2 introduces a new idea that is not intuitively obvious at all. Here David links the unity of God’s people to the anointing of Aaron, the first priest appointed by God under the Levitical system. What is David telling us? He is saying simply that there is a strong and direct link between unity and anointing.
David’s description of Aaron’s anointing is graphic and detailed. The oil is said to flow from the head to the beard to the collar of the robe. We’re not talking about a skimpy sprinkling of oil here, but an abundant outpouring. Is David wanting us to see that the greater the unity among God’s people, the greater the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them?
We know that oil in Scripture is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Certainly that is true in the case of Aaron. His anointing was intended to be more than a drenching in olive oil; what Aaron needed and received was a drenching in the Spirit of God.
Consider the uses of oil in the times of Aaron and David. Olive oil was burned in lamps to provide light in houses and to dispel darkness for those walking along paths in the night. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit provides illumination for us as we journey through this world. But it is also true that the light of God’s truth, God’s direction, and God’s presence shines brighter when we are in fellowship with other believers. Christian unity helps to shed light on our path.
Olive oil was also used to refresh those weary from travel. The Holy Spirit certainly revives and renews our souls. But He often uses fellowship with other brothers and sisters to recharge and revitalize us when we are fatigued from struggling to make headway against the current of the world. Christian unity helps to energize and invigorate our walk with the Lord.
Olive oil was also used for medicinal purposes, as a healing agent for wounds. Again, the Holy Spirit ministers healing to both soul and body. But He often brings healing to wounded hearts through the love and encouragement of our brothers and sisters. Christian fellowship creates a community of healing.
We can certainly make a case that Christian unity provides an environment in which the Holy Spirit works in deep and significant ways. “More unity equals more anointing” may well be an axiom of God’s kingdom.
Next David changes direction on us again, comparing unity to the dew on Mount Hermon. At nearly 3000 meters, this was the highest peak in Palestine, and was capped with snow nine months of the year. The melted snow flowed into the Jordan River, the source of water and therefore of life for the land of Israel. Even so, a unified church is meant to release the life-giving river of God into the world.
One more thing about Mount Hermon: some say that this was the site of Jesus’ transfiguration. (See the account in Matthew 17:1-8.) Interestingly, Moses and Elijah appeared there with Jesus. Both of these men had encountered God upon a mountain, and here they did so again, in the person of Jesus, God incarnate. Here was displayed the unity of God’s revelation, as the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) are brought together and fulfilled in Christ.
Peter being Peter, he could not keep himself from blurting out whatever came into his mind when he beheld Jesus transfigured. But God the Father Himself spoke out audibly in response, telling Peter to be quiet and listen to Jesus. This was not the time or place for Peter to put forward his own agenda. This was the time and place for the glory of Jesus to be displayed. Peter needed to focus his full attention on Christ.
So what can we learn about Christian unity from the images offered by David in this brief psalm?
Unity is good and pleasant; disunity is neither.
Unity helps to promote the gospel.
Unity brings refreshment and healing.
Unity brings the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Unity brings a revelation of the glory of God.
Unity requires setting aside our own agenda.
Unity comes from focusing on Jesus.
David sums it up this way: “There [in the place of unity] the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”
The blessing the Lord bestows, and the abundant life Jesus came to give, are not to be found in pursuit of our individual goals and agendas, but in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is my prayer for all of us: Lord, I know you are pleased and your Kingdom is strengthened when your people are unified. Help me to put aside personal preferences and ambitions, and seek unity with fellow believers who think and worship and vote differently than I do!
Originally published in Encourge magazine