I remember the first personal contact I had with a new parishioner we’ll call Dave. I ran into him in the church office while he spoke with the secretary. After I introduced myself, he said, “My wife and I are coming from a very large church which had a number of issues, so I just want to let you know up front that if you are going to be my pastor, you will have to earn my respect.”
As his “new” pastor, I was not about to let that erroneous, arrogant statement go, so I said, “Nowhere in Scripture does it say I have to earn your respect. Paul does say in his letter to Timothy, “17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5). Based on this, I believe it is biblical for you to honor an elder/teacher like myself from the beginning.”
He smiled and left, failing to agree with my statement.
For the next six to seven years he went on to subvert, oppose, undermine, criticize just about every decision I and the elder council made. And most of the time this legalist’s words started out like this, “Pastor, the Holy Spirit has told me . . .” and then he would launch into his blistering diatribe as to how I, along with the other spiritual leaders, needed to get in line with what God had told him we needed to do. Repeatedly, I would challenge him, “I find it most interesting how the Holy Spirit only speaks to you, and how what He supposedly says always contradicts what we believe, after prayer and discussion, He is saying to us.” Trust me on this one, no amount of solid, sound biblical or logical argumentation ever broke through the hardened soil of this spiritual troublemaker’s hostile heart.
Since he was musically talented, and we needed musicians, I, in a bid to show grace and attempt to build a bridge to him, placed him on the worship team (what was I thinking?). It did not take long before he caused huge issues on the team, leading to all sorts of infighting and hurt feelings.
I moved him off the worship team and peace returned.
Because he had expertise with sound, and I as a church planter needed tech people who knew what they were doing, I put him on the sound team. Predictably, it was not long before issues started cropping up inside this team, and, you guessed it, all the team chaos started with one man on a quest to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Looking back now, I don’t think it was God’s Spirit he followed after. Instead of spending his time in the worship booth making sure all the sound levels were good, he used a yellow note pad to handwrite critical letters to me during the worship service. Each one trashed my preaching/teaching, and gave me “good” tips on how to preach/teach better. After most services, I’d find a six to eight-page scathing letter slid under the door of my office. Talk about someone who had the gift of encouragement. Right.
Wanting all of our people to use their gifts in our small, but growing church body, I placed him on our worship council, hoping his musical background would mesh with the rest of the group which helped shape our services. I’ll never forget the night of the major meltdown of this pivotal committee. While meeting in the home of one of our key and committed couples, he caused such a problem with his way or no way approach they simply called the meeting and everyone left quite upset and disgruntled.
Trust me when I say I thank God the day this man felt the Holy Spirit moving him and his family to another church. His arrival at our church years before brought disunity to the body and hamstrung our ability to do much for God. His departure brought unity and peace to the body, allowing us to actually accomplish what God had really called us to do.
Unity. It is the most important thing for Christians and for a Christian church to be about. I know this is true because unity was the main focus of our Lord’s High Priestly prayer before His crucifixion (John 17), and Paul, who had experienced his fair share of Daves, gave us this divinely inspired counsel,
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4).
“Being diligent” is from the Greek present participle, spouthazontes (σπουδάζοντες), which means to “waste no time” doing this. The fact it is a present tense participle stresses how it should be your constant, moment by moment goal as a believer no matter where you are or who you are with. Of course, we are under divine mandate to safeguard the unity of the church body, for it is this body which is to be a continual reflection of the unity within the Godhead.
Our unity is all-important for we cannot be the light on the hill (Matt. 5:14-15) if we are consumed, like Dave was, with not being content until we are in a state of abject, irreconcilable chaos. Our unity as a body, therefore, is an integral part of our witness to the world, be it the unity of our family unit, or the unity of our church body. Obviously, we have accomplished much and we are a bright spiritual life as a church simply because we are unified on the things which matter most, and we show brotherly grace and compassion on secondary matters Scripture treats with a degree of ambiguity.
Really, nothing has changed since the Psalms were written some three thousand years ago. The Ascent Psalms, or Pilgrim Songs (Psalm 120-134), tell us what believers sang as the headed to worship at the Temple, and what they sang when they arrived there. Interestingly enough, Psalm 133, which Israel sang while looking at the holy Temple of God, is all about, you guessed it, unity. And rightly so, because unity among God’s people is what Satan had attacked from the beginning:
- Adam and Eve were against God.
- Adam was against Eve.
- Cain was against Abel.
- Ham was against his father Noah.
- Lot was against Abraham.
- Ishmael was against Isaac.
- Joseph’s brothers were against him.
Need I go on? I don’t think so. We all get the drill. So, no wonder Psalm 133 teaches us the following timeless truth:
God Desires To Bless You Through Unity (Psalm 133)
This premise readily emerges from the three short verses of this psalm. In verse one, the inspired author gives us a rule God wants us to adhere to, a rule regarding unity, and in verses 2 through 3 he turns and tells us what the results are from living a life of unity. Join me as we pour over these insightful, instructive words, and, please, ask yourself, “Lord, am I really pursuing unity as a saint?”
The Rule: You Should Pursue Unity (Psalm 133:1)
1 A Song of Ascents, of David . Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! (Ps. 133)
The author arrests our attention with the emphatic placement of the word “behold,” hinneh (הִנֵּ֣ה), in verse one. He does this because he does not want you to miss how utterly important it is for you to be for unity, not disunity. Twice he employs the interrogative “how,” mah (מַה ), to underscore the good and pleasant it is to hear that brothers dwell in unity. If you have literal brothers, then you can appreciate the import of this verse. If you are the parents of brothers, you can really appreciate this verse, because it is good and pleasant when you see or hear that brothers are getting along and not trying to take each other out.
One of my best friends growing up was named Billy. He stood six feet five inches tall and weighed 300 pounds, and he was the strongest teen in school. His brother, Bobby, was just a little smaller, but equally strong and fearsome. When I’d spend the night at their trailer out in the country and they would physically fight, I’d just slide my slender body off to the side until they were finished. I’m sure they caused their mother and father much angst as they literally swung 2 by 4s at each other (and connected . . . hence the reason I got out of the way). I’m equally sure their parents were happy when they grew up and didn’t engage in mortal combat anymore.
Unfortunately, sometimes Christians can be like Billy and Bobby. The difference is they use verbal 2 by 4s to create havoc and to exercise their hubris hiding as holiness. For instance, Miriam and Aaron criticized the God-ordained leadership of their brother, Moses (Gen. 45:24). Even Christ’s disciples had their moments when they went after each other, and it got especially ugly when they actually argued who among themselves would be the greatest (Matt. 18:1ff; Mark 9:33ff; Luke 22:23ff). And then we have Paul and Barnabas mixing it up over the desertion John Mark are their first missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). It didn’t take the Church long to move from working with each other to working against each other. The Church had its first major fight in Jerusalem as a council was formed to deal with the divisive issue regarding whether Gentiles needed to follow the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. Judaizing Christians said, Yes, while people like James, the Lord’s brother, said, “No.” Thankfully, the Church solved the issue and peace ensued, but the bickering and blasting certainly was shocking.
Historically, Psalm 133 is most interesting. The header of the Psalm says David wrote it. Some scholars are of the opinion he constructed this piece when he assumed the kingship of Israel. If that is the case, it is most informative because from what we know of David’s role as king, he started out with unity and quickly encountered his fair share of disunity and destruction.
Being a peaceful man, a man who loves unity, David showed mercy to King Saul when on two occasions he could have killed the man who unjustly sought to kill him ((1 Sam. 20:42; 23:16-17). His peace-loving, unity-loving ways formed the basis of his new role as king:
4 Then the men of Judah came and there anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, "It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul. 5 And David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said to them, "May you be blessed of the LORD because you have shown this kindness to Saul your lord, and have buried him. 6 And now may the LORD show lovingkindness and truth to you; and I also will show this goodness to you, because you have done this thing. 7 Now therefore, let your hands be strong, and be valiant; for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah has anointed me king over them" (2 Sam. 2).
Years earlier, King Saul had rescued Jabesh Gilead when the Amorites had the city surrounded (1 Sam. 11). Here David honors them for risking their lives (by taking his body from the fortified city of Beth Shean) to honor a king, who by the way, had dishonored the new king, David, who was chosen by God and anointed in a private ceremony by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16:13). David did this to give honor where honor was due, and to also build a bridge of unity with the tribes in the north who had not yet accepted him as the king.
From this we learn that sometimes we have to overlook atrocities done against us to create peace and unity among brothers. Several years ago I received a phone call from a California parishioner who had caused me and Liz, as well as the church, much angst. Let’s just say she was like a female version of Dave. Let’s call her, Donna.
What did she want? She informed me that her daughter was attending law school at Georgetown, and that since the young woman didn’t know anyone on the East Coast, she wondered if we might be open to having her over and being her lifeline. In my flesh I thought, “Are you kidding me? You are asking me this favor after all you’ve done to me and my family?” In my spirit, which sought God’s leadership, I knew what I had to do. So, I said, “Sure, Liz and I would be glad to be there for your daughter. Here are all our phone numbers and our street address.
I don’t tell you this story to build myself up, but to challenge you to be a David. David didn’t just sing about unity. Throughout his life he worked overtime to do what he could, when he could, to make sure unity abounded. Will you go and do the same thing?
What David also learned is that sometimes unity is, well, just not possible in the short-term. No sooner did they crown him king than Aber, the commander of Saul’s army, installed Salul’s emotionally weak son, Ishbosheth, as Israel’s alternate king (2 Sam. 2:8-11). To make matters worse, Aber challenged David to a duel by pitting twelve of his fiercest special ops soldiers against twelve of David’s. In the end, all twelve lay dead in the sand after a brutal, bloody hand to hand fight (2 Sam. 2:12-18). What did David do after this stalemate with this combative, carnal, power-hungry man? He pulled back and let Abner go his way.
From this we learn to apply the words of Hebrews:
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12).
Give unity your best shot, always; however, always remember there are some Abner-types you will not be able to live at peace with, so realize the truth and the facts, and emotionally (and physically) back up. Basically, I learned the depth of this verse with my constant and complex encounters with “Dave.” Perhaps it is time for you to learn as well. And quiet often the disunity comes from a passive/aggressive type, you know, the type of person who attacks you in some fashion and then pulls back when confronted and says, “I’m sorry, I just do not know what you are talking about.” When a person does this, it is well neigh impossible to find peace because they won’t come clean from their disruptive ways. So, make a mental note, like David did, and head in another direction altogether . . . like . . . stop trying to build the bridge to nowheresville, and start building new bridges to new people, new friends.
I give you a small taste of David’s life as the new king of Israel to just help put his counsel in verse 1 of Psalm 133 into perspective. When it comes to living a life devoted to God, a godly person knows the Lord’s rule is for each of us to work hard for unity, and to have no part in unfounded, ungrounded, and ungodly disunity.
Before we leave these thoughts and wise principles about unity from David’s life, allow me to add a few thoughts from my own life:
- We don’t strive for unity in a meaningless way at all costs, meaning there are times when we have to draw a line in the sand and stand for truth, even if that stance divides. Then so be it. Jesus did this with the Pharisees (Matt. 23).
- We do strive for unity in the essentials, and grace and patience in the non-essentials. For instance, we will die for doctrinal essentials like the deity of Christ, the Bible as the only word of God, the doctrine of inherited sin, the power of the gospel to save sinners, the historicity of the resurrection, and so forth. There are, however, other doctrinal areas where we are not sure. Is five-point Calvinism the way to go from God, or is it fine to be a three-pointer? Will the rapture happen before the Tribulation, or are the rapture and the Second Coming one event? Is it all right for a saint to have a glass of wine? I think so, but I know he, also, shouldn’t get drunk. Is it all right to go to a movie, to rent from Netflix, to get a movie from Redbox? Well, it depends on what you are renting, but be wise and then enjoy your life. Should a Christian get a tattoo? Well, it depends on what it is, don’t you think? Demonic beings coming out of the eyes of a skull is one thing, a Christian motif is another thing. Should I get vaxxed or should I abstain? But whichever way you go on this decision, one thing is clear: don’t judge those on the other side of the aisle for they have their reasons I’m sure God will honor on judgment day. In sum, I think at the end of the day you need to ask yourself: Am I concerned about eternal things above external things? The answer to that question will, in my view, lead you to be a unifier, not a divider. It will also show you when you, like Paul did with the Galatians, need to stand for true truth when it is being assailed by falsity masquerading as truth (Gal. 1).
Unity is a good and pleasant thing. I find it interesting that the Hebrew for pleasant here speaks of a beautiful, soothing song. As your pastor, I’m thankful this tune plays more often than not in our body, and this is why God has been able to accomplish so much in and through us. I pray this tune is what plays within the confines of your home as well, for it is the number one song on the Lord’s hit list for all time.
What occurs when you choose to pursue a life of unity and peace? The closing two verses tell us:
The Result: You Will Profit From Unity (Psalm 133:2-3)
Join me as we read the inspired Word, and then we will circle back and offer some salient, hopefully helpful practical observations:
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-- life forever (Ps. 133).
Twice, once in verse two and once in verse three, David says “it is like.” He is drawing, in my view, a strict, instructive comparison between his call to pursue unity and how it positively impacts your life.
First, David says that unity is like the precious, holy anointing oil they poured all over the High Priest on the day he stepped into this pivotal spiritual capacity. The picture here is from Leviticus 8. During the wilderness wanderings, all the tribes of Israel were strategically situated around the Tabernacle, the precursor to the Temple. When Aaron was anointed in this full fashion, the coverage of the holy anointing oil demonstrated he, the spiritual leader, was set apart in order to be useful to God and to the community.
Likewise, when you chose to live a life of unity among the tribes of our camp, as it were, you become a useful tool in the hand of God to bring strength, blessing, protection, and power to the people of God at large. Show me a church, a family, which possesses these coveted traits, and I’ll show you a church and a family touching lives, changing lives, and bringing peace where there is disorder, chaos, and infighting. Show me a church or a family where some of the members are anointed from head to toe with an unruly, combative spirit, and I’ll show you one where little is being accomplished for God because they are so busy fighting it out.
Unity anoints you and sets you apart to do great, jaw-dropping things for God, so be expectant for the Spirit to use you to touch countless lives for time and eternity.
Second, David likens unity to the dew which comes in the morning on the hillsides of Mount Hermon, rising some 9,000 feet above all the other mountains in northern Israel. He says unity is also like dew which comes to the almost rainless landscape of thirsty city like Jerusalem. What does this simile mean? I think the answer is simple. Dew gives life and nourishment to parched, thirsty plants. Dew gives these plants the opportunity to grow and flourish. Yes, dew sets the stage for fruitful, abundant living. Likewise, as unity is displayed in your life, it will function like dew on the lives of the people around you, resulting in their thirst being quenched and their lives positioned for real growth.
We all know how the Devil is working overtime through the Daves in our culture. Division and chaos are everywhere.
- Republicans are divided against Democrats
- Conservatives are divided against Progressives
- Vaxers are divided against anti-vaxers
- Maskers are divided against anti-maskers
- Woke people are divided against the unawakened
- School boards are divided against parents and students
- Hospital officials are divided against doctors and nurses
- Pro-illegal aliens are divided against anti-illegal aliens
- Fiscal conservatives are divided against tax and spend socialists
- Socialists are divided against constitutionalists
And I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point because you see it and face it every single day.
The question is, what is the Church of Jesus Christ to be about in these dark, divisive days? We are to unified on God’s true truths, meaning we are willing to stand our ground and be light, help, and hope to the culture at large. We also to be so bathed in unity, that unity cannot help but touch our families, our church, and our country. We have God’s promise on this one.
With all of this in mind, I then challenge you to make this charge your charge:
“Lord, within all my power I will be a unifier, not a dis-unifier.”
What does a unifier look like?
- They look at how to build, not how to blast.
- They don’t exploit weaknesses, but strengths.
- They are forgiving, not grudge holders.
- They are humble, not hostile from the get-go.
- They are soft-spoken, not snarky and sarcastic.
- They assume others are innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.
- They don’t keep a long list of wrongs they can drag out and beat and berate others with.
- They don’t reject facts, but they embrace and learn from them.
- They use kind words, not cutting, abusive, foul words.
- They, well, I’ll let the Spirit of God lay some wisdom on you for your own personal maturation. These are just some of the things I’ve learned from walking with Him for many years.
Oh, Lord, bless and guard the unity of our church. Bless and guard the unity of our homes. Bless and guard the unity of our country. And, Lord, may that pursuit of unity start with each of us.