Summary: Unity among Christians does not require uniformity Community is rooted in relationship
“Happiness is an Oily Beard” Psalm 133 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Here’s an interesting observation—there is a Commandment about honoring our mothers and fathers, so why isn’t there one about brothers and sisters? There is: “Thou shalt not kill.” This Christmas, what present would Jesus want? Unity among His people. Unity doesn’t always come easily. Eugene Peterson observes, “the church is composed of equal parts mystery and mess.” God is the mystery; we are the mess!
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” In the Hebrew text, the psalm begins with the word “Behold”, to draw attention to the importance of harmony among God’s people.
When Jewish pilgrims sang this psalm as they journeyed to Jerusalem, they did not sing solo or travel alone. They came to the feasts and holy days from many different walks of life, regions, and tribes. No matter how hard the pilgrimage conditions were, the fellowship of God’s people made the journey refreshing. We too are pilgrims; we have a destination, our heavenly home, and we are traveling together. It’s foolish to try to be a believer in isolation. The moment we become Christians, we become part of a body of believers, the Body of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Our community with one another consists in what Christ has done for us.” Christ is the basis of our fellowship. Because we’re part of the universal Christian community, we shouldn’t be reluctant to join a local church. We are a family in Christ. No Christian is an only child. We can’t thrive in isolation. We need to see our identity in the Body of Christ. We form together the visible shape of what God is like.
We are a community rooted in relationship. This doesn’t mean that we’re always one big happy family: “To dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be glory! To dwell below with saints we know…that’s a different story.” When we trust Christ we gain resources to live godly lives, but we do not stop being sinners. Our personalities do not change. If we were quiet, analytical, unemotional before conversion to Christ, we’re not going to suddenly become touchy-feely extroverts. We are who we are. God wants us to appreciate the diversity within His family. We may not think alike, but we should work together. We need to unconditionally accept one another and treat each other with dignity and respect. The fact that we are all unique is an advantage. We’re visibly together when we worship, and we should remain in relationship through the week. We’re missing out if we only see each other on Sunday.
Philip Yancy writes, “Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal faith. It can only be lived in community.” So the question is not, “Am I going to be part of a community of faith” but “How am I going to live in this community of faith?” We can pretend that we’re on our own, but eventually we realize how much we need each other. If it is not visible that we care about one another, it is doubtful whether we love one another. When believers come together, something supernatural happens; Jesus promises, “Where two or three come together in My Name, there am I with them” (Mt 18:20). The author of Hebrews urges, “Let us consider how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25). We are not solitary saints. We are incomplete until we find fellowship with others who share our faith.
Jesus modeled community with His disciples. They lived out their faith in connection with one another. They shared a common purpose, united around their Teacher. The disciples didn’t always get along. There was some bickering and competitiveness. Jesus had to remind them that they were brothers, not rivals. Together they transformed the world.
David is the author of this psalm, and the best one to appreciate the blessing of unity. Under David’s leadership the twelve tribes of Israel were united. They put aside tribal jealousy in a spirit of cooperation and became a united kingdom. This enabled David to strengthen the nation and establish the capital in Jerusalem. Some Christians compete with one another as if they were on opposing teams. We need to be team-players.
Why do we resist the call to community? Sin isolates us; it causes us to find ways of separating ourselves from others. Sociologist Philip Slater wrote a probing analysis of the American way of life entitled The Pursuit of Loneliness, in which he claims we tend to circumvent and deny our needed inter-dependence. We crave privacy to the point where we become cut off from others. This causes what contact we can’t avoid to be abrasive. Rather than communicate with others, we see others as a nuisance. Slater writes as an observer of the American condition. He describes our secluded self-sufficiency, self-absorption, our isolated individualism.