Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment (or the holy anointing oil) 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. (Psalm 133:1–3)
The subject of unity is one that has been at the centre of the church of Jesus Christ right from the very start. Christ’s own words and the teaching of the New Testament are very clear on it. It is of course one of the areas in which the church of Christ worldwide gets most criticism, because there is such division. There is division in different denominations, and through the centuries there has been bitter division that has led to martyrdom on various sides of the debate – which is obviously totally contrary to the will of God and to the teaching of Christ.
Our present situation with Covid-19 is something that can draw us together, and yet at the same time we have been forced apart, and even to keep a distance from people. You will all have had the same experience as I have, if you’ve been out anywhere, in a shop, for example, of feeling that you are the enemy, and people are trying to avoid you. As we are scattered just now across our movement, the effect can be either of unifying or of keeping us apart. In many ways I think it has helped to unite us, because there is so much available now online and from various ministers and groups, and so there is a tuning into one another’s broadcasts, and that has had a unifying effect. But if something involving another person comes to trouble you, it can fester away, because you’re not actually seeing the person concerned, and often just seeing a person is enough to put something right, or to make us aware if there is any kind of division.
In the early church division was one of the problems that first arose, right in the very beginning after the Day of Pentecost. They were living as a community and having all things in common, but then a quarrel arose because the Grecian widows felt that they were being neglected when food and money was being handed out, and so the apostles had to take steps to appoint people who were full of the Holy Spirit to deal with this situation. Paul again and again refers to the need for unity, and he speaks of the difficulty in its coming because some are saying: “I am of Paul … I am of Apollos … I am of Cephas … I am of Christ,” and he says that such things ought not to be. We should aim to have unity:
Let us aim for harmony (or unity) in the church. (Rom 14:19)
… striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, forbearing one another in love. (Ephesians 4:53)
We know the strength that there can be in unity. I remember a story my dad used to tell. He was just a little boy, the youngest in a big family, and he felt he had to stand up for himself. He would be very young at this time. And he had a sister who had two admirers. He had heard her discussing them both the previous evening, and he was annoyed at her over something – she had probably tried to tell him what to do. And he stood up on the table when one of her admirers was in, and from there he repeated all the things that he’d heard his sister say the night before. I don’t know what she did at the time, but afterwards she spoke to him and said to him that whatever went on inside the family, and whatever discord there was, they were always to present a united front, and that what he had shown was disloyalty. And he remembered that lesson ever since.
We can present a united front, and there’s a strength in that, but the unity that God demands is something much deeper than a united front. It’s really right down into the roots of our being that there is the principle of oneness, as far as we can have oneness, each one being loyal to Christ, and that of course is the secret of then having a real loyalty one to another.
“But”, you say: “I can’t help it at times. Something has come to trouble.” Or: “It’s not reasonable, what the other person has done.” Or: “I just can’t help my reaction.” And Paul makes it so clear what we should do. He speaks of the love that we must have, a love that covers:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable (or is not easily provoked), and it keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Cor.13:4–5)
Isn’t that just the salient point? It keeps no record of being wronged. It doesn’t go over and over it in its mind, and hold it against another person.
The love that brings oneness is really the love of God – for that is the only kind of love that is able to be patient and kind and forbearing. What the Bible says is that that oneness is like the precious ointment upon Aaron’s head, or the holy anointing oil upon Aaron. Aaron was the high priest. He was the representative and forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our high priest. I began to meditate.
Why is unity so important? Why does that bring the anointing? Why is it like the anointing, and like the dew of Hermon and the dew that descended on the mountains of Zion where God commanded the blessing? He commands blessing where there is this oneness. You see, Aaron was the representative of Christ – and in Christ, in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is an essential oneness. And the more I began to think of this the more it seemed to me there is a mystery in there. In us, in our own beings quite apart from anybody else, there is not a unity. There are strivings within us. We can have different parts of our nature that really are at war with each other. But in God there is an essential harmony, an essential oneness, and into that oneness God has called us. Christ said: “Father, I pray that they may be one, as we are one. And in that oneness of God is the secret of tremendous blessing and of the anointing that is on Christ Himself, the Anointed One. And we know that that oneness with God, and the power of it, is something that Satan was aware of. It was that that he attacked with Christ. “If you are the Son of God, make these stones become bread … If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down … If you are the Son of God …” In other words, let there come even a flicker of a division in that oneness in the Godhead, and then our redemption would have been lost. He was never able to do that in the Godhead. The separation that came was not of Satan’s doing; it was by the will of God, and it was only that there might then become a oneness that would include us. O the graciousness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in total harmony and yet wanting us to be there. And in that harmony, as we enter into it with God, there comes a oneness into our inner being with Him that brings blessing, that commands blessing. What is that blessing? It surely is the very glory of God. As Christ says in His prayer before Gethsemane,
Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are…. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word [that’s us!]; That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them,
as thou hast loved me. (John 17:11, 19–23)
“The glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are … that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
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