Have you ever seen something in nature that stops you in your tracks and has you questioning what exactly it is that you’re seeing? Whenever I get out into nature, I find circumstances that have me wondering everything from, ‘when did that massive, uprooted tree come thundering down to the ground’ to ‘what was that nasty looking fungus that rubbed against my leg when I walked too close to that log’?
I found myself coming across a photo online of ants that had me asking ‘why? Just… why?’
The photo captured a community of ants carrying a latex glove up a lamppost. It was amazing. It made no sense to me and I wish I could have watched it in person, but seeing these ants attempt an amazing feat of strength and team-work – especially for a goal that I couldn’t quite understand – had me wanting to know more.
As I continued to process the image and with last week’s blog in mind, I immediately thought of the power that comes through community. But my mind wandered further. Is there something very specifically communicated to us about Christian community through this image? My belief is that it does and Psalm 133 is a good example of why –
1 How delightfully good
when brothers live together in harmony!
2 It is like fine oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down Aaron’s beard
onto his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon
falling on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord has appointed the blessing—
This Psalm is a beautiful display of united Israel, but it’s also applicable to this massive community of the Church which has existed over these last two thousand years, living in harmony despite our diversity in so many ways. We may have differences in thought and opinions, but our unity in single-minded devotion to the kingdom and ways of Jesus Christ makes us all inseparably linked. What a beautiful thing to draw us together when tempted to divide!
We have all, likely, seen verse one quoted in a variety of places and for good reason. It’s a beautiful reminder of how good unity is. That is not to say some simplified version of ‘good’ however, like when someone asks us how our day has gone and we absent-mindedly respond, “oh, you know, I’m doing pretty good.” ‘Good’ in a biblical sense can be found in the Greek ‘agathos’, which does not simply describe a slightly more pleasant than neutral experience, but instead defines the disposition, or nature, of something. In other words, when using agathos, you’re not saying that something is just ‘so-so’ or your experience with it ‘could have been worse’. You’re saying that something’s status is upright or excellent. That thing’s ‘goodness’ is objective and seen by God as right. Again, this Psalm speaks of the importance of unity, and that coming from a writer like David who knew how heartbreaking disunity in a family (2 Samuel 13) and in God’s people (2 Samuel 15-18, 20) could be.
But the Psalm continues on…
In verse two, we receive a glimpse of our unity’s symbolic fragrance, like oil used in Israel to anoint priests and kings during times of rejoicing (Ecclesiastes 9:7–8; Leviticus 8) that would be noticeable to everyone nearby. These occasions displayed God’s blessing, just as the Church’s continual unity is a blessing from God and calls for celebration. Daniel J. Estes writes in his New American Commentary, “As the anointing oil covered the face of Aaron, so unity should touch and scent every relationship among the people of the Lord.” Allen P. Ross even illustrates this complete unity in The Bible Knowledge Commentary when he suggests that the oil poured over Aaron during his consecration would cover his breastplate which displayed the names of all twelve tribes of Israel, leaving no person without representation in the unity spoken of in Psalm 133. That’s a sobering thought.
Then, in verse three, we read of a dew on Mount Hermon that couples with the rains to provide moisture to the crops of Israel. This life-giving water brings flourishing and blessing (Hosea 14:5) and we should know that the unity that God calls us to in Scripture is meant to bring flourishing to His people. The commentators of the Psalms in The Africa Bible Commentary say that “the dew of unity falling on Mount Zion will create a stream that flows out from the centre to those around, refreshing them, comforting them, and encouraging them to live in peace with one another.”
Perhaps the most important note about all of this comes from our very own Warren Burns who notes that this unity that falls on the mountains of Zion is gifted to us from God, Himself. Ephesians 4 speaks of God’s equipping the saints through our diversity of gifts and callings to build up the united Body of Christ “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13). We have the awesome opportunity to take part in a unity which is given to us through the work of Jesus Christ!
We all know that each of us can be hard to live with, can’t we? We make mistakes and poor judgments, but we are family, and we are meant to invigorate and bring life to one another. We know that we will have disagreements in our congregations and throughout our days as we do our best to glorify the Lord over all details of our lives, but just as we live with, build up, encourage, and even hold one another accountable, that should never distract from the unity that Jesus Christ purchased with His blood.
In His high-priestly prayer, Jesus prayed over the Church that we would be one with each other, just as He is one with the Father (John 17:21), meaning that there are inherent and important differences, but a foundational unity that displays itself in love for one another. For what purpose? So that the world would see the miracle of Jesus Christ’s arrival to earth to love a broken humanity (John 17:23). This, once again, is the unity that is a gift from above that we are blessed enough to benefit from and take part in!
What is more confounding to on-lookers than a community of ants lifting a latex glove up a light pole for no discernable reason? Perhaps an incredibly diverse but united community loving each other wholly and completely, with the purpose of showing that our God is a God who reconciles such divided peoples, but He also reconciles a sinful humanity to their holy Creator.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff