The Secret Of Unity
A song of the goings-up:
1. Behold! How good and how pleasant for brothers to dwell even as one!
2. As the oil — the good oil —upon the head, descending upon the beard — Aaron’s beard, which is descending upon the border of his garments is one;
3. As the dew of Hermon, which is descending upon the mountains of Zion is one. For there the LORD commanded the blessing — life eternal!
In this psalm we have, as A. C. Gaebelein correctly points out, “A blessed picture, not of the church… but of the great brotherhood of Israel, when once more they are a nation before the Lord” (The Annotated Bible, Loizeaux Brothers). However, unity must ever be the keynote of the Christian life, and the principles contained in this psalm regarding unity are as applicable today as ever.
1. The meaning of unity (v. 1)
What is unity? Perhaps we should first point out what it is NOT. It is not mere union, whether ecclesiastical or otherwise. One may take two cats and tie their tails together and you will have union, but certainly not unity! Similarly, the attempts of the World Council of Churches and similar organizations to unite all Christians on the basis of a least common denominator may result in union, but not true unity.
Ornithologists tell us that each year millions of swallows in the north leave for the southland on October 23 and return northward again on March 19. For weeks beforehand, these birds begin to gather together of their own accord, and when the time to depart arrives not one swallow is left behind. Without leaders, organizations or elections, these swallows achieve true unity.
Unity is also not sameness. A baseball team is composed of nine players, each with a different job . Not all are pitchers, not all are catchers — yet when each one does his job correctly it results in a true unity of action.
What, then, is unity? The answer is found in the literal significance of the Hebrew yachad (rendered “unity” in the Authorized Version): for two or more to be “as one.” This “oneness” is needed in at least four areas of our lives:
1. Individually. Romans 7:14-25 describes the agony of. a man who has no unity in his life. As Christians, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1; this does not mean merely the cessation of open hostilities, but a true reconciliation). It is also now possible for us to have a unity and peace in our own lives, our outer life and actions being conformed to our inner spiritual desires (Rom. 12:2) .
2. Families. Nothing is plainer than the Biblical teaching that man and wife, though two individuals, are intended by God to be “as one” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5). Someone has said that a marriage is where a man and wife see eye to eye, walk arm in arm, work hand in hand, and kneel side by side. This may be an idealized picture but it illustrates the true unity that should characterize our families.
3. The Church. The Assembly of Christians is compared to a human body (1 Cor. 12:12-27) where there is not sameness of function, but—in order to function properly—certainly there must be oneness of purpose, outlook and motive.
4. Our Relations with other Christians. Christ prayed for ALL believers that they might “be one as we are one” (John 17:22). Note that it is only brothers (v. 1) that can truly achieve unity. True unity is not possible between believers and nonbelievers. They may belong to the same organizations or clubs, but there can be no true oneness or genuine fellowship. In contrast, all true believers in the world have a mystic invisible connection with each other, and unity between believers should be pursued as earnestly as possible on Biblical grounds and according to Biblical standards (cf. Eph. 4:3). Why is unity so “good and pleasant?” Because it results in peace in our lives, families and assemblies; because it produces an atmosphere which is conducive to Christian growth; and because it increases the effectiveness of our individual and collective Christian witness. Nothing is more detrimental to growth and witness than the lack of unity which exists in many areas of the Christian, world today.
2. The Achievement of Unity (vv. 2 & 3).
Two figures in this psalm must be properly understood if we are to see the direction the psalmist gives us for obtaining unity. Note carefully that the emphasis in this psalm is not on the “goodness and pleasantness” of unity, as indicated by an improper filling-in of the ellipses in the AV, but rather on the “oneness” of the oil and of the dew. This is brought out not only by the literal rendering of yachad (unity), but by the use of the Hebrew particle gam (“even”) which emphasizes the word “as one.”
(1) Oil. In the Bible, this is always a type or picture of the Holy Spirit. Not only does oil illuminate (cf. Ex. 25:6 with John 16:13), medicate (cf. Luke 10:34 with James 5:14), and anoint for service (see 1 Sam. 16:13 and Matt. 3:16), it also lubricates (Eph. 4:16) and thus promotes unity.
Here, of course, the oil specifically refers to the oil of consecration and separation (from evil, for service) with which Aaron was anointed (Lev. 8:6-12). We see that the description of the anointing here implies that every part of Aaron’s life was to be affected and controlled by the Holy Spirit: it flowed from the head (thoughts, reason, outlook), to the beard (i.e., the mouth — the words, speech, testimony), to the clothes (representing, no doubt, both possessions and deeds; see Rev. 19:8). We, too, must realize that the Holy Spirit is not given to us selfishly, but for service — Aaron was anointed for high priestly service to be rendered on behalf of all Israel. Unity will be promoted when we act as intercessors in and through the Spirit on behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters, rather than simply gossiping about them.
As high priest, however, Aaron is not only a picture of the individual believer, but of Christ Himself (Heb. 4:14; 5:4). Christ is our “Head,” we are His “body.” The oil (Holy Spirit) proceeds from Christ (John 16:7) to the Body, and every activity of the Body is thus to be permeated and controlled by the leadership the Holy Spirit.
(2) Dew is a picture of the Living Word and the written Word; that is, Christ, the Living Word (cf. Hos. 14:5) as manifested in the written Word (cf. Deut. 32:2). Dew is distilled, it forms silently in the darkness. Similarly, the written Word did not drop “full-grown” to the earth in a space capsule, but was formed over a period of some fifteen hundred years. Christ, too, was formed gradually in the darkness of His mother’s womb and then grew — like other men — until He reached adulthood. In particular, however dew is refreshing and fruit-producing, being a symbol of strength, joy and restfulness. The word (written Word) is all of this to us.
Note that the dew which falls on Zion (“very dry”) comes from Hermon (“devoted”). The spiritual blessings which come to the Church (especially the written Word) originate in Heaven. Christ said, “I am the bread which came down from Heaven” (cf. Ex. 16:14 with John 6:41). It is, therefore, Hermon’s dew and we obviously have no monopoly on it.
Note also that the same dew falls on both Hermon and Zion — “as the dew of Hermon descending on… Zion IS ONE.” We are all connected in a real, though invisible way. All Christians have certain things in common (cf. Eph. 4:3-6) and, therefore, certain responsibilities regarding each other.
Two grand principles for achieving unity are thus brought out in this brief psalm: The Holy Spirit (oil) directing and controlling every area of our individual, family and church lives; and the Word (dew) as our guide, strength and source of refreshment.
The Body is not to be like a toy trumpet which has only one note, but like a symphony orchestra: a hundred different people playing over a dozen different types of instruments, yet perfect harmony results. The secret? One conductor (Christ leading through the Holy Spirit) and one score (the Bible; though many different copies, of course). What would happen if one player decided on his own to play faster than the others, and one decided to play slower, one determined to add in some notes on his own, one wished to omit some notes, one wanted to play a different melody altogether? The result would be pandemonium, just as in Christendom today. There are no shortcuts to true Christian unity; there must be a sincere return to simple dependence on Christ’s, leadership through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.