My brother from Connecticut and his family visited us this weekend. I’m so glad we got to see them, because it’s not often that we get to spend time together. I’m blessed to have a brother who is also my friend. Of course, real brothers can honestly say that it hasn’t always been that way. When we were kids, we played together, got in trouble together, had great fun together, and, of course, fought together. Two boys can’t grow up twenty-two months apart without being sometimes the best of friends and the worst of enemies. But more than anything else, we were friends.
Though Paul and I are friends, we don’t always see everything eye to eye. He defected to the frozen land of ice and snow, and I’m a southern boy. He’s the city mouse, and I’m the country mouse. He has a small family and I have a large one. But despite our differences, our relationship can be characterized by Psalm 133:1, which says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Of course, we’re not the only brothers who ever had differences. The history of our country is filled with brothers who fussed, feuded, and fought over what they believed in. In the American Civil War, brother fought with brother on the battlefield. In the history of God’s people, the northern kingdom of Israel separated from the southern kingdom of Judah. Though they were brothers, they warred against one another. I’ve seen churches torn apart when Christians forgot that they were brothers and sisters, and squabbled over things that in the end turned out to be trivialities. When we create a culture of conflict between ourselves and those we love, we grieve the heart of God and destroy the work He is trying to do among His people. Instead, our lives need to model Psalm 133:1, where God’s people live together in unity.
Unity requires that we create a culture of commitment to the truth. It doesn’t always mean that we’ll have full agreement among ourselves. People who love each other are going to differ in their ideas. They’ll have varying viewpoints and perspectives. But rather than opposing opinions that differ from our own, Christians should recognize and celebrate diversity in the church. We need to understand that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. Unity gives freedom to express differences, because unity wants truth, not conformity.
Psalm 133:2 says that unity “is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” To the people of the Bible, oil was a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Aaron was the first high priest of Almighty God, who was anointed upon his ordination to that office. His job was to be committed to the truth, and to communicate that truth to the people. So a commitment to truth empowers us to act on God’s behalf. We must be prepared though—because just as this oil runs down on Aaron’s beard and the collar of his robes, truth can be a very messy thing. It challenges our thinking and calls us to act in new ways. When God speaks the truth into our lives and calls us to speak it to others, messy things happen. But what an exciting thing the truth is—because it sets people free!
Ephesians 4:15 says that Christians need to “speak the truth in love.” While we must be committed to the truth, it has to be communicated in kindness. In America, Northerners are often quick to speak the truth in a blunt way that Southerners perceive as unkind. On the other hand, Southerners are often so genteel and polite that sometimes Northerners see them as less than truthful. What we need is a balance of both—to “speak the truth in love.”
We must recognize that a culture of kindness does not mean avoidance of issues. Some truths need to be spoken, even if they’re hard to say. Kindness calls us to speak the truth because of our love and concern for the other person—but to say it in a way that will make the person feel cared for and loved. Unity promises not to judge other people for their differences, but to honor the person even if they disagree—and even if after we’ve shared our perspectives they still don’t change their minds.
Psalm 133:3a says that unity is “as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” These two mountains were located a hundred miles apart from each other, with Hermon in the north and Zion in the south. Yet unity is as if Hermon and Zion were so close to one another that they could share in the very same morning mist. What a beautiful image: two mountains or two people who are as different as north and south, drinking the same morning dew.
If God’s people are going to live together in unity, then we’ll have to create a culture of commitment to the truth, a culture of kindness, and a culture of courage that combines the two. Psalm 133:3b says, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” In both examples given in this psalm, there’s a trickle-down effect. In either case you have running oil or dripping dew. It goes from top to bottom, from higher to lower. When you’re in a relationship where there’s conflict, it takes courage to maintain the high ground and let blessing trickle down from you to the other person. It takes courage to let the Holy Spirit spill from you like oil that runs all over. It takes courage to water someone else’s dry field with your own precious supply. But unity requires courage. And the fruits of unity are blessing and life.
The psalmist writes, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” And we know it’s true. When you find yourself in conflict—as different from the other person as north is from south—that’s the time to create a new culture. Commitment to the truth, kindness, and courage will create an environment in which blessing and life abound. By this, the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples: if we have love for one another (Jn 13.35)