Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Blessed Unity of God's People

Preached at Community Christian Church, Durant, Oklahoma
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, June 23, 2013

Psalm 133:1-3, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.  It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing— Life forevermore.”
You don’t have to be much of a historian to know that the history of the world is replete with examples of brothers who couldn’t get along with each other.  Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, even Jesus and his brothers.  All of these names are names that are or were associated with the opposite of what David the psalmist describes for us here.  Unity, oneness.  But, not just unity among any group of people – the Sooners and the Longhorns, the Democrats and the Republicans – but unity, the BLESSED unity of the people of God, brothers and sisters in Christ who truly are one in the Lord. 

For the next few minutes, I want to invite you to explore this subject with me, to investigate what this Book, God’s Book, has to say about the subject.  And, then, come around with me to ask ourselves, “what must I do to preserve and promote this precious commodity we call unity?” 

Someone who probably was a little burned out on church as, too often, too many of us have experienced it, rewrote a famous Scripture passage like this: “For where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, THERE trouble is about to break out!” 

DIS-unity, broken fellowship, churches split WIDE open, far too many of us have experienced far too many of those gut wrenching, heart-breaking situations, haven’t we?  And, maybe we have come to expect it, even accept it, as the norm.  But, listen, take careful note of what David the psalmist has to say about the subject: “Behold!...”  What a great word that is, to begin a brief and potent passage like this one.  “Behold!”  That means, “sit up and take notice!”  “Behold!”  That means, “Hey, you there, falling asleep in your pew, wake up!  Pay attention!”  What I am about to describe for you is not ‘ho-hum, who cares?!’ stuff.  No!  Rather, the unity, the blessed unity of God’s people is worth talking about!  Worth learning about and studying out!  Worth praying for and striving after in the manner God lays out for us here. 

And, why is it, why is unity between BROTHERS and SISTERS in Christ so valuable, so precious?  True Christian unity, rooted as it is in our fidelity, our faithfulness to things as God originally intended them to be, the language of the Psalmist here is so simple, even a child can understand it, and it is packed with a punch.  Take a look.  David writes, “Behold!  For brethren to dwell together in unity, how good and how pleasant that really is!” 

Recently, at my mother’s home in Dallas, where my family and I have been living for the last year or so, we have been gathering in the peaches that have been falling from the big tree in her back yard.  Several Tupperware®-type boxes full of them have been stowed away in the freezer, and several dozen have been blended up into frosty fruit smoothies to be drunk or poured over our favorite breakfast cereals. 

I know that about now I’m making you hungry.  But, listen – my favorite use of the peaches is what my daughters concocted last week: peach crisp.  Toasted oats, chopped almonds and peaches, and a little cane sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top for good measure.  One word sums up the whole thing; what’s the word?  No, not delicious.  No, not exquisite.  Ok, here’s the word: ‘Sweet’. 

What makes the unity of God’s people, the BLESSED thing it is, is that – like my daughters’ delicious peach crisp and like the pungent, aromatically-pleasing oil poured over the head of Aaron and the high priests who succeeded him – the beautiful, blessed unity of God’s people is sweet.  Exceedingly, exquisitely SWEET. 

To use a different word picture, unity, brothers and sisters in Christ saying to each other, NOT ‘get out of my face!’, NOT ‘get out of my life!’, but ‘I’m praying for you, brother,’ and ‘I’m thanking God for you, my sister…’  Those words, those thoughts and feelings conveyed through tender and affectionate words, you know what they are, don’t you?  They are MUSIC to the ears of every true Christian, and MUSIS, sweet, heavenly music to the ears of our Savior, Jesus Christ! 

Unity, the blessed unity of the people of God is sweet, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head,
running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.” 

But, then note with me also that unity, rooted in faithfulness to God’s original design and plan, heart-felt oneness produced by the Holy Spirit of God, it is satisfying.  Intensely, overwhelmingly satisfying.  For years my family and I have longed for a church home where the truth, spoken in love, is the norm.  A church home where each and every part of the Body is growing up in all things into Him who is the Head, even Christ.  A church home as Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, where the whole Body truly is “joined and knit together…”  Together, I love that word, don’t you?  That’s the kind of church home we have been yearning for, hoping for, praying for, and it looks like maybe we have found that home.  But, why would a family like ours even give such a desire and pursuit a second thought?  Psalm 133:3.  Because, like the dew of Mount Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion, unity, the blessed unity of God’s people that this Book describes in places like Acts and Romans and 1 Corinthians and Ephesians and Philippians, it is satisfying, like finding a refreshing oasis after a long trek in the desert.   Like finally seeing the light at the end of a very dark and very, very long tunnel.  Unity, this kind of unity where those who wear the name of Christ are fully committed to believing and obeying this Book is satisfying!  It is satisfying! 

Now, before we go on, we must come to understand three important aspects of Biblical unity.  Likely, we’d all be glad to taste the sweetness of genuine Christian unity, and to experience the satisfying nature of it in our lives and church involvement.  But, what must we understand about it, if we are to go after it?  If we are to pursue it?

Three things, three important aspects of unity, like the legs on a three-legged stool, each one of them is crucial to making it work.  Number one: genuine Christian unity has a doctrinal aspect to it.  Recently, I have had some rather lively discussions with a friend of mine who claims to be a Christian, claims allegiance to Jesus Christ, claims he believes the Bible, and yet at the same time he holds to the unscriptural belief that a certain present-day African religious leader by the name of Alumbu-Alumbu-Abu is Jesus Christ returned in the flesh.  What did the true Jesus have to say about false Christs and false prophets appearing more and more as the end of this age drew near?  Unity, that sweet, satisfying, Bible-centered, Christ-centered, oneness David the psalmist describes – is that possible, with someone who believes something like that?  I hope you know the answers to that!  Of course I can’t be one in spirit with someone whose doctrinal beliefs are so out of alignment with this Book.  Unity, true Christian unity rooted in fidelity to God’s original design and plan, I know that that is a rather astonishing example, my friend and his erroneous belief about the African preacher, but take note anyway, will you please?  My brothers and sisters, this is why – THIS is why, 2 Timothy 2:15 – we must give our very best efforts toward rightly, properly, dividing, interpreting the Word of Truth!  Unity, doctrinal unity is at stake!  God does care what you believe!  And that is because true Christian unity is inextricably bound to truth – believing and obeying the truth as it is made known in this Book!  This Book, these words, were breathed out by God to make clear what we need to know, understand and hold to, and, to protect us from being blown and tossed about by every wind of false doctrine!  (Ephesians 4:15)

By the way, in my experience, the more I take God at His word and humbly submit to it and obey it, the more of it I come to understand!  That’s the ‘I’ll SEE it, when I BELIEVE and OBEY it principle.’ 

Doctrinal unity: what you and I believe about God, about Christ, about Salvation, about the Church, and so on.  That’s the first aspect of Biblical unity. 

Then, there’s aspect number two.  It’s what I call Behavioral unity.  Or, what might also be called Moral unity. 

I don’t know if you have figured this out yet, but if you haven’t I hope that what I’m about to say will help you.  Here goes: what you believe, your ‘doctrine’, directly affects how you behave.  You may not have thought about it quite this way before, but a Christian’s behavior, Christ –like or not Christ-lie, affects the unity of Christ’s Church.  Let me give you some examples.  What if I was in the habit of lying to the Elders, what would that do to my unity with them?  What if I was in the habit of stealing from the Church offerings, or if my wife was in the habit of gossiping about the other women in the church?  What is that going to do, what is our behavior, going to do to the unity of the church?  The Apostle Paul answers that for us when he wrote these words to Titus, in Titus 1:15-16,

“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”

Beloved, you and I can either build or blast away at the sweet, satisfying, Spirit-produced unity God intends for His people to enjoy by what we Believe, or don’t believe, AND by how we behave!  Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who DOES the will of My Father in heaven…”  Have you looked in the mirror lately?  When it comes to your behavior, your morality, are you a unity builder, or a unity blaster?  True Christians, because they are motivated by love, both of the One who first loved them AND love for their fellow believers, will seek to BUILD unity by both their belief in and their obedience to the truth. 

Thirdly, there is what I call a RELATIONAL aspect to unity.  How many of you have noticed the numerous ‘one-another’ passages in the New Testament?  Pray for one another, encourage one another, show hospitality one to another, edify one another, love one another, and so forth.  These ‘one another’ passages point up the third leg of the three-legged stool called Christian Unity.  This leg is the one I call the RELATIONAL leg.  Like the other two legs of the unity stool, this leg is crucial also.  For you see, through our pursuit of godly relating and relationships, we can actually PROMOTE unity in God’s Church…  But, what if you and I instead are like Diotrophes?  Ever heard of Diotrophes?  The Apostle John, writing in that little letter we call 3rd John, rebukes this man Diotrophes – why?  Because he loved the preeminence, because he always, ALWAYS had to be first, up front, at the HEAD of the line.  To put it bluntly, the Apostle John rebuked him because he was selfish, and what do you think that ME-centered attitude and way of relating to his fellow Christians did to the unity of the church?  Beloved, by our attitudes, Christ-like or not, by the Biblical or UN-Biblical way in which we relate to our fellow believers, we can either build up or blast away at the sweet, satisfying unity God desires for His people to enjoy. 

Which leads me then, to the last and perhaps most important thing I want you to know about the blessed unity of God’s people.  Whether it’s Psalm 133, or Acts 2, or Romans 15, or 1 Corinthians 12, or Philippians 2, or Ephesians 4 – whether it’s the moving account of the reuniting of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 45, or the touching description of the heartfelt friendship of David and Jonathan, or the power prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, the message is all the same.  Through the Scriptures, both through precepts and practical examples, UNITY – because God desires it for His people, because God has made provisions for it through the gift of His Word and His Spirit given to His people – unity, the blessed unity of God’s people is SACRED!  Exceedingly sacred!  So sacred, in fact, that God the Holy Spirit would lead His servant the Apostle Paul to pen these words about unity, in Ephesians 4:1,

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

And with these words from the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” I will close:

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the Word:
From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation, One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.

’Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious, her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!  Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly, in love may dwell with Thee.”