Psalm 133 – Living Together in Unity

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The Psalms of Ascent | Stepping Stones to God’s Heart

“Living Together in Unity” (Psalm 133)

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

INTRODUCTION: We are nearing the end of our series on the Psalms of Ascent, and today we come to a psalm that speaks about living together in Christian unity. Last week we looked at God coming to dwell with us. This week we look at Christians dwelling with each other.

This psalm is the fourth and last psalm in the Psalms of Ascent that is attributed to King David. The kingdom of Israel was first united under David, and it is appropriate that David would write a psalm about living together in unity.

Last week’s psalm was an unusually long one for the Psalm of Ascents, but this week we are back to a short psalm. And although it is brief, it is also one of the most beautiful descriptions of Christian unity that has ever been written. (Read Psalm 133:1-3)

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Have you ever gone on a road trip with your family? Road trips can be really, really good; or they can be really, really bad. Now imagine instead of just your family if you packed in all your relatives and neighbors, too. Anyone want to sign up for that trip?

Well, that’s similar to what was happening with the annual feasts in Jerusalem. The people would travel to Jerusalem for the feasts with their neighbors, family and relatives. And as they drew closer to Jerusalem more and more people would come together, people from different regions and different tribes, but all coming together for one common purpose – to worship the Lord at Jerusalem. And as we shall see, that is what makes all the difference.

There are few things as precious in this world as believers living together in unity. And one of the marks of a great church is the sweet sense of fellowship and unity we experience in the body of Christ.

Psalm 133 tells us three things about living together in unity. 1) It tells us the goodness of living together in unity. 2) It tells us the source of living together in unity. And 3) It tells us the blessing of living together in unity. Let’s take a look at all three together now.

I. The goodness of living together in unity (1)

First it tells us the goodness of living together in unity. Look at verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Living together in unity is both good and pleasant. And it is appropriate for us as Christians because we are brothers and sisters together in Christ. Not all Bible translations have it, but in the Hebrew there is an actual “Behold!” at the beginning of the verse. The goodness of living together in unity is so good, that the psalmist says, “Behold! Look! Marvel at what I am about to describe to you!”

   A. Living together in unity is both good and pleasant
      – Acts 2:42-47; James 1:17

First of all, living together in unity is both good and pleasant. The word translated “good” in this verse is a word that means “excellent, agreeable, or beneficial.” In other words this is something that is good in God’s sight. He has put his stamp of approval on it. The word translated “pleasant” is a word that means “beautiful, sweet, or lovely.” In other words, it’s not only good in God’s sight, but it’s good for you too. Whether you’re a family, a business, a church or a sports team, life is much more pleasant and enjoyable when everyone is getting along.

I like the fact that living together in unity is both good and pleasant because there are some things are either one or the other, but not both. For example the Bible tells us that discipline is good but not pleasant. Hebrews 12:11 says: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrew 12:11). So some things are good but not pleasant. And then there are other things that are pleasant but not good, like too much honey. (Proverbs 25:16)

So some things are good but not pleasant, and some things are pleasant but not good, but when you’re living together in unity, you get the best of both worlds. It’s both good, and good for you! And because it’s good, that tells us it is a gift from God. As James 1:17 says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17)

The book of Acts describes the early church and its remarkable unity. We read in Acts 2: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.… All the believers were together and had everything in common…. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:42-47) What a beautiful picture of unity!

So that’s the first thing we learn about the goodness of living together in unity. It is both good and pleasant.

   B. We are brothers and sisters together in Christ
      – Hebrews 13:1

And then secondly, it is appropriate for us as Christians because we are brothers and sisters together in Christ. Notice the special emphasis of the unity described here in Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

The people of Israel who first received this psalm were literally “brothers.” They were relatives of each other, descendants of a common father. But as Christians we are also brothers and sisters. We have been adopted into God’s family, we share God as our father, and that makes us family. “No Christian is an only child.” (Eugene Peterson)

As a Christian, you don’t get to choose whether or not you are going to be part of the family of God. You already are. So the only question remaining is how will you live as part of the family of God? Will you live in unity? Or in division?
Now this might come as a surprise to you, but brothers and sisters don’t always get along. We find many examples of this in the Bible. Cain killed his brother Abel. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Even Jesus’ disciples got into arguments with each other. And as Christians in the church, we don’t always get along with each other either.

There’s an old poem that goes like this: “To live above with saints we love, oh, that will be such glory. To live below with saints we know, well that’s a different story!”

Here’s a true story from the Fowler family annals. We were speaking about road trips earlier. When the kids were young we took them on a road trip from Florida to Niagara Falls, and somewhere around the Blue Hill Mountains our boys were really getting into it in the back seat. I finally told them to shut it down and asked Rosi to read our devotion for the day. We were doing psalms for our devotions at the time, and you’ll never guess what the psalm was for that day. That’s right, Psalm 133 – “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

So brothers and sisters don’t always get along. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes we get angry with each other. But we need to work together to overcome disagreements and always, always love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Hebrews 13:1 tells us as believers: “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” (Hebrews 13:1) So that’s the first verse of the psalm. Verse one tells us the goodness of living together in unity.

II. The source of living together in unity (2-3a)

The next part of the psalm tells us the source of living together in unity. Where in the world does this beautiful, good, pleasant, brotherly, sisterly unity come from? Or does it not come from this world at all?

Our psalm answers that question by giving us two images. Living together in unity is like oil poured on Aaron’s head. And living together in unity is like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion. Notice there is a downward movement in both of these images. In both of these images the blessing comes from above and then pours down on us. It starts high and then moves downward. And so in this section the psalm is telling us that God is the source of living together in unity. It doesn’t come from this world at all. Living together in unity is a gift of God’s grace.

   A. It is like oil poured on Aaron’s head
      – Exodus 30:22-33; Psalm 23:5; Ephesians 5:23,30

So let’s take a closer look at each of these two images. First of all living together in unity is like oil poured on Aaron’s head. Look at verse 2: “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.” (Psalm 133:2) This is one of those Biblical images that grows and expands in meaning with every phrase and every word.

Let’s start with the oil. Oil was a valued commodity in ancient Israel, not for making gasoline or fuel like today, but it was used for cooking and also for moisturizing and refreshing. So to compare unity to oil is a good thing.

But the unity that comes from God is not just like oil. It is like precious oil. The word translated “precious” here is the exact same word that was translated “good” back in verse one. This is not any old oil. This is precious oil. It is excellent, agreeable, and beneficial. It is good in God’s sight, and he has put his stamp of approval on it.

“It is like precious oil poured on the head.” This is a picture of hospitality and refreshing. When you invite someone into your home today, you offer them a nice, refreshing drink. Well in ancient Israel, you might offer them something to drink, but you would also offer oil for their head. The climate was hot and dusty, and oil on the head would be a welcome relief. We find a similar image of hospitality and refreshing in Psalm 23:5: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)

But this is not just precious oil poured on the head. It is also running down on the beard. In other words this is not just a little bit of oil, but this is oil poured out so richly, so fully that it even runs down on the person’s beard. The host is generous, gracious, not stingy.

This phrase “running down” appears twice in verse two, and then it appears a third time in verse three where it is translated as “falling.” In other words, God’s blessings flow down to us from heaven. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17) Living together in unity is a good gift to be received from God.

And so Christian fellowship is like oil poured on the head, running down on the beard. It is precious, it is refreshing, it is a gift from God, and God is generous with his gift. He doesn’t hold anything back.

But wait there’s more! The image shifts again, and now we suddenly learn that this is Aaron’s head and Aaron’s beard. And that’s important because Aaron was the high priest and God required that a very special oil was used for anointing the priest. You can even look up the recipe if you want in Exodus 30. It was a special blend of olive oil, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and cane. (Exodus 30:22-33) It was a specific formula with specific ingredients and measures, and it was only to be used for anointing the priest and for the sacred objects in the temple.

The fact that it is a special, sacred oil that is poured teaches us that there is a special fellowship among Christians, unlike anything we experience outside of the church. Christian fellowship is unique. It is sacred, because it is fellowship united around Christ. That’s another reason Aaron is pictured here. Aaron was the high priest, and the anointing of the high priest with oil connects this psalm with the previous psalm. Psalm 132 focused on God’s promise of the Messiah, which means “the anointed one.” And so Aaron the anointed high priest points forward to Jesus, who is our Great High Priest and who is also the promised Messiah.

The fact that the oil is poured on Aaron’s head also points towards Christ. The New Testament tells us in Ephesians 5 that “Christ is the head of the church” and that “we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:23,30) Christ is the head, and therefore our unity is founded in him. We are united with Christ, and therefore we are united with each other.

Back to Psalm 133, notice the oil is poured not just on Aaron’s head and running down on his beard, but it also runs down on the collar of his robes. Aaron’s robe is significant here because the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were sewed into the high priest’s robe. (Exodus 28:12) So the robe image here is talking about us as the people of God. The good blessing of Christian unity flows from the head to the beard to the robe. It is an image of the whole body of Christ united together with Jesus as our Head.

Oil in the Bible is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And what do we learn from the New Testament? That God poured out his Spirit on Jesus the Head, and Jesus poured out the Spirit on his body the church. The sacred anointing oil had a sweet-smelling fragrance, and oh the sweetness of Spirit-anointed fellowship in the church.

   B. It is like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion
      – Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:2-3; James 1:9-10

And so living together in unity is like oil running down on Aaron’s beard. It is also like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion. Look at verse 3 with me now: “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” (Psalm 133:3a) So let’s talk about this image.

Mount Hermon is located in the northern part of Israel extending also along the border of Lebanon and Syria. It is the highest mountain in Israel with an altitude of over 9,000 feet above sea level. It is known for its cool nights and heavy dew. In the winter it is covered with snow, and the area surrounding Hermon stays lush and green all summer long.

Now compare that with Mount Zion. Mount Zion is located in the southern part of Israel. It is a much smaller mountain with an altitude of only 2400 feet above sea level. Unlike Hermon there is very little dew, rain or any moisture at all in Jerusalem during the summer months.

And so we have two very different mountains here: Hermon to the north, and Zion to the south; Hermon towering over the other mountains, and Zion just part of the range; Mount Hermon cool and refreshing, Mount Zion hot and dry. What an amazing thing it would be if the dew of Mount Hermon were to fall on Mount Zion. And that is exactly what happens with Christian fellowship.

The word translated “falling” here is the same word we saw for “running down” in verse two. Once again God’s blessing of unity comes down to us from heaven. It something we receive from the Lord. Apart from God’s blessing we are like the dry, arid land of Mount Zion, but God sends his blessing upon us like the dew of Mount Hermon.

The dew here is probably another symbol for the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is essential to our unity in Christ. For example Ephesians 4 tells us: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

The fact that Hermon and Zion are united by the dew in this image also reminds us that in the church we are all one. It is a unity of the great and small, the high and the low, the north and south brought together. It is a unity that crosses all human boundaries and divisions. Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) James 1 says: “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position.” (James 1:9-10) In other words it doesn’t matter how high or low you are in the eyes of the world. In Christ we are one, and we have a special unity through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Dew is refreshing, and Christian fellowship should also be refreshing. We should leave church energized, encouraged and renewed – charged up, revved up and ready to go!

What do these two images teach us about living together in unity? Unity starts high and then comes down low to us. Christian unity is a gift from God that comes down to us from heaven through Christ the head of the body by the Holy Spirit indwelling us as believers. And there is nothing else like it on earth.

III. The blessing of living together in unity (3b)

We have talked about the goodness of living together in unity. We have talked about the source of living together in unity. And now finally let’s talk about the blessing of living together in unity. Look at the rest of verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:3b) This verse teaches us two vital truths. 1) God gives his blessing where believers live together in unity. 2) Living together in unity is a foretaste of heaven.

   A. God gives his blessing where believers live together in unity
      – Romans 15:5-6

So first of all, God gives his blessing where believers live together in unity. Do you want God’s blessing on your life, your church, your family? Then you need to live in unity.

Now once again, this is not something we can do apart from Christ. It is not something that we can manufacture or make happen on our own. Only as we focus on Christ the head of the body, and only as we yield to the Holy Spirit within us can we know the sweet goodness of living together in unity. But even though Christian unity is a gift from God, we still need to live it out in our lives. We need to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) We need to love, apologize, reconcile and forgive.

There is a special place that God has guaranteed to put his blessing, and that is where believers are living together in unity. Here that place is pictured as Mount Zion, which we’ve seen is a symbol for the place where God meets with his people. In other words, when we meet with God in worship, we will experience Christian unity and God will send his blessing. The more we focus on him, the greater our unity will be. Worship, unity and blessing are all tied up together. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 15: “May God … give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)
When verse 3 says that God “bestows” his blessings there, the word translated “bestows” is literally the word for “commands.” Where believers live in unity, God commands his blessing to be there. And you know whatever God commands is going to take place.

If you want to experience God’s blessing, then you need to live in unity. God gives his blessing where believers live together in unity.

   B. Living together in unity is a foretaste of heaven
      – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

And then finally, living together in unity is a foretaste of heaven. Back to Psalm 133:3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:3b)

The Christian fellowship we experience through the Holy Spirit here on earth, as beautiful as it is, is only a foretaste of the perfect fellowship we will share with each other in heaven. We read in 2 Corinthians 1: “Now it is God who … anointed us … and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

As dew gives life to the vegetation around it, so God’s blessing gives also gives life. But unlike the dew which passes away with the morning sun, God’s blessing lasts forever. Living together in unity is a foretaste of heaven.

CONCLUSION: So what does Psalm 133 teach us about living together in unity? Living together in unity is good, it is pleasant, and it is appropriate for us as brothers and sisters in Christ. As believers we are united with Christ, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Christian unity is God’s gift to us – flowing down over us like precious oil on Aaron’s head or rich dew from Mount Hermon. God pours out his blessing on his people as we worship him in unity and receive his blessing of life for evermore. As we ascend nearer to God in worship, God’s blessing comes down to meet us. Of course the greatest blessing of all is just the Lord drawing near to us.

How we need to practice unity in the body of Christ! In a few moments we will be sharing the Lord’s Supper with each other. The Lord’s Supper is a beautiful expression of our fellowship with Christ and each other. And there’s a song we sing at the end of every communion Sunday. It is a song about living together in unity, and it expresses so well what we have been talking about today: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love: the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

© Ray Fowler

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