How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
I have heard many people share with me recently their concern over a lack of unity in our world. Nations are deeply divided over politics, the appropriate response to COVID-19, racial and ethnic justice, and many other issues. Not even the church is a safe place from the divisiveness. How do we live together in this “very good and pleasant” way that the psalmist celebrates?
What does it mean to live in “unity” in the context of today’s realities?
We must be wary of a non-biblical unity. Historically and in modern times, many people have offered a false unity through coercion. Too many have sought to build a fabricated unity by conquering and subjugating another, by word or by deed. Too often wars of words and ideas leave the scorched earth of division and derision. How can we move towards the unity God desires?
It is first important to remember our kinship. In the age of globalization and increased digital connectivity, we are reminded of the commonalities so many of us share. We may share a kinship by our citizenship, by our common experience, or by common interests. All people share a kinship by the fact that we are all created in the image of God. On a deeper level, Christians are bound by a kinship in our common love and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. At times, sadly, it has even been difficult to find unity there.
True unity begins when we fall on our faces in repentance and humility before God. When people hear a call for repentance, a common reaction is to expect the other person to repent, to get right, and to see it our way. Our human nature tells us that we are the ones who are correct, and the people are on the other side of the fence are the one who need to change. However, when we look to God’s teaching, we see that humility before God is something each of us must seek first.
Scripture records a time when Joshua and the Israelites are about to be used by God in miraculous ways. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua before he was to fulfill God’s mission at Jericho. Upon seeing the Angel, Joshua’s first question is, “Are you for me or for my enemy?” Though Joshua was about to be used by God to do miraculous things, the angel reminded Joshua that he was asking the wrong question. Joshua was to be on God’s side, not to expect God to be on his side. When the Angel told him that he was for neither side, but was a representative of the Lord, Joshua’s reply is a lesson for us: He fell on his face and asked, “What do you want me to do, God?” (see Joshua, chapter 5)
We should assume that same posture of humility before God. This is the only antidote to this era of the prevailing attitude of much of the culture: “Agree with me or you must be dead wrong!” Jesus calls his followers to be an alternative to the culture, not an echo of it. He shows this in mighty ways through his life and teaching and by his death and resurrection. He demonstrated this in the people he called to follow him. The disciples were from different walks of life. Many of them were considered outcasts by society. Some were despised by others for their ethnicity, their work, and their way of life. Some were considered lowlifes and insurrectionists. Some were among the overlooked and the forgotten. On top of that, there was infighting and power struggles among members of the group of disciples. Jesus’ reply to their misunderstandings of position, authority, and unity was a demonstration of self-abasing love that gives up life itself for the sake of another.
The psalmist goes on to tell us that unity is “…like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (verse 3) Mt. Hermon is the highest mountain in the area and it is so high that there is snow on its peak year around. However, the land around the base of the mountain is arid and dry. The cool air coming down from the snowy peak each morning provides a unique refreshment and rejuvenation that cannot be found elsewhere. Indeed, Mt. Hermon is the source of the Jordan River, that the Israelites crossed to the Promised Land and in which our Lord was baptized.
In a world that is dry and parched for the Good News, people need to see repentant and loving Christians work towards unity in their churches, their communities, and their countries. What would your community look like when Christians did so in a new and intentional way? How can you, like Joshua, move from the demand that God be on our side to a humility in asking if we are on God’s side? How can you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be a channel of God’s blessing in a dry and parched land?
Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership, is an author, teacher, pastor, theologian, and missiologist. His work focuses on local and global mission and evangelism, church leadership development, forming disciples for missional service, and fostering new spaces for conversations on faith and culture.