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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Title:The Surprising Unity of God’s People
Text:Psalms 133:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 393 - Come, Let Us Join with One Accord
Psalter 368 - The House of God
TH 359 - Blest Be the Tie that Binds 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

In John 17, on the road between Jerusalem and Gethsemane, Jesus knelt down to pray. This is where he prayed his high priestly prayer. Chief on his mind was the unity of his disciples. He prayed that they’d be one - and this was an important prayer. They were always at odds. Just a few hours earlier at the Passover, they had argued who would be first in the kingdom. And when he prayed for his disciples, he also prayed for those who’d believe the gospel through them. He prayed - “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” He prayed that those who believe would be one and the result of that oneness is that the world will believe that God has sent Christ. One of the fruits of unity is faith. The people of the world will see that Jesus is the Christ when they see his people being united. He had previously told them that all the world would know that they are his disciples, if they have love for one another. So unity has a definite result. 

Now what did Jesus mean when he prayed for this unity?  There are many aspects, which would be consistent with Scripture.  Unity can be visible and unified organization among Christians. It is good and right for churches to federate together to be one body.  Unity is also unity in the truth. When we believe the same gospel and propagate the same gospel, the result is salvation. Then there is also the unity of purpose – one mind and heart to do this work of God. But there can’t be unity of purpose when there’s no peace. The gospel produces love and reconciliation. And love and reconciliation in turn propagates the gospel. This evening, I want to talk about this value of unity and how it affects the church.

God describes this unity in 3 ways. Firstly, the good and beautiful character of unity; secondly, the unique and holy value of unity; and thirdly, the life-giving and superlative blessings of unity.

We see in verse 1 – “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”  In this verse, we see the good and beautiful character of unity. We see straight off that unity is good and it is pleasant. When brethren dwell together in unity, it is good and pleasant. It is good. But why is unity good? Well, God calls unity good, so it must be good. Our God is without sin and he is good - no one is good but God. So if God calls something good, it must be good. It is also good because he has commanded it. Romans 14:19 instructs us to make every effort to do what leads to peace. God is called the God of peace, and peace itself is called the peace of God. There is no true peace apart from God. So when there is unity, God thinks of it as good, because it is in his character. He commands it.

Unity is also good because of its very nature. Peace and unity are virtues. Virtues are good - by nature. And unity is a virtue. It’s morally good. Love is one of the fruit of the Spirit, and so to dwell in love and unity is good. It’s also good because of its good benefits. When there is peace and unity, much also can be accomplished. Just as a well-oiled hinge opens the door with ease, a dry hinge causes great friction and noise. Love and unity in a congregation achieves much. All will know you are my disciples if you have love one for another. It’s good and it is also pleasant. Why is unity pleasant?  Pleasant simply means sweet. It’s the word used for harmony in music. Psalm 147:1 says, “Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant (or harmonious) and praise is comely.” It is also the word used when talking about a field filled with grain. Psalm 16:6 in the NIV reads - “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” When the Psalmist saw his fruitful field - his inheritance from God, it was beautiful to his eyes. It is a word that is also used to talk about the sweetness of honey. God finds pleasure in unity because it’s beautiful to him. Not just good, but beautiful. There’s an inherent blessing from unity in that it is good and pleasant.  

The Bible speaks about unity in opinion and judgment – having the same mind and speaking the same thing. It’s all great if we have the same convictions and practices. But the Bible also speaks about unity in affection – even though we might not be of the same mind, we can be of the same heart and therefore, through mutual submission, we can arrive at the same mind. You know, when it comes to doctrine - we don’t just agree with the articles of the Christian religion - the gospel, the Apostle’s Creed. We can also agree to disagree on the secondary points. Isn’t that good and pleasant? Isn’t it wonderful to see that even if we aren’t necessarily like minded, we can still arrive at a compromise because we are of the same heart? But if our hearts and minds are on this feedback loop and can only see our rightness without a way of escape - then we will always be bound to disagree. But if we see the unity of the faith and love as important, then these things become less important. Now a caveat - it doesn’t mean that as a church we don’t have a teaching position that we propagate. But it’s not the be all and end all.

The Bible also speaks about unity in ministry – that we should be co-laborers and workers together with God. If the first two aren’t achieved - if there isn’t the same opinion and judgment nor same heart, then the third can’t even happen. How do we work for the gospel if we’re always arguing? But very often, we focus on the third one without even considering the first two. I’ve heard it before said – we don’t have to like one another to work together.  The work is more important, the relationships are secondary. That might be the case in the world, but it can never be the case in church.  So even though there’s “unity” in ministry, it could be the ugliest and foulest thing God has ever seen. Is it a surprise that the Psalmist says, “Behold!”???  True unity in the church is surprising. It shouldn’t be. But it’s a wonder that is not as often seen. But true unity is good and pleasant, which are its inherent blessings.

Having seen in the character, we want to see its unique and holy value.  Unity is compared to the oil that was poured on Aaron.  Verse 2 reads – “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, [even] Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.” We learn that unity is compared to precious oil. The oil that is spoken of in verse 2 refers to the oil that was used to anoint the vessels of the temple and the priests.  And it was a special fragrance. It was a special preparation of the best olive oil and the best of four different spices, all used in a combination that was prohibited for use elsewhere. This oil was to be unique, and not to be imitated. We see this in Exodus 30:25-32 – “And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil. And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony, And the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense, And the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot. And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy. And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations. Upon man's flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you.” By comparing unity to the anointing oil, he was describing it as something very valuable and special.  Unity is something very valuable and special. That’s why the Psalmist also wrote – “how good and how pleasant.”  The words “how” are used twice. The value of the goodness and sweetness are immeasurable.  And we get the idea of this also from the amount poured out on Aaron, so much until it flows to the hems of his garment.  

If it is so valuable, is it any surprise why the writers of the Bible tell us to guard it? It’s holy. Paul said in Ephesians 4:1-3 – “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Hebrews 12:14 says – “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” We are to follow peace.  The word “follow” means to pursue. It gives us the idea that we are to be like hunters, in pursuit of a prey. We are to pursue peace. And we are also to pursue peace and holiness. Psalm 34:14 tells us to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” We pursue peace by working for it, by departing from evil and to do good. Think about this – the less sanctified we are or the less holy we are, the less peaceable people we are. A person who can’t live peaceably with others and a person who always has conflicts with others is not a holy person. Holiness is invariably tied in with peace. I want to say a word about some of us Reformed folk. We get into a feedback loop when it comes to some doctrine sometimes. We are purist to the point that we can become impure. How? We are filled with indignation when people don’t agree with us in some doctrinal minutiae that we forget the generosity of love. We praise the virtue of indignation and separation for purity - which is necessary for the gospel - but divisive in many other areas. AW Pink, for all of his faithfulness and doctrinal instruction - couldn’t get along with people. In Iain Murray’s biography entitled Life of Arthur W Pink, he wrote how after years of speaking, teaching, and preaching, Pink eventually gave up on trying to find a church where he could worship. He came to believe that there were no churches that were pure enough. So he stayed home, with his wife, and typed his magazine. He gave up on the church, and while his gift of teaching was magnificent he couldn’t find a single pastor he could support or a single church he could even attend the last two decades of his life. And by so doing he took his wife down with him. For his last 12 years on the island of Stornoway, he and his wife Vera, lived in a small apartment making a few slight friends, but mainly keeping to themselves. Only after he died, when Vera live another 10 years, did she cultivate rich friendships with many on the island. What he did was not good, pleasant, or valuable. It was not the unique and holy unity of God. It was base and carnal. Fleshly. That’s why we must pursue and preserve unity. Yes, with all the necessary caveats.

And if we pursue it, there will be life-giving and superlative blessings. That’s the third description. Verse 3 reads – “As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” The thing that strikes us when we read this third verse is that blessing and unity are linked. Unity is like the dew of Hermon that descends upon the mountains of Zion. When cool air came from the Mediterranean Sea, it would ascend up the side of Mount Hermon in the north, creating a current of air and moisture, that would descend down upon the mountains of Zion. This moisture was life-giving. Unity has this effect on the church. The dew of Hermon was a symbol of the blessing of God on Jerusalem. And so too does unity lead to the blessing of God on the church. As moisture is one of the sources of nourishment for strong and healthy plants, unity will promote healthy spiritual growth, strength, and prosperity. That is the blessing. Without unity, we would experience blessing far less often. It is also superlative. It is dew that descends on the mountains. It spreads from the head of Aaron to the ends of his garment. It is commanded by God. And God never short changes his church. If we pursue unity and love, getting out of our feedback loop, with all the necessary caveats, then there will be real blessings in the life of the church and the life of the Christian.

The obvious application for us today is to the church.  Unity is not something that always characterizes us. If we can’t get along in this ministry together, we’ll serve separately – and never talk about it. Or we’ll just stick with it until the project is done. The project might be done, and we’ll accomplish many tangible things, but we’ll wonder after awhile, where are the fruits? We work together, but don’t love one another. Some families look at their problems and think they need to make drastic changes. Since husband and wife aren’t getting along, let’s sleep in separate bedrooms. And since siblings aren’t getting along, let’s change their work stations. But what they need to do is to seek forgiveness and work things out. Some churches look at the deadness around them and think they need to do something about it. And often, it has to do with restructuring and planning. This isn’t necessarily wrong. But if they would look at the problems in their midst, it might just be due to disunity - talk about it.

It’s like the chain on a bicycle. If one link or a few links on the chain are entangled, the answer is not to change the bike or to change the whole chain. It’s simply to untangle the links and to get them connected back to the chain ring. The way to do increase unity in the family and the church is to turn to Christ.  With the bike, it’s to make sure the chains are connected to the chain ring.  It’s the same with a piano ensemble.  Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to try doing things in their own wisdom.


Sermon Outline:

1. The Character of Unity

2. The Value of Unity

3. The Blessings of Unity

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Mark Chen

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