Beckett: The Unity of the Brethren

Psalm 133
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there Yahweh has commanded the blessing life forevermore.

A short, beloved psalm, David here likens the unity of the brethren to precious oil on a priest’s head as it runs down to his beard and upon his robes, as well as the dew of Mt. Hermon as it falls on Mt. Zion. Pastor Brian King, pastor of Family Ministry at the Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens in Webster Groves, Missouri, talking on this psalm, said, “Unity is a greasy beard. God doesn’t want crusty beards.”

All joking aside, unity is like the anointing of the head as it runs down into a man’s beard. David is taking imagery from Exodus 29:7, where a priest was anointed with oil. This oil was so evocative in smell and use that it ran down his head and into his beard and even his robes.

My fiancé loves my beard. While we were dating, she bought beard oil for me to make it look pure and feel and smell good, and boy does it make a difference! Unity amongst the brethren is like this—pure and good. This unity is also like dew. We all know what dew is. We see it and feel it in the grass every summer morning. These water droplets are good for the grass and plants; it is life-sustaining.

This dew from Mt. Hermon—the highest mountain in Israel—whose dew falls upon Mt. Zion, unity amongst the brethren is like this. It is life-sustaining. Why does this happen? Because it is there at Zion—the midst of God’s people—that God has commanded that the blessing of eternal life be given.

Scripture gives us some historical examples of what brotherly unity looks like. A common example is Acts 2:43-47 when these new Christians were in unity devoted to the same apostolic doctrines and practices. A good example is also in Nehemiah.

When the wall of Jerusalem was finished, “all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate” (8:1). The people of Israel gathered together “as one man,” like a single body, alluding to Paul’s teaching of the body of Christ in the Church (1 Corinthians 12). Nehemiah’s contemporary, Ezra, read from the Book of the Law, and he and the other priests taught the people what the Law meant.

The Law did its work and convicted the people, and Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests had to comfort the people not to mourn and weep, but to rejoice, since “the joy of Yahweh is your strength” (8:9-10). The people were encouraged with the gospel presented to them and they devoted themselves to the Word, and for a while they lived in unity.

How do we live in unity amongst ourselves today? Especially when there are so many different denominations that differ in doctrine? I propose that if two Christians can agree on what is confessed in the Nicene Creed, they can live in unity with each other despite minor differences in doctrine, such as matters concerning infant baptism, the true presence in the Lord’s Supper, and other things.

These and other doctrines are vital to us Lutherans, and rightly so, yet if we set our minds to it we can live in unity with our other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree. Assuredly, we do not want to trivialise such doctrines as these, but we mustn’t allow ourselves to let these differences disallow us from living in unity with one another. Why? Because we all believe in the same Jesus Christ who has given us salvation—eternal life—by grace through faith.

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