Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity. (Psalm 133:1)
We find these words from Psalm 133 such a heartwarming sentiment. They conjure up images of friendship, fellowship, laughter and joy. Too bad it seems to be such an elusive dream.
The words of Psalm 133 appear to have been written by David, although it is hard to know for sure; the Hebrew word translated “of” can also be translated “for” or “about”. But the most likely reading is that it written by David. If this is so, then what precipitated his writing of these words? If we know anything about the Old Testament, we know that things weren’t always peaceful and congenial. In fact, David’s son Absolom killed his half brother Amnon for raping his half-sister. Perhaps too, David had a premonition that Solomon, the son who would take the throne upon David’s death would have another half-brother, Adonijah, killed for trying to take over the throne. So was the motive behind these words?
The long-term history of Israel really is no better. All we have to do is read about the split-up of the nation after Solomon’s death, or how Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, or the rivalry between Jacob and his twin brother, Esau. The very next chapter after the sin of Adam and Eve records how Cain killed his brother Abel. These are only a few of the scenarios recorded in the Scriptures.
Our Lord Jesus was keenly aware that there were many challenges to the fellowship of the church. A close inspection of the five chapters of John’s Gospel devoted to Jesus’ last evening with his disciples before his crucifixion reveal his concern. It begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Why did he do this? Was it because they were jockeying for position in Jesus’ Kingdom? (see Luke 22:24ff) It was in this context that Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples…” (John 13:34-35) He repeats the same sentiment in chapter 15, in which he challenges then to abide in him as branches in a vine, “Love one another…. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus knew the things that would threaten to tear them apart.
I say all this, because we are Jesus’ disciples today. Yet we do not need to look far to see evidence of things that would threaten our fellowship, our unity, our community of faith. Differences in personalities, competing expectations, jealousies, rivalries; the list goes on.
Perhaps the Lord in his wisdom and providence has brought us together for a purpose. It is our relating (as in relationships) to one another that God accomplishes his purposes both in us and through us. We grow to respect the grace of God more and more, and by growing in this grace we provide a more tangible picture of God’s grace to the world.
Whatever the case, the same admonition in Psalm 133 applies to us, as Jesus points out, as well. We dare not take it lightly.