This is another great post by Gretchen – if you’re in the Chippenham area you’ll be interested to know that Gretchen is leading a seminar for women on ‘Prayer’ in February. Details here.
Two recent experiences, along with some rich times of reading my Bible, have drawn my heart to consider what unity really looks like in the body of Christ.
I first started thinking about it more deeply last fall, when I was participating in a Cor Deo Intensive and glanced around the room at my fellow participants. The group included those who had been Christians for many decades, and those who had come to Christ only recently. They ranged in age from 19 to 86 years old. Some had lived parts of their lives on the fringes of society, while others would always have been seen as on the “straight and narrow.” And yet, for the week we spent together, there was an atmosphere of love, kindness, joy, and laughter. People no one could imagine being in the same room were delighting in being together.
The second experience came just this past Sunday, as I sat in my Sunday School class. I’m in my 50s, but a few years ago, I decided to join the class made up of the oldest folks in my church, some well into their 80s and 90s. Since the beginning of January, we have been joined by our church’s high school group. Before and after the formal meeting time, small gatherings of young and old could be seen chatting and getting to know one another. We were enjoying being together!
Over and over again in recent weeks, my heart has been reminded of the first few verses of 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 on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
One can picture Aaron, the high priest, being anointed with oil, and the oil running over his head, down his face and the back of his neck, onto his robes, and dripping down onto his body. Still, how this relates to unity may seem confusing unless we look a little deeper.
In the book of Exodus, we see a detailed description of the garments of the high priest and the way in which he was to carry out his duties. One element of his garb was an ephod in which 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, were sewn. Exodus 28 tells us that the high priest was to wear the ephod when he went into the Holy of Holies to make the yearly sacrifice for the people, in order to “bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly” (v. 30). Before going into the Holy of Holies, the high priest was anointed with oil, a picture of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as a consecration for the duty of offering the sacrifice for sin.
Now fast forward to John 17, where Jesus prays what has come to be known as his “high priestly prayer.” Jesus, our High Priest, the Spirit-anointed One, carries us on his heart before his Father. But Jesus is not like the high priests of the Old Testament, for he is not only the High Priest who carries the judgment of the people on his heart as he makes the sacrifice. No, Jesus himself is the sacrifice to pay the judgment for our sin. Just as the high priest of old was anointed with oil that ran down his head to his body, so Jesus, our High Priest and Head, is anointed with the Spirit which “runs down” over his body, the church.
As Jesus carries us on his heart before his Father and prepares to be the sacrifice for us, what is it that he prays? One plea he makes for us is unity, specifically, the unity that He has shared with His Father, through the Spirit, for all eternity. In John 17:22-23 he prays, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
That ought to give us pause. Jesus is saying that the unity he desires in us, his church, is meant to mirror the unity the Trinity has always shared. He is saying that as we reflect that kind of unity, we will show the world who God is—the God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to be our High Priest and Sacrificial Lamb.
What does that mean for us? For one, it means that the more deeply we grasp the glorious love of the Trinity, which the Lord has shared with us, the more fervently we will love him and others. It means that we will tenaciously pursue unity with our brothers and sisters by loving them with humility, kindness, and care, both seeking and offering forgiveness when needed. It means we will protect and defend them in the daily battles of life. It means we will share their joys and cry with them in their sorrows. Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
When we are blessed to see glimpses of that kind of unity, as I was recently, the truth of Psalm 133 rings out loud and clear: How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Perhaps it’s what John Fawcett had in mind back in the 1700s when he penned the hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds”:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne,
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts, and our cares.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.