The Unity of the Spirit

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity 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; 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.” —Psalm 133:1-3

A HARMONIOUS SPIRIT of goodwill among people is a blessed thing wherever it is found—in the home, in the community, in business relationships, in social life, and particularly in the associations of the Lord’s people, the ‘brethren’. For these to dwell together in unity is ‘good’ and ‘pleasant’, the psalmist informs us. The experiences of the brethren attest to this, and conversely have demonstrated that where there is envy and strife, whatever the cause might be, there is a lack of joy, and the incentive for fellowship with those of like precious faith is weakened.

In our text, David used two illustrations to bring to our attention how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. First he referred to the type given to ancient Israel in connection with the Tabernacle services. He called our attention to the holy anointing oil which was poured upon the head of Israel’s High Priest, which ran down to the skirts of his garments. There was doubtless a rich fragrance to this oil that was very pleasant to the priest, and to those who were in his presence.

Another illustration which David used was the dew that fell upon Mount Hermon, and upon other mountains of Zion. In that country where there was little or no rain during the dry seasons of the year, some much-needed moisture fell upon the hills and mountains in the form of heavy dews at night. This doubtless helped to keep a little water in the streams of that dry land during periods of great need. Flow sweet and refreshing, then, would be the dew that fell upon the mountains of Zion. It had certain life-giving qualities, “for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”—vs. 3

The Holy Spirit

We think there is good reason to believe that the holy anointing oil poured upon the head of Israel’s High Priest was typical of the Holy Spirit which came upon Jesus at the time of his baptism. It is referred to in the Scriptures as the “oil of gladness” with which Jesus was anointed “above” his “fellows.” (Heb. 1:9) It brought joy to Jesus’ own heart, and it empowered him to be a proclaimer of glad tidings for the comfort of others.—Isa. 61:1-3

The anointing of the Holy Spirit which came upon Jesus was passed on to his ‘body members’ at Pentecost. Just as the anointing of the High Priest of Israel was upon his head, and flowed from above down to the other members of his ‘body’, so the anointing of the Holy Spirit was only upon Jesus, and we receive of that anointing by being accepted as members of his body. Here his consecrated followers also were anointed, and the Scriptures indicate that the same thing has been true of all the true disciples of Christ since. This is referred to as the anointing which we have received from him.—I John 2:27

The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit. It is the power of his thoughts which directs us in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Its influence is the same in the life of every dedicated follower of the Master, and therefore, to the extent that we yield to this holy influence we will find ourselves in unity with one another. To the extent that we resist the Spirit, and insist upon having our own way, there will be disunity among us.

Through the Word

The power of God’s thoughts reaches us through his written Word—the Bible—provided by God through the ministry of his faithful servants, the prophets, apostles, and our Lord Jesus, himself. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” Peter informs us. (II Pet. 1:21) This is a reference to the inspired prophets of the Old Testament and including John the Baptist. The ministry of these prophets was, in turn, passed on to the church through the apostles, who also performed their ministry under the inspiration and power of “the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.”—I Pet. 1:12

Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit empowered him miraculously to reveal the thoughts of God through his teachings. Thus the entire Bible becomes the inspired Word of God, and it is through obedience to its teachings that the Lord’s people are brought together, and by keeping humble before him are able to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Paul uses the expression, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”—Eph. 4:3

According to the flesh the Lord’s people are all imperfect, and each one is unique. There are differences of nationality, age, and religious background, and there are differences of temperament. But the Holy Spirit, through the written Word, points out the one course for all to follow and it is our faithfulness in following this course which results in the unity of the Spirit. The true disposition of humility and the spirit of love enters into this also. Paul wrote concerning the way we should treat each other, encouraging us to deal with our brethren in “all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.”—Eph. 4:2

Paul specified the basic essentials of our unity in Christ. “There is one body,” he said. (vs. 4) This is the body of Christ. In the preceding chapters of this epistle Paul reminded us of one of the things which tended to disrupt the full unity of the brethren in the Early Church. It was the fact that Gentiles were coming into the congregations, and being accepted by God as “fellow-citizens” with the Jewish converts, and sharers in the “commonwealth of Israel.” It was difficult for many of the Jewish believers to accept this situation fully. And doubtless also some of the Gentiles might well have felt somewhat out of place meeting with Jewish people. This placed a strain upon their spirit of unity.

Nevertheless they were to endeavor to maintain the unity which the Holy Spirit admonished. They were not to suppose that there was one body of Christ for Gentile believers, and another body of Christ for Jewish believers. “There is one body,” Paul pointed out, “and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” So far as the plan of God for this Gospel Age is concerned, there is but the one arrangement for both Jews and Gentiles.

While this particular issue was prominent in the Early Church, throughout the age there have been other situations, locally and generally, among the Lord’s people which have tested the genuineness of their desire to maintain the unity of the Spirit. To the extent that the brethren have followed the instructions of the written Word with humility and love, they have enjoyed the blessedness of unity in Christ, a unity which, as our text declares, has been both good and pleasant. In cases where the mandates of the Holy Spirit, through the written Word, have been ignored, this blessedness has been marred.

One LORD, One Faith

Our unity in Christ is based upon our united belief in the “one Lord,” and the “one faith.” Those enlightened by present truth have learned that there are not three “Lords.” Jehovah is Lord of all the earth, who has been pleased to appoint his Son, Jesus, as our Lord and Redeemer, in whom is centered all the great fundamentals of our “most holy faith.” (Jude 20) Jesus is our Redeemer, who gave himself a ransom for all. (I Tim. 2:3-5) He is our Advocate before the throne of heavenly grace. (I John 2:1) He is our shepherd who leads and cares for us as we walk in the narrow way. (John 10:14) He is our Head, through which the will of our Heavenly Father is expressed as the guide of our lives.—Eph. 1:22,23

What a harmonious group of doctrines is clustered around Jesus to make up the one faith which is the light and inspiration of our lives! The creation and fall of man; the Abrahamic promise of deliverance from sin and death; the coming of Christ at his First Advent to redeem mankind from death; the High Calling of this Gospel Age; the return and second presence of Christ, the establishment of his kingdom for the blessing of all the families of the earth, are some of these soul-satisfying teachings.

Our unity of the Spirit is based upon the fundamental doctrines of the divine plan. The question might be raised as to how we are to determine what are the fundamental doctrines. We suggest that the fundamental teachings of our most holy faith are those which can be firmly established by a “thus saith the Lord,” or, in other words, by the confirmation of “two witnesses” or Scriptural references. This is true of doctrines we have mentioned, and of the others.

There are certain viewpoints toward which we lean that we might find difficult to establish directly by the Bible. These are generally based upon reasoning. We like a particular thought, but perhaps some of the other brethren do not. They have reasoned from a different standpoint, and perhaps from a background different than ours. These concepts are not to be pressed upon our brethren, but can be discussed to a reasonable degree if they do not cause conflicts, since it is healthy and instructive to consider thoughts which we have never entertained previously, unless, of course, they are in direct disagreement with basic principles of truth.

It is well to keep in mind that we cannot maintain the unity of the Spirit by insisting that all in the Ecclesia conform to our ideas. All should want to conform to the Lord’s ideas, and we can know whether or not they are his by applying the simple test of their credibility by a ‘thus saith the Lord’, rather than the introductory phrases, “I feel that this is true …,” or, “In my opinion ….” If the ideas which mean so much to us are not clearly expressed in the Bible, we can conclude that the Lord did not consider them indispensable to understand.

Not Distortion

It would not be proper to say that the fundamental truths of our faith are the non-controversial doctrines of the Bible, for actually none of these doctrines are universally accepted by the professed people of God. The statement that “the wages of sin is death” is the end of all controversy to us as to what constitutes the divine penalty for sin. But to many, death does not mean the same thing that it means to us.

Here enters the matter of interpretation. The Scriptures can be wrested and distorted. But those who are enlightened by present truth, and know the divine plan of the ages, have learned that the basic teachings embraced in this plan are based upon plain statements of the Word of God, which are not subject to interpretation without distorting the plain meaning of words, with which the Lord would not be pleased. It is these teachings, the harmonious plan of God as a whole, that constitute the ‘one faith’ which is the basis of our unity in the Spirit.

Paul mentioned the unity of the Spirit and the unity of the faith. (Eph. 4:3,13) Some have thought that what he meant by the unity of the Spirit is simply a tolerant, kindly attitude toward others, regardless of what they believe. While this should be possible, they say, unity of the faith is an ideal for which we should strive, but will probably never attain. This does not seem to be Paul’s viewpoint. When he spoke of the unity of the Spirit, his reference is to the Holy Spirit, that holy influence of God which reaches us through his written Word.

In the chapter, Paul informed us that the written Word was communicated to us by servants whom the Lord has provided—prophets, apostles, teachers, evangelists, pastors—and that the work of these is “for the perfecting of the saints, … for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature [Margin, or, ‘age’] of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”—Eph. 4:12-16

Unity of Spirit and Faith

From Paul’s exhortation it is clear that unity of the Spirit finds its full fruition in unity of the faith. Lack of unity of the faith implies failure to attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” It implies being in a position where we might easily be ‘carried about with every wind of doctrine’. And we know how important this matter is when we realize that stability in the faith and maturity in Christ are essential to be worthy to live and reign with him for the future blessing of the world.

Paul mentions our “speaking the truth in love” as being associated with growing up into Christ in all things. This is related to our use of the truth. The proper use of the truth is also one of the fundamentals of our unity in Christ. One of the purposes for which the Lord gave us the truth is that we might be its ministers. We are to hold forth the Word of life, and by doing this, to be the light of the world. These are the instructions given to us through the Word, and it is essential to heed them if we are to experience in rich measure how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.

Speaking the truth in love will help us grow up into Christ in ‘all things’, not merely in some things. We are to appreciate Christ, and emulate him in all the wonderful manifestations of godlikeness we see in him. We are to imitate Christ in patience and in kindness, just as he has imitated God. We are to be courageous and bold in our proclamation of truths which are unpopular, and if need be, in the refuting of error that is popular. We are to lay down our lives for one another as Christ laid down his life for us. We are to be obedient to the Word of truth even as he was obedient to all which his Father desired concerning him, saying, “I delight to do thy will, O my God.”—Ps. 40:8; John 4:34

Thus we see that unity of the Spirit is based on the great fundamentals of the faith and the proper application of these basic truths in our lives. We are to be doers of the Word as well as hearers. We are to keep this unity of the Spirit ‘in the bond of peace.’ Peace and goodwill among ourselves, and a loving, enthusiastic cooperation in the ministry of the truth are possible only within the framework of the basic doctrines of present truth, so let us hold fast the profession of our faith.

Not by Compromise

Unity based upon compromise is not the unity of the Spirit, and will not be ‘good and pleasant’. To maintain an outward show of unity by ignoring one or more of the basic teachings of the Word of God is not pleasing to the Lord, and is quite unsatisfactory to those who practice such an attitude. This might appear to be a method of procedure that would result in a larger attendance at our meetings, but it seldom works out this way, except temporarily. Besides, the Lord is not looking for crowds. He is selecting a little flock from the world, a ‘people for his name’. Under his arrangements these will not add up to a large number in any one generation.

The Lord is now calling and preparing this little flock to be his instruments of blessing during the kingdom age. It will be then that a knowledge of his glory will fill the whole earth. It will be then that he will turn to the people a pure language, that they might all call upon him to serve him with one consent. The whole world will then be united to serve the Lord, but again, not by compromising his truths or laws of righteousness, but by learning and obeying them willingly, from their hearts. Meanwhile, it is our privilege to grow in grace and in knowledge that we may now know and do his will more perfectly. In doing this we will find ourselves in sweet accord with all others who are likewise following the leadings of the Holy Spirit and are obedient to the truths of our most holy faith.

Jesus prayed for the oneness of his body members. He prayed that they might be one even as he and his Heavenly Father were one. (John 17:21) This prayer will not be fully answered while we are still in the flesh. However, this gives us no excuse for not keeping before us this ideal standard of good and pleasant Christian fellowship. It is even now attainable in our hearts. The imperfections of the flesh may, and will, at times, blur our vision and hinder us from measuring up fully to the teachings of the Word. However, we must strive against these weaknesses, and as we strive against them we will become more mature in Christ.

Perhaps at no previous time in the experiences of the Lord’s people has it been so important for all of us to distinguish clearly the basic truths of the divine plan, adhere to them tenaciously, and be ready to give our lives in their defense. All the consecrated should be willing to die for the truth of the divine plan. It is the truth that will continue to point the way concerning the will of God. The written Word of truth will guide all the truly meek and humble in the same way, and we will find ourselves in a sweet and blessed unity with one another, not only in the belief of the truth, but in the manner in which it is being worked out in our lives.

In our text the psalmist wrote that good and pleasant unity of the Spirit is like ‘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 dew could well be, in this instance, a symbol of the refreshing truths of the Word. It is through the inspiration of the truth, and our obedience to it, that we enjoy unity with the brethren.

But it implies more than this, ‘for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.’ It is those who attain a large measure of the Spirit of unity who are on the way to ‘life forevermore.’ The Lord is interested in seeing how well we are now yielding ourselves to the unifying influences of his Holy Spirit in this life, for upon the basis of this manifestation of our heart loyalty to him now, we will be given the reward of “glory and honor and immortality” when we have finished our earthly course.—Rom. 2:7

In other words, the Lord is not merely saying that he would like to see us maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, but his Word reveals that this is one of his basic requirements of all those to whom he will eventually say, Well done! Not that we will ever attain perfect unity any more than we will attain perfection in the flesh with respect to any of his requirements, but it is to be one of the basic objectives of our endeavors as body members of Christ. Let us continue to strive for it, and rejoice as we look ahead to the time when he commands the blessing, even life forevermore!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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