Psalm 133: Why We Need Each Other
Blog by Rob Vandeman
For centuries, throngs of people sung Psalm 133 on the road as they made the ascent to Jerusalem for festival worship. Our imaginations readily reconstruct those scenes. How great to have everyone sharing a common purpose, traveling a common path, arriving toward a common goal, that path and purpose and goal being God. How much better than making the long trip alone: “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” (Ps 133:1 NLT)
We make this clear in our act of worship each week by gathering as a community. As we come to declare our love for God we must face the reality that while we are a family of faith it does not necessarily follow that we are one big happy family. We encounter siblings, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are not always nice people. We do not immediately stop being sinners the moment we begin to believe in Christ. Those around us don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations. Some of us are cranky, others of us are dull, most all of us need some degree of remedial help in gracious family living. But if God is our father, then this is our family.
The question is not, “Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?” but rather, “How am I going to live in this community of faith?” God’s children do different things. Some run away from home and pretend it no longer exists. Some move out and get an apartment from which they make occasional visits. And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them for they are always criticizing what is served at the meals, quarreling with the way the house keeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them. And some, determine to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function in it harmoniously and joyously and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.
Psalm 133 presents what we are after. It puts into song what is said and demonstrated throughout Scripture and church history: community/fellowship is essential. Christianity knows nothing of the solitary Christian. People of faith are always members of a community. Creation itself was not complete until there was community; Adam needing Eve before humanity was whole.
But if living in community is necessary and desirable, it is also enormously difficult. There is a hint as to the nature of the difficulty in the simile “like brothers” or perhaps, “like siblings.” Children are ordinarily so full of their own needs and wants that they look at a brother or sister not as an ally but as a competitor. Much of what we witness in the world of living together as siblings means in actual practice, endless squabbles and angry arguments.
Living together in a way that evokes the glad song of Psalm 133 is one of the great and arduous tasks before God’s people. Nothing requires more attention and energy. It is easier to do almost anything else. It is far easier to deal with people as problems to be solved than to have anything to do with them in community.
When I first read Psalm 133, I thought that the antecedent of the word “there” in the third verse was Mount Zion. But as I studied the psalm I decided that the antecedent is really found in the first verse. James Moffat translated verse three like this: “For in this fellowship has the Eternal fixed the blessing of an endless life.” The atmosphere of fellowship God’s family members enjoy resembles a rare perfume and is as refreshing as dew upon the grass according to the poetic imagery of the psalm. As if the psalmist is making his point that in the context of fellowship, life’s blessings are mediated. It is in the context of fellowship where each person is taken seriously, learns to trust others, depends on others, is compassionate with others and rejoices with others.
Important in any community of faith is an ever-renewed sense of expectation in what God is doing with our brothers and sister in the faith. We refuse to label the others as one thing or another. We refuse to predict our brother’s behavior, our sister’s growth. Each person in the community is unique, each is specially loved and particularly led by the Spirit of God. How can I presume to make conclusions about anyone? How can I pretend to know your worth or your place?
A community of faith flourishes when we view each other with expectancy, wondering what God will do today in this one, in that one. When we are in a community with those Christ loves and redeems, we are constantly finding out new things about them. They are new persons each morning, endless in their possibilities. We explore the fascinating depths of their friendship; share the secrets of their quest.
“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” Believe it. Practice it.