Characteristics of Christian Community

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on February 5, 2023.

            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!

            It is like the dew of Hermon,

                        which falls on the mountains of Zion!

            For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,

                        life forevermore (Psalm 133).[1]

In an age of individualism, Christians would do well to open our bibles and look at the testimony of Scripture: There are no solitary Christians. Persecuted? Yes. Imprisoned? Certainly. Banished? Undoubtedly. Solitary? Never. In fact, walking through the New Testament epistles, I am reminded of how little is addressed to the individual. The bulk of our New Testament canon is directed to the church, and even when an epistle is written to one, for example Timothy, it is for the sake of the church, and in the context of the local church, specifically. Even the Greek word ekklesia that we translate as “church” literally means “assembly.” No one assembles alone.

Christianity is uniquely corporate, one body (together) of Christ. As one pastor notes,

Our membership in the church is a corollary of our faith in Christ. We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family. …For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people. His relationships with us are personal, true; intimate, yes; but private, no. We are a family in Christ. When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child.[2]

It is no coincidence that our Lord first taught us to pray (together), “Our Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). In fact, I love to pray the Lord’s prayer in my daily personal prayer time, because it reminds me of you, as if we are praying it together, with each other and for each other through the week.

Of course, there is no clearer reinforcement of this truth than in our weekly worship, where we assemble as God’s people, enjoying community in Christ. You might seek alternatives of Christian experience, but you can’t call them “church.” It’s a collective term. Church means worshiping together. And not only together, but as a family. We gather in worship as “brothers.” 

And in Scripture, when the first two brothers got together to worship the Lord, do you know what happened? Murder (Ge. 4:1-8).

As it turns out, dwelling in unity with brothers and sisters isn’t easy.

            To live above with the saints we love,

                        Oh that will be glory.

            But to live below with the saints we know,

                        Well, that’s another story.[3]

Dwelling together often means arguments, quarrels, and squabbles, quickly accelerating, especially over important matters, like the fellowship lunch menu. Left to our flesh, tertiary matters can be elevated to secondary and secondary to primary, and before long everything is primary, a proverbial hill to die on. But we are not left to our flesh. In Christ, we are not at the mercy of our sin, nor victims of our nature. No, in Christ we crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24), learning to walk dependently upon the Spirit, who indwells us all (Gal. 5:16). And when we do, we find that dwelling in unity is indeed good and pleasant.

Good and Pleasant

“Behold,” David says, “Look”! As if removed to observe and study, we are directed to the beautiful, “how good and pleasant it is / when brothers dwell in unity!” If sin contributes to disunity (even murder!), then unity reveals godliness, which is always good and pleasant to behold (and enjoy!).

That which is good and pleasant is among “brothers,” David’s reference to his kinsmen, his brethren of Israel. They are brothers and sisters united not only as a nation, but as the Lord’s chosen people, set apart as his own to worship him alone. Their brotherhood points back beyond their tribes but to their fathers, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. So, the apostle Paul also points us back, as Abraham’s offspring, not for the blood in our veins but the blood of Christ’s cross. In Christ, brotherhood is “one new man in place of the two.” Christ has “made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” and reconciled “us both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:14-16).

Our brotherhood then transcends bloodlines, defined as the beloved of God, united as one in Christ. To reiterate his point, Paul says that we see this unity, this oneness, in the Christian faith: Not two but “one body,” not two but “one Spirit,” not two but “one hope”; and, not two but “one Lord,” not two but “one faith,” not two but “one baptism,” not two (or three) but “one God” (Eph. 4:4-7). All that we believe, all that we are, is unified as one, testifying to the One who has united us, and that’s why unity in the church is indeed good and pleasant.

Some may hear this as an appeal for ecumenical movements and universal union, and we must not neglect the fact of our catholicity, as the church universal, but not at the expense of the local church. In fact, if we will not neglect but foster unity in the local church, the universal will follow. And living out our faith in the local church develops fellowship, or community, and community requires mutual concern for one another. It is the antithesis of self-centeredness. Even those who desire to experience the goodness and pleasantness of unity in the church can cause division, perhaps unknowingly, because they can’t get over themselves. One pastor insightfully asks, “The last time you were in a conflict with someone, were you more interested in promoting the joy of unity that God presents [in Psalm 133], or in justifying yourself?”[4] Self-justification can sure make a church member bitter and abrasive, but it can never cultivate community. In contrast, Jesus prayed for all who believe in him,

that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (Jn. 17:21-23).

As it turns out, beholding brothers dwelling in unity is good and pleasant, but experiencing it is heavenly.


To describe how good and pleasant unity among brothers is, David provides two similes, the first of which is surely the strangest:

            [Dwelling as brothers in unity] 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!

(Nothing says unity like an oily, bearded old man, right? What?) But the simile is not as strange as it seems, once we understand the significance of the oil and upon whom it flows.

According to the ceremonial law, olive oil was an important part of liturgical worship. In fact, a special blend was required for consecration, or anointing, made of liquid myrrh, sweet-smelling cinnamon, aromatic cane, and cassia (Ex. 30:22-33). Its ingredients and use rendered it costly, indeed precious, but also favorably fragrant. To mention the oil would conjure up a sweet smell and holy use in the mind of the faithful Israelite.

But this precious oil was not for everything or everyone but specifically for sacerdotal use, notably the anointing of the Levitical priest, of whom Aaron was the first. On the day of his ordination, according to Exodus, the anointing oil was poured upon Aaron’s head (Ex. 29:1-9). You can imagine how quickly that oil must have flowed, from head to beard to clothes. From his head to his shoulders, Aaron was covered in the saturating, sweet fragrance of precious oil, setting him apart for his priestly vocation, consecrating him to serve the Lord. 

David couples this image with a second simile, not one of precious oil but alpine dew, not upon the head of Aaron but the slopes of Hermon. At over 9,000 feet, Mount Hermon is the highest mountain in the region and is known for its lush landscape, the result of the nourishing precipitation. Mountain top mornings are greeted with drenching dew that satisfyingly saturates the ground, then flowing as water down the mountainside, following ravines to rivers to the hills and dales below. Just as Aaron’s head was saturated with anointing oil and flowing down, so Mount Hermon is saturated with dew and flowing down. And David says that unity among us is like that!

But how? How are oil and dew like unity in the church? Think about the common characteristics of both. Just as unity is “good and pleasant,” so is precious oil. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “good” in verse one is the same word translated “precious” in verse two. Like “good” oil, unity too is precious and pleasant, just like dew on the mountain.

And both oil and dew are symbolic of God’s blessed provision, running down, onward to other parts and places. The oil that anointed the first Levitical priest did not rest upon his head but flowed down, just as his consecrated service was not for himself alone but for his brothers and sisters too. The dew that falls upon Mount Hermon does not rest upon its peak but flows down, just as the Lord’s blessing flows from us to others.

These provide beautiful images of God’s provision, but greater than precious oil and morning dew is God’s blessed provision for us in Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co. 5:21). We have peace with God by the blood of Christ’s cross (Col. 1:20), and we are at peace with one another by that same blood through faith (Eph. 2:14-16). We are then united in one body, the body of Christ, and indwelled by one Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. Positionally, we are one; experientially, we must learn to maintain, what the apostle Paul calls, the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

How do we maintain his Spirit-empowered unity? Well, for starters, we go to the church not away from it. Absence from the assembly makes for a weak and malnourished Christian. Second, we read and study God’s Word together, and we are faithful Sunday after Sunday to be under the preached Word, together. We assemble for the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, enjoying the communion that only the Spirit of Christ gives. And we pray with each other and for each other. It is difficult to be at odds with someone that you pray with weekly and for daily. And it doesn’t stop here but continues, in fact, forever.


Where Mount Hermon is located on the far-northern border of Israel, its dew doesn’t actually fall on the mountains of Zion, except perhaps by the clouds above. But David is not making a geographical or geological observation. He is connecting the imagery of God’s blessed provision to his blessed presence in Zion:

            For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,

                        life forevermore.

From Zion flows not only blessings but the greatest of blessings, even eternal life.

In the New Testament, Zion is identified not as a place but a people, not a temporal temple but the temple of the Spirit of the living God, the church of Christ. And as his church, we long for the day when “Behold, how good and pleasant it is / when brothers dwell in unity!” shall become “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). On that day, our good and pleasant unity with the saints we know, shall be “above with the saints we love / Oh that will be glory.” Until that day, let us by God’s grace through his Spirit foster that which leads to dwelling in unity.

In the book of Acts we read of Christian community in which,

they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … And all who believed were together and had all things in common. … And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Ac. 2:42-47).

We could say that they were a church of theological depth, intimate relationships, joyous worship, relentless evangelism, and sacrificial service (which incidentally is our church’s stated purpose statement). And all of which involves dwelling in unity together to the glory of God.

            Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 169.

[3] R. Kent Hughes quoted in Rhett P. Dodson, Marching to Zion: Ancient Psalms for Modern Pilgrims (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), 229.

[4] Ibid., 233.

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