NOTE: This is an updated post from a couple of years ago.
To be left alone or to be in community?
Hmmm, if I am honest, I too often prefer to be alone than in community. What does that say about my view of spirituality and of the character of God?
Here are some thoughts coming out of Psalm 133 in which the Psalmist clearly says that it is good and pleasant to be in community, to dwell together in unity! Jesus had a few things about this in John 13 and 17!
The kind of community described in Psalm 133 is something attractive, something that most of us (including myself) long for.
First of all, it is GOOD (tov). Think God said something about it not being good to be alone from the beginning! So, it should not surprsise me to think that he thinks it is good to be together.
But community/unity is also delightful or it is pleasant. A quick search on na’im which is the Hebrew word, gives the picture that the delight of community should be similar to the joy we have in our relationship with God when we praise Him, the delight that comes with compliments, the pleasure that wisdom and knowledge brings to our heart.
Two images–like oil and like the dew. Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction suggests that the oil communicates a “sense of warm priestly relationship. “
With this imagery, we see God’s anointing of one another–we recognize that God is (equally) at work in my brother or sister’s life. I recognize and value what God is doing in my brother and understand that this may mean speaking the truth in love to one another.
What extravagance to see oil flowing down—community as rich, sweet and fragrant. It is natural that we honor our brother/sister and rejoice when they rejoice!
Peterson suggests that dew brings an imagery of a “sense of freshness and expectant newness.” Should community not bring a thirst quenching for the soul? It is like water on hot day or rain after a drought or the hot season. This image of community provides the promise of better things to come, of blessings!
What creates community? Colossians seems to bring unity and community together well in Col 3:14 “love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Yep, back to love and 1 Cor 13!
What prevents community from forming?
- Seeing others as competitors
- Seeing others as problems to fix
- Using others as a means to make me or the organization successful
What to do?
- Stop labeling others
- Stop presuming to know why people do what they do
- Take each person seriously
- Learn to trust one another other
- Depend on one other
- Be compassionate with and towards others
- Rejoice with others.
Peterson quotes Bonhoeffer,
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother . . . as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word . . . Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” Cost of Discipleship
So, if I choose solitude over community, can I understand myself? how growth occurs? what is really important to God? learn how deceived I am about my own spirituality.
What can we do to build into community around us today?
Still thinking about Psalm 133. Today, I was thinking about the precious oil flowing down Aaron’s head, beard to the bottom of his robe. Found some references in Ex and Lev that refer to the initial anointing of Aaron and his sons by Moses if you are interested: Ex 30:30-33; 40:13-15; Levit 8:10-12, 30
Wanted to find some paintings but I only find one by a Kabbalist painter, Moshe Tzi Berger, whose has done paintings of all the Psalms. Kabbalists are a bit too weird for me, they are Jewish mystics who focus on the “inner meaning” of the Hebrew texts. But, with persistence, I found a calligraphy done by Connie Jones for a class under Dr. Stephen L. Cook and posted on his blog. Below is higher quality image I uploaded.
NT reading was in Col 3:5-18 today. Wow, want a text on how to build unity–here it is!!
- Remember your life is now hidden with Christ in God v3
- Don’t live like you once did 5-8 (Put off . . .)
- Do not lie to one another 9
- Start by remembering that you are chosen by God, you are holy and you are deeply loved by God. 12
- Focus on being (Put on the new self . . . Clothe yourselves with . . . ) 12-14
- compassionate 12
- kind 12
- humble 12
- gentle 12
- patient 12
- bearing with one another 13
- forgiving 13 (Paul had to say this twice since it is so important)
- (Put on) Loving–since love binds all the above together into unity 14
Guess this means that unity is something we will need to work towards! Is it worth it my brothers and sisters? With fear and trembling, I say yes.
Continuing to read in Psalm 133 and I spent some time looking up the two words the Psalmist uses to describe the unity of brothers dwelling together. He says in verse one this unity is good (Heb tov) and pleasant (heb na’im). I don’t have all my OT tools with me to study these two Hebrew words with me but I did a concordance search.
Of course tov means good but it can also have the idea of phyical beauty, sweetness of taste or a sweet smelling aroma. When I think of good, I think of one of those defining characteristics of God. Apart from God, we cannot understand goodness–only one is truly good says Jesus to the rich young ruler, and that one is God! But tov is not the only word, the Psalmist uses to describe unity–he also uses na’im, a word that my abridged BDB says can be translated as either delightful or lovely or beautiful and which is translated here as “pleasant.”
Na’im is used thirteen times in the OT and in four of those, it is combined with tov. But, there are other words with which it is combined that are interesting–beloved, beautiful( shapar), beautiful (‘avach), precious (‘aqir). What else is na’im besides brothers dwelling together in unity? David as the beloved singer of Israel 2 Sam 23:1, Saul and Jonathan–beloved and beautiful in life 2 Sam 1:23, Job 36:11 says those who are obedient and serve will spend their last years contented and their days in goodness, the boundary lines that have fallen to the Psalmist in Ps 16:6 are na’im and his inheritance is beautiful. In Ps 16:11, the Psalmist says God makes me know the path of life–the abundance of joy, his pleasant (na’im) face and his everlasting hand. The Psalmist in 135:3 and 147: 1 tells us to praise YHWH because He is good (tov) and our music or praise is said to be na’im before God. God’s words are na’im when they are treasured Prov 22:18 but our delightful (na’im) words are wasted before a selfish person. When we have knowledge in Prov 24:14 it is like our rooms are filled with precious or rare and beautiful (na’im) treasure. Finally, the bride says that her beloved is handsome and says how pleasant (na’im) is it to have their luxurious bed SOS 1:16
After reading these verses, I ask myself, “Is there is something about unity that we are missing? I think so!!
If you need help to flesh out unity, Romans 12 may provide assistance as we move towards unity.