1Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 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!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
As the PCA’s 50th Anniversary year draws to a close, I find myself meditating on Psalm 133 quite a bit. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” Each year we close our business at General Assembly by singing this short Psalm which makes for a short song. If you watch it on the GA Livestream, you’ll probably find it underwhelming. The video doesn’t capture the mood in the room. It can’t. You have to be there.
I know we in the PCA don’t always seem to “dwell together in unity.” General Assembly and presbytery floor debates can be heated, and social media rhetoric doesn’t leave us feeling all warm and fuzzy. But the impression I get from many PCA officers across a wide spectrum of views is that the closest friendships in their lives are within the PCA. Generally speaking, we share a genuine fondness for one another as we co-labor in the cause of Christ. Our union with Christ unites us as brothers, and the Lord has indeed commanded the blessing in this uniting of our lives in Him forevermore.
Why Oil Flowing Down a Beard?
One part of Psalm 133 that often baffles readers is the imagery that is being used. While Reformer-style beards have made somewhat of a comeback in our churches, none of us particularly want to see a beardsman’s plume dripping with oil. It may just be me, but a greasy beard doesn’t immediately evoke thoughts of “good and pleasant.” What if, however, the focus is not on the beard or the oil itself, but on the movement and effect of the oil?
The oil originates from above and flows down. Down onto the head. Down on and through the beard. Down onto the robe and further to the edges of the robe. Down, presumably on to the anointed priest’s body. There would no doubt be a pleasing aroma to the oil that would be appreciated by those with whom the priest came into contact.
Calvin writes, “We must hold, that when mention is made of the Priest, it is to intimate that concord takes its rise in the true and pure worship of God; while by the beard and skirts of the garments, we are led to understand that the peace which springs from Christ as the head is diffused through the whole length and breadth of the Church.”
To further make the point, the next image is from nature. In similar fashion, the dew that nourishes the mountain comes down from above. And what happens to moisture on a mountain? It runs down. Down to creeks that supply streams. Down to fill rivers to the surrounding areas. Refreshment, nourishment, and life itself comes from above and flows out.
Similarly, Augustine comments, “He would have it understood, my brethren, that it is of God’s grace that brethren dwell together in unity. Not of their own strength or of their own deservings, but of His gift, of His grace, as the dew from heaven. For the earth does not rain or not for itself: what it brings forth withereth, unless the rain descend from above.”
The point is, that where unity among brothers and sisters in Christ is present, it is a blessing from above. It flows down to us. It permeates and penetrates. It is felt and there is a sweet aroma to it that affects others and draws them in.
Tapping into this Unity
There are avenues in the world that seek to approximate this kind of unity. High School sports and college fraternities are two such attempts at this sort of camaraderie. Having been a part of and enjoyed my time in both, I can say they can’t begin to scratch the surface of the blessed unity described in Psalm 133: a blessed united that is found in Christ’s Church and Christ’s Church alone. Those who serve in the military or as emergency responders often describe the bond they share with their fellow public servants as a brotherhood. Yet, that bond without Christ can take them only so far.
As our country is facing a “male loneliness epidemic,” we have a real opportunity to offer people what they are lacking and seeking, even if they don’t know that what they are missing is fundamentally spiritual in nature. Let us seek first the Kingdom of God with this kind of unity that only comes by being rooted in Christ. As Jesus told his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). It will be a sweet aroma to lost and hungry souls seeking rest.
Here’s an idea for church officers, both deacons or elders. Why not make it a practice to close some of your meetings throughout the year with singing (or reading) a setting of Psalm 133? I know I experience what this psalm describes after many difficult yet united session meetings where God’s presence is palpable. Let’s celebrate that gift by singing this song God has given us.
A Closing Note to Pastors
Pastors, don’t neglect your own relational health. Between the juggling of ministry and family commitments, it is all too easy to put our own relational needs on the backburner. It is possible to be around people all the time and yet still feel alone. While sessions often provide the friendships and “iron sharpening iron” the Bible speaks of, there are times, insecurities, and struggles that you don’t share within your churches and on your session. This is why it’s imperative that you have other pastor friends to hold you up and hold you accountable.
The Gospel Reformation Network has a program to help pastors have these types of relationships, facilitated by our Companies of Pastors. Companies are groups of pastors who meet via zoom on a monthly basis and participate in weekly text chats with one another, for sharing ideas, prayer, and encouragement. If God so allows, participants also look for ways to get together throughout the year at events like Twin Lakes Fellowship Fraternal and General Assembly. If this sort of opportunity sounds attractive to you, check out this page to learn more.
In closing, while this unity that is good and pleasing comes from above, is guaranteed, commanded, and provided for us, let us grasp hold of it in faith. Consider these words from Paul:
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
~ Ephesians 4:1-7
 Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Book of Psalms: Psalms 1–150, vol. 6, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford; London: F. and J. Rivington; John Henry Parker, 1847–1857), 119.
 https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/18/health/male-loneliness-epidemic-wellness/index.html and https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2017/03/09/the-biggest-threat-facing-middle-age-men-isn-smoking-obesity-loneliness/k6saC9FnnHQCUbf5mJ8okL/story.html