“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 NKJV).
Our Bible readings for today focus on Christian unity. Listen for how God Himself describes this precious unity.
In our first reading we hear how God established marriage in the beginning. Man had not yet sinned, and was therefore still enjoying a perfect relationship with God. Yet God wanted to bless Adam further.
The gift of marriage came as quite a surprise to Adam. Few relationships can surpass the unity that marriage can give. In the Scriptures the Holy Spirit uses marriage as a picture of the intimate relationship that exists between Jesus Christ and His Church.
old testament................... Genesis 2:15-24 (NIV)
15The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
18The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
In the Psalm of the Day some unusual images are used to describe the blessings of Christian unity.
The first image is oil. The special olive oil that was ceremonially poured on Aaron’s head signified that God had chosen him for the priesthood. In the same way, the words and actions that accompany Christians show that they have been chosen by God.
The second picture is dew. If
psalm of the day...................... Psalm 133 (NIV)
A song of ascents. Of David.
P: How good and pleasant it is
When brothers live together in unity!
C: It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
P: It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on
C: For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
True Christian unity is more than sharing the name “Christian”. Christians are unified by the sincere preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ. When they speak the message of Jesus, Christians invite other sinners to experience the joy of unity with God, through faith in the Savior He sent.
Letter reading....... 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (NIV)
14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
“A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four” (Aesop’s Fables, The Harvard Classics, 1909-14).
It is from this fable, from the pen of the famous Aesop, that we get the phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
But unity can offer much more than strength. Through union with Christ our sins are forgiven and eternal life becomes our own possession.
Through our union with other Christians we receive companionship, camaraderie, insight, correction and love.
The unity that we have with Christ and with fellow Christians is truly precious. We read about this precious unity in Christ in…
Sermon reading................ Mark 9:36-50 (NASB)
36Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37"Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."
38John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us."
39But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of
42"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.
43"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 45If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 47If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 49For everyone will be salted with fire.
50"Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus and his twelve apostles were in the town of
There were children about and Jesus reached out and drew one of them into his arms. He playfully pulled the child up onto His lap and wrapped His arms around him. With the child held in His loving embrace He explained to the disciples that if they did the same thing in His name, they were actually embracing Him. And if they embraced Jesus they were also embracing God the Father.
Unity with Jesus produces loving acts done in His name. These actions are deceptively valuable because of the invisible connection that a Christian has with Christ.
You’d think that hugging a little child wouldn’t be all that remarkable. But done in Jesus’ name that small act of love is actually an expression of the love that a Christian has for Jesus. And love of God’s Son is at the same time love of the Father.
Loving acts done because of Jesus, are loving acts done to God.
This teaching made the apostle John uncomfortable. He and the rest of the apostles had recently tried to stop a person from doing loving acts toward God.
They had met someone who was casting demons out of people in the name of Jesus. This someone was a stranger to the apostles. He wasn’t part of their group. He hadn’t been sent out by Jesus to do these miracles. He had simply heard Jesus’ message, and through faith had obtained the power to cast out demons in Jesus’ name!
But since he wasn’t part of the apostles’ group, they told him to stop. Apparently the man hadn’t listened, and rightfully so. When John brought it up to Jesus, Jesus rebuked the apostles saying,
"Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of
There are only two groups: those for Jesus and those not for Jesus. People who declare their faith in Christ by their actions and their mouths should not be opposed by other followers of Christ.
The mistake that John and the other apostles had made was assuming that this miracle worker wasn’t united to Christ because he wasn’t familiar to them. When the apostles acted on their false assumption they were actually trying to stop God’s work!
Hindering Christian work is hindering Christ’s work.
The opposite is also true. Helping Christian work is helping Christ’s work. The person who helps Christ’s workers because he loves Christ will be rewarded by God.
“…whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward” (Mark NASB).
Unity in Christ leads us to love Christ’s people, not get in their way, even if they are not part of our group.
Because we love Christ, we don’t want to get in the way of the work other Christians are doing. And because we understand how precious our own connection to Jesus is, we certainly don’t want to do anything to damage the faith of other Christians.
With His next words Jesus draws the attention of the apostles back to the child in His arms, and to the serious matter of damaging a little child’s faith.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mark NASB).
Medical doctors must carefully weigh the risks that accompany their interventions. Ultimately, whatever a doctor does will either help, or hurt the patient. Therefore, one of the fundamental principles taught to all medical students is, “Do no harm”.
Adult Christians must also carefully weigh the risks that accompany their words and actions. Everything that we do has the potential to either help, or hurt our youngest fellow Christians. We must take care to “Do no harm”.
In his letter to the Christians of Galatia, Paul said,
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians NIV).
To the Christians of Corinth, Paul wrote,
“23“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians -24 NIV).
The apostle Peter wrote,
“16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter -17 NIV).
We must take great care not to cause little Christians to stumble in their walk with Christ. A spiritual stumble causes spiritual injury. More seriously, a spiritual stumble may cause the faith of a little one to be extinguished.
In the Greek, the word translated “cause to stumble” is “Scandalizo”. It comes from the word for a bent stick, but not just any bent stick. The bent stick that “Scandalizo” is talking about is stick that holds the bait in an animal trap.
Imagine of one end of a huge log propped up precariously on a smaller stick. On the bottom of the stick is tied scrap of meat to attract some animal. When the animal tries to free the bait, the bent stick slips free and the huge log comes crashing down.
To lead someone to into a sin by your example, is a very serious matter. It may cause them pain and sadness. It may even cause their connection to Christ to be severed.
Jesus says, it is better to die the terrible death of drowning than to cause the spiritual death of a child.
A child’s unity with Christ is precious. Take care that your life does no harm to the faith of the children who know you.
Satan also seeks to damage our own personal union with Christ. Satan does this through leading us to sin.
Sin is like acid, it damages and erodes our faith. When we confess our sins to Jesus, He neutralizes the acid of sin, washing it away with His blood. Then He repairs the damage that sin has done to our relationship with Him.
If we stay away from Jesus and indulge in sin, the acid of sin will eventually eat through our faith and destroy the our union with Christ. That’s why we keep coming back to hear Christ speak the words of forgiveness to us through His Word. That’s also why Satan seeks to keep us away from Christ and our fellow Christians.
Jesus told His apostles to do everything within their power to avoid being lured into the death trap of sin. Listen to His words again:
“43"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 45If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 47If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 49For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark -49 NASB).
Jesus is not exaggerating here. He is making a very serious point.
Jesus just got done telling the apostles that it would be better to DIE A TERRIBLE DEATH than to cause a child’s faith to be crushed. Now Jesus tells the disciples that if great pain and limitation in this life will enable you to avoid the eternal fires of hell – then by all means do it! Who cares if you’re comfortable in this life if you burn in hell forever!
Three times hell is describes as the place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” This is a nasty picture of the complete punishment which happens in hell. Inner suffering is pictured by the worms. Outer suffering by the flames. Both are described as being eternal.
Some are quick to point out that cutting off your hand will not prevent you from being a thief, because stealing begins in the heart. Just because you can’t do the outward sin doesn’t mean that the inner sin has gone away. Therefore, amputating a limb is not an effective way to avoid temptation and hell.
This is true enough. We cannot amputate our sinfulness by cutting away parts of our body. Only Christ can remove our sins by His blood.
Jesus knows this. He’s not saying mutilate your body and then you’ll be able to avoid sin. He’s saying do what you need to do to avoid the sin traps that Satan is laying out for you. Do whatever it takes to avoid them, even if it brings you pain and limits what you can do in this life.
Jesus further helps us understand when He says,
“For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark NASB).
The Greek word for “fire” is sometimes used to signify “difficulties”. Kinda like we say a person is in the “hot seat”. Like salt sprinkling out of a salt shaker and down onto your food, fiery difficulties fall into the lives of everyone. Everyone faces difficulties in life.
Since we will all experience difficulties in our lives, we shouldn’t hesitate to impose difficulties on ourselves if those self imposed difficulties will serve a good spiritual purpose. If the temporary sacrifice of personal freedom here on earth will help you to avoid temptation, remain in Christ and avoid the fires of hell – then by all means limit yourself! This may mean avoiding something that you like because it puts you in a position to be tempted to sin.
Unity with Christ is so precious, we are willing to suffer anything to avoid damaging our faith in Christ.
Jesus sure likes to use vivid images to teach. Think of the images He’s used in just this one conversation with His apostles. A loving and tender hug for a child. Drowning with a millstone around your neck. Amputating a hand, a foot or an eye. The eternal worms and fires of hell. Troubles sprinkled into our lives like salt on a meal.
Jesus closes our reading with one more vivid image having to do with salt. He says,
"Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (Mark NASB).
Salt is used to preserve food, and also to make it taste better. But if salt were to lose its qualities of preservative and spice, it would be useless. Unsalty salt would just be grainy white dirt.
I saw a comedian once who said, “I went to the store today and picked up some powdered water. But I didn’t know what to add.” It’s funny, but it’s also Jesus’ point. If water wasn’t wet, how could you make it wet? If salt wasn’t salty, how could you make it salty? And what could you possibly use to fix it? There is no salt for salt. If a Christian severs their connection with Christ, how can they restore that unity?
Jesus says, “Don’t do that. Remain one with me by faith. Come confess your sins and remain one with me. Have salt in yourselves. Salt that preserves your life forever. Salt that is faith in me.”
Unity with Jesus not only preserves our relationship with God, it also purifies our relationship with each other. Unity with Jesus enables us to be at peace with one another.
Jesus forgives us. In turn we forgive one another. Strife with each other is overcome. Disagreements are solved or forgiven. Peace settles between the forgiven sinners who are Christ’s people because they are one in Christ. And then the work of bringing the preservative of Jesus Christ to others can move forward.
Unity with Christ Jesus makes us a valuable commodity. Unity with Christ Jesus draws us together as one, at peace with each other.
United we stand, divided we fall.
United to Christ, we are forgiven and will live forever. United to one another in Christ we receive companionship, camaraderie, insight, correction and love.
Let us take care to preserve our unity with Christ and in Christ, for it is precious. Yes, more precious than much fine gold. Amen.
The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.