Sabbath, June 11, 2016

“The cause of division and discord in families and in the church is separation from Christ. To come near to Christ is to come near to one another. The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties–though there will be much of this to do–but union with Christ.” –The Adventist Home, p. 179.

A good and pleasant thing

1. In the Psalms, how is the happiness of living together in harmony expressed? What things symbolize the fragrance and reviving grace of harmony?

Psalm 133:1-3 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! 2It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; 3As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. 

“Among the mountains of Judah, David sought refuge from the pursuit of Saul. He made good his escape to the cave of Adullam, a place that, with a small force, could be held against a large army. ‘And when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him.’ The family of David could not feel secure, knowing that at any time the unreasonable suspicions of Saul might be directed against them on account of their relation to David. They had now learned–what was coming to be generally known in Israel–that God had chosen David as the future ruler of His people; and they believed that they would be safer with him, even though he was a fugitive in a lonely cave, than they could be while exposed to the insane madness of a jealous king.

“In the cave of Adullam the family were united in sympathy and affection. The son of Jesse could make melody with voice and harp as he sang, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ Psalm 133:1. He had tasted the bitterness of distrust on the part of his own brothers; and the harmony that had taken the place of discord brought joy to the exile’s heart. It was here that David composed the fifty-seventh psalm.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 657, 658.

2. What blessings are part of the mutual trust of united brethren?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Isaiah 41:6 They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.

“It would be helpful for the youth, and for parents and teachers as well, to study the lesson of cooperation as taught in the Scriptures. Among its many illustrations notice the building of the tabernacle–that object lesson of character building–in which the whole people united, ‘everyone whose heart stirred him up, and everyone whom his spirit made willing.’ Exodus 35:21. Read how the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt by the returned captives, in the midst of poverty, difficulty, and danger, the great task successfully accomplished because ‘the people had a mind to work.’ Nehemiah 4:6. Consider the part acted by the disciples in the Saviour’s miracle for the feeding of the multitude. The food multiplied in the hands of Christ, but the disciples received the loaves and gave to the waiting throng.

“ ‘We are members one of another.’ As everyone therefore ‘hath received a (R.V.) gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.’ Ephesians 4:25; I Peter 4:10….

“ ‘They helped everyone his neighbor; and everyone said to his brother, Be of good courage.’ Isaiah 41:6.” –Education, p. 286.

Diversity is a special blessing

3. What did the apostle Paul stress concerning unity among brethren? Why is the diversity of character, personality, and way of thinking not an insurmountable obstacle to the unity in Christ’s spiritual kingdom?

1 Corinthians 1:10, 11 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

Ephesians 4:3-6 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

“How was it with the apostle Paul? The news he received through the household of Chloe concerning the condition of the church at Corinth was what caused him to write his first epistle to that church. Private letters had come to him stating the facts as they existed, and in his answer he laid down general principles which if heeded would correct the existing evils. With great tenderness and wisdom he exhorts them to all speak the same things, that there be no divisions among them….

“He was set for the defense of the church. He was to watch for souls as one that must render account to God, and should he not take notice of the reports concerning their state of anarchy and division? Most assuredly; and the reproof he sent them was written just as much under the inspiration of the Spirit of God as were any of his epistles. But when these reproofs came, some would not be corrected. They took the position that God had not spoken to them through Paul, that he had merely given them his opinion as a man, and they regarded their own judgment as good as that of Paul.

“So it is with many among our people who have drifted away from the old landmarks and who have followed their own understanding.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 684, 685.

4. Why was it impossible to solve the problem of doctrinal controversy that arose in Galatia? In contrast, why was it possible for the same controversy to be resolved peaceably in Jerusalem, where there were even more members?

Acts 15:1, 2, 25-28 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question…. 25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.

“In the church at Antioch the consideration of the question of circumcision resulted in much discussion and contention. Finally, the members of the church, fearing that a division among them would be the outcome of continued discussion, decided to send Paul and Barnabas, with some responsible men from the church, to Jerusalem to lay the matter before the apostles and elders….

“The various points involved in the settlement of the main question at issue seemed to present before the council insurmountable difficulties. But the Holy Spirit had, in reality, already settled this question, upon the decision of which seemed to depend the prosperity, if not the very existence, of the Christian church….

“The Holy Spirit saw good not to impose the ceremonial law on the Gentile converts, and the mind of the apostles regarding this matter was as the mind of the Spirit of God. James presided at the council, and his final decision was, ‘Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.’ ” –The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 190, 192, 194.

The basis of harmony

5. How important is the matter of unity and harmony among brethren? With the cross just ahead of Him, what was Jesus’ fervent prayer for His disciples? For whom else did He pray?

John 17:11, 21, 20 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are…. 21That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me…. 20Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.

“It should be understood that perfect unity among the laborers is necessary to the successful accomplishment of the work of God. In order to preserve peace, all must seek wisdom from the Great Teacher. Let all be careful how they introduce ambitious propositions that will create dissension.

“We are to be subject one to another. No man, in himself, is a complete whole. Through submission of the mind and will to the Holy Spirit we are ever to be learners of the Great Teacher.

“Study the second chapter of Acts. In the early church the Spirit of God wrought mightily through those who were harmoniously united. On the Day of Pentecost they were all with one accord in one place.

“We are to demonstrate to the world that men of every nationality are one in Christ Jesus. Then let us remove every barrier and come into unity in the service of the Master.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 196.

6. To what does the Bible compare a brother who has been offended? Whose love alone is able to break down the barriers between people? What is necessary to overcome difficulties that arise because of the usual differences, defects, and weaknesses that all human beings have?

Proverbs 18:19 A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.

Ephesians 2:14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.

1 Corinthians 13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

“In the days of Christ, selfishness and pride and prejudice had built strong and high the wall of partition between the appointed guardians of the sacred oracles and every other nation on the globe. But the Saviour had come to change all this. The words which the people were hearing from His lips were unlike anything to which they had ever listened from priest or rabbi. Christ tears away the wall of partition, the self-love, the dividing prejudice of nationality, and teaches a love for all the human family. He lifts men from the narrow circle that their selfishness prescribes; He abolishes all territorial lines and artificial distinctions of society. He makes no difference between neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies. He teaches us to look upon every needy soul as our neighbor and the world as our field.” –Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 42.

7. What is recorded about the wonderful, harmonious spirit that existed in the apostolic church? How can that be the same for the church today?

Acts 2:42-47 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Matthew 18:19, 20 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

“After the descent of the Holy Spirit the disciples went forth to proclaim a risen Saviour, their one desire the salvation of souls. They rejoiced in the sweetness of the communion with saints. They were tender, thoughtful, self-denying, willing to make any sacrifice for the truth’s sake. In their daily association with one another they revealed the love that Christ had commanded them to reveal. By unselfish words and deeds they strove to kindle this love in other hearts.

“The believers were ever to cherish the love that filled the hearts of the apostles after the descent of the Holy Spirit. They were to go forward in willing obedience to the new commandment: ‘As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.’ John 13:34. So closely were they to be united to Christ that they would be enabled to fulfill His requirements. The power of a Saviour who could justify them by His righteousness was to be magnified.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 241.

For further study

Philippians 1:27

Colossians 3:15

Romans 15:6, 7

The wall

In a rough and rocky desert, there lived two hermits. They each found a cave with a wide opening which faced the entrance to his counterpart’s cave. After years of prayer and deep mortification, one of the two hermits believed he had become perfect. The other man was equally pious, cheerful, and forgiving. He took time to talk with the rare pilgrims who came to the place and comforted and housed those who were lost and who had left civilization behind.

All my time is devoted to meditation and prayer, thought the first hermit. He disapproved of the frequent but tiny deficiencies of the other man. Therefore, to make the latter understand what, according to his view, was far from holiness, he decided to place a stone at the mouth of his cave every time his friend committed a misdeed. What was the result? After a few months, the entrance to his cave was completely barred by a wall of gray, stifling stones, and the poor hermit was immured within.

Was that poor hermit the only one who ever built a wall to separate himself from his friend and thus enclose himself in a kind of prison? Offenses, misunderstandings, and unresolved problems may lead us to do the same–to build a wall of retaliation, avoidance, distance, and silence. Thus we enclose ourselves in a prison of our own making. How important it is that we not permit separating, enclosing walls to be built around our hearts! –Adapted from, B. Ferrero, A volte basta un raggio di sole (Sometimes just a ray of sunshine), p. 24.