What is the value of unity in the Body of Christ? And what is the primary response to that unity?
Listen to Psalm 133. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.”
There are two similes in this brief psalm that illustrate the value of unity. But, because these were written in a different time and culture, we may miss the meaning of these.
The details of how the holy anointing oil was compounded are in Exodus chapter 30. You can read them at your leisure. This oil was made from the finest ingredients and was very fragrant. It was used only for anointing the priests and the furnishings of the Tabernacle. Anointing with this oil signified something set apart or holy to the Lord. Its composition and limited use made it very precious. Unity among God’s people is precious; it’s also rare.
The dew of Hermon is completely different from the ordinary dew in North America. It’s a phenomenon peculiar to Palestine and the East. It’s a soft mist that comes from the Mediterranean during the summer when the heat is greatest, and the country is burning up. It is attracted by the coolness of the inland heights, condensed in abundant moisture upon their sides, and creeps down upon the plains, reviving and refreshing every green thing.
It comes first of all to Mount Hermon and helps to keep up its continuous snow cover, and to fill its springs, and feed its cedars, and then it flows down and makes the grain to grow green in the valleys, and the vines to swell out their purple grapes in the vineyards.
These similes involve a blessing—life forevermore. Spiritual life, with its abundant blessings, is signified in the anointing oil, and physical life is sustained by the growth of abundant vegetation. When we experience unity, it involves our whole person, spiritual and physical.
And what is the basis of unity? Jesus, in John 17:17 to 21, points to truth as the basis of unity. He prays we would be sanctified by God’s truth and that will lead to unity. According to Ephesians 4:3, that unity is gifted to Believers by the Holy Spirit, but we are responsible to maintain what has been given to us.
So, what is the primary response of Believers when unity is experienced? That’s what we want to learn from our continuing study from Second Corinthians. We focus in this episode on the final verses of chapter seven. I’ve titled our study, “Contagious Joy.” Here is the Word of God from Second Corinthians 7:13 to 16.
This text outlines the blessed EFFECTS of contagious joy in the lives of Believers and the Church when unity is realized.
The first EFFECT of contagious joy is,
It Invigorates the Spirit
In Romans 12:15 Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” The context of that verse is the importance of love and unity among Believers. And here in our text, Paul is taking his own advice! He is overjoyed at the joy of Titus.
Paul writes of the refreshment of spirit Titus experienced because the Corinthian Believers responded positively to Paul’s correction. Their genuine repentance, which we looked at in the previous message, restored them to unity in Christ and with each other. That is something to be excited about! And that excitement, that joy is invigorating, it’s lifegiving.
You and I know that when unity is absent, strife and division create tension. Unless the issues causing the tension are resolved that tension remains elevated. It’s spiritually, emotionally, and physically draining. We’ve all experienced what that feels like.
Back in chapter two, verse 4, Paul talks about the anxiety he experienced because of the conflict in the church at Corinth; much affliction, tears, and anguish of heart. Conflict is depressing; it robs us of our joy, and we just wish it would go away. But when conflict is resolved there is comfort and overflowing joy.
Verse 14 of our text informs us that Paul had boasted to Titus that the Corinthian Believers would do the right thing; they would respond to the severe letter Paul sent by Titus’ hand. Imagine yourself in Titus’ position carrying that letter, being the bearer of bad news, so to speak, and wondering how the letter and you would be received. Over and over in your mind, you replay the possible responses of the people you must meet. In fear and trembling you deliver the letter, and wonder of wonders, it is received with meekness and repentance.
I have had some experiences like this in life where the joy was so profound it seemed like my heart would burst. I remember one experience as a young man where I turned on the music in my car and sang at the top of my lungs because of the joy I felt inside. My spirit was so invigorated that I couldn’t keep the joy inside, I had to express it.
I fear, brothers and sisters, that we’re much too hesitant to share our joy. And when we refuse to share it, we may be robbing someone of the encouragement they need right at that moment. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Contagious joy invigorates the spirit; let’s share it for the glory of God.
The next EFFECT of contagious joy is,
It Increases Love
Paul speaks in verse 15 of Titus’ inward affection. In the KJV, this is the same word in Second Corinthians 6:12 translated as bowels. In the Hebrew mind, the bowels, the innermost parts of the human body, were considered to be the place of the tenderest affections. Paul is talking about genuine love.
We know Paul loved the Believers in Corinth. He had planted the church there and spent 18 months discipling them in the ways of the Lord. That love was tested by their squabbling about personalities and their tolerance of open sin in their ranks. That love motivated him to write a severe letter of rebuke that has been lost to us. That very same letter that was delivered by Titus. Genuine love reminds people of their commitments and holds the truth before them like a mirror.
Titus’ love for the Corinthian Believers was growing, it was more abundant than it had been before. Why? Because he remembered their obedience and how they had received the letter of correction from Paul with fear and trembling and how that affected their response to him. As the bearer of the letter, he probably expected their scorn and rejection; but they welcomed him in their genuine repentance.
Paul states in verse 13 that he was filled with exceeding joy because of Titus’ joy. If you think that didn’t increase his love for Titus and for the Corinthian Believers, I think you’ve missed an important point.
In Scripture, the connection between joy and love is unmistakable. Here are Jesus’ words from John 15. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
So, I conclude, obedience leads to fullness of joy or contagious joy, and fullness of joy leads to greater love for each other. If you and I are able to genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice, our love for them will deepen.
The final EFFECT of contagious joy is,
It Inspires Confidence
Notice the closing verse of our text. “Therefore, I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.” The bulk of this chapter, from verses six through sixteen, expresses Paul’s joy in the obedience of the Corinthian Believers. That joy gave him the confidence that they would continue to grow in their faith and love.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wrote, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…”
The apostle John must’ve had this same confidence because he wrote in his third epistle, verses 2 to 4, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.” Again, we see the connection between truth, obedience, and joy.
Contagious joy inspires confidence, confidence in God, and confidence in other people. That’s because contagious joy can only be experienced by those who know Jesus! Unbelievers can experience happiness, but not contagious joy because they don’t know the source of truth or joy. They haven’t experienced the joy of sins forgiven, the joy of being adopted into God’s family, or the joy of obedience to God’s commands.
The Believers in Corinth, in spite of their spiritual immaturity, were God’s children. When they repented of their self-centeredness and their casual acceptance of sin in their midst, they experienced genuine, God-honoring, contagious joy. You and I can have that same joy – today.
Here one more time is the effects of contagious joy. It invigorates the spirit. So, let’s not be hesitant to share our joy.
Contagious joy also increases love among Believers. If you and I are able to genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice, our love for them will deepen.
And finally, contagious joy inspires confidence in both God and His people as He completes His work of grace in them. Are you experiencing the effects of contagious joy in your life? If not, why not?