A Song of degrees of David.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It 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;
As 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” (Psalm 133).
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
As I am bringing you a message from the Scriptures, and not providing the eulogy for Mike, which you heard earlier, my emphasis will be of course different. But I did want to speak personally for just a moment. The reason I want to speak to the issue of Christian unity today is because of how fully Mike Lawyer embodied that particular grace and virtue. In the almost fifty years that we were friends, I cannot recall any time when we collided, or clashed, or had a quarrel. He was as loyal and as steady and as even-keeled as it is possible for a man to be. Together with his wife Eileen, also with the Lord now, and daughter Rachel, the Lawyers modeled Christian grace and charity.
Now that he is enjoying the perfect unity of the Church Triumphant, I hope that we, still fighting on as members of the Church Militant, might draw some encouragement from his example. The perfect unity he is partaking of now is a unity that he pursued and practiced in this life, and he did this for many years.
On this matter of the Church Triumphant and Church Militant, Herman Bavinck once said this:
“The church is therefore not an idea or an ideal, but a reality which is becoming something and will become something because it is already something. Thus it is that the church continues in constant change; it was being gathered from the beginning of the world, and it will be gathered until the end of the world. Daily there depart from it some who have fought the fight, kept the faith, earned the crown of righteousness, and who constitute the church triumphant, the church of the firstborn and the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:23). And daily new members are added to the church on earth, to the militant church here below; they are born in the church itself or are brought in by the work of missions. These two parts of the church belong together. They are the vanguard and rearguard of the great army of Christ.”
Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God, pp. 502-503
Those who sleep in the Lord, like Mike, are part of this advance guard. They are not being taken away from us, but rather they are going on before us. Our unity with them, cultivated in this life, is in no way diminished by their promotion. How could it be?
We believe in the communion of saints, and this unity with the cloud of witnesses who have finished their portion of this great relay race is a unity that should encourage us greatly. But it should not encourage us to maintain our unity with all the perfected saints in Heaven while ignoring our disunity with imperfect saints down here.
If we are sinfully at odds with fellow believers here, that problem will be overcome by death. This is God’s kindness and grace. But if we are enjoying the blessing that David called the “good and pleasant” reality of dwelling together in unity, here in this life, then death will only amplify what we have been partaking of already.
The body of Christ is not a disparate collection of autonomous individuals. We are, according to Paul, members of one another, the way the hand, and the eye, and the ear, and the liver, are all members of one another. That organic union is not severed by death—we do not have two bodies of Christ, one in Heaven and one here. Rather, there is one mystical body, and Christ is the Head of that mystical body.
It is the sovereign good purpose of God to grow and develop that unity slowly, methodically, inexorably, over time.
“And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” ().
Colossians 2:19 (KJV)
Every Christian funeral is therefore a mile marker. We are all getting closer to that day when we will all arrive at that perfect man that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians.
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:13 (KJV)
This is a unity not yet fully attained, but every day thousands more pour into the perfected portion of the body. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Ps. 116:15). We rejoice, of course, at the births of new little ones, but we do this knowing that they shall all, like us, live forever. That means that after this life, they, like us, will cross over Jordan and into the ultimate valley of Eschol. With our eyes on that prize, we should adjust the way we live now.
If we understand this future unity, then we should all strive together to do what Paul urges at the beginning of that same chapter, Ephesians 4. There is a unity that all true Christians already have, and we are commanded not to disrupt it. We are to keep or preserve it.
“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:3 (KJV)
The things that would constitute such a disruption would be various sins—envy, complaining, grumbling, striving, holding grudges, and so on. We don’t need to wait for the resurrection of the dead to turn away from such things. If there was a centerpiece to Mike’s philosophy of counseling it was this. Deal with such disruptions, straight up. Confess your sins. Keep short accounts. Never let clutter accumulate. He taught this to many people, and he certainly practiced it.
This is a Christian memorial service. So let us not just remember Mike’s life generically. Let us remember his example of steady unity and loyalty. At Joppa, when that good woman Tabitha died, we are told that she had been “full of good works” (Acts 9:36). Look to the life, certainly, but also, look to the example.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.