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A stone’s throw away from where our family lives, there is a scent-manufacturing facility that produces large quantities of fragrances and perfumes. On our way home, we often smell the potent and sweet scents wafting in our direction. In Psalm 133, David captures the aroma of God’s dwelling place, of being in the congregation of the faithful. He likens the communion of saints to the fragrant oil that cascaded down on Aaron. Poured out on the high priest’s head, the oil flowed down on the beard, and then down from his collar to the rest of his garments. This consecrated oil was a unique blend made by a chosen perfumer, and the Lord prohibited the concocting of this composition for any other purpose (Ex. 30:22–33). It was a one-of-a-kind recipe applied only to the furnishings of the tabernacle and the Levitical priests.

The “nowhere else to be found” oil, according to David, points to the exceptional peace that characterizes the gathered worshipers of the Lord. When we reflect on the relationship between the holy anointing oil of Exodus 30 and the unity of the people of God in Psalm 133, we are drawn to the conclusion that when it comes to the bonds between believers in Christ—brothers and sisters in the Lord in the church—there is nowhere else in human society where such peace can be found.

The Lord Jesus defines His disciples not only as recipients of His peace (John 14:27) but also as His “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). In other words, much as a doctor “practices” medicine or an attorney “practices” law, the vocation of Christians is to be practitioners of peace. The working out of this calling demonstrates that we have been in the school of the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) and that the shalom of His kingdom permeates and seasons our life together (see Col. 3:15). The heavenly fountainhead of this peace is none other than the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 14:17), meaning that such harmony is attained not by a grassroots movement in pooling our resources but by partaking of the grace and wisdom from above (see James 3:17).

How do believers today exercise the peacemaking to which we are called? First, we must be those who readily forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Our culture uses the nomenclature of progress and yet has produced experts in keeping records of misdeeds (digital and otherwise). How much advancement can genuinely be made when the weight of wrongs is never offloaded? But in the church, such a recipe for ongoing hostility should be foreign to us. Instead, we are in Christ to forgive, which involves burying the sins of others in the past and refusing to unearth them at any future point.

We are in Christ to forgive, which involves burying the sins of others in the past and refusing to unearth them at any future point.

Corrie ten Boom paints a lovely picture of this when she writes: “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. . . . I believe God then places a sign out there that says ‘No Fishing Allowed!’” Likewise, when we forgive, we commit ourselves not to hold the sins of others to their account. In a world full of recriminations and threats of retaliation, the church has a potent testimony to offer in walking together in “the fragrance of forgiveness.”

Second, we must grow in the skill of preferring one another in love (see Rom. 13:10). That is, we are to adjust ourselves for the good of our fellow brothers and sisters, willing if necessary to forgo our own individual rights for the peace of the body of Christ. This is another strikingly countercultural posture in a society that leads with the foot of asserting personal styles and promoting one’s individual “brand.” Paul’s reminder is pertinent and also perennial: “Love . . . does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:4–5). The goal is not mere coexistence (sharing the same space) but to be co-laborers and cooperators in the work of the kingdom, “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).

Martin Luther summarizes this principle in proverbial form: “The Christian is most free and servant of none. The Christian is most bound and servant of all.” Thus, when it comes to holding to the truth of the gospel, we are to be unyielding like a column of steel. But as it relates to serving our neighbor, we are to be flexible and accommodating, as Paul exemplifies in “becom[ing] all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22). Our liberty in Christ is not to be wielded as a club, that we might beat up the weaker brother (see Rom. 14:15). Nor is it to be used to create a club where some believers are “in” and others are “out” (see Col. 2:18). The highest expression of Christian freedom is to serve others in love (Gal. 5:13). Part of Christian charity is taking into account all the factors that exist in each person and personality (e.g., feelings, tastes, and temperaments) and acting accordingly.

Smell is one of the most difficult sensations to describe. Imagine that on a sunny spring day, you take a walk through a garden, smelling plumeria and wisteria, lily of the valley, gardenias, jasmine, and roses. You call your friend afterward and try to recount your experience. Though you do your best, it’s quite straining to convey the wealth of the surroundings. Finally you exclaim, “Come with me next week to experience this delight and joy for yourself!” In maintaining the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3), members of Christ’s body call and invite many to the church where God commands His blessing, “life forevermore” (Ps. 133:3).

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From the May 2024 Issue
May 2024 Issue