Jesus Prays For His Church
Scripture: John 17:20–26
Jesus Prays For His ChurchJohn 17:20-26
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
The German philosopher Schopenhauer compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter's night. He said, "The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth's winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness."
As humans we have been created with the need for companionship. I am always fascinated how Adam, when He enjoyed sinless fellowship with His Creator, still had a desire for one of his own kind (Gen. 2:20). God has created institutions such as marriage and family and church to meet these needs for human intimacy and belonging.
However, it often seems the closer these relationships grow, the outcome is not harmony, but rather like the porcupines, friction. Why are most cases of violence, domestic violence? Why is a husband or wife often more considerate to a stranger than they are to their own spouse? Why do nearly half the marriages in America end in divorce? Why do many believers backbite their fellow Christians? Why are children's greatest adversaries often their own siblings? Why are children most often abused by their own parents? Why are many adults reluctant to spend time with family members? Why is their so much division in government when we claim to be the United States under one Constitution? Why is it that those who we love the most are often those who we hurt the most?
Jesus was well aware of our need for intimate human companionship, and He was also well aware of the challenges and "sharp quills" we face in the process. So in His final prayer to the Father, just hours before He would be suspended on the cross, Jesus prayed for the unity of His church. Second only to the concern for His glory was this longing that His disciples would be united. He knew how much supernatural help we as sinners need in this area. He also knew how a disunified church would fail to bring Him the glory He so much desires.
Jesus begins the closing seven verses of this prayer with a directive. After praying for Himself and His current disciples in verses 1-19, verse 20 reads, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." This prayer uttered nearly 2,000 years ago went out to all who will put their faith in the Apostle's message, namely the gospel. This prayer transcends time and finds itself made on your individual behalf and landing on your lap if you are in Christ Jesus this morning. The immediate concern, as I mentioned earlier is unity, and Jesus wants you, with the help of the Holy Spirit to play your role whereby His church may be one as He is one with the Father.
This morning we'll conclude this awesome prayer primarily focusing on the crucial petition and command to be unified as a church.
1. WHAT IS THE COMMAND?
Let's begin with the first point, "What is the Command?" Clearly, the command is for church unity. End of verse 11, "That they may be one." Beginning of verse 21, "That they may be one." Middle of verse 22, "That they may be one." Middle of verse 23, "Perfected in unity."
Unity is a clear command in the Bible, but Christians have so much difficulty staying unified despite all that we have in common. Did you hear the one about the man they found stranded alone on a deserted Pacific Island for years? One day a boat came sailing into view, and the man frantically waved his arms and caught the skipper's attention. The sailor got out and greeted the stranded man. After a while the sailor couldn't help but notice three huts the man had built. "What are those three huts you have over there?" asked the sailor. The man replied, "Well, that's my house in the middle." "What's about the hut on the left?" asked the sailor. "I built that hut to be my church." "What about the other hut?" "Oh," replied the man, "That's where I used to go to church."
We need work in this area so permit me to make some remarks regarding the nature of this command for unity.
First of all, our unity is not uniformity. Jesus is not praying that we all look alike, act alike and think alike. Who would want to be part of a church like that! Jesus is not praying for Christian clones!
Rather, our Savior knows that we all come from different backgrounds, hold different convictions and possess different gifts and talents. Using the biblical imagery, we are all diverse members. However, we are diverse members of one unified body, His body. Uniformity does not glorify the Lord as much as His ability to take individuals who transcend age, gender and ethnicity and unite them in His church under the blood of the cross (Eph. 2:11f). Apart from our faith in Christ, most of us would find no reason for association. However, the church is unlike any gathering of people. For only a supernatural power can weave such diversity into perfect unity.
Second, we are not to be unified based on our personal convictions that flow from Christian liberty. We are not unified on whether or not our children to trick-or-treat or whether or not we go to see a movie or whether or not we wear formal clothing to church or whether or not we go to the beach or whether or not we own a television or whether or not we agree on how to school our children or whether or not we have a glass of wine with our dinner. Every church has individuals who try to elevate these preferences to a standard of law and they bring a deadly disunifying force to the church as they breed legalism and judgmentalism.
The same comments also apply for the minutia of doctrine. Great men of the faith have debated non-salvific issues throughout the centuries. Who are we to think we have it all figured out and raise these issues to a code of Christian acceptance? Am I to break fellowship with another Christian because we differ on acceptable activities during the Lord's Day or the timing of our Savior's return? If unity were based on personal conviction and total agreement in all theological matters, I would find myself worshipping alone every Sunday morning in my closet, enjoying fellowship with some dirty clothes and worn out gym shoes!
Believe as I believe, no more no less
That I am right and no one else, confess;
Feel as I feel, think as I think,
Eat as I eat and drink as I drink;
Look as I look, do as I do
Then I'll have fellowship with you
(Flynn, Leslie. Great Church Flights)
So what is the basis of our unity? To a lesser degree (though important), our unity is based on our doctrinal statement, clear principles outlined in the Scriptures. To a greater degree, our unity is based on the gospel. Jesus, in the context of unity, said in verse 20, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." According to the end of verse 20, our unity is based upon the correct means-biblical belief, the correct object- Christ, and the correct information- Christ's word delivered once for all time through the Apostles. Ephesians 2:20 says, "(The church is) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone."
As a matter of fact, Jesus prays in verse 22 that the glory we receive by placing our faith in this gospel (cf. Rom. 8:30) might be the God-given means for our unity. "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one." We are saved unto unity and that gospel which saves is the primary glue for our unity. Overall, the true church now as well as our relation to the true church throughout the centuries remains unified so long as we stay loyal to the gospel first delivered through the Apostles.
Listen to how some notable pastors articulated this topic of church unity. Charles Swindoll said, "Union has an affiliation with others but no common bond that makes them one in heart. Uniformity has everyone looking and thinking alike. Unanimity is complete agreement across the board. Unity, however, refers to a oneness of heart, a similarity of purpose, and an agreement on major points of doctrine" (Swindoll, Hope Again). Consider the great puritan pastor, Richard Baxter who so often said, "In fundamentals unity, in non-fundamentals liberty, in all things charity" (Originally said by Philip Melanchthon).
2. WHAT ARE THE REASONS?
Point 2. Lest we assume we as Christians can be indifferent to our unity, Jesus in His prayer, provided two reasons why our unity is essential.
First of all, verse 21 says the purpose of our unity is "so that the world may believe that You sent Me." Carefully notice that Jesus did not say "so that the world may believe in Me." Our unity in itself, as beautiful as it may be, will not save anybody. God only enables people to believe in Christ through our proclamation of the gospel. However, when the world observes our unity as Christians they will be amazed. They will attribute it to the power of the Christ we follow and conclude that He truly was an ambassador sent from God. Such will be the only explanation of our compelling unity. And our unity will be an evangelistic jewel as the world observes something it has only dreamed of. But with all the division the world experiences, why would they ever want to be part of an institution with more division? Yet through our unity the world will see a glorious and compelling and verifying demonstration of God's power and grace through Jesus and it will be attractive!
The great apologist, Francis Schaeffer, once said, "In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here (in John 17:21) Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe the Father sent the Son, that Jesus' claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians."
Jesus repeats this same purpose for our unity in verse 23, "so that the world may know that You sent Me," but then adds a second purpose by saying, "and loved them, even as You have loved Me." So our unity is vital to show the world that Jesus was sent by the Father, but our unity is also important to show the world that Christians are loved by the Father even as the Father loves Jesus.
Maybe we need to pause for a moment and digest that last statement before we move on. Did you hear what I read? To the same degree that the God the Father loves God the Son, God the Father loves you. That means tender love, extravagant love, unchanging love and eternal love. How wonderful it is to be a Christian! Yes, you may be hated by the world (verse 14), but don't ever forget that you are loved by God.
Now, how does God's love for us lead to our (observable by the world) unity? I believe the answer is fairly simple. When we really experience God's love, when we feast upon it and allow ourselves to be filled with it, such divine love will naturally flow out of us to others. And a loving environment is always a unified environment.
1 Corinthians 13 informs us that love is the essence to unity. "Love is patient" (verse 4). "Love is kind" (verse 4). "(Love) does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered" (verse 5). "(Love) rejoices with the truth" (verse 6). "(Love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (verse 7). Love was Paul's remedy for this divided church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10). Love is the essence of unity.
You see, a lack of love toward others horizontally is always an indication that one has not tasted God's love vertically. Such unloving people will not contribute to the unity of the church and will in turn hinder Christ's attractiveness to the world. Divisions in the church always breed atheism in the world (Thomas Manton). These are the people who criticize the church, her leaders or her people in the presence of unbelievers. They will obstruct Christ's quest for glory in their life and also in the church they are polluting.
3. WHAT IS THE STANDARD?
Let's move to the third point, now that we have understood the need for unity and the purpose for unity, we need to establish the standard of our unity. Every organization of individuals from the Rotary Club to an athletic team tries to establish unity. I was reading this week how the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI denied individual introductions, but entered the field as a team to express their solidarity. However, the church has the highest standard. Her standard is none other than the unity displayed within the Trinity. The beginning of verse 21, "That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us." The end of verse 22, "That they may be one, just as We are one." The beginning of verse 23, "I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity." I hope you can feel the weight of this expectation. Our unity in the church is to parallel the unity that exists within the Godhead!
What we are talking about here is a reality of oneness. In 10:30 Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." They are different in role and function. Along with the Holy Spirit they maintain their individual identity, but they are one is essence, love and purpose. In the same way, husbands and wives, though distinct, are to be one flesh (Gen. 2:24). Christians, though distinct are to be one body (1 Cor. 12:12). The oneness shared within the Holy Trinity is to be the oneness we share with Christ is to be the oneness we share with each other.
Many of the metaphors for the church bear the reality of this oneness. As Christians we are: Children of one family with one Father (Jn. 20:17). Disciples of one school with one Teacher (Jn. 13:13-35), sheep in one flock with one Shepherd (Jn. 10:16), members of one body with one Head (Eph. 4:15) and stones of one building with one Foundation (1 Pet. 2:13; 1 Cor. 3:11-12).
4. WHAT ARE THE MEANS?
Lastly, as we move to the final point, what are the means to this unity? Now that we have covered the divine need to be unified, allow me to provide some practical insights that can help you as you seek to contribute to a unified church. Interestingly enough, they come in the conclusion to Christ's prayer in verses 24-26.
First, the beginning of verse 24, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am." Christ desires to spend eternity with every Christian. Do you desire to spend eternity with every Christian? Maybe we should pause a moment to allow the Holy Spirit to scroll a few faces through your thoughts. There will be no divisions in heaven. May we start with no divisions in His church. In light of being together for eternity, it would be nice to start getting along right now! We need to stay focused on our mission. We are not to wage war against each other, but rather against the "spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). Too many in today's church are dying from friendly fire. We need to stick together as we are stronger when we are bound together. Someone once said, "Snowflakes are frail, but if enough of them get together they can stop traffic."
Second, the ending of verse 24 provides the reason Christ wants Christians with Him forever. Jesus prayed, "So that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." We must remember that the Christian life is not about us. We have been crucified with Christ so the "we" who live may no longer live for ourselves but for Him (Gal. 2:20) as we behold His glory, love His glory and reflect His glory to a lost world. Christ prayed that His glory would be before us forever in heaven. May His glory be before us while we are on the earth (2 Cor. 3:18). For a church that pursues the glory of Christ will always be a unified church.
Third, verse 25 Jesus prayed, "O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me." Think specifically about Christ's address" "Righteous Father. God is righteous in His condemnation of the world and God is righteous in His salvation of the church. The world will see that righteousness when they stand before a "Consuming Fire" (Heb. 12:29). However, believers saw that righteousness poured out on Jesus Christ at Calvary on their behalf. Believers will stand before the One they know as "Father." Since God is righteous and just, should we not leave all judgment to Him? A unified church does not judge its members. And since God is our Father, should we not be one big happy united family? Many of you refer to this church as the "Grace Tabernacle Family." I love the sound of that!
Fourth, verse 26, Jesus said, "And I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." As I mentioned earlier, the love of the Father through the Son dwells in us. Is the love of God in us so it can be among us here at the Grace Tabernacle? Have you tasted God's compassion, then be compassionate! Have you tasted God's mercy, then be merciful! Have you tasted God's patience, then be patient! Have you tasted God's forgiveness, then be forgiving! Is our love for each other making the name of the Father known as Christ in His love makes the name of the Father known to us?
Just like the oneness we are to enjoy in marriage, the oneness we enjoy in the church takes work. We all have responsibilities and a part to play in the process. However our greatest responsibility is to draw ever closer to God. You see, it's like a triangle with God on the top. The more we draw closer to God moving up the sides of the triangle, the closer we will be to each other.
Our unity will only happen as we individually look to God and abide in Christ. A. W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God put it well. "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified" (Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p. 97).
Father may you do whatever it takes to unify your church so that we adorn the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ for a lost world. May we realize that this prayer from Jesus was and is specifically uttered for us today. May we each individually play our part to contribute to the unity of the whole. May we be about the things that promote unity. May we examine ourselves. May we look to ourselves to remove the plank before we seek to remove the speck from another. May we be engaged in love and humility. May we be involved in church ministry. May we be participating in regular fellowship and hospitality. May we keep our mission in mind and be bound together with and for the gospel. Help us from getting sidetracked on the minutia of doctrine and preferential issues. Help us to deny ourselves and consider another more worthy. Help us to be about the one-anotherings of prayer, encouragement and understanding. Help us to restore fallen relationships before the sun sets. Most of all, help us to continually look to You and abide in Christ whereby our unity might mirror that unity demonstrated within the Trinity. Righteous Father, we long for the day when your church will be eternally perfected in unity in heaven. May we strive for that unity now as we exist in the world, but not of the world. May you answer this prayer because it is in line with the prayer of your Son, according to your will and for Your glory. In Jesus name, Amen