Toward the end of his account of the gospel, John records Jesus’ prayer for himself, for his followers, and for those of us who would follow them. This is part of the prayer that Jesus prayed for us:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23 ESV)
There are two important features of this prayer that I would like to discuss.
The first important feature concerns our unity. Notice that Jesus prayed that we (all) would be one just as he was one with the Father. Notice that when Jesus prayed for our unity, he used the word “one” to describe our relationships with one another. Jesus had previously used the word “one” to describe his relationship with the Father: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For making this statement, the Jews attempted to stone him. Why? They said, “… because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). The Jews understood the significance of Jesus being one with the Father. Do we understand the significance of believers being one with other believers?
Similarly, Jesus described our unity as follows: “Just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21). Just as Jesus was one with the Father and the Father was in Jesus, and just as the Father was one with Jesus and Jesus was in the Father, we are to be one (united) with one another by being in God – Father and Son. Father and Son are one by nature. Our unity comes from being united with God – by finding our commonality and common unity in God Himself, not by finding it in ourselves. Any loss of unity on our part comes from being “out of” (not in) God. Thus, a loss of unity drives us back to the Father through the Son by means of the Spirit, not back to one another. This unity comes through our relationship with God. Our relationships with one another demonstrates whether or not we are relating correctly with God.
Finally, on this first important feature of Jesus’ prayer, notice the sentence that begins in John 17:21 – “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…” What glory has Jesus given to us? Could it be the same glory that he mentioned when he began this prayer? (“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:5) This glory that God has given to Jesus – the glory Jesus had from the beginning – is now given to us for the purpose of unifying us, for the purpose of perfecting our unity. There has been much talk of glory… the glory of God and the glory of Christ. Here, Christ tells us that at least one reason for his glory is the unity of believers.
This unity is not trivial. It is not something to set against God’s holiness and purity. Holiness, purity, and unity go together, and they cannot be separated. Those who attempt to hold onto holiness while separating from other believers do not understand holiness. Those who attempt to remain pure while not living in unity with other believers are not pure. Those who seek unity apart from the person and character of God do not find unity, holiness, or purity. Jesus prayed for our unity and provided his glory to perfect our unity. If we are not maintaining this unity – by the power of the Spirit – then we are not living holy, pure, or united lives.
The second important feature of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 concerns the results of our unity. Notice that Jesus said certain things would result from our unity with one another. In verse 21 Jesus says that the result of our unity would be that the would would believe that God sent Jesus. In verse 23, Jesus repeats this result of our unity, then adds another: because of our unity which is being perfected, the world will know that God loves them (the world) just as God loves Jesus. It seems that the world should know much because of our unity with one another.
I think we should think about these results very carefully. Does the world know that God sent Jesus? Why or why not? Based on Jesus’ prayer, could our lack of unity play a part? Does the world know that God loves them? Why or why not? Based on Jesus’ prayer, could our lack of unity play a part?
It is easy to dismiss the world’s response. It is much harder to dismiss what Jesus actually prayed. Jesus prayed that we would be one – united – so that the world would know that God sent him and that God loves them. Does the world know these things? Are we united? So, do we still need to stress holiness and purity above unity?