Relational Unity

June 2, 2009

Here is holy ground; here is the gate of heaven. No such prayer was ever heard before or since. It could only be uttered by the Lord and Savior of men, the mighty Intercessor and Mediator, standing between heaven and earth before his wondering disciples. Even he could pray it only once, in the most momentous crisis of history, in full view of the approaching sacrifice for the sins of the world, which occurred only once, though its effect vibrates through the ages. -B. W. Johnson, The Sunday School Helper

…it is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer recorded anywhere in scripture. John 17 is certainly the “holy of holies” of the gospel record, and we must approach this chapter in a spirit of humility and worship. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

The prayer of Jesus at the end of the the Last Supper is a priceless treasure for Christians. In it we learn what was most important to our Savior on the evening before he went to the cross. Necessarily, we also learn what must be most important to us as his disciples.

Jesus prayed asking that his Father protect the disciples so that they might be one. And he prayed for that oneness so that the world might believe the gospel of Jesus. The oneness of the disciples was of surpassing importance to Jesus on this momentous occasion, and therefore it must also be so for his followers.

So, what kind of oneness did Jesus have in mind?

The entire prayer centers around relationships. First, Jesus referred to the relationship he had with the Father before the world began. He defined eternal life as knowing the Father and his Son. He had come to reveal the Father to the disciples, and he had completed that work. He had lived with them and had protected them. Now he was leaving them, and he was concerned for their continued spiritual safety. He wanted them to share his joy. He wanted them to be set apart from the world, for a sanctified relationship with the Father. Indeed, the Lord’s prayer was all about relationships.

Then he spoke of those who would believe because of the apostles’ message. Jesus wanted us to be one, in the same way as the apostles, and in the same way as the Son and the Father. He has given us glory so that we can be one. That oneness would cause the world to believe. And it would show the world that the Father has loved his followers. It is all about relationship.

Jesus prayed that his followers could be with him. He wants us to share the experience of his glory — the glory that came through the relationship of love between the Father and the Son. He wants an eternal relationship of oneness.

Jesus knows the Father. He shared that with the disciples, and they came to know of the Father through Jesus. Jesus wants to continue showing us the Father so the Father’s love will be in us, and so Jesus himself will be in us.

Every phrase of Christ’s prayer was about relationships. He was praying for a relational unity among his followers — a unity that transcends whatever intellectual differences might appear among us.

It is a sad fact that Christians today are far from being “one.” In fact, the lack of oneness among Christians is a primary complaint leveled against Christianity by outsiders. We should not be surprised that this has been the result of our divisions. Jesus told us in advance that we must be one so that the world would believe. All men would know we are his disciples, if we would simply love one another. But our Christian predecessors throughout the ages have chosen to quarrel and divide rather than to hold onto the relational unity. Christians have disagreed on innumerable questions. When they disagreed, more often not they chose to divide, as if that were their only option. They did not find a way to rely on that relational oneness to hold them together.

Far too often, we just follow in the unfortunate footsteps of our forefathers.

The unity for which Jesus prayed is not all about technical points of doctrine. That doesn’t mean doctrine is unimportant. But it does mean we should not base our unity on detailed doctrinal agreement. Jesus said not one word in his prayer about the kinds of things that divide believers today: things like instrumental music (or a cappella music…), qualifications for elders, technical points about divorce and remarriage, kitchens, missionary societies, fund raising techniques, buildings, communion cups, or any other such thing. Those matters are not the basis of unity. Instead, we are called to be one because Jesus is one with his Father, and because the Father and the Son have reached out to save us in the most amazing manner. We are called to a relationship as brothers and sisters, since we have been adopted by the same Father.

We should admit that we might be wrong about disputed points. We are not as perfect as we imagine, doctrinally or otherwise. Our misplaced pride in our exegetical abilities has done immense damage to the church. Our unwarranted trust in our own hearts has blinded us to our own lack of objectivity. We’ve deceived ourselves, and in the process have snuffed out the belief of outsiders. The world does not believe, because we have not been one. That is a huge problem.

I have resolved to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

It’s time we stopped quarreling about all the things we’ve quarreled about in the past. It’s time we held our tongues rather than speaking evil of our brothers. May God help us to do so.

May we be brought to complete unity to let the world know that God sent Jesus and that God loves us even as He has loved his Son. Amen!

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