Pursuing the Unity of the Gospel: Introduction (Cont.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

John 17 represents the last recorded prayer we have of Jesus.  This chapter is often referred to as “The REAL Lord’s Prayer” and “The High Priestly Prayer.”  It’s significant then to see just what it is exactly that Jesus prays for as He prepares to meet His death, burial, and resurrection.

17:1 provides a basis for seeing the prayer of Jesus as a sort of conclusion or consummation on everything He had taught in the preceding chapters of the Upper Room Discourse, in chapters 13-16.  

It could also be seen as the prayer concluding His entire earthly ministry.  What this means is that everything He had told them before in the Upper Room, while eating the Passover together, finds its source in heaven:  

• The love they were to have for one another (13:34-35).
• The comfort they would need when Jesus left (14:1-14).
• The promise of the Holy Spirit (14:15-31; 15:26-16:14).
• The ability to continue abiding in and with Jesus (15:1-17).
• The perseverance needed to endure persecution (15:18-25).
• The joy that Jesus promised would fill them (16:16-24).
• The victory to overcome the world (16:25-33).

All of the things Jesus taught them about would come only from heaven.  It would come from asking the Father, a phrase or concept Jesus repeats over and over again throughout the discourse.  Then He ends His teaching by Himself asking the Father for something specific.  And what HE asks the Father for is the consummation or completion or fulfillment of everything else He just taught.  In other words, Jesus asks the Father for that one thing that will tie all those things together: 

the unity of His people.

I just can't say enough about the importance of this crucial issue.  It has always amazed me in my travels around the country and in various other countries how little attention this gets.  In fact, I hear almost no one talking about it.  And there's a reason for that.  Churches and Christians are, by and large, talking instead about all sorts of others issues...and they are issues that divide.  In other words, it seems they are constantly discussing and debating things they disagree on.  

Usually they are theological issues or philosophy issues.  And they have come to attach such deep emotional roots into those issues that they almost feel as if they would lose their identity were they to just be open to someone else's viewpoint...much less change their mind.  And this point right here is the most devious but effective tool of the enemy.  Satan knows that if he can get God's people focusing on the stuff they disagree about, and if he can lead them to disagree so much about "godly" stuff, then he has divided them.  And to divide them is to conquer them.  And to conquer them is to stop them from their mission, and mission which is centered directly on his kingdom and shutting it down and casting it out.

That is why Jesus talked so much about love.  Love dissolves most disagreements into things so insignificant that they don't damage or divide.  And unity is the atmosphere in which love works, in which comfort is given and received, in which the Holy Spirit’s presence is most felt, in which the ability to abide is made possible, in which the ability to persevere is made certain, in which the joy Jesus promised is most enjoyed, and in which the victory over the world is most celebrated.  Without unity, the disciples could have enjoyed none of this. Without unity, Christians today will not experience that love, churches will not stop splitting, and homes will not cease to dysfunction.

As I’ve studied this prayer of Jesus, and more particularly His prayer for the unity of His people, there were several traits about the nature of true unity that began to unfold to me.  This is the focus of this series.  I want to cast a clear vision of what it means to pursue the unity of the gospel.  

The gospel is the good news that God has provided a way of escape from His judgment and into His loving embrace through the complete forgiveness and cancellation of all our sins.  Everything that separated us from Him has been completely removed so that we are friends with God and He with us.  All of this happened through the death, burial, and resurrection of King Jesus.  

But included in this good news is equally the inherent proclamation that all of those who have been forgiven of their sins by God through the blood of Jesus are now as united to each other as they are to Him.  Whatever separated us from God is forgiven and gone, and whatever separated us from each other is also forgiven and gone.  

THAT is good news also because this world and almost every relationship in it since the history of the world has suffered some sort of conflict or fissure at one point in time or another.  And none of this is the intent of God when He created the world and humanity.  Peace was His goal, and He will, of course, achieve it yet just as He has promised throughout the Scriptures.  

So when we talk about pursuing the unity of the gospel what we mean is that we are pursuing one of the necessary outcomes, results, and even purposes of the gospel, which is to unify God’s people.  If we are reconciled to God, then we are reconciled to each other.  Making every effort possible to believe it, embrace it, love it, AND put it into action, no matter what the cost, is what it looks like to pursue the unity of the gospel.  I believe that this is what Jesus intends when He prays for this unity in John 17.  He put that effort into action, and it cost Him His life to accomplish it.  In like fashion, we are to put our effort into the action of unity, even if it costs us ours.

So let’s turn our attention to John 17 for a closer look at this unity that Jesus prays for.  And with that introduction let me read the text to you.  I’ll be reading it from the ESV and then from the NLT.

English Standard Version
New Living Translation
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 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. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
20 "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.  22 "I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.  23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!   25 "O righteous Father, the world doesn't know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me.  26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them."

Verses 21-23 contain the thoughts I want to focus on in this series.  Back in verse 11, Jesus prayed, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You.  Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”  So the appearance of this concept of being “one” appears four times in Jesus prayer, in verses 11, 21, 22, and 23.  Obviously the repeating of the theme makes it stand out to us as important.  In this context unity has a: focused nature, a heavenly nature, spiritual nature, visible nature, missional nature, and a progressive nature.

In the next post, we'll discover the focused nature of the unity of the gospel.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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