Pursuing the Unity of the Gospel: Part One

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Part One:

True Unity Has a FOCUSED Nature

One night while I was praying for my kids, one of them asked why we don't pray for all the other kids they knew.  The answer was simple, yet somewhat revolutionary to them, especially in light of the way we are unwittingly trained to think by our culture.

I told them that we don't purposefully choose to not pray for all the other children they know.  It just wasn't natural to pray for them simply because they weren't my children.  It made sense.  Yet in a certain strange way it cut across the grain of the way our culture has taught them to think.

My children belong to me.  They are my children.  God gave them to me.  They are my primary responsibility, out of all the children in the world.  They are the focus of my provision, protection, and play-time.  They are special, set apart from all the other children in the world simply because they are mine.

Now I want you to notice the focus of Jesus’ prayer.  While the primary topic is undoubtedly unity, the only group of people for whom He prays for this unity is...His people.  Jesus feels about His children the way I feel about mine.  Out of all the people in the world, Jesus cares for His people above all.  Look with me at the references in the text.

•  V. 6 – “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.  Yours they were, and you gave them to me…”  It is this definite group of people to whom Jesus refers throughout the rest of His prayer.
•  V. 7 – “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you.”
•  V. 8 – “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them…and they have believed that you sent me.”
•  V. 9 – “I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”
•  V. 11 – “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
•  V. 12 – “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
•  V. 14 – “…these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
•  V. 15 – “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
•  V. 16 – “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
•  V. 17 – “Sanctify them in the truth…”
•  V. 18 – “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
•  V. 19 – “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
•  V. 20 – “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…”
•  V. 21 – “that they may all be one…that they also may be in us…”
•  V. 22 – “that they may be one even as we are one.”
•  V. 23 – “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
•  V. 24 – “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am…”
•  V. 25 – “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.”
•  V. 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.

So what is ultra clear from the outset then is that the focus of everything Jesus prays for – and I stress everything – is on “the people whom you gave me out of the world”, according to verse 6.  This “people” refers first to His disciples, and second to everyone else who believes in Him, as verse 20 says so clearly.

In any local church, one of the doctrines we should hold dear is particular redemption, which teaches that Jesus Christ laid down His life for the sheep.  The Bible teaches that He died for His church, for His people.  The intent of the atonement in the Bible seems to have a bullseye, and it is those who were elect or predestined before the foundation of the world.  

To be sure, the atonement, in my mind at least, is very much like a target.  Just as there is a bullseye with other circles around it, the atonement has a bullseye – the church of God – with other circles around it which are the ripple effects that were inherent in the design of the atonement.  

In the text here, Jesus says that the revelation of the Son of God has been given only to them.  They alone are the recipients of His words and the spiritual meaning intended by them.  They alone have believed in Jesus.  They are the reflections of His glory.  They are the ones whom the Father will keep to the end, with none being lost.  They are the ones who will be filled with the joy of the Father.  They are the ones who will be kept from the evil one.  They alone will be sanctified and consecrated. 

And what is more, they are clearly and undeniably contrasted over against the world in verses 9, 21, and 23.  The reason they are contrasted is because the Father has loved THEM just as He has loved Jesus.  God doesn’t love the world that way, and herein is the doctrinal distinction between the love God has for the world in John 3:16, and the love God doesn’t have for the world here in John 17. In John 3:16 His love for the world in general – all He created and everything in it – compelled Him to send His Son to die so that anyone in the world who believed could be saved from God’s coming judgment.  

This is a general love of God extending an invitation to special love.  In John 17 the Father’s love is specifically that special love, concentrated especially on “the people” He had chosen out of the world, according to verse 9.  The “love with which you have loved me” in verse 26, is a special love given only to that special people, and not to the rest of the world.

Now, my desire is not to get too deeply into this doctrine.  But I do raise it to emphasize the point that the atonement was not the only work Jesus did just for His people.  Here in John 17 it is self-evident that His intercessory work was also just for His people.  In fact, He makes it plain that He was NOT praying for the world, in verse 9.  I don’t know how it can be anymore plain than that.

I share this with you not to beat on some doctrinal drum of particular redemption, but to draw out the special love and emphasis that Jesus Himself places upon the group of people He prays for and came to die for.  He is pouring everything He has, is, and will be into these particular people, and not into the rest of the people in the world.  

And if Jesus is emphasizing that particular group of people who will be recipients of the answer to His prayers to the Father, they must be an especially important group of people.  They are especially important NOT because they are inherently important, in and of themselves.  Rather, they are especially important because the Father has loved them in a very, very special way, unlike the way He loves the rest of the world.

So then, the unity for which Jesus prays applies specifically and especially to “the people” the Father gave Jesus from out of the world, that is the elect, the church.  This means the focus is NOT only the rest of the world, because Jesus isn’t praying for the world.  And this in turn means that any idea of true unity as Jesus prays for it, at least, is has only Christians in view, and not the world.  

True unity, as Jesus prays for it, is focused on the saints.  Which means then that true unity can only happen among saints, and never among those of the world.  Why?  Because it is the love of the Father that creates this atmosphere of true unity.  And since only Christians have that special love of the Father, only Christians can enjoy true unity.

This prayer blows out of the water the theology of Unitarian Universalists.  You literally have to rip this chapter out of your Bible if you want to be of that denominational stripe.  In their theology everybody’s united together in God’s love and everybody’s gonna be saved by God in the end.  That’s a load of crap, when compared to Jesus’ prayer here.  And that theology is dangerous because when it groups everybody into their theological categories, nobody needs the atonement of Jesus, which means no one goes to heaven.  

So you have a group of people who are duped into a belief which will send them to hell, because they ignore the necessity of this special love of the Father.  Ignore the special love of the Father for a special group of people, and you ignore the special group of people.  Ignore the special group of people and you’re not part of them.  If you’re not part of them, you are part of the world.  

If you’re part of the world, Jesus doesn’t even pray for you!  I don’t know about you, but I want to be prayed for by King Jesus Himself, and that means I wanna be a part of the group He prays for, which means I wanna do whatever He commands to be a part of that group for which He prays.  It’s not rocket science, folks.

Now, if this unity is something that exists only among Christians, among the saints, among those who are truly a part of the church, why doesn’t it look like we’re all unified today?  There are many reasons for that, and I don’t have time to go into them all.  

Perhaps the biggest reason is that local churches may be filled with many people who truly don’t belong to God.  And as a result, they are a part of the world.  And as a result, they introduce and bring into the church all the worldly baggage they have so that the church may operate more according to the principles of this world than the principles of Jesus.  That’s one reason why.  That’s probably the biggest reason why, in my estimation.  That’s another sermon altogether.  

But suppose everyone who attends your church is converted, and suppose everyone in the Lutheran church down the road is converted.  Suppose we’re all part of that special people for whom Jesus prays for unity.  Why don’t we see the unity Jesus prayed for?  

Well, it’s possible, first of all, that we might be misunderstanding what kind of unity Jesus is referring to here.  You see, we hear "unity" and we immediately assume we know what Jesus means when HE uses the word.  We might be right in our assumption.  But we’re foolish if we don’t try to figure that out first before assuming.  After all you know what they say about assuming, don’t you?

That "unity" must not necessarily be the kind of unity our culture refers to.  In other words, several churches just getting together and doing things together is not necessarily unity.  It is not unity if the people in those fellowships are not, in fact, truly believers.  True believers gathering together for the mission is unity.  People from various churches gathering together is not necessarily unity.  If unity is based around salvation, then only saved people can be unified together.

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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