The Great Prayer Part 2

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The Great Prayer Part 2: Unified for the sake of the gospel
Cities: We’ve all seen a play or movie, or read a book, about the small town kid who dreams of going to the big city. One of the reasons that someone desires the city so much is certainly that there is diversity there, and for a young person who ay have grown up in a small town where nearly everyone thinks the same, looks the same, and as the same prejudices and stereo types, the city holds attractions because there they see the melting pot, where people of all different nationalities, and religions, and Ethnicity live together in this wonderful unity.
So often young people are drawn to this. Perhaps they feel their family and small town is full of intolerance towards other types of people, or they just long for a little more variety in the types of people they see. So they go to the big city, where everyone gets along, only to get there and find out that it is sometime an artificial unity, or that while people in big cities may cast aside differences of skin color and Ethnicity, they do not tolerate differences in ideas, or people who think differently.
I think that people, on some level, always desire to have unity with other people, and they really want to come together, but for various reasons of pride, or fear, or whatever, they are never fully able to do so. In fact, it is impossible to come together in true unity unless God is among those who seek the unity. One writer said, “the world’s attempts to come together without God are always at the expense of human life”. And it is true. Attempted unity without God leads to just what we see in nearly every large city today: Intolerance of ideas that are opposed to the group, attempts to justify bad behavior using the excuse of tolerance, support for abortion for the innocent unborn while opposing the death penalty for the guilty. And so on. If you live in a big city and don’t think like the group, you learn to keep your mouth closed because the ones who say they are tolerant have very little tolerance for those who disagree.
If you disagree with changing the definition of marriage, you are a homophobe. If you think Christian values are superior to some other religion’s values, you are a bigot, if you believe that people should be hired and promoted based upon their talents and abilities and experience rather than their race some say you are sexist, or racist, or just unfair. And so on. Throughout human history, people have been drawn to the bigger cities, where they imagine that there, since so many different types of people live together, things must be really good there because how else could they live together if there were not mutual respect and dignity, and everything must be really great. And throughout history, those idealistic people have gotten to the big city only to find disappointment, or to find themselves sucked into a forced conformity, rather than the broad acceptance they were looking for.
The world’s attempts to come together without God are always at the expense of human life.
In his last recorded prayer before being arrested, Jesus was especially concerned with unity. He prayed for us, the church, that we would have unity. You see, the unity that people seek in the city, the ideal they long for, can only be achieved in the church. Outside of a single, highest ideal that unites, people can not be truly unified. Lower ideals may unite for a while. You may unite with other fans of your favorite team, for a time. You may unite with people whose politics agree, for a time. But the one thing that can unite people of all different demographics is mutual faith in Jesus, which puts us each in a family together. And Jesus prayed for that unity, and he specifically stated that the unity of the church would provide evidence to the world of the truth of the gospel.
John 17:20–26 ESV
“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. 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. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 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.”
John 17:20 ESV
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
Earlier Jesus had prayed specifically for the apostles. He had prayed for them to have spiritual protection and strength, he had prayed for their witness, now his prayer moves to those who would believe because of the witness of the apostles. That means Jesus is now praying for all believers, this is a prayer that is sent forward through history from Jesus, and a prayer that includes believers today.
John 17:21 ESV
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.
Jesus is concerned for unity among the believers. “That they may all be one”. Jesus was not saying that believers had to have all the same hobbies, or the same ideas, or the same anything. He is not praying for uniformity but for unity. The beauty of the unity that can be found in the church is that it is a unity that cuts across many other things that divide people normally. We have had the privilege of seeing this at general Council, where our denomination comes together every 2 years, and there you find Christians from all parts of this country, as well as from other places in the world.
You find that there are people from the cities and people from farms, people who speak many different languages, people who homeschool and people who use the public schools, people who come from wealth and people who come from poverty. People who grew up in a Christian home from birth and those who were saved in adulthood. There are a lot of different kinds of people there. But there is one thing that unites us, and that is Jesus Christ. And that is the only way you would ever find the kind of unity among such a diverse group of people.
Jesus prays that we would all be one, just as the Father and Jesus are one. This is perfection. Jesus is praying for us to have perfection in our unity.
1 John 1:1–3 ESV
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We Have Seen it! John writes that they have seen Jesus, looked at him, touched him, and now they testify to it. And why testify to it? That you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. John says they, the apostles, proclaim it to you, to that you too may have fellowship with us. In a sense, John is saying unless you do know Christ as we do, you do not have fellowship with us, but when you have believed in him for yourself, we will have true fellowship. In the church should be the truest form of fellowship. We are united in Christ, even if we are not united in every way of thinking we have.
1 John 5:20 ESV
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Our unity with each other in the body of Christ can only come if we are each individually united to Christ. For all the striving, through seminars, and books, and classes, that are done to try and help church folks get along, the number way we can learn to get along is to each of us individually first put our relationship with Jesus Christ at the first priority in our lives. If we focus on him, and becoming like him, and uniting ourselves to him in obedience to His word, if we take this personally and work out our own faith with fear and trembling, than we will be less focused on trying to figure out what is wrong with everyone else and work on perfecting ourselves in Christ, work on responding to others as he would, speaking as he would, answering as he would, loving as he would, forgiving like he would.
If we want unity in the church, it does not start with individuals in the church trying to get along, it starts with individuals aligning themselves with Christ, so that, if we are aligned with Him, then as he is in the Father and the Father is in Him, we also would be in Him, and if we are united with Him, we will share his love and concern for all believers.
So Jesus wants this perfect unity to be among us, for us to pursue that kind of unity, and here he gives a reason: “So that the world may believe that you have sent me”. Thomas Manton said that divisions in the church breed atheism in the world, and here Jesus says the corollary, that unity in the church will be helpful to those outside the church when it comes to believing in who Jesus is.
The unity in the church should be so clear, and so evident, that the world takes notice and will consider that they can put some stock in the gospel, because here they should see the unity that the world cannot achieve. No big city has perfect unity, or anything even close. Human ideals that lead people to believe in the city because it promises fairness to everyone should pale in comparison to the unity that should naturally be found in the church.
In the church, this unity must mean true love and concern, not pride and seeking authority or power over others. Not lording over one another but becoming a servant to them. This is not easy, but it is what Christ modeled. He said to be great in his kingdom was to become like a child.
In the church, we should have such unity that no one ever would fear walking in and being judged. And sadly, this is not always the case. How may people avoid church because they missed last Sunday and if they come this Sunday they expect to be harassed about it, not in a loving concerned way, but in an accusing way. How many people avoid church because they have committed a sin, but instead of feeling the church to be the safest place to come, where love abounds, and covers for a multitude of sins, they stay away because they expect to be shamed.
How many people avoid the church because they don’t yet understand all the teachings, and are afraid to be criticized for their lack of understanding, when instead they ought to feel encouraged to keep learning and moving forward.
If the people in Christ’s church are his sheep, then why do some of those sheep fear coming to the place that should be the safest place for them in the world? Why do they fear that there may danger in the church? They should expect it outside the church, not inside it. The Puritan Thomas Brookes said, “For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, the is unnatural and monstrous”.
Many parents have noted their child faking an illness to avoid school, where they are so anxious about how someone is going to mistreat them that they do not even want to get out of bed. Some people as adults experience the same anxiety in going to work. It is no wonder that this should be the case in the world, but God forbid this be the case in the church!
Pastor Gary Wileman, who was my pastor when I was in bible college, often said that the most painful bites are not those from the unsaved, but the most painful bites are sheep bites, and he would caution that we don’t allow sheep bites to become infected.
If you have ever felt uneasy about coming to church because you have experienced the pain of having someone who is supposed to be a fellow sheep bite and snarl at you, or exclude you, then I sincerely apologize to you; whether it was here or at any other church, it should not have happened. And I suspect it may have happened to some of you; it has happened to me. I also have experienced that sick feeling of wondering when the next sarcastic or judgmental words are going to come. I know how it can paralyze and cause anxiety. While I can’t take responsibility for every individual, I can apologize on behalf of the body of Christ, because our Lord would not have condoned that.
If you are one of the ones who tends to point out to others how they missed the last service, or have tried to usurp the job of God’s Word and his Holy Spirit that convicts people of their sin, and have taken it upon yourself to try and be Jiminy Cricket, the conscious of the congregation, then for the Lord’s sake, consider what He prayed, that our unity would be like the unity between God the Father and God the son. Loving, united, and bound together by our common faith, and rather than being someone that others fear, be the one with perfect love that casts out fear.
And if we can be unified like that, Jesus says, the world may believe that Jesus was sent by the Father. Moving on to verse 22:
John 17:22 ESV
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
Jesus gives his glory to us. That glory is found in our unity. A church without unity will not have much glory, and a church whose unity is not based upon Christ will not have much glory. But a church that unifies in Christ will have His glory.
John 17:23 ESV
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.
Are you seeing how important this is to Jesus? Unity again, he has now mentioned 3 times in these few verses the unity of the church. Unified with him, unified with each other because we are in him, and unified perfectly, and once again he links this to the witness of the church. Our unity is a verification of the gospel being true. This is why when a church split happens, or people hear about fighting in the church, or they hear Christians gossiping about each other, they will not be as likely to believe the truth about Jesus.
One reason scripture warns about gossip again and again is that it often involves untruths, and James writes:
James 4:11 ESV
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
James 3:13 ESV
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
Gossip has no place in the church, because it disrupts unity, and judging other believers and speaking evil against other believers, James says is speaking evil of the law and judging the law. So church should be a place where people feel free that they aren’t going to be constantly judged.
Now, if a public and egregious sin is observed among the church, we have scriptural ways to deal with that in a loving way, in order to bring a brother or sister back to where they need to be. However, this does not involve harsh language, or sarcasm, or shaming people. Instead, by showing someone love and mercy, and letting God’s word and God’s Holy Spirit do the difficult work of bringing someone to repentance, we have the opportunity to be part of his redeeming work. Our job is not to convict people of sin and convince them of truth, that is the job of the Holy Spirit; but our job is to show the love of Christ and His word. And as we teach his word, we can trust the Holy Spirit, who superintended the transmission of the Word of God will also do the work of convicting people of their sin and convincing them of the truth of the gospel.
John 17:24 ESV
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.
Jesus prays that we will be with him, and see his glory. Jesus looks forward to the day when we will finally be perfected and united with him.
John 17:25–26 ESV
O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 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.”
In 7 verses, Jesus has specifically mentioned unity 4-5 times, depending on how you count them. He wants the church unified in Him, just as He is united with the Father, and our witness to the world, while it is primarily witnessing to the gospel, is helped greatly when we live out that gospel in our local church body.
As we go into our 40 days of prayer, it is important that we consider what was important to Jesus when it came to prayer. Consider other biblical figures and what they prayed about.
But today, we have seen something that should greatly challenge us when it comes to our prayers. It should challenge us because Jesus prayed for unity in the church, and so we ought to as well. But it also should encourage us. You see, we can know something for certain. That Jesus was sure his prayer would be answered. We see his confidence in his prayers being answered when he stands outside the tomb of his friend, Lazarus.
John 11:41–42 ESV
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus is thankful the Father hears him, and he knows that the Father always hears him. If Jesus knows his prayers are always heard, then if we pray for what Jesus prayed for, then we too can be sure our prayers will be heard, because whenever we align ourselves with the will of Jesus, then he will answer our prayers. Since Jesus prayed that the church would have unity, we know this prayer will be answered. You may say, it doesn’t look that way! But it will. When He has completed his kingdom work, all of his will have perfect unity. In the meantime, we have to do more than just pray. We have to take action.
Last week, I mentioned that Jesus not only prayed this prayer, the next thing he did was be arrested and end up on the cross. He didn’t just pray that the Father’s will be done, He took action, and so we must take action as well. What is interfering with the unity in your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Has someone offended you, or hurt you? I dare you to pray a blessing on them. I dare you. See what happens. even if they never change, your heart and attitude towards them will change.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus commanded this of his followers:
Matthew 5:43–48 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Well, if we are to pray for those who persecuted us, I ask you, has someone in the church persecuted you, or mistreated you? Pray for them, I dare you!
1 Peter 3:8–9 ESV
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
You see, I am joking only a little when I say I dare you to do this. Pray for the ones who persecute you, bless those who do evil to you. Is it ok for e to dare you to do it? Well, it is a command of scripture that we do these things. So really, I should not need to dare you to try it, you should be wanting to be living in obedience to Christ, and so anything I challenge you with is only that you show your love for Jesus by keeping his commands, since that is the standard our Lord himself gave us. If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
So pray for others, and even those who have hurt your feelings, or otherwise offended you. Pray for them. Now, I want to slip a comment in here. If you are dealing with real abuse, whether physical abuse, or emotional abuse, you still should pray for your abuser. Do not confuse what I am saying here. I am not saying you must continue to put yourself in the way of an abusive person. Jesus himself walked away from abusive people many times. Paul snuck out of town to avoid his abusers, even being lowered out of a window in a basket. Pray for your abusers, but also get out of their path if you need to. If you have tried reconciliation with someone who is clearly bent on remaining in the sin they are in, you need to protect yourself from that abuse. But still pray for the abuser. The Lord will set you free when you pray for people who have hurt you.
Jesus prayed for unity in the church, so we ought to as well. Pray for those who have let you down. Pray for those who have hurt you. Pray for those you are having a hard time looking at. Pray the ones you avoid eye contact with because something is between you. Pray, pray, pray. Pray, but also do the work required of you. After you have prayed, you may find it easier to forgive. After you pray, you may decide that whatever you were angry about was sort of silly anyway. After you pray, you may find it easier to approach your brother or sister in Christ so that your relationship can be reconciled.
2 Corinthians 5:17–20 ESV
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Pray for others, seek reconciliation, pray for unity in the church. It was the desire and prayer of Christ; It must be ours as well.
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