If you have a Bible, please open it to the book of John, Chapter 17. Today, we advance in this Gospel and we take our first glimpse at the wonderful prayer Jesus offered on the last night of his life. It is my opinion that you can divide this prayer into three parts. First, you find Jesus praying for himself. It is what we call petition. v. 1-5. Second, he asks the father to bless his apostles. That’s what we would call intercession. It is found in v. 6-19. And finally, there’s the third part. It begins in v. 20 and goes to v. 24. It’s still intercession; but this time the object changes. He no longer prays for the apostles; he prays for you and me. What does he ask for us? Let us read in v. 20. “…” See, we are the ones he prays for since we are the ones who believe in Him through their words! Read through verse 23. You see, on the last evening of His life, Jesus was concerned for you and me. He was concerned for the Verviers Church of Christ, the Paris Church of Christ, the Conway Church of Christ. And so He took of his precious left-over minutes and He said, “Please Father, make them one. Help them to be united in me!” Don’t miss the importance of this! There are lots of things the Son of God could have been doing at this point. There are lots of goodbyes He could have made right then. I am sure the apostles could have used a few more explanations. But Jesus was right here, obviously, thinking a prayer for our unity was more important.
If this is true, what is going to be one of my primary goals in the church? Unity. We all ought to strive towards it – putting forth every effort to bring it about. A unity of the kind you find in families. A unity of the kind you find in a football game or in a battalion – where every member knows and feels they belong to the group. Where every member is linked by a fatherhood figure or a commitment. I don’t think Jesus, here, was talking about a unity where there would be no conflicts. He wants that, yes. He wants us to be like he and His dad, perfectly in unison. But he knows we are men. He knows we aren’t perfect. He knows it takes a whole lot of efforts and mistakes on our part. Look, there is a reason why he defines the Church as a family in the scriptures. All of you know what it’s like to be a family. All families are linked by a father or a mother. But all families have their struggles. Hopefully, when the problems come, this parental figure is enough to carry us over the hurdle. In the same way when turmoil comes in the Church, my commitment to God, my relationship with Him, ought to keep alive in my chest the desire to be one with you and you with me. But don’t take what I say as an excuse to keep discord in the body. Again, Jesus understands, but he wants so much more than that. In His prayer, Jesus is not simply talking about “coexisting” under one banner! There is no joy in that. When he calls a man and a woman to unite in holy matrimony, He isn’t simply talking of sharing one bed, is He? If God gives us children, He isn’t doing it for us to simply live under one roof. There is no joy in all of that and God wants us to enjoy our relationships. What He wants is families, spouses and churches walking side by side in deep fellowship with each other. He wants people delighting in each other’s company. That’s the way He was with God, wasn’t it? Well, that’s the way he also wants us in the Church! So today, I want to put some thoughts into what unite families (whether spiritual or carnal families). I want to come up with some practical pointers that will help us be one. Let me share a few quick observations before we go to the scriptures and learn from them. It is my observation that these factors often destroy the unity of physical, carnal families.
But, on the other hand, take a family that is doing very well. A family that is close and enjoys each other’s presence. What do you see? Love. You find free outpouring and expression of love. Members share how much they care for each other and how much they value their relationships. And it’s not only done by words or by hugs. You also see a genuine concern for each other’s needs. Someone is distressed; someone is troubled and the others stop and minister to the need. I’m not too good at doing that, but God has given me two wonderful women who do that in my life. My wife and my daughter. When I am troubled, my wife always stops what she is doing and she takes the time to talk things out with me. I appreciate that. It makes me feel committed to her. It indebts me to her. But, not only her. You should see my daughter. She does that as well as her mum. I am sick sometimes and when I have to lie down, she’ll come and pet my head or lean her head on me. She gives me tender love. That makes me feel one with her. Praise God for that. United families care for each other’s needs. They freely love each other and they encourage one another. It doesn’t matter what the score is, what the performance was like, what the grade turned out to be. What is said are words of appreciation for the effort. And with these words of encouragement, you’ll find oneness and members who blossom. And I am sure you could add other things to the list I have made. There are hundreds of things we could talk about today. But I want to stop here and show you a few scriptures that show unity in the Church is characterized by all of that also.
Turn if you would to Eph. 4. In Eph, Ch. 4, Paul directly commands the brethren to be united. With 32 verses, he penetrates the heart of the matter and hits the nail on the head. I don’t know of a place in the Bible that so efficiently deals with the subject. Read with me what he says. V. 1-6 “….” You see what Paul starts showing here is that everything we know about God is oneness. The whole message of Christianity brings man together. It doesn’t divide. There is not 10 ways to look at the will of God.
But somebody will say, “A fine job the Bible does at bringing the religious world together!” “Look how many churches there are in our community!” Let me suggest it’s not the Bible’s fault we are divided. It is our creeds; it is our traditions; it is our cultures. We have become the laughing stock of the world because we have failed to give preeminence to the Bible. And it happens in our own churches! Folks, let’s be careful of that because we aren’t exempt. We once were known as people of the book with book, chapter and verse. I fear we have gotten away from that. And as Isaiah says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge!” The word of God always unites. It’s the only supernatural element that has the power to bring barriers down.
But, that’s not all. In v. 15, Paul also says the body needs love to grow. You can have a people with the right message; but if there is no love, there won’t be oneness. You need both of these elements for the people of God to unite. Perhaps, it’s why, on four different occasions, on that night, Jesus would tell his apostles, “Love one another.” How much love do I have for you and you for me? I think Paul knew we had a tendency not to translate concepts into practical steps. So he goes on and now defines that love that can unite us. In v. 25, he says this is what a loving church, a unified church looks like.
So today, you have what Paul thought would provide unity in our midst. The choice is ours.