What does Jesus want most in addition to His glory? Of all the things He could have requested from the Father on the night before His death I would not have expected this one. I would have expected Him to spend much more time on a couple of things He only briefly mentioned – that God keep and sanctify the disciples. Those requests track more closely with my desires – I want God’s protection and the personal holiness He can give me. These seem to me to be more pressing than what He spends the most time on. What is it He really wants - His Brides’ Unity! He wants the Church to be one.
So why unity? Why does Jesus spend verses 20-23 with three or four references to His desire for the unity of the Church? “…that they all may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us…” I don’t pretend to know anything beyond a distant and vague sense of what might be involved in being one with God. Phrases like this temp me to mysticism. They befuddle me. They twist my mind in the same way the Trinity does. I probe the barriers of eternity only to find myself tired and vacant. I can and will make an attempt at what it means for the Church to be one, unified for Christ and with one another.
The request for us all to be one is mystical and intriguing on its own but Jesus doesn’t leave us with that thought. He goes on to mention the “why” behind His prayer for unity. It’s the great “why” that captivates me. What’s at risk? Is it really that big a deal?
It could have been a nice platitude wrapped in the mystery of Deity for us all to wonder at but never really grasp. It could have been easily read and forgotten due to the impenetrable nature of the subject. It could have been dismissed as God speaking in language too high for us but Christ did not leave us any of these options. He clearly states the reason He desires unity in the Church. Read slowly with me, verse 21, “that they may all be one…SO THAT the world may believe that You sent Me” and verse 22-23, “that they may be one…that they may be perfected in unity, SO THAT the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them…”
The unity of the Church is THE PROOF to the world that God the Father sent God the Son and that God the Father loves the world. Incredible that the witness of God to the world hangs on the frayed thread of the unity of the Church!
Think of the ramifications! A unified Church shouts sacrificial love to the world. We are truly an aroma of life unto life when perfected in unity. Expressing accord one with another expresses God to lost and dying souls. Unison and harmony sing mighty hymns of compassion and grace, mercy and righteousness, humility and acceptance, to a world blinded by sin and lost in darkness. Let those who have ears to hear – hear! Unity is powerful!
On the other hand, a divided Church is proof to the world that the Father did not send the Son and does not love them. Ouch! Strife among brothers is tantamount to denying the Gospel. It’s the devil’s holiday to see brothers at odds. It’s the world’s justification for ignoring and distrusting the Church, the Bible, and God Himself. Brothers, we are to blame in part for the continued rejection of Christ. We are culpable in the matter of the message going unheard and unheeded. When the lost see factions and fractures in the Church they “know” there’s no real Jesus and no real love. We need not be surprised at their reaction when we try to tell them differently – our actions are shouting denial while our words are faltering feints at the truth.
Miserable thoughts aren’t they! What should we do with them? My will to write about these things is often wrapped tightly in my own guilt for participating in and perpetuating division in the Body. I recoil at the thought of my own failures in this area. I have most likely been one who has placed a stumbling block in the path to peace. Rather than wallow in those thoughts we need to press on. Let’s resist the temptation to lie where we’ve fallen. I’d like to persevere. I want to see God win this one.
And God fully intends to win. We see this in the return of Christ to His first request and the main theme of the prayer. He wants us to be with Him and to see His Glory. It’s all about His glory. Look at how He even ties unity to glory in verse 22. Jesus has given us His glory so that we may be one. A unified Church is a glorified Christ! The glory, the “otherness” of God, given to men, so that we might live in such a way that all men might know that God loves them and sent His Son to die for them. We share the glory of God in order to reflect His character to desperate individuals “without hope and without God in the world.” We share the unity of God to show the world that there is “One God and Father of All Who is over all and through all and in all.” The way we live preaches one thing or another to the lost – will we “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?”