John 17 is the pinnacle of the Great Discourse. Known as the “High Priestly Prayer”, this chapter reveals the heart of our Savior and the deep relationship between the Father and the Son. In it, Jesus prays for Himself that the Father would glorify the Son so that the Son may glorify the Father. He prays for His disciples that the Father would keep them in His name and protect them from the evil one. And lastly, He prays for us—the future believers—that we may be one just as the Father and the Son are one.
“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.”
Unity is not a strong point in our culture. Though we may hear messages about accepting others, living in harmony, and breaking down social barriers, the fact of the matter is that our world is shot through with division and brokenness. Families are splintered, children are placed in age based categories, youth is idolized, old age is scorned, people are pitted against one another, individuals and organizations are jockeying for the top most popular position, and the list could go on. All these are a result of sin, which gave birth to division and separation from the very beginning. Therefore, we are not accustomed to unity, and the world has no comprehension of it.
But over two thousand years ago, Jesus—just hours before His betrayal and subsequent crucifixion—kneels before the Father and petitions for us that we may have unity. The phrase “perfectly one” literally means to accomplish oneness. One as in the numeral; a single entity. So Jesus prays that we may be completely, perfectly, one unit. Not several, separate individuals, but rather one single body. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described as having one body and will have one bride—the Church. He doesn’t have multiple, separate bodies and He won’t have many brides—just one. So then, why do we act like our local church is better than others or that certain groups of Christians are lesser in some way than others? Even though we refer to the certain geographic areas (e.g. the American church, Iraqi church) we all make up one body. Continents, cultures, languages, lifestyles, and generations may separate us, yet we are still the body and bride of Christ. So let’s start acting like it!
Another amazing revelation from Jesus’ prayer for us is that He shares His glory with us: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them.” What an amazing gift! The glory Jesus shared with the Father before the beginning of the world He has given us! And the purpose: that we might take it and lift up ourselves? No! But that we may be one. One as the three Persons of the Trinity are one. The Trinity is a divine mystery; likewise, the unity of the Church should reflect the power and mystery of God, and by it the world will know that Jesus is God.
So the question is…are YOU living in unity with your fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord? Or are judgments, prejudices, and pride keeping you from becoming perfectly one with other members of Christ’s Body? Can the world know that Jesus is God by the perfect oneness of His Church of which you are a member? Has the glory that Jesus gave you fulfilled its purpose in your life by making you one with other true followers?
The concept and practice of unity is difficult to accomplish because each of us is equipped with a fully functioning pride issue. We don’t need to practice or train it; it naturally takes control and promotes disunity among our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. On the other hand, we must remember that perfect oneness within the Church doesn’t mean that we all have to look alike and share the same opinions. God created us all unique and individual and never meant for every person to be exactly like another; however, He still wants us to live in perfect harmony with other believers. Paul explains this paradox well in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote in chapter twelve: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … For the body does not consist of one member but of many. … But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Therefore, don’t be afraid of being different and individualistic in your God-given calling and abilities, just don’t forget that at the same time you are not a separate body of Christ, but rather a single member of one body that spans two thousand years, seven continents, thousands of people groups, and billions of individuals. So live in unity with your brothers and sisters in the Lord and fulfill Jesus’ prayer and desire that we may become perfectly one.
“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.”
An interesting look at Paul’s analogy of the correlation between physical body and Christ’s body, the Church, is Dr. Paul Brand’s book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.