The Standard March 4, 2021
Immediately before the arrest of Jesus, the writer of the Gospel of John recorded what is often called the “High Priestly Prayer.” Jesus had been warning his disciples that they would see him only a little longer. They needed to stay connected to him, just as branches were attached to a vine. The world would hate and persecute them. Once Jesus was gone, the Holy Spirit would be not only with them, but in them. Their sorrow would turn to joy.
Jesus knew he was about to be tortured and nailed to a cross, yet prayed almost exclusively for others– for his disciples and those who later would follow him. Jesus prayed for you and for me. His only prayer about himself was that he would bring glory to the Father. Since Christians throughout the ages would have to stay in the world as a testimony to the light, Jesus prayed for their unity. This unity would be so extraordinary that the unbelieving world would see it and attribute it to the love of God.
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:11, 20-23)
We who find our identity in Jesus Christ share a bond which exceeds any differences which potentially could divide us. The love we demonstrate for each other as a family or body will seem remarkable to those outside. Tertullian, one of Christianity’s earliest apologists and the first great North African theologian, imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying something like, “See how they love one another and are ready to die for each other!”
The Apostle Paul recognized that there were and would continue to be forces seeking to divide Christ-followers and false messages threatening to dismember the body of Christ. Calls for division would be antithetical to God’s goal of complete unity.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)