- In vv1-5 Jesus prayed for God to be glorified
- In vv6-19 Jesus prayed for the Church to be sanctified
- In vv20-26 Jesus prayed for the World to be evangelized
The specific request I am referring to appears in that third section (vv20-26). It is Jesus’ prayer for the Church’s unity, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).
How important is the unity of believers to Jesus? It’s important enough that He prayed for it fives times in one prayer (vv11b, 21a, 21b, 22, 23). He prayed for the unity of the Church because the evangelization of the world depends on it, “that the world may believe…”
When we have a heartfelt request, we want the Lord to hear and answer our prayers. In John 17, Jesus expressed His heartfelt request. He made it known by putting it in recorded Scripture, and He longs for it to be answered.
Do you realize that we can be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity in the Church? We are the ones who chose whether or not we will “dwell together in unity” with other believers (Psalm 133:1). We are the ones who decide whether or not we will endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We are the ones who chose to say and do things that either edify the Body of Christ (Romans 14:19), or bring division among believers (Proverbs 6:19).
This IS a staggering thought, and it’s true. When we engage in things that enhance unity in the Body of Christ, we are doing our part to answer the Lord’s prayer. On the other hand, when we engage in things that tear down unity in the Church, we are actually working against the very thing Jesus prayed for. When we bring discord into the Body for whatever reason, we are deserving of the rebuke Jesus gave to Peter, “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).
Ouch! That’s heavy duty stuff. It sure is. Unity in the Church is heavy duty stuff, too. We dare not interfere with it. We dare not plant little seeds that are bound to produce a crop of bitterness and strife in the Church. For as the Hebrew writer said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Interpretation: Don’t mess with His Church.
Jesus prayed for the Church. We should, too. When you pray for the Church, pray for unity. A Church full of disunity, discord, and strife will never make a positive impact; a united Church will. The world will come to believe when they see the love and unity that exists in the Church (John 17:21).
Come to think of it, the entire prayer of John 17 revolves around this central thought of the unity of the Church. A unified Church is a sanctified Church. And when the Church is sanctified and functioning as the Lord intends, the world will be evangelized and God will be glorified.
Pastor Todd Weston