Held by God as One (John 17:11)
“While I am no longer in the world, they are yet in the world and I am coming to you. Holy Father, guard them, which you have given me in your name, in order that they may be one as we are.”
Jesus makes a rather sobering statement—even though he has not yet been arrested and sent to the cross, the events at hand are such that he has begun that road in earnest. One might say that Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and life was a pathway on the road to the cross, and indeed, that is so, but here it is as if Jesus is staring down over the great and dark abyss of death. From events that would transpire later, it is clear that the disciples still were not fully understanding what was about to take place—what it must have been like to be in their shoes on this night. Jesus said he was coming to the Father and that means leaving behind the disciples; one can almost feel the sinking feeling that the disciples must have had in their heart when he uttered these words.
The request that believers may be one as Christ and the Father are one is one of those prayers that pastors have lifted before God for generations. Yet, because of our sin, Christ’s church has been fragmented and divided on numerous matters. Sometimes those divisions have been necessary, as Christ commanded us to cut off the limb and pluck out the eye that leads to sin (Mark 9:43-47), yet often, division has been caused by our own sin and stubbornness and unwillingness to fellowship with anyone who does not hold the exact same views or practice worship in exactly the same way as we do. I am not suggesting that it is sin to have different churches that reflect different styles of worship, but when that local or stylistic separation becomes a separation of fellowship, that does enter into the area of sin. Remember how the Council of Jerusalem handled the matter of practice when Gentiles were streaming into what was then a largely Jewish-Christian church:
“For it seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that we did not want to lay upon you a weighty burden except these necessary things: to avoid things offered to idols, blood, strangled food, and sexual immorality. In guarding yourself from these things, you will do well. Goodbye.”
There is no question that we must fight for the truth—yet the thing to remember is that sometimes we fight and divide over non-essentials to the faith and not due to essentials.
The final thing that we need to note from this passage is the reason in which we may “be one.” And that is due to the guardianship of God. Jesus does not say, “help them to be one,” but he says, “guard them so that they can be one.” If we are not being guarded and protected by God then unity is impossible. Now, you might be tempted to ask, “doesn’t God always protect his people?” Well, the answer is two-fold. First we must remember that just because a person is a “card-carrying” member of a church does not necessarily mean that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; there will be many who will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not do these things in your name?” yet, Jesus’ response will be, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7: 21-23). All too often we try and be unified with those who do not know and love Jesus Christ and how often it has disastrous consequences (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). Don’t expect God’s blessed hand of unity if there is nothing for him to unite.
The second element is that when we pursue sin, sometimes God withdraws his hand somewhat. Now, it is true that God never lets go of those who are his elect, but sometimes he can dangle us over the fires to rebuke, discipline, and burn away our sin. And when God is doing this, he tends to remove us from unity with believers—again as a means to bring us back into fellowship and to repentance of sin.
Loved ones, unity is one of those things that we tend to have very little of in this world, mostly due to sin. Pray that God would give you the unity that would point a doubting and a wondering world to the reality that there is an almighty God and that he reigns in this world. Let us mark our lives and our existence by being held by God not only safe from the fire of eternal condemnation, but held in unity as well to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ, Amen!