“But to each one of us was given the grace according to the measurement of what is given freely by Christ.”
Paul has just been speaking about the unity of the body in the unity of our faith and then puts an exclamation point on what he is saying by reminding the people that the gift that they have been given is based fully and entirely on the work of Christ — that gift that Christ gives freely to God’s elect. It is nothing we have earned, it has been given. It is nothing to which we contribute; Jesus has given it freely.
The notion of unity in here is a subtle one, but an important one to bring forth. Given that none of us has done anything to be made a part of Christ’s glorious body — it is a work of God’s grace — we all are on the same humble footing before the Lord. There are not kings and princes amongst us in this Kingdom. There is one King — King Jesus. There is one Prince — the Prince of Peace. There are no High Priests amongst us — we are all priests and we have a High Priest in Jesus Christ. And, there are no prophets in our midst — we have one Prophet in Christ Jesus who is greater and fuller than all of the human prophets that came before Him. We are all on equally humble footing and there is no place for arrogance or boasting in our midst.
You see, unity naturally flows out of right doctrine, but so often we humans become rather arrogant in the doctrines we hold — especially amongst those who are leading the church astray. Over the years, people have often opposed things that I have sought to teach and while that can be frustrating at times, I have sought to make it my practice simply to point to the text and say, “But what does the Bible say?” I may be well-read (and Christians — especially pastors — must be!), but ultimately, I don’t care what men have said unless it aligns with what God has said. I have also often said, “If you don’t like this teaching, please don’t get upset with me, take it up with God because He is the one that said it.” These statements are not meant to be snarky or to avoid the debate, but simply to remind all that it is God’s Word that we are called to be stewards of — I confess that I don’t know all things and I don’t always get everything right, but don’t try and convince me by personal preferences; convince me by the Word of God.
There are many in our culture who puff themselves up for their own ends. There is no place for this in the church. There are many who pursue and cherish titles and degrees and status. There is no place for that in Christ’s church. There are indeed, different gifts and those gifts are given in different proportions. Yet, none of these gifts are for the building up of man; they are for the glorification of Christ and the building up of Christ’s body as a unified whole. These words of Paul’s reinforces the notion that there is no room for boasting in Christ’s kingdom…none whatsoever…unless we are boasting in Christ. We are fellow servants, united not just in the knowledge of God, but also united in a position of humble worship before Christ’s throne.
“One body and one Spirit, just as you were also called in one hope of your calling;”
Isn’t it interesting that immediately after the Apostle speaks of guarding the unity of the church, he starts inserting doctrine into the mix? As was alluded to already, there can be no unity unless there is maturity of faith and maturity of faith includes understanding the doctrines of Jesus Christ — so much so that the demonstration of one’s understanding is found in the way they live out our Lord’s commands.
The first part of this is a direct reference to the language Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in the twelfth chapter of his first letter. There is one body of Christ — his body is not divided between Jew and Gentile, slave and free. No, we are many individual persons saved by grace, united to local congregations, and bound together as one body if we are truly Christian. And, indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who does that binding (and gives the gifts to the church so that the church can function…noting that the gifts are given to the church — or, to understand the language from a different perspective, if you are outside of the church, you ought not expect such gifts to be present).
We have already discussed the nature of the hope of our calling as Paul has previously used this language (1:18). We are also reminded by Peter that we are to be able to defend this hope (1 Peter 3:15), which is the basis for apologetics. Here, again, Paul is setting forth some doctrinal principles that everyone in the church is called to hold onto and defend as part of what it means to be Christian. Unity of faith yields a unity in doctrine and vice versa. Such is how Paul begins laying forth this ancient confessional language.
“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, enduring with one another in love, doing one’s best to guard the unity of the Spirit in the chain of peace.”
Guarding the unity of the Spirit? If we can be honest with one another, I think it is safe to say that we have not done a good job of this task. Every man believes what is right in his own eyes and thus denominations abound, churches pop up on every corner, and it would seem that nobody is in agreement as to what those essential matters are, which define Christian unity. There’s a book in that…actually, there are several books in that. Lord willing we will see a couple of them come to fruition by the end of the year. For the moment, a few points of interest from Paul’s text in these verses.
First, unity is worth defending (and fighting to restore when broken). This does not mean that unity is to be achieved by the wishy-washy ecumenical movement that rejects doctrine and diminishes Christianity to one’s personal preferences. No, that is not the unity that Paul is addressing here in this passage. In fact, that is no unity at all because it is based on a spiritually immature view of the faith (as Paul will further develop). No, unity that is based in the Spirit of God is a unity that binds like a chain — it is strong, unyielding, and will keep those who are prisoners of Christ, well, prisoners of Christ. Indeed, that chain is here described as a chain of peace. Peace is only found in proper relationship with Christ and we will not remain in a bond of peace with one another if that relationship with Christ is not first addressed. No, that is not the unity of ecumenicalism nor is it the unity that is found in much of evangelicalism today. In fact, much of evangelicalism, in their goal to distance themselves both from Rome and from ecumenicism, has turned a blind eye to the whole notion of unity.
You might be tempted to say, but what about the humility, gentleness (πραΰτης — prautes, which refers to strength that is under control), patience (μακροθυμία — makrothumia, which more literally translates to “long-suffering”), and enduring with one another in love? Indeed, all of these are essential to keeping or preserving the unity that is had. Yet, they are unable to produce unity in and of themselves. They are essential once unity is attained, but if unity is not present, they are little more than benevolent feelings and well-wishes.
And so, Paul gives us the basis for how unity is guarded and in the verses that follow, Paul gives us the basis for what unity is in the church of Jesus Christ. The real question is whether or not we are willing to submit to the Word of God and seek that unity as is prescribed in Scripture rather than the unity that is feigned by men.
“Also, the glory that you have given me, I have given them, in order that they may be one just as we are one.”
Again we find Jesus using the language unity amongst believers, this time, though, in connection with Christ’s glory. In essence, what Jesus is stating is that he has given to believers his glory so that believers may be united as one. Another way of saying this is that as we apprehend the glory of Christ, it ought to bind us together as one body—that Christ’s glory ought to bring unity to true believers, not division. And, one might go as far as to argue that as we divide and fight with one another, what we are betraying is that we have not apprehended the glory of God. Again, this does not mean that Christians are to have spiritual fellowship with false religion, but it does mean that denominations are sometimes guilty of so narrowing their understanding of Christianity to the point that anyone outside of their specific interpretation of non-essentials is considered highly suspect.
But what is it about the glory of Christ that ought to draw us together with other Christians? To begin with, what is the glory of Christ? The Greek word for glory is do/xa (doxa), which is the word we get “doxology” from. This word refers to the magnificence of or splendor of a person. The Hebrew word for this is dOwbD;k (kabod), and it also captures the idea of something that is weighty in its significance. Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), he is reflecting on this idea of the weightiness and significance of what we will become. C.S. Lewis also relates this concept in his work, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly people are substantial and weighty and the people from Hell are described as ghosts or phantasms, no longer having any substance of their own.
Though humans are sometimes referred to as glorious, God’s glory is infinitely greater than the glory that men might earn or be given. In fact, the glory due to God is so much greater than what we can conceive that even our best efforts to rightly honor our God on our own strength are doomed to utter failure. And thus, as God’s glory is much greater than man’s glory, the weightiness of that glory is so infinitely great that we ought to be both overwhelmed and smothered by it when in His presence. When the saints of old witnessed the glory of God, their response was to be humbled and bow in worship—yet, how casually we tend to come before God and how arrogantly we present ourselves before Him. How, when we come to him in prayer, we have lost any sense of His transcendence and his glory. There is a certain electricity that is in the air as children anticipate seeing the first snow of the season or as they go to bed on Christmas eve, anticipating what will be under the tree the following morning; we ought to have this same “electric” anticipation as we prepare to go before our Lord in prayer or before we come into his presence for corporate worship. It is as if we almost don’t expect to be confronted by the glory of the Almighty God of the universe.
A good novel can compel us to keep reading long after we ought to have put it down and either gone to bed or go to do another project. Why is it that so often Christians agonize over the idea of even reading a chapter of the Bible a day? And why is it that so many Christians are not riveted by the text, but are put to sleep by it? It is almost as if they do not expect to find the glory of the transcendent God revealed on the Bible’s pages. Yet, beloved, that is exactly what God does on the pages of scriptures! He reveals to us Christ! He shows us his mighty redemptive work as well as his remarkable grace to a rebellious people—people who again have experienced the glory of God and have chosen to ignore it to worship idols of their own creation. To those who deserve wrath (like us), God has shown grace. And not only that (as if that is quantifiable in human terms!), God has taught us in his word how we can best enjoy Him and how we can best enjoy life in this world. What a wonderful book we have been given—one through which we can apprehend the invisible God and know our role in His creation as bearers of His image. There is no human work that can pale in comparison.
Yet, how often our actions betray our hearts. We act as if God’s glory is nothing more than a flickering light that hardly offers any illumination in the darkness of the world in which we live. And if we do not go with an expectation that God will reveal his glory to us in his word or in his worship, why should he reveal himself? Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing…” (John 20:29), what poor straights we are in. And, Jesus here in this prayer is saying, “May the glory that I give to my disciples be such that brings them in unity with one another and demonstrates to the world that I am God.” If we don’t grasp the weightiness of God’s glory in a real and tangible way—such a way that drives us to our knees in prayer, worship, and the study of God’s word—then how will we ever cease to bicker over the non-essential things that separate us? And similarly, if our Christian testimony to the world is tied to our unity, should we be surprised that the non-believers are so hostile towards Christian witness? Loved ones, let us evaluate first our own hearts and then our hearts amongst other believers, and ask ourselves, is the glory of God binding us in union with fellow believers and is our apprehension of God’s glory attracting others to the faith? It ought to be.
“in order that they all may be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I also in you, in order that they might be in us—so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus’ statement is a devastating critique of the Christian church today when you really take it seriously. In a nutshell, what he is saying here is that his desire is that we (the Church) be one with one another just as he is one with the Father and (and here is where it hits close to home) that our unity is at least one of the ways that the world will know that Jesus is the Son of God. In other words, if we wonder why the church today has such a weak witness in the world around us, the implication is that at least part of our weakness is that we are so fragmented and have a tendency to fight amongst ourselves rather than working together.
One of the rules of thumb for good business practice is to staff to your weakness. In other words, find the things that you are poor in and hire or promote someone to do those things. Some managers find this to be an intimidating practice simply because if applied well, this will cause you to hire a number of people who are more competent than you are in some specific areas. Yet, if you don’t follow this principle, then you will tend to perpetuate the problems or weaknesses that you have at least within the organization and be more concerned with your own reputation than with the health of the company.
Churches can be like that as well, not only in terms of internal leadership, but also in terms of how they interact with other churches in the community. Rather than churches focusing on the kinds of things they are good at, so often what happens is that every church tries to do what the other churches are doing—it as if they are worried about losing their “marketshare”…as if we were in competition with one another. If we, as churches, were really concerned with the great commission, we would not worry that more people were going to the Christian fellowship down the street, so long as disciples are being made for the kingdom of God. If one congregation is particularly good at mercy ministries, let them pursue that and let the other churches in the area facilitate that work as the congregation in question needs—both with finances and with people. If another congregation is good with youth ministry, let the other churches facilitate. If a church has a particularly good teacher at the helm, again, let the churches be united and facilitate that ministry. We are not able to be everything to everyone if we stand alone, but we can be if we stand united together.
But what of ecumenicity? Isn’t this what the ecumenical movement tried to accomplish and isn’t it fraught with compromise and error? Yes. In its best senses, this kind of thing is what the ecumenical movement sought to accomplish, yet within that fellowship, it was felt that everyone must believe the same thing and ignore differences. What I am suggesting is the model Paul presents as the church as the body which has many parts. The liver does not do the same thing as the kidney does, yet they work together to keep the whole of the body healthy without losing their distinctive nature—in other words, the kidney does not represent itself as being the same as the liver—they remain distinct, yet cooperate toward the end of keeping the body healthy. Ecumenicity tends to lead toward churches ignoring their differences and granting people to believe pretty much whatever they want to believe.
Cooperation between churches does not mean compromising the truth nor does it mean compromising the theological distinctives that shape the difference between Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists (etc…). There must be certain non-negotiable principles drawn from scripture (the Godhead of Christ, the dual nature of Christ, the authority of scripture, etc…). At the same time, there are going to be some things that we find we can disagree upon passionately, but since they are non-essentials of the faith, we also find that we can have passionate disagreements yet remain in fellowship with one another.
How do we accomplish that in our churches and communities? It starts with humility and a willingness to cast off the self-seeking attitude that many congregations have. One must learn to gauge success not on the basis of numbers in church on Sunday or of a bank account balance that a church might have in savings, but in terms of whether or not they are doing what God has called them to do—and whether or not they are being, what Christ wishes them to be—united as one.
Beloved, let us look seriously at our lives and at our churches and ask the question—based on this statement that Jesus makes, is our witness in the community one that reflects that Jesus is the Son of God or is our witness one that suggests that the church is an organization in competition with other churches for tithing dollars.
“Yet, I am not asking for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their words.”
It is funny how sometimes we take things said to others in the Bible and freely apply them to ourselves irrespective of the context. For example, God spoke these words to the prophet, Jeremiah:
“Even before I formed you in the womb, I knew you;
Even before you had come out of the womb, I had made you holy.
I committed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Now, while it is certainly true that some of this can be applied to us as we recognize God’s ordination of all things according to his own purposes (Ephesians 1:11) and given God’s omniscience, there is nothing that God does not know, this statement was made specifically to Jeremiah, not universally to all people. In turn, it is not proper to simply claim the text as our own without qualifying these things. There are other texts that we sometimes do the same thing with and similarly go back and forth debating on whether or not something can legitimately be applied to us in our lives. Yet, Jesus graciously removes any confusion from us as to this question—he plainly says that this prayer is not only for the Apostles that he has surrounding him, but it is also for all who will come to faith through the preaching of the Gospel through them. Friends, that is speaking of you and of me—all of us who trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and have done so through the revelation of God’s word and the proclamation of the Gospel—he is speaking of us in this prayer! And these final verses, in particular, will reveal our Lord’s heart for his church.
And what are the themes of this final section of his prayer—what petition is on our Lord’s heart first and foremost? He prays for unity amongst believers and love as he has loved. Ouch. How far we have strayed as a church from those two petitions of our Lord. How greatly we allow sin to cause division and we allow our lack of love to cause us to be self-centered and prideful both individually and corporately.
Loved ones, we are making a mess of this in many ways and we need to repent of our sins in this area especially. Yet, simply saying, “I’m sorry” is not enough if we are going to be faithful, we also need to change our ways and work to restore that which has been broken. Now, that being said, am I suggesting that we throw away the truth of the Gospel and just embrace everyone regardless of what they believe and of what they have compromised? No, that is not quite it, for Jesus is speaking of those who will believe in him because of the word of the Apostles—the Scriptures. We cannot throw away the authority and Truth of the Bible and retain any semblance of Christianity. That being said, I believe that the key is to concentrate on living out the sacrificial love that Christ modeled. I think that if we begin to get the love part right, the unity part will follow in a way that honors the Father. Yet, that is still a tall order. For before we can actually love those around us, we have to start loving God more than we love ourselves. When this happens, you are ready to love sacrificially and serve with your whole being—holding nothing back as Jesus held nothing back. A small group of believers, ones willing to do just this, turned the world on its head—what would happen if the church got with the same program? I believe that God would bring genuine revival once again.
We praise Thee, O God!
For the Son of Thy love,
For Jesus Who died,
And is now gone above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.
“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!
“Jerusalem, which has been built—as a city;
one which has been joined together to itself.”
The actual city of Jerusalem is interesting in its layout. The city walls enclose multiple inter-connected hills and mountain peaks, which were joined as a single layout. Literally, it is a city that has been “joined together to itself.” And because of its geography, multiple walls, and internal access to fresh water, the Romans considered this city to be the most defensible city in their empire. Were it not for intense in-fighting and squabbling amongst rival factions, some have suggested that it would have been difficult for Rome to have sacked the city in 70 AD.
Once again I am going to make an intentional jump in comparison, connecting the city of Jerusalem to the institutional church—both being the place of meeting for the worship of the people of God. Assuming we can grant this connection, it is remarkable how similar the two can be. Churches are made up of people who come from various backgrounds of life: different economic strata; different levels of education; different experiences; different age groups; different cultural backgrounds, etc… People who might never socialize together were they left outside of the church are brought together within the church for the worship and glory of Jesus Christ. Jesus, himself, describes the church using the analogy of a body with all of its many parts—all joined together and interconnected for a single purpose. Like Jerusalem, the church has been “joined together to itself” in Jesus Christ.
Yet, to take the analogy further, how often we find ourselves divided within the body due to petty disagreements and differences. How often we find ourselves warring against the bonds that bind us together. How often the secular world is able to conquer the church because the church has broken down its own defenses and destroyed its own unity. Beloved, how sad it is that we are often guilty of doing the enemies work for them!
With all of the varied gifts and strengths that God has given to the church, the church should never find itself overcome by the world—her spiritual walls are too thick and her natural territory is too defensible. We should be able to stand strong against any onslaught that the enemy might bring in our direction. How often we fail. Loved ones, be reminded by the words of the psalmist—we are a church that has been joined together with itself; may we work to strengthen and encourage that unity, not to undo the strength we have been afforded.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like that to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
“I am no longer in the world, yet they are in the world, and so I come to you. Holy Father, guard them in your name which you have given to me in order that they may be one just as you and I.”
“Whereas there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and un-circumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free—but the whole, and Christ in all.”
You know, we, as the church, tend to make a lot of excuses to separate ourselves from those who are different from us. There are different styles of worship that often vary in different cultural settings. We tend to congregate in the communities in which we live and we tend to live around people who have a number of things in common with us, not the least of this is race and cultural background. Yet, for all of the excuses that we might put before us, it is passages like this that remind us that these things are nothing but that—excuses.
Though our language may be different, though our accents may vary, though the melanin that determines the color of our skin may be different, it is Christ who saves us all. If we are born again believers in Jesus Christ, we have not only been saved by Christ’s work, but we have been made part of His body. We are joined together inseparably with every other born again believer—united in the person of Christ. We are brothers and sisters united as the bride of our Lord. So, if we are brothers and sisters, bound together by the blood of Christ, why then do we feel we cannot worship together?
Paul’s teaching is radical even today—but essential. Even though there are many denominations, many local fellowships, and many types of gatherings, the body of Christ is not divided. We are bound together by Christ and whatever we do to create walls and barriers between churches or races within church denominations is seeking to frustrate what Christ has done. Not only is that impossible but it is sin as well.
Understand what Paul was saying here. There is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ. The Jews prided themselves in the purity of their bloodlines. The Greeks prided themselves in their culture and that they were neither legalistic Jews nor uncultured barbarians. The Barbarians, on the fringe of the empire, were considered a lower form of life because of their lack of culture. The Scythians were from the fringes of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, between the Slavic and Persian territories—nomadic warriors known for their savagery—simply to call someone a Scythian was an insult. Slaves have no standing of their own and free men had the resources to keep themselves free from slavery. In other words, as broad a diversity as can be imagined is represented here—and yet found to be one in Christ! We are one whole and it is Christ who has not only saved each believer, but who has also chosen to unite with that believer, dwelling in his heart through the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, this is the reality that God has set before us. Oh, how far the church is from reaching this point, though. It is a reminder to us, though, that in eternity there will be no divisions amongst the nations—in fact, Revelation 7:9 simply describes us as a great mob of people—we are bound together as one body. Yet, if this is what heaven will be like, should we not be striving for that here on earth within the church? Martin Luther King once said that 11:00 on Sunday mornings was the most segregated hour in America. That is still true today, and it is not just a problem that white folks need to work through. Black folks tend to stay in black churches, Korean folks tend to stay in Korean churches, and the list goes on. Yet, loved ones, the church has one foundation, which means she has one structure. I pray that we might work to unify the structure that we so often seek to separate as a result of ignorance and sin. If there is truly neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, then why can’t we reflect that in the church?
Elect from every nation,
Yet one over all the earth,
Her charter of salvation
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.