Thursday, August 22, 2013

Unfolding Jesus' prayer for unity in the church

Ephesians 4:1-3  "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Defining Jesus' prayer for the compound unity of His church

Paul's words in Ephesians 4 hearken back to Jesus' High Priestly prayer for the compound unity of His church in John 17. Jesus prayed in John 17:23  "I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." In our English language we use the concept of compound unity all the time: a "pair of pants" (one garment, two legs), "a bunch of bananas" (one fruit composed of several bananas).  This same notion is found in the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament and the language of Aramaic spoken by Jesus in His day. Jesus' statement about wanting His church to be "one" fits more in lines with the meaning of compound unity.1 

Understanding the unity of the church is important for three reasons: God's glory, love and strength

As you survey the scriptures on this concept of "compound unity" in other doctrines, you discover that God's design of the church with this quality is seen in God Himself, marriage and the human body.  Looking at each of these truths will shed further light on the type of unity Jesus was praying for in John 17.

A God-glorifying church that is unified will reflect the truth of the compound unity of the Trinity

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 & Mark 12:30-31 as being the greatest of all the commandments.  In that passage we read: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." The underlined word for "one" is the Hebrew word "echad" that emphasizes a compound or plural unity.2  In other words, there is a quality about God whereby He is "One God" in His existence and there is another quality about God whereby He is plural in His identity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We know that Jesus is referring back to the shared glory He has with His Father in John 17:21 "that they may all be oneeven 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 sent Me."  The Son and the Father share the same Oneness of Being, and are in unity with the Spirit.  Whenever Christians in the church are in unity with one another, we reflect the glory of God and by analogy something that is true within God Himself - namely the compound unity that exists between the Trinity.  

A church that is unified truly loves like the compound unified love of marriage
As Jesus was praying for the unity of His church, He was praying as a groom in love with His bride - the church.  The imagery of the husband and wife relationship is found numerous times throughout the Bible, illustrating the relationship God has with His people.  In Ephesians 5:30-32 we see this clear statement: "because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."  Once again we see the concept of "compound unity".  A husband and wife, though two persons, yet share in the same nature of relationship, both physically and spiritually with one another.  No greater relationship of love exists among human beings than marriage.  Whenever God's people are unified, it is like the beauty of a great marriage. Christians together reflect by analogy the glory of God shared in the Trinity. Whenever Christians are unified, the theme of love threads its way in and among and through that fellowship.  As Jesus notes in John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

A church that is unified and taking direction from Jesus the Head will be healthy and strong like a healthy human body 
We have explored the meaning of the term "one" in Jesus' prayer for the unity of His church.  Christian unity points people to something true about the compound unity of the Trinity and is illustrated by the beautiful love of compound unity in marriage.  However there is one more example of compound unity that sheds light back on Jesus' prayer - namely the compound unity of the body.  Romans 12:4-5 states - "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function." (5) so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." Two other key passages bring home this compound unity of the church as functioning like the human body: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Ephesians 4:1-13.  The imagery of the body conveys health or strength.  When Jesus prays for His church to be unified, He certainly wants them to reflect God's glory, have a deep rich love but also healthy strength.  Unity such as this is unparalleled and unknown when operating as Jesus intended.  When Jesus is regarded by the body of Christ as the true head, the members will function in harmony with one another.  

Tomorrow we will look at how we as Christians and the church can practically take the steps necessary for the unity prayed for by Jesus.

1. As the Gospel writers wrote in Greek, Jesus emphasis on desiring a compound unity among future generations of Christians was accurately captured.  

2. The Jews came to use that same word "echad" to name the special three-tiered tray that held three pieces of matzot bread (unleavened bread) used in the Passover celebration.  Though it was "one" (echad) container, yet it was at the same time three pieces of unleavened bread.  

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