When Jesus prayed His High Priestly prayer in John 17, the setting was on the eve of His crucifixion. Jesus prayed not only for His disciples but for every generation of believers chosen and loved by Him. The prayer of Jesus on this occassion had to do with unity in the church. Almost no one would say that Jesus' prayer was an exercise in futility. Whatever Jesus prayed was in perfect unity with the will of the Father in Heaven. He declared His will for the church in every age and locale. The importance of unity in the church cannot be over-stressed.
At times people have imagined such unity as relating to "uniformity" - meaning everyone acting the same and there being no distinctions. God so designed the church to be composed of different people - of differing gifts centered around one common faith, doctrine, Bible and Jesus. Jesus' single prayer here in John 17 begins as a small ripple in the pond of God's redemptive purposes. That ripple spreads throughout the pages of the New Testament and the remainder of church history. Below I want to alert readers to some of the major texts that reveal the importance of unity in the church today.
1. Unity practiced.
Acts 2:42-47 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they beganselling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God andhaving favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."
2. Unity commanded.
Ephesians 4:1-6 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord,implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have beencalled, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
3. Unity's provisions
Ephesians 4:11-13 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
4. Unity's forgiveness
Colossians 3:12-16 "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalmsand hymns and spiritual songs, singingwith thankfulness in your hearts to God."
5. Unity's call
1 Corinthians 1:10 "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment."
6. Unity's aim
1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen race, a royalpriesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’sown possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called youout of darkness into His marvelous light."
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