In John 17 we have an extensive prayer that Jesus prayed shortly before His betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Some have called this the true “Lord’s Prayer” because we see Jesus clearly in His role as High Priest interceding for His disciples. In vs.1-5, Jesus began by praying for Himself that He would bring glory to His Father and that through His work, the world would know the Father. Then in vs. 6-19, Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples as they were to take the Word of God into the world, telling people about Jesus. Jesus said in vs. 11 “…keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” Jesus concluded His prayer in vs. 20-26 praying for every disciple, “those who will believe in Me…”, “that they all may be one.” (vs. 20-21). Twice in His prayer, Jesus used the unity of the Father and Son as an example of what that unity should look like.
Why would Jesus pray for unity among His disciples? He answers the question for us in vs.21-23 saying “that the world may believe” and “that the world may know you sent me.” In Jesus' mind, a key factor as to whether His disciples would fulfill their mission of introducing the world to God through faith in Jesus Christ was completely dependent on the unity of those disciples as they went about that work. Jesus had seen His disciples arguing about greatness previously so He saw fit to pray for the unity of all His disciples. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is continuing to pray for His disciples and I am certain He continues to pray for unity among His children so we can fulfill our mission. Satan knows unity among believers is dangerous for his evil cause and he will use any and all means to try and bring disunity among the disciples of Jesus Christ. He works hard at promoting strife, division and dissension among the people of God to keep them from doing the work of God effectively.
How do we maintain unity in the family of God? I think there are a number of key factors that will guard unity in the body. First of all it is imperative we simply stay connected to Jesus and His mission for us. In John 15, Jesus used an illustration of a vine and branches. He is the vine and His disciples are the branches. He said if we abide in Him we will bear fruit, but if we don’t abide in Him, we can do nothing and we certainly won’t bear fruit. Jesus also said pruning is sometimes necessary among believers in order for fruit to be produced. Clearly Jesus desires for His children to produce fruit. When Christians are connected to Jesus, abiding in Him in prayer, personal Bible Study, personal & corporate worship and service, they will be fruitful and unity is present because believers stay connected to Jesus and His mission for us.
Secondly, unity in the body occurs when we have a loving & humble attitude focused on others. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2 what this kind of humble attitude looks like in the body of Christ. He said “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but for the interests of others.” Paul then used Jesus as an example through His humble submission to God the Father by going to the cross. We can preserve unity among the body by assuming the posture of a bond-servant and ministering to the needs of those around us in the family of God as well as the world around us. Paul’s analogy of the function of a human body in 1st Cor. 12:12-31 is very helpful as to how we are to function together as one even though there are many parts to the body as there are many members of the church who have different, but complimentary roles. He goes right into a discussion about love from 1st Cor.13 because sacrificial, Agape love is the glue that holds it all together – Jesus’ love for us, our love for Jesus and our love for one another as the body of Christ.
There is a sure unity killer among the body of Christ we must be aware of; plain old gossip. I believe gossip is the most effective tool Satan uses to bring about disunity, cause confusion and hurt people in the body of Christ. The Scriptures warn repeatedly against gossip in its various forms. Proverbs 16:20 tells us: “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.” Proverbs 26:20 “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” Christians can and should squelch gossip in any and all forms by not lending an ear to it and by refusing to participate in the rumor mill. We can squelch gossip by encouraging people to go directly to someone “they have an issue with” and offer to go with them to resolve the issues according to Matt. 18 and Matt. 5:23-24. By doing so, Satan will not be allowed to gain a foothold among us as he fights against the work God has called us to do as a church body.
I am thankful for the “Tri-unity” of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Their unified and amazing plan to redeem sinners like me only became reality because they worked together in their complimentary roles as God. Jesus’ prayer for unity was echoed through a little chorus often sung in church in years past – “Make us one Lord, make us one! Holy Spirit, make us one! Let your love flow, so the world will know, we are one in you.” That is my prayer, from my little corner of the world to yours…