The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand
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The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:21-23 (4)

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John 17:21 – 23 “…that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

We are going to take one more look at the first of the two specific requests Jesus makes in this part of the prayer, where he is praying for all believers of all time; “those who will believe in me through their word.” (17:20

This prayer – 17:21-23 – is for SPIRITUAL UNITY, and we have so far looked at:

  • the PRAYER itself, in v21 and repeated in vv22-23
  • the POWER of the prayer in v22

We have seen that this unity is:

  • spiritual
  • supernatural
  • existing
  • imperfect

And now, as we turn to what I am calling the PURPOSE of the prayer, again stated in both v21 and v23, we see that this unity is to be VISIBLE – “…so that the world may believe that you have sent me… so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Notice that there are, in fact, two purposes to this prayer; two things that Jesus wants to happen as a result of the increasing and deepening unity of his followers.

First, “…so that the world may believe that you have sent me… so that the world may know that you sent me”

As the world looks on and sees the unity among believers – who come from such diverse backgrounds and circumstances and are such different personalities etc – the only logical explanation is that they are the disciples of Christ who was sent from, and is actually, God himself.

This display of unity is so un-worldly, so other-worldly, and so compelling and attractive, that it will convince sceptics and unbelievers that Christ is exactly who he claimed to be, the one sent from God to save and redeem sinners.

Second, “…so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

There is a similarity here, of course, to Jesus’ words a little earlier on the same evening.  We read in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What does Jesus mean?  Well, I understand Jesus to be saying that when the outside, unbelieving world, sees Christian men and women living and fellowshipping in unity – preferring one another, caring for one another, genuinely, visibly, practically loving one another – they will come to the only conclusion possible, that they love each other because they know that they are unconditionally loved by God.

Friends, this is massively important for us to grasp and understand.   The faithful proclamation of the word of God, week in and week out, must be lived out and demonstrated in the lives of the people of that church, otherwise people will take no notice of the preaching and teaching.

One of the preachers I was interviewing recently said, people are attracted to the church by the preaching but they are kept in the church by the community.  That is so true.

This issue of unity is at the very heart of Jesus’ evangelistic strategy for his church . The local church is the obvious point of application. A group of Christians who are so knit together in the love of God that others can say of them, ‘Look how they love each other,’ is a church where the gospel will be “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16).

Bruce Milne writes,

“It is the proclamation of the church’s relationships as well as its convictions. The preacher is only the spokesperson of the community. The gospel proclaimed from the pulpit is either confirmed, and hence immeasurably enhanced, or it is contradicted, and hence immeasurably weakened, by the quality of the relationships in the pews. In this sense every Christian is a witness. Every time we gather together we either strengthen or weaken the evangelistic appeal of our church by the quality of our relationships with our fellow church members.  The biggest barriers to effective evangelism according to the prayer of Jesus are not so much outdated methods, or inadequate presentations of the gospel, as realities like gossip, insensitivity, negative criticism, jealousy, backbiting, an unforgiving spirit, a ‘root of bitterness’, failure to appreciate others, self-preoccupation, greed, selfishness and every other form of lovelessness. These are the squalid enemies of effective evangelism which render the gospel fruitless and send countless thousands into eternity without a Saviour. ‘The glorious gospel of the blessed God’, which is committed to our trust, is being openly contradicted and veiled by the sinful relationships within the community which is commissioned to communicate it. We need look no further to understand why the church’s impact on the community is frequently so minimal in spite of the greatness of our message.” [1]

Friends, if we genuinely and fervently love the lost then one of the best ways to reach them and win them for Christ is to genuinely and fervently love our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

[1] The message of John: Here Is Your King. Leicester: IVP, 1993, p251

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