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The Real Lord’s Prayer – John 17:6c

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.  Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”

John 17:6c

In these opening verses of the second section of Jesus’ great prayer, before expressing his desires for his disciples, he gives us some descriptions of them.  We have noted that Jesus’ disciples are those to whom he has revealed the name of God; they have been given to the Son by the Father out of the world and so already belonged to God.  Now we learn that they “have kept your word”.

They have persevered in keeping the “word” of God.  Elsewhere we are told that Jesus keeps God’s word (8:55), but this is the only place where men are said to have kept it.

The word “word” is used here, as elsewhere, to the whole of Jesus’ message – see, for example, 8:31, 37, 43.   It could almost be taken as a synonym for, or equivalent to, the gospel.

In 17:7 Jesus speaks about his words, plural and a different word in the original Greek, which seems to emphasise more the specific, individual teachings and even commands of Christ.

That distinction between the word and the words may help us understand how Jesus can say of the eleven disciples who are with him that evening that they have “kept” the word.   We know from the gospel records that they did not grasp or even obey everything Jesus said to them.  He himself describes them as men “of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20).  Even in John 16:31, in words spoken just minutes before the verse we are concentrating on, Jesus exclaims, “Do you now believe?”

The idea behind the word keep, is, in Calvin’s words, “keep[ing] it as a precious treasure.” (quoted by Leon Morris in Morris, 1971).  Indeed, the full quote from Calvin reads,

“Christ promises eternal life to His disciples, but demands disciples who will not merely nod their assents like donkeys, or profess with their tongues that they approve His teaching, but who will keep it as a precious treasure.” [1}

William Hendriksen says that to keep God’s word means,

“a. to accept it by faith, b. obey it, and c. stand guard over it.” [2]

What Jesus is commending the disciples to the Father for is their general embracing of adhering to the overall message he has proclaimed and taught them.  As Don Carson puts it,

“…they had committed themselves unreservedly to Jesus as the Messiah, the one who truly reveals the Father… When other ‘disciples’ judge that Jesus teaches too many hard things, the Twelve stay with Jesus: ‘You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (6:68–69). Even where there is risk to life and health, the closest disciples self-consciously choose to remain with Christ (11:16; 13:37), however flawed their courage might have been.” [3]

This is very important for us, because this is one of the key distinguishing marks of those who truly belong to Christ.  In John 8, Jesus is engaged in a dialogue with some Jews “who had believed in him.”  The context tells us that these are men who had made some sort of outward profession but one that did not really go deep into the heart.  Jesus explains to them that true disciples are those who “abide in my word” (8:31), indicating an ongoing, continual relationship with him and his word.

Notice, by the way, that he doesn’t say that abiding in his word makes one a true disciple, rather that it is a mark of a true disciple. 

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (emphasis added).  “When a man abides in Christ’s word, then he is a true disciple.” [4]

Later in this same verbal engagement Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, (the same expression as in John 17:6c) he will never see death.” (8:51)  Now these “Jews who had believed in him” reveal their true colours, calling Jesus demon-possessed for making such a statement.

Here is the searching question for each one of us who claim to believe in and to follow Christ.  Do I embrace with all my heart the teaching of God as revealed to me in Scripture?  Do I to accept it by faith, obey it, and stand guard over it?

If so, then despite all my inconsistencies and areas of unbelief and doubt, by the grace of God I have reason to call myself a true disciple of the Saviour.

[1] Morris, L. (1971). The Gospel According to John. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott. p468

[2] Hendriksen, W. (1954). John. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust. p62

[3] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel According to John. IVP. p559

[4] Morris, L. (1971). The Gospel According to John. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott. p456

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