John 17 has long held a preeminent place in my theological outlook. Nowhere else in Scripture do we see the tenderness of Jesus more clearly, and it is as if we were looking in through a window at the inner workings of the Trinity. While the Gospels frequently mention Jesus praying to the Father, here is a rare look at the substance of one of those prayers. During my time of vacation with the family this past week, I spent much of it meditating again on this important chapter. Two verse in particular caught my attention:
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one--I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought into complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (vv.22-23).
Throughout the prayer Jesus is referring to the issue of unity, repeatedly implying that true unity among God's people is grounded upon Jesus' unity with the Father. But then he goes on to define unity and demonstrate the importance of it in accomplishing the mission he gave us.
Two quick thoughts, which I'll allow you to develop on your own.
1. The ground of our unity is Christ, nothing less and nothing more (that they may be one--I in them). The ground of unity isn't a denominational perspective, Calvinism, or a certain eschatology (however important those things may be). One's view on church government simply doesn't have the power to produce unity. Though there is much these other doctrines can do, only Christ unifies. Furthermore, when secondary doctrines are used to divide God's people it becomes demonic. Therein lies the tragic irony...what should have been the sword of an angel (good theology) is put into the hands of a demon.
If someone has embraced the Christ of Scripture, God has embraced him. If that is good enough for the Father, it should be good enough for us.
2. The world's acceptance of the Gospel is based on our demonstration of unity ("Then the world will know that you sent me"). Now things are getting serious. When I refuse to relate to another believers as a brother/sister in Christ because of theological differences, I am actually standing in opposition to the work Christ commissioned me to do. Don't misunderstand, we are never to embrace false teachers who preach "another gospel". But if someone is truly a brother, despite whatever theological differences that may exist, we are commanded to treat them as such. Refusing to do so is standing in the way of others seeing Jesus.