Many of us have probably been asked the question, “If you had one day left to live what would you do?” I think we find this so interesting because it shows us what someone values most. If we knew we were about to die we would live with a heightened sense of intentionality in everything we said and did and would only spend it on the things we valued most.
In John 17 we find Jesus in this situation. He is troubled as he knows he is about to die and carry the weight of all our sins. He spends some of his last moments in prayer. He begins by praying that he would be glorified. He then prays for those closest to him, first his disciples and then everyone who would believe in him. Last year when I was reading this section I perked up a little bit. At this significant part of Jesus’ life, while he was in deep anguish, he was praying for me and everyone who would believe in him. I was curious to see what he would pray. This is what Jesus says:
I do not ask for these [disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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. John 17: 20–23 (emphasis added)
“That They May Be One”
So in Jesus’ last hours of his life, when he was in deep anguish, what does he pray and desire for the church? He prays three times for the unity of the church. As often seems to be the case with God when we might expect something big and exciting from him we instead find something quiet and simple. When God spoke to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 he didn’t speak to him in the powerful wind, the earthquake, or the fire that Elijah witnessed. But he spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. When God came to earth he didn’t come in riches and wealth surrounded by royalty and power. Instead he came in humility, being born in a manger surrounded by his humble parents and by dirty animals.
Unity vs Uniformity
This unity that Christ prays for is drastically different than uniformity. Uniformity demands everyone act the way the most powerful and influential person has decided is best. Whether that is directly stated by a powerful ruler, or is subtly hinted at by the most popular in a social circle. Uniformity requires conformity with an outward set of actions. But unity requires us to live out our differences. It requires humbly living out the gifts and personality the Creator has intricately designed and woven into each of our hearts.
United Through Christ
I love one of the definitions used by Merriam Webster to describe unity. They say unity is “a way of combining the parts in a work of art or literature so that they seem to belong together.” I think of reading a well-written book or watching a well thought out movie where the scenes, the characters, and the plot line are all building upon one another to create a complete story. Each character and scene is different from the rest, but instead of driving the story apart because of their differences they bind the story together.
“So That the World May Believe”
The reason this unity is so important is stated by Jesus. “So that the world may know that you sent me.” In a world where oneness and belonging is often found in the safety of being like everyone else, this true unity of belonging to each other and valuing each other with our different gifts and personalities is only possible by the power of Christ. Only through the power Christ gives can unity be found between the poor and the rich, the outgoing and reserved, the conservative and the liberal, the free spirited creative and the structured planner, the young and the old. Only through Christ do we have the power to love those who annoy us or those who have hurt us.
When we find our unity in Christ, when the body of Christ lives in unity despite our differences, we are showing where our identity lies. We are showing the world the power of Christ. Jesus says in John 13:34–35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
About the Author
Esther graduated December 2017 with degrees in Music and Accounting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently working as an accounting temp for Robert Half. At First Free she loves volunteering with the nursery and youth group kids. In her free time she might be reading books, playing games, taking road trips, running, playing volleyball, being outside, or hanging out at coffee shops.