EN ES

Sermon: John 17:20-26: Jesus Divides, Doctrine Unites

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 133

“A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 17:20-26

“I do not ask for these 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.  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20–26, ESV)

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8, ESV)

Introduction

Unity. That is the central theme of this final portion of Christ’s prayer for the people given to him by the Father. His desire is “that they may all be one” (v. 21), indeed, “that they may become perfectly one” (v. 23). Clearly, Christ’s desire is that his people – the ones who were alive when he walked the earth, and the ones who would live in generations to come, who would come to believe in him through the word of his apostles – would be one. Christ’s prayer to the Father is that his people would enjoy unity with one another.

Brothers and sisters, if it was Jesus’ prayer, then it should also be ours. If it was Jesus’ desire, then we too should share in that impulse. Should we not mimic our Savior, praying to the Father for the blessing of unity amongst us? Should we not labor to promote unity amongst ourselves? And when I say “us” and “ourselves”, I have in mind, not just we who are a part of this particular local church, but all who are in Christ. The prayer of Jesus here is not limited to one particular congregation, but it is for all who belong to him by faith. We should share in Christ’s passion and prayer for the unity of his people.

Unity is indeed the central theme of this final portion of Christ’s prayer for the people given to him by the Father. And notice that Christ is specific about the kind of unity that he desires.

Brothers and sisters, there are different kinds of unity.

In order for unity to exist there must be something that unifies – there must be glue. Unity cannot exist apart from a unifying agent. And the unifying agent – the glue – will determine the depth and strength of the bond. And so unity differs in kind depending upon what it is that unifies. And the the thing that unifies will also determine the depth and strength of the bond.

Think of it. Wherever people enjoy unity you will find that there is something that unifies them. Hobbies unify. Political persuasions unify. Nationality unifies. Ideas unify. Family unifies. I suppose at the broadest level humanity is something that unifies us all – we share humanity in common. Wherever you find unity, you will also find a unifying agent – a glue. And it is the glue which determines the strength of the bond.

For example, I enjoy a different kind of unity with my wife than I do with my neighbors. We love our neighbors. We enjoy unity in our neighborhood. We talk with our neighbors. We look out for one another, and do things for one another. It’s really very nice. We truly enjoy unity with our neighbors. And the glue that binds us together is neighborliness. But that is different from the unity I enjoy with my wife.

If you were to ask me, Pastor, how are things with your marriage? And I said, things are wonderful! It’s at least two or three times a week that my wife and I talk.  And you know, the other day I was making breakfast when I noticed that I was out of eggs. I knocked on her door and she gave me a half a dozen eggs! We’re even planning a BBQ in the Spring time! You would be concerned for our marriage if I spoke in that way, wouldn’t you? But why? Did I not just describe to you a relationship at peace? Where is the disharmony? Where is the disunity? Why would you be concerned for us? Is it not because you intuitively recognize that there are indeed different kinds of unity? The unity that exists between neighbors and the unity that exists between a husband and wife are of a different kind. The glue of neighborliness and the glue of matrimony are substantially different. And because the two differ in substance we have different expectations concerning the bond – its charter, depth, and duration.

So what does all of this have to do with Jesus’ prayer?

That Jesus prayed for unity is obvious to all. What is often overlooked, unfortunately, is that Jesus prayed for unity of a particular kind. When we talk about the unity that Christ desires for his people we are to have a particular kind of unity in mind.  First of all, the unity that Christ desires is one that is centered upon him. Jesus Christ is the glue which binds his people together. The person of Christ – his word and work – are the unifying agents. Secondly, this unity is deep and substantial, and not superficial. And thirdly, this unity is eternal, and not temporal.

Let Us Pursue A Unity That Is Bound By Christ’s Word And Work

Brothers and sisters, let us pursue a unity that is bound together by Christ’s word and work.

It is in verse 20 that Christ says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” (John 17:20, ESV) Here the prayer of Jesus shifts in focus from the eleven who stood with Jesus on that dark and gloomy night, to those who would believe upon him in the future through their word. That includes you and me!

In verse 21 we hear Jesus pray for his, “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.” (John 17:21, ESV)

It is the words “just as” that I would like to draw your attention to. Jesus prays for our unity and then he specifies as to the kind of unity that he has in mind. We are to be one just as the Father and Son are one. In the greek the word is καθώς. It is a word that is used to mark the similarity that exists between things. It actually appears three times in this passage. In verse 21 it is translated “just as”, but in verses 22 and 23 it is translated “even as”.  Verse 22: “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 17:23, ESV)

So much can be said about this. But the point that I wish to make today is that Jesus prayed, not for unity of just any kind, but for the kind of unity that exists between he and the Father. His desire is that we be one just as he and the Father are one.

Notice that this speaks both to the substance, or ground, of our unity, and also to the quality of it. In other words, it answers the question, what is to unify us? and also, to what degree or depth are we to be unified?

Let us first deal with the substance of our unity. What is the glue that is to bind us together? That is the question. To get the answer we must first ask what is the glue that binds Christ and the Father together? What is the basis for their unity? For whatever binds them together ought to also bind us together since Christ’s prayer is that we would be one just as he and the Father are one.   

So what is at the core of Christ’s union with the Father? What is the unifying agent? What is the glue?

Some have insisted that it is the divinity of Christ that is in view here – that it was the divine nature in Christ that made him one with the Father – as if the unity that he spoke of was an ontological unity – the Father is divine and the Son is divine therefore they are unified as one. And though is it true that Christ is divine – that in him there is both the divine nature and a human nature united in one person forever – that does not seem to be what is in view here in Jesus’ prayer. That point is made elsewhere for sure, but it does not seem to be the point here.

Instead, Jesus is praying as Christ or Mediator. He is praying as God’s faithful servant – the Father’s faithful Son – who has accomplished everything that the Father gave him to do. The unity that he refers to here is not the unity of essence that exists between he and the Father (thought that certainly exists), but a unity in purpose – a unity rooted in word and in work.

This theme is massive in John’s gospel. Jesus Christ, who is the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, was obedient to the Father in his words and in his works. I could direct you to John 5:19 and following, for example. Or to John 8:36 and following. I could also direct you John 10:30 and to that famous declaration of Jesus when he said “I and the Father are one.” As the passage unfolds from there it is clear that he his emphasizing his unity with the Father as it pertains to his words and work. But in reality we need not look any further than to the beginning of this prayer to observe this theme. Jesus prayed to the Father in 17:4 saying, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4, ESV) And in verse 8 he prayed, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (John 17:8, ESV)

This is the thing that Jesus is stressing here. It is the word of God and the work of God which serve as the unifying agent between Jesus the Christ and God the Father.  Jesus is one with the Father in that he is in perfect harmony with him. God’s word is his word. God’s work is his work. I am not denying their ontological unity – their unity by virtue of their shared divinity – but I am saying that that is not what is in view here. Instead the context demands that we see faithfulness to the word of God and the work of God as the glue which binds Jesus the Christ together with the Father.

Recognize that Jesus was faithful to give his people God’s word.

“In the beginning was the Word… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:1,14, ESV)

John 8:28:  “So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28, ESV)

In John 12:49 Jesus says, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49–50, ESV)

And notice also that Jesus was faithful to do the Fathers work.

In John 5:36 Jesus says, “…For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36, ESV)

And in John 17:4 he says, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4, ESV)

What am I getting at exactly?

That Jesus prayed for unity is clear. But it is unity of a particular kind that he has in mind. His desire is that we would be one just as he and the Father are one. His oneness with the Father was rooted in his faithfulness to the Father’s word and the Father’s work. That is the glue which binds God the Father and Jesus the Christ together! And it is to be the glue which binds us together too! Christ is what we share in common – union with Christ by faith; belief in and obedience to his word; and devotion to the continuation of his work. He is the vine, we are the branches. We enjoy the union with one another that Christ prayed for only so long as we are bond together in him, in accordance with his word and work.

Let Us Purse A Unity That Is Deep And Substantial, And Not Superficial

Now that we have dealt briefly with the substance or ground of our unity, let us also say a word about the quality of it. If Christ is indeed the thing that binds us together, then we have all that we need to pursue a unity that is deep and substantial, and not superficial.

Clearly Christ’s desire is that we enjoy deep unity with one another. Not only do the words “just as”, or “even as” speak to the substance or ground of our unity with one another, but also to the quality of it. It is safe to say that Jesus Christ and God the Father enjoyed substantial and deep unity. Their unity was indeed perfect unity. Christ lived in perfect harmony with the Father.  Never were they out of step. God’s word was Christ’s word – God’s work, was Christ’s work. Jesus and the Father were one (John 10:30).  And it is our Spirit wrought belief in the word of Christ, and or devotion to the work of Christ which makes a deep and substantial union amongst ourselves possible.

Everyone desires to see unity within the church. I’ve never met a Christian who has said that they were happy about all of the division that exists within Christ’s church. If the division does not grieve our souls then there is something wrong within us. We should strive for unity. We should pray for unity as Christ did. But we should also take care to pursue the right kind of unity, and in the right way.

Here is my concern. It seems that some within the church who are hungry for unity (which is to be commended) have erred in that they have made unity the supreme thing. And because they have made it the supreme thing, they are willing to pursue it at all costs. And having pursued unity at all costs, they have settled for a kind of unity which looks nothing like the unity that Christ petitioned the Father for – it differs in substance and degree.

Brothers and sisters, unity is not the supreme objective of Christ. He did not come for the purpose of bringing unity. Listen to his words in Matthew 10:34:  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34–36, ESV)

Jesus brings division. His doctrine divides. His word sets those who are his apart from those who are of the world. His word distinguishes between truth and error. You are either for him or against him.

His mission was to redeem a people for himself. He mission was to reveal truth from above. He came as a light shining in the darkness. These objectives inevitably involve division! If the world were not fallen, living in darkness, and opposed to God, there would be no division at all. But the world is indeed hostile to the things of God, therefore Christ brings division.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus’ objective is not unity per se, but to redeem a people for himself. And it is unity amongst the redeemed for which Christ prays. Those who have made unity the supreme thing have in fact turned Christianity on it’s head. They have made unity the first thing, and truth the second, when in fact truth is to be the first, and then the desire for unity amongst those who have been born of that truth from above.

When we make unity the supreme thing we will inevitably pursue it at all costs. The trend in Evangelicalism today (it has been the trend for a hundred years or more) is to pursue unity by minimizing doctrine. “Let us say as little as possible about Christ – his word, and his work – so as not to offend.” That is the thought! The mantra is, “doctrine divides, but Jesus unites!” And so churches continue to claim belief in Christ while saying as little as they can about him – even neglecting things clearly taught in his word. It is unity at all costs – unity at the expense of truth.

It is no wonder then that the unity which exists within these churches is superficial. Scratch the surface and you will see that under the veneer all manner of division exists.

Friends, this is backwards. It is not that “doctrine divides and Jesus unites”, but that “Jesus divides and his doctrine unites.” He divides in that he has calls his out of the world to belong to himself, having been given to him by the Father from before the foundation of the earth. And he further sanctifies (or sets apart) those who belong to him by his word. He calls us forth by his word, and he sanctifies us by his word. And it is his doctrine – his holy word – which unifies his people together deeply.

It is ironic, isn’t it, that very thing which can bring unity to God’s people – that is the truth of God’s word – is the thing that we neglect in the hopes of facilitating unity?

Listen to Paul as he writes to the Corinthians (a church struggling with division): “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV)

I am not saying give up on unity. And I am not saying that we are to be happy with division. By no means! We should pray to Christ that we would be one, just as he and the Father are one! And we should work towards it with all that we are. But we should pursue the right kind of unity in the right way.

To pursue unity within the church without concern for sound doctrine is like attempting to join the pieces of a chair together without the use of nails or screws or glue. It will hold together for a little while, but things will get shaky fast, and they will eventually fall to pieces.

There is no depth to our unity apart from Christ – his person, his words, and his work.

Let Us Pursue A Unity That Is Significant For All Eternity

Brothers and sisters, may I exhort you, lastly, to pursue a unity with one another in light of it’s significance for all eternity.

I do wish that I could spend more time on this final point, but a few words will have to do. The union that you have with one another in Christ is eternal. Think about that for a moment. In eternity all other unions will fade away and will pale in comparison to our union with Christ, and to our union with one another.

Look at Christ’s prayer for us in verse 24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24, ESV)

Christ’s prayer is that we would be with him in glory. He is here referring to his final and full glory – the glory that he had with the Father before the world was created, and the glory that he returned to after his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the Fathers right hand. That is Christ’s prayer! That those given to him by the Father would be one in the here and now, and one in him for all eternity.

Why then do Christians neglect their bond with one another? Why do we settle for inferior unifying agents, and superficial forms of unity? If this is the bond that lasts forever, should we not cherish it and work to cultivate its depth and quality?

Conclusion

So much more could be said about this beautiful passage – I’ve only scratched the surface, I know. But let me provide a few points of application by way of conclusion.

One, let us pray for unity. Let us pray that the Lord would continue to bless us with unity in this local church, and even deeper unity than we enjoy now. I am pleased with the oneness that we are experiencing, but who’s to say that it cannot grow? And let us pray for unity in Christ’s universal church. I am not interested in unity that is merely organizational (Rome), nor am I interested in unity that is merely cosmetic and superficial (Evangelicalism). But we ought to desire and pray that the Lord would bless his church with real unity. Brothers and sisters, Christ prayed for unity and so should we.

Two, let us work to maintain unity. And it does take work! Just as gravity pulls upon us constantly urging us to lie down, so too sin is a constant threat against the unity of Christ’s church. I “urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV)

Three, let us work towards establishing or regaining unity where it is lacking. If we are praying for it, then we also ought to be ready and willing to work towards it. Again, I will emphasize the need for effort. Just as a marriage is only healthy where there is effort, so too the church is only healthy where there is effort. We must work towards repentance and forgiveness. We must work towards understanding the word of God. We must work towards unity. There are instances where division is inevitable and even necessary. But I would venture to guess that much division exists with the church unnecessarily so due to sin and slothfulness .

Four, I would encourage you here at Emmaus to work towards unity, not by neglecting doctrine, but by immersing yourself in it. Do not compromise on the truth of God’s word for the sake of appeasing the critic. You’ll end up with unity, but not of a deep and Christian kind. It’s better, I think, to hold unwaveringly to the truth of God’s word, with a spirit of humility, and in persistent prayer. See doctrine, not as a problem to be avoided, but as a great blessing to the church and something which in fact fosters Christian unity.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23–25, ESV)

Comments are closed.


"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church