One of the attributes of the early church that is so missing today among professing Believers is their fervent commitment to unity. And by unity we mean oneness, togetherness, brotherhood, family, fellowship or koinonia. The early church, with all their problems and issues and prejudices, truly functioned as one Body with one Lord, living as a united, undivided family with one Head, Christ (Eph. 4:4-5). Doesn’t sound like the church we attend today, does it? Did you ever wonder why?
The Final Prayer of Jesus
Jesus, in His last few words to His disciples before leaving the Upper Room, prayed for them (John. 17:9) and then prayed for us. He prayed for those “who will believe in Me through their word’ (John. 17:20). That’s you and me, the church, those who came to trust Christ through the testimony of others. Just think, one of the last prayers of Jesus before His betrayal and suffering was for us, for you and me. Pretty humbling, isn’t it.
And what was His prayer? Did He pray, like we would today, to be blessed beyond measure and experience health, wealth and prosperity to the fullest? Did He ask His Father to give us every selfish thing we could ever want or desire? Did He command His angels to go before us and never let us experience pain or suffering, betrayal or loss or anything other than the “abundant life” He promised to us as defined by us (meaning all the trinkets and toys)?
No. What Jesus prayed for, what was His final and greatest request to His Father on our behalf, was for our unity. He prayed we would all be one in Him.
“I do not pray for these (those with Him in the Upper Room) alone (or, only), but also for those who will (future tense) believe (or, have faith in, trust, be persuaded) in Me through their word; (what) that they all may be one, (to what extent) as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, (why) that the world may believe (or, have faith in, trust, be persuaded) that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).
Ouch. Stings, doesn’t it? Seems we have fallen far short of the lofty expectations of Jesus’ prayer. But it gets worse.
“And the glory which You gave Me (what) I have given them, (why) that they may be one (again, to what extent) just as We are one: (can you elaborate) I in them, and You in Me; that they may be (what) made perfect (or, complete, mature, made perfect by reaching the intended goal) in one, and (why) that the world may know (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) that You have sent Me, and have loved (agape) them (you and I, the church) as You have loved (agape) Me” (John 17:22-23).
To get this straight, Jesus said He has given us the glory, His glory, that was given to Him by His Father for the sole purpose of enabling us to live and exist and function as one body, as one flesh, in unity, each considering others more important than themselves (Phil. 2:3). And, lest we try to devalue this unity as something easily obtained like friendship or kinship or just being a buddy or a pal, Jesus further explains our unity is to be compared to the unity found between the very Members of the Godhead, the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” But why? Why is there such an overriding emphasis on unity? Why is that aspect of the Christian life so important to Jesus? What’s the big deal with the church being one?
Jesus answers and says our unity is to show “that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” Did you get the last part? Our unity reveals to the lost world that God loves us as He loves His own Son. What a blessing and privilege that is to show God’s love to others by the way we love and accept each other. When we love those God loves and accept those God has chosen, we express the love of God to others. And this was Jesus’ final prayer to you and me.
Boy, do we have a lot of work to do.
One Last Thought
One last thought, the last few words of Jesus before His fateful walk across the Kidron Valley and into the Garden of Gethsemane show us how much He desires you and me, the church, to be what He lived and died for us to be— and that is complete in Him. These were the last thoughts of our Lord before He headed to the cross.
“Father, I desire (or, wish, will, my intended purpose) that they (you and I, the church) also whom You gave Me may (what) be with Me where I am, that they (you and I, the church) may behold (what) My glory which You have given Me; for You loved (agape) Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) You, but I have known (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) You; and these (you and I, the church) have known (or, to know by experience, to be intimate with, to approve, to choose, to show favor towards, to know as in an intimate relationship) that You sent Me. And I have declared (or, make known) to them (what) Your name, and will declare it, that the love (agape) with which You loved (agapao) Me may be in them (you and I, the church), and I in them” (John 17:24-26).
Can you see how much the Lord loves you and me, His church? And His final prayer, His deep, aching desire for His church is that we be one. Together. Unified. Indivisible. Standing and contending as one man in the Spirit (Phil. 1:27) submitted to His Lordship as those created in His image (Rom. 8:29), for His glory (Col. 1:16), and having the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).
But where do we ever see this unity of the church fleshed out in real life? Are there any examples of this kind of oneness and unity for us to study, to emulate, to hold up as an ideal, or to learn from? Fortunately for us, the answer is, “Yes.” And they are found in the book of Acts.
We’ll take a look at the unity of the early church in our next post.