Christian unity is one of the most desired-and most misunderstood-qualities of the church.
In John 17, Jesus prays for unity among His disciples and those who would hear their preaching (that includes you and me). What did He actually pray for?
He did not pray for a one-world church under one leader. He did not pray for a uniform set of external standards followed by all who call themselves “Christians.” He did not pray for unanimity on every single doctrinal point taught in Christian churches. He did not pray for an indefinable “something” that would take place in some distant, unforeseeable future.
These are what most people (including many Christians) assume when they hear of “Christian unity.” Actually, Jesus prayed for something much more profound, powerful – and simple.
Christian unity began that night in the Upper Room. Jesus’ prayer activated Christian unity, not just for the distant future but in the moment He prayed. His prayer stated the eternal plan of God about to be fulfilled a few hours later on the cross.
You and I, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are recipients of that eternal plan.
In essence, Christian unity is the life we share with one another through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This life began and has come down to us through the preaching of the apostles who were with Jesus that night He prayed. This life is activated through the Holy Spirit. Whatever our differences in time, background and experience, we all share the permanent presence of God in our lives because of the cross. We each have the same Holy Spirit. We each have the opportunity to grow and mature in Christ and express it through the fruit of His Spirit.
As believers, we share the reality of being chosen by Him before the foundation of the world. Each of us is loved by the Father even as He loved Jesus the Son. Each of us grows in that love so we are better able to love one another.
We all share God’s love and the foundation for love of one another. We share His mission, whatever our racial, cultural, generational and economic differences. We possess different gifts and callings, we come from different times and places, but we all have the same Spirit who uses these different gifts for the same purpose – to glorify God and bless others.
Many times, we don’t express unity very well, but from the moment Jesus prayed His prayer in John 17, we gained that potential.
Because of God’s initiative of love through Jesus Christ, unity is not some elusive “something” we strive for but “Someone” we already have and need to know better.
Christian unity takes place when we begin to practice what God has already given to us. Christian unity takes place when we as believers in Jesus Christ act as if His Spirit already lives within us, and that He is always eager to reveal Himself through us by the fruits and gifts of His Spirit.
Before He prays over His disciples and the church in John 17, Jesus has already announced the coming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. In John 16, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will strengthen His followers even more than His physical presence (John 16:7). Christian unity results because of His Spirit’s presence.
Therefore, when Jesus prays in John 17, He does not introduce unity as an isolated topic but as the practical and vital outcome of what will happen through the Holy Spirit whom He has already described in chapters 14-16. Christian unity is not something we do but rather what He does through us – when we let Him.
God is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:8), that is, to show unity with one another. The visible manifestation of Christian unity is a sure sign to the world of His continual presence in His church.
When this unity does not appear visibly, it is because we have prevented it. Whenever we judge a fellow believer, or whenever we fail to forgive him/her, we judge that person on the basis of outward things, though the Spirit of God dwells in both of us. When we do this, we “quench the Spirit.” To quench the Spirit means to silence the Spirit. We prevent the Holy Spirit from speaking and working through our lives because of false notions and unbelief.
Right now, unity does not seem apparent to many because of the church’s many thousands of denominations. Many Christians become embarrassed and discouraged by this, but like Charles Spurgeon indicated, this is because we have focused on “the rough shell of the clam while forgetting the pearl inside”. That “pearl” of unity is above all else, an inward work of the Spirit, not an outward thing such as church organization.
The more we realize that the essence of unity is already ours through the finished work of Christ and the continual presence of His Spirit within us, we will love Him more and love each other more. The barriers that divide us will begin to crumble, and the world will begin to see unity in action.
Let us pray daily that God will revive us and re-awaken us to the Truth we too often forget—His continual presence in each of us who is His child. The enemy works day and night to blind us to who and what we already are and have in Him so as to deny God His rightful glory. Let us disappoint the devil as we pray for our own revival!
When we pray for revival, He will answer, and we will also see His Spirit poured out upon many others who still await and long for the Truth, and for the unity for which Jesus prayed.
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Father God, thank you for laying the foundation for unity through the finished work of your Son, Jesus Christ, and the work of your Holy Spirit. Help me to better practice your presence and put these wonderful truths to work in my life that I may love you more and love my brothers and sisters more. Send a great revival to your church that breaks down barriers of judgment and unforgiveness, and testifies to the world of your glory and power. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.