"That They Might Be One"
Philip T. Proctor
Behold, how good a thing it is, and how becoming well
When those that brethren are delight in unity to dwell!
For it is like the sacred oil poured out on Aaron's head,
That flowing down upon his beard, upon his garment spread.
When Jesus, our greater priest than Aaron, knelt and prayed his High Priestly Prayer, you and I were on his heart. Our Lord specifically prayed not "for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their [the apostles'] word" (John 17:20). Just prior to the most momentous event of all time, his atoning work on the cross, Christ prayed for a specific group of people who were not yet his disciples, but who would be marked by faith in him.
What Does Our Lord Pray For?
It is interesting to note the focus of his petition. In a number of ways, it is not what we might expect. If our Lord were to pray for one single thing for his future bride, the church, wouldn't it be perseverance, protection from Satan, or success in evangelism? These things are certainly important for the vitality of the church, but they are the outworking of something more basic: visible unity.
In John 17:21, our Lord prays specifically that you and I who are members of the church, united to Christ by faith, "may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us." This unity is not marked by position or gifts. It includes both the apostles and us today (vs. 20), with everyone wrapped together in one glorious and mystical body, the church. Paul opens this theme in Ephesians 2:14–22, where he moves from our individual salvation and union with Christ directly to our corporate union as a holy temple. The prayer that is on the lips of our Savior is not a "me and Jesus" theology, but a pouring out of his heart's desire that we, his followers, will be united with one another.
Why Is This Unity Important?
Our Lord states that as the church bears witness through her unity, she offers the greatest apologetic for the gospel. Twice in John 17:20–23, Jesus states that the purpose of this unity is to testify to an unbelieving world, drawing them to a belief (vs. 21) and a knowledge (vs. 23) that the Father has sent the Son into the world to accomplish the church's redemption. Again, Paul unfolds this truth in Ephesians 2, where he declares that the blood of Christ has broken down the wall that separates those who are "near" to the covenant from those who are "far off" from it, so that together we may grow into that beautiful and perfect temple. Only the living Savior can unite people of every tongue, tribe, and nation into one body. Men can build empires for themselves, but once they are dead, their empires crumble. Our pursuit and practice of visible unity is a testimony to the power of the resurrected Lord, as the scholarly and the unlearned, the newborn believer and aged saint, rejoice together in the unity of the Spirit, who has applied to us the redemption purchased on the cross.
Our Lord prays that we, the church today, may be one in order to bear witness to a world lost in sin and despair. This witness shows that the gospel binds men and women, boys and girls, from every tongue, tribe, and nation, together in cords of love. The love that we have for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a response of the heart that has been made alive by God's gracious action. That love, however, must be expressed in the manner in which Jesus Christ has prayed that we express it: as a love for one another that reflects the love of the Father for the Son. As the church, the bride of Christ, is united, witness is borne to the world that the bride is looking to her bridegroom and is united with him.
As the OPC participates in this worldwide witness to the power of the gospel, we are privileged to see the continuing fulfillment of Christ's prayer request made two thousand years ago. As a foreign missionary of the OPC, I have been blessed to see this gracious and glorious work of reconciliation taking place in Uganda for the past four years. The gospel is bearing fruit as the Father continues to answer the prayer of the Son, and the church continues to be built, one precious blood-bought sinner at a time, into a glorious and holy temple in the Lord, a habitation of God through the Spirit. In Uganda, both in Mbale and in Karamoja, the quiet testimonies of changed lives and Spirit-filled relationships bear witness to the power of the gospel. As the good news of salvation goes out to the uttermost part of the earth, it is a joy to see this fruit of the Spirit, this love for God and for one another, borne by the branches of the vine. This small slice of the harvest field is replicated wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, and lives are gloriously transformed as the kingdom is extended.
It has been my great privilege, while on furlough, to be able to visit so many different OP congregations in the United States and to witness firsthand a glorious answer to Jesus' prayer taking place here at home. As we have fellowshiped with people in congregations from North Carolina to Alaska, we have rejoiced to hear the story of God's amazing grace working in so many ways and in so many places. People who were abused as children have been brought to Christ and are now building strong marriages and raising covenant children. Former prisoners who were exposed to the gospel through prison ministries of the OPC are now worshiping in OP congregations and growing in their walk with the Lord. It has been a thrill to meet military personnel in various OP congregations and to catch a glimpse of the impact of the OPC in the armed forces. Equally thrilling have been the covenant children, both those grown and those still in the home, who are bearing quiet testimony to the amazing grace of God, who is faithful to his covenant promise made to Abraham so long ago. In her worldwide outreach, both on the foreign field and here in the United States, the OPC testifies to the Father's continuing answer to his Son's petition, as our unity and love for one another bear witness to Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel.
How Is This Impossible Task Accomplished?
How are lives transformed? How are unloving and self-centered people fashioned into one body? Our Lord provides the answer in verse 22 of our passage: "The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one." Through our union with Christ Jesus, we are truly united with one another. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:4, we are united in "one hope" of eternal glory. And he states in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we are even now being transformed into the same image of our Lord, "from one degree of glory to another." Our Lord states in John 17:22 that we have been given that glory now, in this life. This is the flowering of John's earlier statement in 1:12 that those who receive Christ and believe in his name are given power to become children of God.
Beloved, Jesus Christ has purchased us, our heavenly Father has adopted us, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. What grace and glory have been showered upon us, and what grace and glory shine forth from the body of Christ, the church!
Like Hermon's dew upon the hills
Of Zion that descends,
The Lord commands his blessings there,
Even life that never ends.
The author is an OP missionary to Uganda. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 2007.