We’re watching Jesus pray for Himself, His disciples, and us on the night before He was crucified. His primary prayer for “those who will believe” (John 17:20) was unity, and He prayed for two things that would help us get there.

John 17:20-23.

  1. Pursue God’s Glory. Check last week’s post to explore this.
  2. Recognize Christ in us.

I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.  –John 17:23a

Of the relationship between Jesus and God, Jesus had said to Philip earlier in the evening:

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  –John 14:10

And of the relationship between us and Jesus, He said a bit later,

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  –John 15:5

We are in Jesus.

Jesus is in us.

God the Father is in Jesus.

It’s an inadequate analogy, as they all are, but this vine-branch imagery is so effective. Take a minute to think it through.

vine & branches (c) Carole Sparks
  • The branch grows out of the main vine yet, at its base, it is clinging to and permanently integrated with the vine. The branch is in the vine.
  • The vine sends nutrients and water into the branch, stretching its influence on the branch to the outermost twig and leaf. The vine is in the branch.
  • The vine and branch are part of the same system.
    • The vine depends on the branch to produce fruit and take in sunlight. (Before anyone objects, Jesus “depends” on us only because that’s the way God set it up. He could totally do it without us if He wanted.)
    • The branch depends on the vine for nutrients, water, and structure.
  • But there’s a subordination.
    • The vine continues to flourish if the branch is cut off. It has plenty of other branches.
    • The branch cannot grow without the vine (John 15:60).

Our unity comes from our shared “in-ness,” from feeding off the same vine. For this reason, Paul said,

So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  –Romans 12:5

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

So often, we’re more interested in the differences, in pointing to how one is right and another wrong, one is strong and another weak. What if we quit pointing fingers at each other and instead pointed our lives, both inwardly and outwardly, toward Christ?

The opposite of unity is not division but confusion and disorder. Look it up. An army has divisions, but all are working toward a common goal. There’s no confusion. Our lack of unity confuses those who are watching and wondering about Jesus. It’s worth saying again…

I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  –John 17:23

Our unity glorifies God because we don’t all think the same way or see the world the same way.

Don’t confuse unity and uniformity. We are not all alike, and we don’t need to be. (See my post, Popcorn Conformity.) In fact, our unity glorifies God because we don’t all think the same way or see the world the same way. It takes work to establish and maintain unity in the midst of all these differences. But when all of us, in all our different ways, are working toward the same goals, the watching world will see order, relationship, honor, and yes, even God’s glory. Sure, we’ll step on each other’s toes occasionally, but we forgive and keep going. Unity is necessary for our witness.

As long as the body of Christ lacks unity, as long as the watching world sees confusion and discord, we fail to represent the One we claim to serve. It’s back to basics for the Church because #unity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks.

Oh, this was difficult, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the service. I could write a short book on this topic. (Should I?) Let me know what resonates with you and/or where I lost you as we walked through these four verses, both this week and last week. The comments are open, as always.

See also Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:1-4.

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