16. Christ’s Prayer for the United Ecclesia (John 17)
Christ’s great intercessory prayer, recorded in John 17,
is the most intimate outpouring of the Son’s heart to the Father that is
recorded in all of the Bible. The apostles heard the words as they followed
their Master, but the thoughts were too deep for them at that stage. In a way,
perhaps, we today are just as unprepared for the crystal clarity, the
uncompromising perfection implicit in his words:
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also
which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou,
Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the
world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I
have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou
in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that
thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved
Elaborating on the request first uttered in v. 11 (“that
they may be one”), Christ repeats this wonderful prayer four more times
(vv. 21 — twice, 22, and 23). It must be to the great embarrassment of
strict separatists that this particular aspect is so emphasized in this place.
But never mind how difficult, how humanly impossible it appears, this unity is
an achievable goal, with Christ’s help.
“ ‘That they all may be ONE.’ Here the word
‘one’ is not masculine, but neuter, and probably presupposes
‘one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13) or ‘one Body’, for both of
these are neuter nouns. No matter. ‘That they all may be
one....that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (v. 21). Instead
they are not all one, not by any means as much as they might be. And if the
world quizzically comments: ‘How these brethren in Christ love one
another!’ it is certainly not helped to believe in the Christ they all
honour” (H. Whittaker, “Block Disfellowship”, The
Testimony, Vol. 43, No. 513 — Sept. 1973 — p. 343).
“The only way that believers can show that they dimly perceive the
immensity of what Jesus sought from his Father, is to make this harmony of love
and consideration so real in their individual and ecclesial lives that people of
the world recognize it as the practical manifestation of the life and teaching
of Jesus — even though they themselves may not always respond to it.
Particularly in this way is the Master glorified in his household.
“The conscious and deliberate effort of every member of an ecclesia is
needed to preserve this divine unity: it has to be a community effort. The joy
of it is that Jesus is part of this cooperation. He knows that
difficulties will arise in ecclesias; he knows that it is only by ‘getting
together’ that ecclesias can solve difficulties; that is why he promised,
in case of dispute, to be ‘in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18:20). Why
do we so frequently forget, or ignore this?” (J. Marshall, “The
Living Ecclesia”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 108, No. 1280 —
Feb. 1971 — p. 54).