Church Unity: So that they will know
So, by now perhaps some of you are beginning to ask the question: “Why are we spending so long on the topic of church unity? You’ve made your point, haven’t you?” Well, the reason is because there are massive implications for the unity of the church. One of the most significant, which we’ll be looking at this morning, is this: There is a direct connection between unity in the church and the world believing that Christ is who He said He is. There is a direct connection between believers being unified, and the world believing the gospel.
This morning we will be reading from the holy ground of the prayer of Jesus. We will hear the words spoken by the voice of Jesus Christ the righteous one, just hours before He was arrested. We will listen to what was prayed by God Himself as He took on flesh and stood in our midst. Now, I hope that we always have a sense of being in a holy place when we read Scripture. It is ALL holy, and all EQUALLY holy. Leviticus is just as inspired as this prayer. BUT, I hope you feel the great weight of God’s glory as we read the words of Christ as He prays. This is an incredible text, because in it we see the desires of Christ! Often times we struggle to know what Christ wants us to do. We pray and struggle just to understand the will of God. We talk with others and search through the scriptures just to find the smallest hint to tell us what we should do. Then, sometimes, God makes it very plain. We see the will of God plainly in this text. We see Christ making His desires for us crystal clear! So then, let us read and listen in reverence together to these words from God.
READ John 17
The desire we see leaving the lips of Christ Himself, God in the flesh, is this: that the believers would be ONE. Brothers and sisters, if nothing else has convinced you that the church MUST pursue unity, let the words of Christ convince you. If you have disregarded other things I’ve said, feel free to continue doing so, but do not disregard the words of Christ. If you have for any reason postponed or put off doing what it takes for you personally to contribute to the unity of Newcastle FBC, then hear the words of Christ this morning. Hear the desire in His voice. Hear the passion in the heart of God! Christ desires the unity of the church. Christ REQUIRES the church to be unified.
Now the first thing we need to realize this morning is this: the unity that Christ desires does not come apart from Him. Unity among believers, like everything else, is NOT a grit-your-teeth-and-do-it sort of thing. The wrong response to seeing what God’s word says about unity would be to say: “Yep, WE have to try harder and WE need to do better.” No, the unity that Christ desires in us is empowered by Christ Himself! This is what we saw last week. The gospel of Jesus Christ creates unity. Unity with each other ONLY grows out of a personal unity with God. So the correct response to the Biblical command to be unified is to first and foremost seek to know Christ more, to treasure Him more, to be more submissive to His will, and to be more like Him. That’s where unity will come from. If our minds and hearts are not personally set on Christ, then we will never be of one mind corporately.
Now, don’t miss this. The gentle and subtle lie of Satan is to push us to look at church unity in the light of what everyone needs to do instead of what I need to do. In response to God’s word, don’t allow yourself to think “Yes, WE need to do that. Everyone in the church needs to do these things.” Yes, that’s true, but thinking of it that way shifts the responsibility of action away from MY heart. In human behavior studies, there’s a principle that relates very closely to this. What researchers have found is that there have been many times when a tragedy has occurred because people failed to act to stop it. The reason people did not act to stop whatever tragedy is because they thought, “Surely someone else will do something.” The classic example is of a woman in a crowded apartment building in New York who is assaulted in the middle of the afternoon. Police reports show that dozens of people heard it happening, but no-one even called the police, because they all thought “Someone else will do something about it.” Thinking about what EVERYONE should do dulls the conviction about what I need to do. And what God’s word calls every single one of us in this room to do is to individually pursue a personal unity with Christ! And out of that unity with Christ, as your will and mind and heart and passions are conformed to those of your Savior, church unity will come.
Now, how can I say that so certainly? How do I know that being personally unified with Christ will bring corporate unity in the church? There are many reasons, but the most important is this: I know that personal conformity to Christ will bring mutual unity in the church BECAUSE CHRIST PRAYED THAT IT WOULD BE SO! We have spoken about the power of prayer. We have prayed much, and when we pray it is in His name. He prays in no one’s name. The prayer of Christ is as good as a decree because He is God! If WE can pray and be assured that Christ will give us what we need, we can be rock-solid, 100% sure that whatever Christ prays WILL happen! Here’s where I’m getting this from:
àààREAD John 17:20-23, highlighting 20b & 23b
The first time, Christ says, “…that they may be in us so that the world may believe…” The second time, Christ says, “May they be brought to complete unity so the world may know…”. In Christ’s prayer, the believers first need to be in Christ. AFTER He prays that they would all be in Him, THEN He prays “May THEY be brought to complete unity…” Believers are unified to Christ first, and then once they are with Christ they are brought to unity with one another. It is impossible to be of one mind and one accord with the brothers and sisters if you are not of one mind and accord with Christ.
Now, let’s look specifically at one reason that this is impossible that explodes out of this passage. It is necessary to be unified with Christ in order to be unified with each other because of the depth of unity Christ prays for. Christ prays for complete or perfect unity in verse 23. In verses 11, 21, and 22 He prays for a unity among Christians that is equal to the unity between Christ and God. Now, let’s just camp out on that thought for just a moment. Christ says that He wants us to be one just as He is one with the Father. So what is the relationship between Christ and the Father? They are ONE! They are two persons of the same God. Yahweh is one essence, one mind, one will, and at the same time He is 3 persons – Father, Son and Spirit. But Father, Son and Spirit always work in perfect unity, because there are of one mind…so none of the three do anything without the other two.
àààThink of this, suppose you told me “Well, I decided to eat lunch at Subway today.” and I said, “Oh really? Well did you want to do that?” In just the same way, there is NO conflict between the members of the Trinity because there is only one will present in all three persons.
THAT is the sort of unity that Christ prays for between believers! Heh…see how impossible it is? We may generally get along, but there will ALWAYS be different desires working among the body because there is more than one set of desires present. SO, the sort of unity that Christ prays for literally cannot come from something WE do among ourselves. It can ONLY come from something GOD does among us. We have all of these different sets of desires that come out in each person, and so what Christ is praying for is that we would dismiss our own desires, and that each one of us individually would seek to have the same desires as Christ. When THAT becomes the case, it’s not my will, your will, your will, your will; it’s Christ’s will, Christ’s will, Christ’s will, Christ’s will. THAT is where unity comes from. A body of believers will only be unified to the extent that the members put away their own individual desires and are conformed to the mind of Christ. 1 Cor 2:16 – “We have the mind of Christ.”
Philippians 2:5 – “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Therefore, in order to pursue corporate unity, each individual’s focus must be twofold:
- Make sure that you personally are in Christ
- If not — Believe that Christ is Lord, repent of your sins, and commit your life to Him
- If yes — Strive to ever more continually take out your desires and put in God’s desires.; press on to allow the Holy Spirit to conform your will to the will of Christ; seek for a decrease of you and an increase of Him!
- Make sure others around you are in Christ
- ~!! MUST be willing to hold one another to Biblical scrutiny; emphasis on Biblical. If we are to hold each other accountable, it is not to my standard or your standard, but God’s standard as set forth in the Bible.
- If not in Christ — Love them enough to approach them gently with your concerns, lovingly tell them what you see, and help them get IN CHRIST
- If yes — (DON’T ASSUME THIS) Edify one another. Hold each accountable. Spur one another on. Teach, admonish, and rebuke. All this is for the purpose of helping each other conform our desires to God’s will; to put away what WE want, and put on what Christ wants.
Now, finally, what’s the purpose of this? WHY is Christ praying for such a complete and perfect unity? What does unity among the body of saint produce?
ààà READ John 17: 21, 23
The PURPOSE of perfect unity is so that the world may see Christ in us, and have eternal life through belief in Him.
Here is the principle: the gospel of Christ creates unity in the body, and unity then proclaims the gospel. This is HUGE! What this means is that the more unified a church is, the more effective it will be in proclaiming the gospel to a lost world. The more divided a church is, the less it will look like Christ, and the less it will give evidence that Christ is who He says He is. Therefore, if the church is to fulfill the great commission, if the church is to live up to the constant calling in Scripture to make disciples and proclaim the gospel, if the church is to accomplish the task God has created it for, it MUST.BE.UNIFIED! And for the body to be unified the believers MUST be IN CHRIST. Therefore, the faithfulness and success of the church as a whole in proclaiming the gospel depends on your individual conformity to Christ. As you conform yourself to the mind of Christ, you will be of one mind with the other believers who are in Christ, and as the believers are unified together in Christ the church becomes a visual, tangible proclamation of the truths about Christ to the world who looks on.
What Christ is praying here is that the church would accomplish the mission that the Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit have been pursuing since creation. If you remember some time ago, in January I believe, we looked at how God’s purpose since the very dawn of time was to make a people for himself which consists of believers from every tribe, nation, and language. Christ instituted the church in part to further that goal, and when everyone in the body is focused on replacing their own desires with the desires of Christ, THIS is what the church will be doing. In Matthew 24:14 Christ tells us explicitly that He will not return until the whole world hears the gospel. In Matthew 28, Christ gives the Kingly commission with the full weight of His ultimate authority and says “Go…to the very ends of the earth.” God has ordained that the unified church would give testimony to His Lordship and to His love. And this is not something new that happens in the New Testament.
READ Isaiah 43:10-13
God established Israel as a testimony to His goodness and love, and we are the new Israel.
The New Testament church is now the testimony to that fact that Christ is who He says He is. There are two things that Christ points out will be our testimony: the world will see in our unity that He is Lord, and the world we see in our unity that He is love.
- In John 11 & 16 Christ says that believing that He is from God is essential. Jesus said that He is not only FROM God, He IS God. “I and the Father are one.” “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” When we, as a body of believers, put away our own personal desires in order to submit to the will of Christ – the world sees that Christ is Lord.
- When we love one another deeply, and when we love the world sacrificially, the world will know that God has loved us first and most.
- John 3:16 picks both of these themes up clearly – “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”John 17:3 – “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
General – Are we submissive to Jesus Christ? Do we treat His Word as decree in our lives? As people look at our lives, they will know how we think of Christ by how we act. Does your life make it plain that Christ is Lord here?
Mothers – As women who are in Christ, do you give testimony to Christ’s Lordship? Do you respect and honor your husband? Do you faithfully minister to your family? Are you raising your children to be Christ-loving adults?
Fathers – As men in Christ, do you give testimony to Christ’s lordship? Do you rely on the principles of Bible to lead your family, or do you lead your family in your own wisdom? Do you love and protect and honor your wife? Do you shepherd your children to know about who God is and what he has done?
Kids/Youth – What sort of testimony are you being for Christ? Do your friends look at your life and say, “He obeys Jesus.”? Do you honor, and I mean really honor, your parents? Do you flee from immoral things and speak cleanly?
Seniors – Do you minister to those in the fellowship who are younger than yourself? Do you share your wisdom with them? Do you eagerly pray for them? Senior ladies, do you mentor the young women in the church and build them up in Godliness? Senior men, do you mentor younger men up to be faithful shepherds of their families?
Our lives WILL say something about who we think Christ is. What does your life say about Christ? Does it say that He is Lord, the God of the universe by whom all things were created? Submitting to Christ mutual unity will show this.
General – Does the interaction of the body with each other give testimony to the fact that God has poured out His love on us? Christ said “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” The world makes this accusation all the time: They’ll see someone who claims to be a Christian doing something wrong, and they will attribute that wrongness to God’s character – “Well if that’s what your God is like, then I don’t want any part.” When the world sees the relationship between the members of this body, do they see the great love of God?
Pointed – What can you personally do to testify to the love of God? This is not a rhetorical question. Think of something that you personally could do to show the love of Christ to the other members of this body, and then do it!
Brothers and sisters, a complete and perfect unity among Christians is only possible when those Christians are unified in Christ…and when Christians are unified in Christ, the world will see that Christ is Lord, and that He is love.
- How do we as a church fulfill the call of the great commission? Seek to be unified.
- How does the church most effectively proclaim the gospel? Seek to be unified.
- How does the body of believers let the world know that Christ is Lord? Seek to be unified.
- How do we show the world that God is love? Seek to be unified.
Christ has prayed that it would be so, and brothers and sisters the glorious truth is that He Himself will provide the strength for all these things if we trust in Him to give it. Let us submit to His will. Let us pursue Him so that we might be found IN Him. And being found in Him, may the bond between us be strengthened so that the light of the gospel that shines out of the church will shine into the hearts of the world so that they might know and believe that Christ is from God, and that God has loved them.