“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” John 17:20-23 (NLT)
Do you remember the hairstyle Dorothy Hamill sported at the 1976 Olympics? Did you have that hairstyle? Maybe you remember the “Rachel.” It was a hairstyle made popular by the character played by Jennifer Aniston on the TV show, Friends. If you’re not into hair, maybe you wore Hammer Pants, had a pair of Jellies. Have you spent any time trying to figure out a Rubik’s Cube? Maybe you’re the groupie of an author, musician, or actor.
Regardless of the drive to be independent, humans have a desire to “belong.” Belonging implies there is more than one—a group of one is not much of a group. As Jesus finishes His prayer, He prays for you and me and His prayer is specific—that they be one.
Is Unity Possible?
Unity—it seems elusive—perfect unity seems impossible. If you have been part of a group—even a group of two—you know unity is difficult—let me suggest not impossible.
The impossibility arises from the misinterpretation of unity.
Unity is not uniformity. I live in the Midwest. Growing up there were no “minorities” in my town, any of the small towns around mine—as far as I knew there were no minorities in the entire state. I grew up surrounded by Anglo-Saxons, more specifically W.A.S.P.s—White Anglo-Saxon Protestants—there were a few Roman Catholics but not many. The community I grew up in was uniform—but there was little unity.
Being the same doesn’t breed agreement, in fact, I would say it causes more disagreement than it produces. Jesus was not praying that all His followers would be that same. The call of the gospel is for all to come, but not that all who come become the same. Grace and mercy see beyond the individual differences each person brings to the cross.
Unity is not unanimity. I don’t agree with everything my denomination espouses. I do agree with most of it. What about the parts I disagree with? I live out those convictions as I understand scripture. Jesus wasn’t praying for a band of rule following, Bible-verse-quoting, robots. Jesus wanted His followers to experience a life of freedom constrained by love.
This Is Unity
What is unity? Jesus spells it out in His prayer. Jesus prayed that His followers would have one goal—a full, deep relationship with the Father that results in the desire to bring Him glory. The Message paraphrases Jesus praying like this:
“I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in Me because of them and their witness about Me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as you, Father, are in Me and I in You, so they might be one heart and mind with Us. Then the world might believe that You, in fact, sent Me. The same glory you gave Me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as We are— I in them and You in Me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent Me and loved them in the same way You’ve loved Me. John 17:20-23
One goal—to glorify God—that’s unity.
Father, remind me that the call of Christ is to glorify You with all that I have. To live like Christ, willing to bend my will for Your glory. May the world see the love of God through me. Make the prayer of Your people the same as Christ’s—make us one!