by Ed de la Cour on February 24, 2014

John 17: 20 – 23                                                       February 23, 2014



         In our culture, the idea of unity is a lot like ideas about love.  Love is warm and fuzzy.  When people speak of love, images of cute and cuddly toys float into the mind.  And, just as with the idea of love, the majority of people in our culture understand unity to be something that is weak and feminine and not manly or strong.  Hollywood has redefined love so completely that not only America, but also the whole world has fallen into the grip of the cynical and self-serving promises of desire.     


         As Christians, you and I know that is a lie.  Love is not an emotion or a feeling.  Love is not a wild and unrestrained flood of hormones.  Instead, you and I have come to know love is a conscious decision.  Love is a hard choice that we get to make, and once we make that choice, its consequences carry on throughout life.  We can easily fall in and out of lust or like, but love is a decision.  When we decide, when we choose, to love we are placing the needs of another ahead of our own needs.  Love means death to self-possession and the promotion of someone other than you.  Love is hard. 


Unity is hard also, and just as with love, unity requires making conscious choices.  When we choose unity, we are choosing to remain in unity even when there are squabbles and differences of opinion.  Unity does not happen apart from genuine love.  As with love, unity is counter-intuitive.  As with love, choosing to stay united often makes no sense.  We must choose to set aside our pride.  We must choose to leave our prejudices and preferences behind.  We make those choices for a purpose greater than our own happiness. 


Our greater purpose is the Kingdom of God.  This is what it means to be a Christian in life-changing and practical terms.  We are now focused on Jesus.  We are focused on obeying His Word and allowing His love to live in us.  We organize our lives around the Gospel of grace and we aim ourselves toward the Kingdom of God.  These may be big ideas and big concepts, but that’s the Gospel.  God intends that we learn how to live the Gospel we say we believe.  If that’s not where we are in the way we think, we are still not Christians.  God intends that we be the church and not just go to church. 


As a church, we have made a choice to follow Jesus.  That is what Christian churches do.  Although we try to be sociable, we are not a social club.  It costs a lot to be a member of a church that follows Jesus.  Following Jesus means making decisions that are like the decisions Jesus made, and look what that cost Him!    Loving people the way Jesus loved people is a conscious choice, but that’s what we’ve decided.  To be part of our church means you are willing to make those hard choices to love and to live in unity.  It doesn’t mean you’re promising to be perfect; it means this is the intent of your life.


In our church, when you and I agree to be in covenant, we are saying, Yes to God.  Yes, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in agreement with God’s purposes for us as a church. Yes, I will also live my life purposefully.  I will reach for the goal of seeing the people of Cape Cod come to know the love of Jesus in a personal way.  While many of my friends may focus their lives on drama and on the small and petty things of life, I choose to fix my attention on Jesus.  I choose to focus on matching the needs of the hurt and broken with the Savior who died for them and who rose again to bring the life of God to bear on the brokenness of this world. 


Our text is John 17: 20 – 23.  This is a paragraph taken out of the context of Jesus’ prayer to His Father just before His arrest, and overheard by His disciples.  Here is where Jesus prays for you and me.  He does not pray in difficult to understand images.  He doesn’t pray that we will be free from hard times or persecution.  He doesn’t ask God to make it so we can experience financial prosperity.  But He does pray for unity among those who have decided to follow Jesus.  He prays toward that very specific purpose.


         Unity in the body of believers ultimately leads to lost people being found by God.  That is the target Jesus is aiming for in His prayer. All around us lost people are dying without the Savior.  All around us a world full of people is living who have no clue there is a God who cares for them.  Each one of them is targeted by the love of God.  You and I live in a target rich environment.  When you and I choose to live in conscious harmony with each other, we are living so that “the world may believe that You have sent Me.”  We are in agreement with Jesus’s John 17 prayer.  God answers the prayers of Jesus!  The purpose of the Christian’s life is to glorify God and God is glorified when lost people see Jesus in us and, as a consequence, they come to know God and are saved.


Let’s unpack this thought a little.  In any given church, there may actually be very few people who are truly gifted in evangelism, gifted in sharing the Gospel.  I read somewhere that maybe 10% of the average church is gifted in sharing their faith.  Buttonholing people and passing out evangelistic tracts are decidedly not the point of what Jesus prayed.  The point of Jesus’s prayer is that unity, love, and harmonious relationships are in themselves powerful tools and they are mighty in the hands of God. 


Being one, living in unity with one another, is much more than everyone having the same political beliefs or the same tastes in music.  In the heart of God, being of one mind, being united has an overriding Kingdom purpose.  God’s purpose is for people to be touched deep within their own hearts by the love His children have for each other.  You don’t want to force or manipulate that kind of love.


Lots of people miss the point of unity, and so they continually argue over small differences and create unnecessary and sinful divisions.   By urging us forward, because Jesus prayed into this high value in the Kingdom of God, God is seeking to create a palpable sense of oneness in the Church that bears His name.  When unity is alive and active, when the church functions in unity of purpose, it is something is so powerful and so strong it takes your breath away.


You’ll notice Jesus didn’t preach this is a sermon; He prayed this as a prayer.  Unity is birthed in intimacy with God.  When our worship of God is real and intimate, love flows and unity happens.  When no one has to force us to sing and pray and declare God’s goodness, that’s when God is free to give His church the gifts of love and unity.  Intimacy in worship means we are no longer going through the motions of church, but we are actively and personally responding to what God is doing and to what God has done in our lives. 


Worship has very little to do with music.  Hymns, worship songs, piano, organ, or drums – they are irrelevant in the face of God.  What God is looking for are hearts on fire for Him.  Those hearts may be inspired by music, but they are not ignited by music.  Hearts on fire are fed and encouraged by the presence of God.  God’s presence comes when God’s presence is invited.  When you are alone in your room and you are reading your Bible, you can invite God to come into that room where you are.  Holy God, come here today!  Make yourself known and show us Your love for us. 


Let’s ask God to give us a desire for closeness to God.  You know, God is already looking for you.  He is already seeking to find you and to show you how to experience true intimacy in your worship.  When there is intimacy in worship, when the presence of God does not frighten us away, when there is intensity in our prayer, a white-hot passion for the presence of God is kindled and God is glorified.  When God is glorified, His people walk in agreement.


The primary reason why so few lost people are being found is that so few Christians are earnestly praying.  Few Christians pray.  The research has been done and that is a statistical reality.  We are so busy and so distracted by life that prayer can’t ever be much more than an afterthought for twenty-first century Americans.  Few Christians pray and so therefore love in the church is expressed anemically.  Love is anemic, and so rather than being glorified, actually God is belittled.  When God is belittled by lovelessness and by disunity, the world around us has no clue that it is loved, and no clue that God is real.


People of God, you and I are called by God to be life-sized pictures of what the rule and reign of God looks like right here in this town.  This is why God placed us here.  We are planted here for such a time as this!  When people look at us, they should not see pettiness displayed, but patience and love, mercy and long-suffering.


You’ve read Psalm 133 before, but listen to it again: <.v.>  For a very short psalm, this one is loaded with powerful meat!  If you are concerned with how God views unity and what our responsibilities might be to maintain that unity, here the Lord brings home some strong encouragement.  God declares that unity is “good and pleasant,” but that’s an understatement.  The picture David paints is of a man being anointed with holy oil, which is always symbolic of the outpoured Holy Spirit.  The anointing pictured is not the “little dab will do ya” kind of anointing we practice.  Here a ram’s horn is filled with oil and it is literally emptied on the head of Aaron the priest.  I don’t know how to measure the quantity, but it would have been enough to run all over his head, down his beard, and all over the collar of the robes he was wearing.  That’s not a thimble full; it’s a lot of oil.  That’s an abundance of anointing, there’s plenty of power, plenty of love, and abundance of blessing to be found when people live in unity.


Do you get the feeling God loves it when His people can live together with love and purpose and without bickering?


         There is one more picture for us in this short psalm.  We are given a picture of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, a place of desert dryness experiencing the kind of morning dew that happens on the moist seaward side of Mount Hermon.  In other words, unity brings unexpected blessing.  What if God were to accomplish something in our midst that is clearly impossible and completely unexpected?  Unity brings the effect of super abundant blessing that is given by God in response to the obedience of His children, living in unity together.  Unity opens the door for whatever God may desire to do.


         God smiles when His children obey, when His children allow themselves to walk in His presence and power.  Those are not just pretty words.  When we close our worship time today, we will read Romans 15: 5 – 6, and because we want to use the Word of God to maximum effect, let’s hear that word now. <.v.>


         You know what?  Unity is hard.  Just like loving people who are weird, who are different – or who are exactly like us – unity requires a lot of work.  It all sounds lovely, it’s all fun and games until someone realizes that it takes “endurance and encouragement” in order for unity to exist and flourish.  Clearly, God wants His church to move through life as one body.  Church life is very much like married life – isn’t that the picture Paul painted in Ephesians 5: 21 - 33?  Marriage requires endurance and encouragement in order to flourish.  The deep mystery of the similarities between marriage and the unity of the Body of Christ are manifold.  We are the bride of Christ.  Marriage is a human relationship that is a living, organic picture of the relationship between Jesus and those He redeemed.  Think about it; it will take your breath away, too.  There’s a lot in the purpose of God for us that is breathtaking!


         Our job as Christians is to glorify God our Father.  That’s what it says in Romans 15: 6.  We are not to do this by ourselves, either.  For people who think they can just worship at home, alone, and stay away from the Body of Christ, Paul urges us to follow Jesus “with one heart and mouth.”  The Christian life cannot be lived successfully in solitary confinement.  The Christian life is lived in community and it is lived best when that community walks together in love and in unity.


         When we are united, we are all on the same page.  We are working together.  We are allied with one purpose and we are working with one heart.  We are not competing against each other.  The Kingdom is extended and God the Father is glorified.  Unity enables and empowers the Good News to touch the hearts of people who need God.  God wants His church to be one so that the world can discover God.  Can you think of a motivation that is greater than that?



Blessing: Romans 15: 5 – 6

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”



Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.