Read: John 17:20-23
My freshman year, I was out swing dancing with a group of friends. We took turns dancing with each other and others at the studio. As I began dancing with one guy, he asked knowingly if I was from Moody. He then pointed to my group of friends and asked if they were from Moody too. He had never met any of us, but said that Moody students have an aura. There was something about how we presented ourselves and interacted with others that made him realize we went to Moody Bible Institute. Members of groups are often identified by certain characteristics, whether it’s their style, demeanor, or interests. Even different groups of Christians are known by distinct characteristics. This isn’t a bad thing, but what we should be known for, as Christ followers, is our love and unity.
In today’s passage, Jesus transitions from praying for His twelve disciples into praying for future believers. Once more, the central focus of His prayer was that they would have unity. This passage goes on to show the purpose of this prayer for unity. Jesus wants His Church to really be His living, active body on earth, and that means sharing a unity with God just like Jesus is unified with the Father. This is how the world will know that Jesus is who He claims to be, if His followers are unified. “… that the world may know that you have sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (v. 23) The Father loves the Son more than we can imagine and this passage tells us that He loves us in the same way! By walking in step with other believers and loving each other, we are giving those who don’t know God a glimpse of His love for them.
“Be unified” is an important command, but it’s one that can mean a lot of different things depending on our definitions. I think, when we hear a word like “unify”, our imaginations tend to jump to a drop-in-the-bucket kind of idea, like something is being assimilated into a larger whole. A better way to think of Christian unity I think would be anything that can be seen as a whole object, but made of distinctive parts that work together, like a tree, a clock, or a car. Just like a tree processes nutrients throughout the entire organism, a clock processes energy through gears and springs, or a car transfers gasoline into explosive energy which turns the tires—the body of Christ-followers processes the supernatural love of God into loving action toward each-other and toward the world beyond us.
In practical experience, unity could look like a couple coming to an agreement on how to parent their kids. It looks like friends of mine who teamed up to join the Dressember campaign where they wore dresses and ties for a month to raise money for anti-trafficking organizations. It’s a community that come together to pay off the debt of a Christian brother or sister. The kind of unity Jesus is talking about isn’t abstract, it isn’t unknowable, and it isn’t strictly practical and physical. It’s what it looks like for Heaven to come to earth. Like Jesus, who is the image of Heaven working in the world, we ought to love as He did, from a source deeper than our human well. It’s a love for others that doesn’t run out of patience, it doesn’t grow cold, it cannot be swayed by moods, because it comes from a source deeper and more powerful than time and space.
In submitting our wants and desires to walk alongside others, the world sees what God is like through us. It doesn’t mean we have to put down our personalities, likes, dislikes, or convictions. We are each made for a purpose in the body of Christ, designed to fit together like a puzzle, each piece relevant to the whole (1 Cor. 12:12). It’s not just our duty as Christians to be unified and support each other, it is our privilege to become unified in order to better reflect the image of God to our neighbors!
If you attend a local church, or are part of a para-church organization, it’s time to consider getting more involved, not just in programs and service opportunities, but in individuals lives. Take some time to quiet your heart and let God speak to you. Is there someone he is putting on your heart either to pray for or spend time with? Consider taking time to talk with this person, invite them to hang out with you, or go to lunch. Much of Christian unity begins in very ordinary and mundane ways, but always must be initiated by an act of kindness and generosity.