“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” (John 17:20-21). These passages should be familiar to any strong Bible student. These words are fundamental to the blessing of unity with the Father and the Son as well as with all who believe. This prayer has some powerful thoughts for all who claim to believe. Consider three.
- Unity Through the Apostles’ Words. Jesus specifically gives the means by which believers would be unified. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). Jesus prayed for the apostles as his own believers and then for those who would come to believe through the apostles’ words. Those words that came from the apostles that would produce unity would be and are the inspired word of God, not their mere human points of view. This is seen in the context of this prayer in John 14:23-26, John 15:26-27 and John 16:12-13. The idea that religious people who claim to believe in Jesus can be united Biblically through different faiths is denied categorically in 1 Cor. 1:10, Eph. 4:4-6 and 2 John 9-10. What the apostles said (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12-13) and wrote (cf. 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:15-16) guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21) was and is of God, not men. There can be no unity among believers apart from “their word” (John 17:20).
- Unity Tied to the Association with Deity. The word of God through the apostles is the message that brings unity with the Godhead. John wrote further, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). There is no doubt that the apostles were in the right relationship with God. Paul wrote of God’s divine economy, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles” (1 Cor. 12:28). Paul wrote to Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). He would follow that with the words, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3-4). Unity with God demands unity with the teaching (cf. John 13:23-24).
- Unity Turned toward Affecting the World. Jesus stated of this unity, “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). The unity of believers in the same truth makes a bold statement to the world. False teaching creates confusion (cf. James 3:15-16) and is not of God (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33). The world needs a clear message unmixed with the doctrines of men. It needs to be distinctive in its stand and wholeheartedly made a way of living by its adherents. The claim that one can believe whatever and still be right with God is scoffed at by the unbelieving world and condemned by the Bible (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; 15:9). Truth, by definition, is consistent with itself and not self-contradictory. Jimmy Clark