“keep them in Your name; those you gave to Me, that they may be one as We are.” John 17:11
May Be – Sometimes it takes a Greek phrase to give us deeper insight into a text. This may be one of those times. Most of us read this prayer and assume that Jesus is pleading for some future, anticipated unity. If we read Greek we would know that this isn’t true. Jesus has something else in mind, and we desperately need to know what it is.
The Greek is hina hosin. Biblical scholar R. C. H. Lenski points out that if the Greek meant “to get to be one,” the verb would have to be genontai. Instead, we have a Greek construction that must mean to continually be one. That means that Jesus is not praying that unity will come to pass at some later time, but rather that the unity already exists and the disciples are invited into it. Leon Morris notes that churches often cite this verse as a justification for ecumenism, but the real implication here is “something much more difficult. It is unity of heart and mind and will,” a unity that is founded on abiding in the divine love between the Father and Son. That kind of unity has always been the case. We don’t abide in it until we partake of the life in the Son. Jesus is not praying about getting along with your Methodist neighbors or your Pentecostal friends or your Catholic co-workers. He is praying that every follower of The Way will enter into the same personal intimacy that He enjoys with the Father. The reason that ecumenism is even possible is not our desire to join hands in fellowship. It is because when we abide in Him from the heart, we are brothers and sisters in arms with everyone else who walks in The Way.
So, what can I do to bring about this intimate, personal abiding? Do I just sit, waiting for the Spirit to suddenly empower me to become a holy person? Do I do nothing until I am overcome with God’s presence and He changes me? By now you know that God never does what we are supposed to do. He gives the gift of this spiritual intimacy, but we have to act to accept it. We are supposed to work out this relationship with fear and trembling (while God works in us). God waits for obedience before He pours on the enabling grace.
Jesus made it pretty clear. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Christians have a tendency to think that this means we are to “love” everybody. We have this amorphous, vague idea of some sort of soupy benevolence. I doubt that Jesus had that in mind. Jesus is far too direct, too practical, too operational to suggest some sort of undefined feeling. If you want to know what “commandments” Jesus had in mind, you might consider the fact that He is the “Word” incarnate. That means the author of the torah stood before the followers of The Way and told them to act according to His former instructions. Of course, He clarified a good deal about those instructions, removing man-made additions and subtractions, but He never set aside a single precept of the authorized edition. Why would He? He owns the copyright.
Unity begins with action. It ends with joy. If you aren’t experiencing that joy, maybe you need to take a look at your starting point.
Topical Index: Unity