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The Prayer of Jesus: Our call to unity, by John P. Lathrop

The Importance of Unity

Unity among the people of God is very important; this can be seen from Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and from other texts as well. Jesus is not the only one concerned about unity; unity was also a major concern of the apostle Paul (Rom 16:17–18; 1 Cor 1:10; Eph 4:3; Phil 1:27; Titus 3:10). As the previously mentioned Scripture references indicate, Paul wrote about unity to Christian people in a number of different locations. There are some very practical reasons why unity is so important. People cannot walk together unless they are agreed (Amos 3:3), and a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25); disunity disturbs the sense of peace and well-being. Unity is also important because more can be accomplished when people work together than when they work independently or are separated from one another. These things should make it clear that unity is both desirable and necessary for the people of God.
God has also demonstrated that he blesses his people when they are united. He blessed the disciples in the early church after they gathered together for ten days in united prayer; God poured out the Holy Spirit on them (Acts 1:14; 2:1–4). The Lord also blessed a united church later in the book of Acts. After the healing of the man at the Gate Beautiful in Acts 3, Peter and John were taken before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin threatened the apostles and told them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus anymore (Acts 4:18). When the apostles were released, they went back to the church (Acts 4:23). The church lifted their voices together to God, and God answered their prayer in a powerful way, filling all who were gathered there with the Holy Spirit so that they could carry on the work of God in spite of the threats of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:24–31). In Acts 12, we find that the apostle Peter was put in prison (Acts 12:3–5). This was a source of great concern to the other believers, and they earnestly prayed to God for him (Acts 12:5); this resulted in Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:7–10).

However, in John 17, Jesus’ concern about unity is focused not so much on the benefit that unity will be to his followers as on the effect that unity will have on people who are outside of the community of faith. Jesus prayed that his people would be united so that the world would know and believe that the Father sent him into the world (John 17:23, 21). If the church is united, it can do much to help people be receptive to Jesus Christ; if the church does not demonstrate unity, it may actually keep people from coming to faith in Christ. The church’s behavior can work at cross purposes with the mission that Jesus gave her to do (Matt 28:18–20). In 1995, Dr. John Stott spoke at a large Christian conference in Boston; the theme of the conference was “Woven Together . . . So the World May Know.” As he spoke in the Hynes Auditorium, Dr. Stott said, “The world’s belief depends on our behavior.”2 This is a sobering thought. The mission of the church in the world is somehow tied into this matter of unity. Unity is important to the church in order that she may be strong and vibrant, and it is important to the world. Unity, or the lack of it, affects the openness of unbelievers to Jesus Christ and thus their eternal destiny. The stakes are very high. Will we answer the prayer of Jesus or not? Will we, as the church, be united? A number of years ago, my friend and former pastor, Rev. John King, gave a teaching at a denominational meeting in New York City. He wrote the word unity on the board and pointed out that the word contained the letters u and i. He said that unity is about “you” and “I,” and it is.

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Category: Fall 2012, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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