JOHN 17:20-23
Divided Yet United
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 17:20-21 (Holman) “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.”

Jesus’ prayer reached out to include all believers of every age. He prayed we might be one so that the world may see our oneness and be drawn to Him.

The world desires genuine love, but rarely sees it. Since people are alienated from God, relationships are easily broken. We are often scattered from each other.

Society fragments into many groups, divided by nationality, language, race, economics, religion, etc. We all descend from one Adam, but split many ways. It is more common for people to be divided from, than united with, others.

Christ-followers are to reverse this status quo. We who know Jesus are to be welded into one united fellowship. Jesus makes union where there was division.

The world’s divisions were highlighted at Babel (Genesis 11). The power of God that can reverse this disunity was displayed at Pentecost (Acts 2). This supernatural oneness attracts the world to our Savior. Whether in a group or by an individual, a life of love is never a waste.

We can love each other in such ways that unbelievers will be attracted to the Master. Susanna Wesley’s tombstone reads: “She was the mother of John and Charles Wesley.” She wooed her children to the Master by being a loving mother. We still feel her influence through the sons she pointed to Jesus.

Our individual lives can count. Stevenson said, “No man is useless while he is a friend.” We do have contributions to make wherever we are. It is said Francis of Assisi treated all people as if they bore the royalty of kings. Christ-likeness attracts. Love people. Draw them to the Savior.

John 17:22-23 “I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

Jesus was dead earnest about His followers being one. Sadly, His urgent desire has been often unfulfilled by His followers.

Some religious leaders want one huge regulated confederation of believers governed by a visible head. We tried a religious monopoly once. It failed, and required a Reformation to end it.

Some churchmen want oneness based on a true church being able to trace the historical descent of an external organization all the way back to the Apostles. Some Baptists fall into this trap. Some religious leaders seek oneness in having everyone undergo baptism or take the Lord’s Supper only at the hands of a duly qualified minister.

We know Jesus did not intend a unity like any of the above because the Apostles never tried to create such structures. They established separate, distinct churches, each independent of any outside human authority.

The early churches were knit by love and voluntary spiritual ties. They prayed for each other, maintained close fellowship, encouraged one another, and helped one another with acts of kindness.

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual one. Therefore, its unity is spiritual, based on the common union of its members with Christ, the Head. In this prayer, Jesus did not call us a church or congregation, but “those who believe in Me” (v. 20). Any individual who knows the Head should be cheerfully recognized as a member of the Body. Too often this is not the case.

In September 1740 George Whitefield came for the first time to the little town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was not received warmly. Local preachers had opposed his coming.

This usually presented no problem to Whitefield. He was accustomed to preaching in fields, but he arrived at Newburyport in a blinding snowstorm and found open-air preaching impossible.

Only one church opened its pulpit to the greatest and most famous pulpiteer of the era. God blessed Third Church and their kind pastor, John Lowell, by adding 143 persons to that church almost immediately.

A pagan once said of believers, “No beasts are as cruel to men as Christians are one to another.” The Body of Christ suffers too often from masochism; it delights in mutilating itself. Christians fight with each other and divide over silly things. The USA alone has over 30 different Baptist conventions.

Plutarch told of a golden tripod fished from the bottom of the sea. After a rancorous conflict over who should receive it, the authorities determined none of the contenders could have it. They decided it would be presented instead as a gift to the wisest person in Greece.

It was taken to Thales, who said, “I am not the wisest man; take it to Bias.” Bias said, “I am not the wisest man in Greece. I won’t have it.” He recommended someone else. This scene was repeated seven times. The tripod was finally placed in a Temple to Apollo.

All seven of these wise men showed the modesty which characterizes true wisdom. If all the denominations had the modesty and wisdom of these seven ancient sages, we would make fewer claims of superiority.

A British Marine once spoke of his most horrifying war experience. One night his ship engaged another vessel in battle. There were several casualties. Both ships were heavily damaged.

At daybreak, both crews were painfully shocked to see the English flag hoisted from both ships. As the crews lined up on deck and saluted each other, men wept bitterly over the terrible mistake.

We Christians sometimes commit the same error. We mistake each other for the enemy, and damage the cause of Christ. Someday we will know better and salute one another. In the meantime, we’re doing much damage to our cause.

Christians must recognize our differences, yet respect each other’s views. We should work together in love and defeat our real enemies, the forces of evil.