One as God is One John 17:20-26

“His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness, but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, with his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.” … “Its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, to whom I had given life.”

You may recognise those words of Mary Shelley in the greatest horror story of all time, “Frankenstein”, the story of a medical student who took spare limbs from dead bodies to make an artificial man which he brought to life with the energy of lightning. This “man-made monster” has been the classic theme of horror and science fiction ever since, from Boris Karloff to Christopher Lee to Herman Munster, from genetically engineered mutants to the repellant Cardassians in Star Trek. It haunts our dreams, “the Post-Modern Prometheus” (to quote Fox Mulder in the X Files), our “Frankenstein complex”. The whole picture is terrifying in its ugliness. A body made up of stray limbs, angular, disjointed, sluggish – a revolting body made by a man rather than a body beautiful as God creates and intends bodies to be.

The apostle Paul describes the church as the Body of Christ. When I was chair of Churches Together in Brentwood I spoke on this subject to groups of churches and it is an important issue as we consider working alongside other churches in Chelmsford. But today I want to keep the focus on ourselves and our own congregation. When we think of North Springfield Baptist Church as the Body of Christ the spectre of Frankenstein’s monster is in the background. Are we really living and working together as the beautiful Body of Christ as God intends? Or does North Springfield Baptist Church sometimes seem more like a Frankenstein’s monster. Especially to everybody else in North Springfield “outside” church life, do we appear to be any more than just a jumble of limbs, not fitting together, not working properly, too much a man-made organisation and not enough a God-fashioned organism, less like a body and more like a business? What can we do to become less of a man-made monster and more the body of Christ,???

The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15-16 We must grow up in every way to Christ who is the head. Under His control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint and sinew with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love.

If the parts of the body are to fit together and be held together, building each other up in love, each separate part needs to be working as it should. Each and every Christian needs to see himself or herself as part of that body, and play the part God has given us. Which brings us to this morning’s passage in John 17, known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. In it Jesus prays for his disciples and then from verse 20 he actually prays specifically for us!
John 17 20 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
On the night before He died, we find Jesus praying for Christians in every age and every place, all of us who have put our trust in Jesus because of the gospel those first believers preached. And his prayer for us is very simple.
20 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

In this prayer Jesus prays for His church, for us! And his prayer tells us a great deal about the MEANING of church unity, and the MEANS to church unity, and the MOTIVE for church unity.

1. The MEANING of Church Unity

THE ONENESS OF THE CHURCH IS TO BE A MIRROR OF THE ONENESS OF THE TRINITY

v. 21 “That all of them may be One , just as You are in Me and I am in You” v. 22 “that they may be one as We are one”

The church is called to be one as God is one. Unity expressed in community, unity lived out in diversity, not mere uniformity. Just think about that picture. The world should see in North Springfield Baptist Church the kind of unity we find in God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that is unity expressed in community, unity lived out in diversity. We are not all meant to be identical, all clones.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 18 .. in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20

What a strange body it would be if every part was the same! At university at dinner every single person used to be served with an identical leg of chicken. We developed the theory that we were being fed on a new experiemental genetically engineered creature, the Centi-chicken – 100 legs, no wings, no white meat! What a strange chicken that would be. The body of Christ is not meant to be a centi-chicken, every part identical.

In the church we are not meant to be identical. The Unity in the Holy Trinity is the unity of RELATIONSHIPS – the unity of love and co-operation. We need to learn how to enjoy one another and benefit from the different gifts and contributions each can make within the one body. Unity lived out in Community. Because we are all one in Christ Jesus. This is the meaning of Church Unity – THE ONENESS OF THE CHURCH IS TO BE A MIRROR OF THE ONENESS OF THE TRINITY

2. The MEANS to Church Unity

THE ONENESS FOR WHICH CHRIST PRAYS WILL ONLY GROW AS WE EACH ABIDE IN CHRIST AND GROW UP INTO CHRIST

v. 21 “May they be one even as we are one. May they also be in Us, … I in them and You in Me”

Our unity comes from Christ and our participation in Him! It is the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside us who makes us the church. Oneness of the body of Christ is supernatural, spiritual. NOT of human origin.
EPHESIANS 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The body grows and builds itself up in love only and inasmuch as we each grow up into Christ. The church is like a wheel – THE WHOLE CHURCH IS LIKE A WHEEL. God is at the hub, each Christian is on a journey along one of the spokes: the nearer you get to centre, the nearer you get to other spokes!

We grow nearer to each other as we grow nearer to God. The CONVERSE is also true. We can’t claim to be growing nearer to God if we are not growing nearer our brothers and sisters in Christ
“Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4)
We cannot claim to be growing closer to God if we don’t care about other people.

Jesus prayed, v.22 “I have given them the glory that You gave Me that they may be one as We are one, I in them and you in Me”.

One as God is one! That is Christ’s prayer for us. Unity within the church is NOT an optional extra: it’s at the HEART of Christian growth & maturity. It should be at the TOP of our priorities. We need to come to the point where we recognize and truly believe that we need to share together and learn from each other if we are going to grow closer to God. No division within the body – we all need each other, with equal concern for each other.

The MEANS to Church Unity – THE ONENESS FOR WHICH CHRIST PRAYS WILL ONLY GROW AS WE EACH ABIDE IN CHRIST AND GROW UP INTO CHRIST

3. The MOTIVE for Church Unity

THE ONENESS OF THE CHURCH IS TO BE OUR WITNESS TO THE WORLD.

v. 21 “So that the world may believe that You have sent Me”

22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus gave all his disciples A NEW COMMANDMENT – “Love one another as I have loved you, by THIS will all men know you are my disciples”

We have a glorious gospel of grace to declare to the nations – the Good News that God offers His gift of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ to all who choose to receive it by faith. And we live in a world and in a town which are in desperate need of that Good News, with so much selfishness and greed and suffering on our doorsteps. God’s purpose is that the church should be His visual aid to the world of the difference that His love and forgiveness makes. But what kind of an example of reconciliation must we be if the world sees the church divided and arguing. God’s love is unconditional, all- embracing. Sometimes our love is selective and limited to our own kinds of people. God commands us to show His kind of sacrificial love to this sin-spoilt world, but He gives us other Christians to practice on. If we can’t even love each other, how can we begin to seek and save the lost?!

So people sometimes ask, why does unity in the church matter? Sometimes folk stop caring about the church being united because it seems like too much hassle with not enough benefits. But what WE get out of church unity doesn’t matter. The most important reason for unity isn’t even the fact that division within body of Christ grieves Holy Spirit of God, the fact that division grieves Christ the Head of the Body, the fact that division grieves the Father heart of God. We don’t need unity for its own sake. We may not feel we need be united for our own sake. We may not even care about unity for God’s sake. But unity within every church is VITAL for the sake of the world, that the world might believe.

“The Christian Church is the one organisation in the world that exists purely for the benefit of non-members” (Archbishop William Temple)

Emil Brunner wrote, “The church exists by missions, just as fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no church; and where there is neither church nor mission, there is no faith.”

I have quoted before the challenging words of Karl Barth. “The church exists to preach the gospel. The life of the one holy Universal Church is determined by the fact that it is the fulfilment of the service as ambassador enjoined upon it.
Where the life of the Church is exhausted in self-serving, it smacks of death; the decisive thing has been forgotten, that this whole life is lived only in the exercise of what we called the Church’s service as ambassador, in proclamation. A Church that recognizes its commission will neither desire nor be able to petrify in any of its functions, to be the Church for its own sake.
The “Christ-believing group” … is sent out: “Go and preach the gospel!” … In it all the one thing must prevail: “Proclaim the gospel to every creature!” The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message. It is not a snail that carries its little house on its back and is so well off in it that only now and then it sticks out its feelers and then thinks that the “claim of publicity” has been satisfied. No, the Church lives by its commission as herald. The Church … must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself. If the church becomes a purpose in itself, then as a rule it begins to smack of the “sacred,” to affect piety, to play the priest and to mumble.”

The church exists to preach the gospel. And our unity within the Body of Christ, the oneness of the church, is right at the centre of our witness to the world .
v. 23 “may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me

Think again of the story of Frankenstein. The whole picture is terrifying in its ugliness – a body made up of stray limbs, angular, disjointed, sluggish – a revolting body made by a man rather than a body beautiful as God creates and intends bodies to be. The human body is an amazing creation. Just think of some of the things a body can accomplish when all the parts work together in harmony. Think of an athlete – say Jonathan Edwards doing the triple jump – body supple and flowing, perfect balance and positioning. Think of the coordination of legs and hips and arm and eye! Somehow it’s hard to imagine Frankenstein’s monster doing the triple jump, or the pole vault!

Or think of a violinist, Yehudi Menuin or Nigel Kennedy, or Vanessa Mae, the right hand guiding the bow across the strings to within a millimetre and a split-second, with just enough pressure and attack. At the same time the left hand has to be even more precise as it fingers the notes, kept in tune by the ear, with one eye on the music and the other on the conductor! It’s hard to imagine Frankenstein’s monster playing a violin concerto!

North Springfield Baptist Church. Bride of Christ? Or Bride of Frankenstein? Here is what Jesus prayed for us.

20 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

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