There has been much written, preached and taught on the subject of unity in the Church in recent years. Much of it is based upon Jesus’ prayer in John 17, specifically, verses 20-23: “My prayer is not for them alone… 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… 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.” Most of the teaching that I have heard or read has emphasized unity as some sort of agreement among the brethren. As in, let’s focus on the things we agree on and build unity upon these essential doctrines of the faith.
Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with that understanding, somehow I think we have missed the point of what Jesus was praying. Without going into a long exegetical explanation of this passage, I want to share some thoughts I’ve pondered after years of prayer and meditation on this particular topic. First of all, Jesus never taught anything on what we generally refer to as doctrine, so I seriously doubt unity on the basis of doctrine was what He had in mind.
As the basis of this prayer, He uses the union between He and the Father. Jesus and the Father are in perfect union because they are one in every sense of the word – one in heart, mind, and spirit. There is no discord or division whatsoever between them. They are one in the sense of fullness, completeness, and wholeness. Fullness, because there is nothing lacking within or between them; completeness in that each of them is complete in and of themselves; and wholeness meaning that they are without any flaw in their character or nature.
Jesus prayed that we would be one in the same way He and the Father are one. The phrase “complete unity” in John 17:23 literally means, “perfection; to complete; accomplish; consummate (in character);” not exactly the unity of agreement on issues of doctrine. Another reference to unity found in Ephesians 4:13 gives greater clarity: “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This is the goal He is after in all of us, becoming complete and mature in our faith and in our knowledge of His Son so that we can be as He is in this world. (1 John 3:2)
In essence, I believe Jesus is praying that our union which comes through intimacy with Him, would be such that we would become whole, complete, mature, and perfect in Him (Matt 5:48). As a result, we would take on the fullness of His nature and character, first as individuals and then as a corporate body. Then, and only then, will the world see Him exhibited in and through us, and believe that He is who He said He is, the Son of God, sent by the Father to save all who come to Him in faith. This prayer is one we can rest assured, will be answered.
What does it mean to you to be one with Him, as He and the Father are one?