I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. Their Future Glory. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. ~Jesus, the high priestly prayer.
In the above verses, Jesus was praying for His disciples. The scene is what we call “The Last Supper,” the time that Jesus had set aside to be with His disciples before His arrest and eventual execution. This was a critical time, made all the more important because in just a few hours He was to be taken from them. There were loose ends to be tied up—unfinished business—so what Jesus had to say to His Father about the disciples invites our careful notice. More so, because He is praying that the disciples will have an impact on the world. He is praying that they will do what is necessary in order to have world-changing influence.
So, what did He pray? That they, the disciples (and all that came to an understanding of the gospel through them) would be one. The way He put it: that they may be perfected in unity. At first glance, He seems to be praying that the disciples will get really good at being unified—get along well. Taken this way it suggests that the goal of the church is to attain unity.
But, can we understand the Lord’s request differently? What if we take Him to mean that we will become mature (because that’s what the word, “perfect” means) as we live in a condition of unity; that living together in unity is the
means by which we will become perfect.
Consider an illustration.
Let’s say you’re going to bake a cake. You have all the ingredients gathered; all the equipment—cups, spoons and all that. You mix everything together in their proper proportions and pour the mixture into a pan. Are you done? No. One important thing remains before you’re ready to serve your cake. It needs to be baked. All those ingredients will not be a cake fit to serve until they have been thoroughly mixed, placed in the oven and heated. Only that will bring this cooking project to completion. The cake isn’t about the heat of the oven, but the heat of the oven makes the cake ready for its purpose: to serve your family or your guests.
We can understand Jesus’ prayer in a similar way. Jesus is praying that God’s covenant gift of unity will serve the purpose for which it was intended: to grow us up; make us mature. The goal of Jesus’ prayer isn’t unity, it is maturity. Unity is the oven — the environment — that heats people (a church, a group, even a couple) to make them ready to serve.
The apostle, Paul, spoke often about unity. To him, unity had to do with treating others with respect and honor, moreover he told his students in the faith that each should treat the other as though he were more important than himself (Philippians 2:1-4). When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he said, “live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).” When we understand unity—or “oneness”—to be the means by which each of us grows more mature, we can understand Paul (not to mention, Jesus!) and his passion to see disciples love one another.
And why is growing together toward maturity so important? Because there is a fallen world in need of rescue and restoration. Our covenant commitment to live in oneness is “basic training” for the larger goal of advancing the Kingdom in the world. That training happens wherever independence yields to the higher value of interdependence; in a community of hundreds or a marriage of two.
But, here’s the challenge of unity: oneness is not “sameness.” Being unified is not being uniform. Instead, the oneness that brings maturity means to love one another beyond and through our differences—what Jesus called being “perfected in unity.” It means seeing the whole community as being greater than its parts and recognizing the implications of that: we are called to regard others without reference to our own need. That is the backbone of a godly marriage, something called “covenant,” a topic we will talk about in more detail in a future chapter. This covenant concept was the way the human race was to interact from the very beginning, a relational rhythm that got lost in the garden. To find it again, will require us to practice oneness in our day-to-day life; in the way we see our marriage, family and community; even in the way we talk to each other.