Many images come to mind when we hear the word “unity.” Some will immediately see the image of people that are the same coming together for a common purpose. Others may see their favorite sport team working as “one” unit. However, no matter what image comes to mind there is no doubt that we need unity within our families, churches, and nation in the days we are currently facing. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “unity?”
In the gospel of John, Jesus voices his parting prayer and he prays, not only for the disciples gathered around him, but also for all future followers. His prayer includes all of us who will believe in Jesus through faith. In that prayer, he prayed for the unity of all his followers from that day until His return “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).
We need to understand that the unity which Jesus prays for is not just self-generated by followers then or today. It is not first and foremost a social or organizational unity. It is, rather, rooted in the unity between God the Father and Jesus the Son. It is a deep unity established among believers as they experience the oneness of love that Jesus has shared eternally with the Father.
This true spiritual unity is not only a source of fulfillment for believers, but it is a powerful witness to the world. The unity that God has established between people through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free is the greatest way to share the truth of Jesus with the world. It is the oneness of many people from diverse cultures, diverse social classes, and diverse backgrounds that inspires people to seek the source and foundation of that unity.
The unity among followers for which Jesus prays has nothing to do with uniformity. So often believers settle for some kind of uniformity because genuine internal unity is so difficult to achieve. But the unity that comes through love for one another requires that individual people be true to their unique selves. Diversity, in fact, is the strength of a unified community. The genuine unity for which Jesus prayed is not simply conformity of ideas, but a community that is united in love, characterized by trust, and healed by forgiveness.
When followers of Jesus are united, we are able to give a credible witness that transmits divine love to the world. United in the Father’s love, we can express the same love with which the Father has loved the Son, and it can proclaim the good news of this love even in a hostile world. In drawing us into his final prayer, Jesus asks that we who have experienced his love for the Father may accept our responsibility to draw others into the unity of love that constitutes the heart of the God. It’s true that a person with an experience in God is never at the mercy of a person with an argument against God. It is the change in us that is on display for the world to see that God is real, and He still moves and changes His people today.
I’m personally excited that on the 31st of this month at 6 p.m. Heritage Church will host a unity service where believers from many different churches will come together for a time of prayer and worship. I want to invite all followers of Jesus to come, participate, and be the followers that Jesus prayed for as we celebrate true unity among diversity!