If you really want to know what a person’s deepest desires are, there is no better place to find out than the prayer closet. It is when we are alone, on our knees before God, that we express our deepest desires. If you want to know what I really want, what really matters to me, then eaves drop on my prayers! It is in the prayer closet that we usually express our deepest longings. I think this is no less true of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, His word to the church is absolutely an expression of His desires for us. However, I think His great intercessory prayer in John 17 provides us with the clearest picture of the kind of Church that Jesus wanted. If what Jesus wanted His church to look like is important to you, turn to John 17 and ask this question: what does Jesus pray for? Read the entire chapter with that question in mind and every time you see a request, write it down. You will quickly come up with a list of things that were critically important to Jesus. They are not difficult to find. After you have completed this task, examine each one of the items on the list and ask this question: what does it look like when “this request” is actually happening in reality? Write down some thoughts about what it might look like. Better yet, try to write down what it might have looked like to a first-century Christian. Then attempt to transfer that image into your own culture, here and now, today. Once you have finished this exercise, you can begin to address those areas of growth that are necessary in your life as well as in your church. We may call this “spiritual-gap analysis.” We begin by looking at the picture Jesus drew of the church by studying his prayer. We then examine where we actually are in comparison to that picture. Now we are in a position to begin addressing areas of opportunity for growth.
τήρησον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου: keep them in your name. While some interpret this as an instrumental which would mean that Jesus is asking God to keep us by the power of his name, it seems better to understand it in the locative sense. D.A. Carson writes, “Alternatively, the phrase ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου (in your name) may be taken to have locative force (in your name), modifying autouV (them). The passage must then be rendered ‘keep them in your name, i.e. ‘keep them in loyalty to you’ or ‘keep them in full adherence to your character.” [Carson. D.A. PNTC, John. 562] Now, going back to the questions in the introduction, what does it look like when we are loyal to God or in full adherence to the character of God in reality? One of the greatest failures of Israel was that they were very presumptuous in their relationship with God. We do the same thing with God’s grace in our culture. No one should ever presume that he or she is in a standing with God that is somehow unique to the standing of others. Jesus’ prayer for his church is that we all remain loyal to God, walking in full adherence to God’s character. The foundation upon which our character as believers rests is nothing other than divine love. We should treat one another the way the divine Trinity treats each other. Nothing less than this is acceptable. Before you take up an attitude or action toward another person and especially another believer, you should as if the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit would relate to one another the way you intend to. Let that standard be our guide for how we love and relate to one another. It becomes clear that Jesus was praying for a godly church. Jesus wanted a church that acted like God. To put it another way, Jesus wanted a church that would think, live, and speak the same as He did.
ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς: that they be one just as we are. The second intercession Christ made for his church was a plea for unity. The ecumenical movement has done much to hurt this cause due to its ungodly emphasis on unity even at the expense of truth. As well shall see, this was not Jesus’ goal. Christian unity never belittles Christian truth. Conversely, Christian truth never belittles Christian unity. Jesus was extremely concerned about a unified church. He wanted a church united in love and truth. This unity was to be a unity of love for one another and for God as well as a unity around the true expression of God in Christ. Nothing less would be satisfactory. What does this look like? Sin has certainly created numerous challenges around unity even in the Christian community. We are self-righteous people. We enjoy looking down at others and judging them to be less than us. I realize we don’t come right out and say it, but we think it. We esteem other Christians to be different from us. We even think God sees them differently than he sees us. This is the clearest reflection of a terribly inadequate understanding of sin. It is the secret and the small sins that are our greatest threat after all. When we fail God in obvious ways, we see the seriousness of it. However, the little things we let slide. Moreover, the cumulative effect of the little sins in our lives leads us away from a right relationship with God. We become more and more comfortable with sin in our life. John Owen said that either you are killing sin or sin is killing you. Christian unity is one of those little sins that we let slide. I don’t like that person and therefore I avoid them. Dispensationalists don’t like Covenant guys, and Arminian thinkers are hostile to Calvinists, etc. Here is an interesting fact about Jesus’ great prayer: Jesus prayed for unity more than he prayed for anything else in that prayer. Jesus knows that sin divides because of its independent proclivity. The cement for Christian unity is love. Just as a block is held together by mortar, and glue binds so many objects together, so Christian love is the glue of Christian unity. Any lack of Christian unity is a lack of Christian love. We should view the lack of Christian love and unity as an exceptionally treacherous practice. It is not enough that we hurt innocent people per se by our unloving acts. The divisive and unloving person is engaging in the more grievous practice. The very souls of these people are in danger. We should act like it. This is not a matter of a difference of opinion. It is a matter of eternal judgment. Jesus asks for unity four times in John 17. It seems obvious to me that unity was a high priority for Christ. It should be for us as well. Unity means loving one another as the Trinity loves each other. We see this love in Christ who is the expression of God in the world. In Christ, we see forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, kindness, peace, and service like nothing we have ever witnessed.
Jesus wants his church to walk in unity because it is a witness to the gospel. Jesus prayed for unity so that the world may believe that God sent Him. (John 17:21) He also prayed for a perfectly unified church so that the world would know that God sent Him. (John 17:23) The unity of the Christian community is an essential witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more destructive to Christian unity than divorce. It is the antithesis of unity. If husbands and wives are unwilling to honor what is supposed to be the greatest expression of unity, how will the church ever take unity seriously? If men and women can put each other out contrary to Scripture, where is the serious and sober view of unity in that church? A church that belittles unity belittles the thing that Christ prayed for most.
ἵνα ἔχωσιν τὴν χαρὰν τὴν ἐμὴν πεπληρωμένην ἐν ἑαυτοῖς: so that they may have My joy complete in themselves. This word PEPLEROMENEN has the idea of having a complete amount. Jesus wants His church to have ALL of His joy. Joy is a state of gladness or an experience of great happiness. Sadly, if you speak with some professing Christians, there seems to be almost no joy in their lives. Sin destroys Christian joy. A hateful, unloving attitude about life in general or anyone in particular may be an indication that Christ is not present. This is not the kind of Church Jesus wanted. Jesus wants a church that is filled with the fear of God, radical unity, and an intense joy and zest for life.
ἀλλʼ ἵνα τηρήσῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ: This is the same phrase that appears in the Lord’s prayer. Jesus wants the Father to protect His church from the evil one. What does this look like? When Judas sold Jesus’ out, it was said that Satan had entered his heart. Jesus told Peter that Satan desired to have him so that he may sift him like wheat. Peter says that Satan walks around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The devil wants you to sin. He wants you to violate God’s revealed will for your life. If you have never read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I strongly recommend you do so. In this book Lewis gives an excellent fantasy account of how demons strategize to get people to sin. It is the supposedly little sins that we pay no attention to. But all sin takes us away from the Father. The Lion prowls, looking for prey. Jesus wants a church that is not rattled with evil. However, there are churches filled with hate, unforgiveness, bitterness, fear, resentment, and all sorts of pride.
Twice Jesus prayed for a sanctified church. ἁγίασον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ• ὁ λόγος ὁ σὸς ἀλήθειά ἐστιν: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. Jesus wants His church to be separate and set apart from the world by a radical devotion to word of God. Rather than adopt worldly thinking and cultural practices, we are to think and act differently. The world takes sides in divorce. The world justifies everything it does. The world holds grudges and is unforgiving. The world is self-centered. The church rushes in to save marriages no matter what. The church understands its sin nature. The church trusts God’s grace. The church died to self. The church places the gospel above individuals. Jesus wants a church that is set apart from the world.
ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ἣν ἠγάπησάς με ἐν αὐτοῖς ᾖ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτοῖς: that the love which you loved me may be in them. Jesus wanted a church filled with love. He wanted a church that had the same love that the Father had for Him! That is astounding when you think about it. There is no greater love than that love that the Father has for His Son. Is this how we love one another? We set up false dichotomies and live our life according to the standards of the world. Husbands and wives should love one another like this: Husbands serving and protecting their wives and wives submitting to their husbands. I continue to hear stories of Christian husbands and wives so called, abandoning their marriage for the most worldly reasons. She doesn’t make me happy any more. He said something hurtful and neglected me. Marrying him or her was a mistake. I am in love with someone else. The excuses seem endless. The church is filled with Christians who hate and/or neglect other Christians. They gossip behind their backs. They don’t like the other person’s personality. They think evil of one another. She only serves to because she likes the attention. He is arrogant (because he is a confident teacher). She thinks she is perfect. He thinks he is God’s favorite. They let their kids do the most terrible things. This is as real as it gets and it could not be more unloving or more evil. People are hurting and we know it and never bother to call let alone visit. Is this how the Father loves the Son? Is this what Jesus meant by love? God so loved the world that He gave His only Son! We can’t even give people the benefit of the doubt. John says that a person who does not love his brother is a murderer, a liar, and without eternal life. Paul said you could have the greatest of all the spiritual gifts and even engage in the most radical social causes on earth and not have love. Moreover, if this is our situation, it profits us not one thing. Go to church, sing, play, give, teach, shake hands, compliment preachers and teachers, go on missionary trips, give of yourself and your time until there is nothing left and hate your brother and you are not accomplishing a thing. You can feel good about it all day long and that is all you will have: good feelings.
Love is patient with others; love is kind to others and it is not jealous. Love does not brag; love is not arrogant. Love does not act unbecomingly. (This means that love does not bring shame on the Christian community). Love does not seek its own. Wow! Love is not self-centered. Love is not provoked. This means to provoke to anger or indignation. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. That is to say that love forgives! Love lets go of wrongs. It does not keep a record of the wrongs. How much better would marriages be if we loved one another like this? Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth. I know of people who profess to be Christians and who rejoice in unbiblical divorce. They are happy to see a marriage end. They think evil of one of the spouses and consider their thoughts acceptable before God and justify themselves in their hatred of this person. And they profess to love Christ and believe the Bible. They are a blight on the Christian faith and in desperate need of repentance. Love would confront them with their sin and help them find forgiveness. Love does not teach anyone that God understands their evil behavior and their selfish decisions. Love helps them find forgiveness and that forgiveness helps them extend forgiveness to others. Love never fails. Jesus wants a church that is filled with His love.
What kind of church does Jesus want? He wants a church that walks in the fear of God, one that is perfectly united in truth, a church that is walking in sanctification, separate from the world, filled with His complete joy, and completely immersed in His love! Holiness, Unity, Joy, Sanctification, and Love are the things Jesus wants to see in His church according to His prayer in John 17. To be sure, there is more that He requires, but these attributes are the ones that made it into His prayer and most, if not all the other things that one should find in the church spring from one of these. Are you concerned with these things? Is your church fervently seeking these things? Are these traits a constant focus in your church? What do you do when you find them lacking? What do you do when you find people who either don’t understand how evil their behavior is or worse, just don’t seem to care. Do you do anything? The church should be in a constant state of becoming more holy, more unified, more joyous, more sanctified, and more loving. Where these things are absent, leaders should work diligently to improve the conditions. Where these things are present, Peter says “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:8) The key here is “true knowledge.” A true knowledge of Jesus Christ translates into a true hunger and pursuit of God. Such a church is the kind of church Jesus wants. What are you doing to be that church? Such a church begins with the individual. It begins with the individual leaders whose lives reflect these very qualities. They lead others into these qualities by example, by teaching, and by preaching! I watched Martin Luther over the weekend again. The display of character and godliness in the life of this man put me to shame once again. I am convicted that my life is not even close to that of Luther’s. He loved God and was willing to die for the truth. His nemesis, Cardinal Cajetan was concerned with the church more than he was with the truth that is the foundation of the true church. Luther did not play politics. He thundered to Cajetan, “I am interested in the truth.” The truth of God will move us to the place where we can be the kind of church that Jesus wanted. Let us seek God’s truth, and as He opens our eyes, let us repent and apply it to our lives so that we become the bride that Jesus wants. The mercies of the Lord endure forever. Repentance is a lifestyle, not an isolated act.