“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:23

John 17 is a glimpse into the heart of Christ as we get to see His final prayer to the Father the night of His arrest. He is burdened for His disciples and for all who would believe in Him through their word, which includes us, His people! Jesus repeatedly prays to the Father that His people would be one. He is not just praying for comradery, but He is praying for all believers to be perfectly one as a witness to the world of the love of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the oneness of His people was so heavy on His heart and mind, we then should seek to rightly understand how we can live as one Body to the watching world.

To Be One

Throughout the course of my life, my primary understanding of being one was shaped by athletics. The teams I played on included girls from various races, backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities, yet we could come together as one unit with the goal of winning games. When games were lost, team chemistry would struggle and the unity amongst the group had the tendency to turn into laziness, gossip, pride, and selfishness. Similarly, in the business world, large companies draw employees together as one for the purpose of production, service, or profit, but the end-goal of monetary gain can lead to forms of deceit and corruption. We also hear the cry for unity around the globe, seeking world peace, human rights, or environmental protection all in the name of love. These good desires end up falling short because the understanding of peace and love vary worldwide depending on the value system of the culture. Surrounded by such varied and marred concepts of oneness in the world, it can be confusing to grasp the concept of living as one within the church.

As Christians, we must look to the Word for our definition and example. The early church in Acts gave a tangible depiction of what oneness looks like. Believers gathered in one accord fully devoted to prayer (Acts 1:14). They were devoted to “the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), and they demonstrated extreme generosity, hospitality, and a mutual desire to spend time in worship together (Acts 2:44-47). This unity of the church broke down many social and cultural divisions of their day between men and women, Jew and Gentile. As one church, they lived with bold confidence and sacrificial love. However, as you continue reading throughout the New Testament, fights and quarrels arose within the church over things such as works-based righteousness vs. salvation by faith alone through grace alone. Today, disunity is rampant across the church as people seek teachers to appease itching ears and to suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3). In this fallen world, still corrupted by the presence of sin, we look to our Savior as the ultimate example of how we live as one to show the world the love of Christ.

Union with Christ

In John 17, Jesus prays for His people to be in Him and also for Him to be in His people. This is one of the great mysteries of the Gospel: our union with Christ. Our ability to be one with our brothers and sisters is only found in each of us abiding in fruitful union with Christ. We then can break down walls of division and hostility to serve, honor, and love one another in the church. We abide in Jesus by being sanctified in the Word through the power of the Spirit. Do we really let the Word convict, refine, and purify us? Do we pray for one another? Do we humbly obey the Word in reverent love for Christ? As we abide in Him and His Word, we are then empowered to fulfill Jesus’ appeal in His prayer, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). We will be one when the love of Christ abides in us guiding our thoughts, words, and deeds and humbling us to love one another as He loved us.

Our oneness in the church displays the Gospel to the world. When we gossip and malign one another or live in outward unforgiveness and pride, we are telling the world this Gospel is broken and ugly. When we seek reconciliation, live with meek and humble spirits, and serve one another in selfless love, the glory of Christ is displayed to the world. Revelation tells us that His people will be a great multitude that no one can number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages bound together as one Bride glorifying Him forever. May we all look forward to that day!

Lord, bind us together in Your love as one Bride here and now in the world so that others will know You. Lord make us holy, as you are holy. Lord make us one, as you and the Father are one.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Amanda Peterson

Amanda Peterson is currently serving as the Women’s Ministry Administrative Assistant at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. She is pursuing a Masters of Divinity in Public Theology from Birmingham Theological Seminary and has a passion for writing and for teaching women the Bible. Previously, she worked as a physical therapist for 7 years, specializing in orthopedics and oncology. She hopes to have future opportunities to combine gospel-centered ministry and physical therapy both locally and globally.