On the eve of His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke at length with His disciples to comfort them concerning His departure. He also prayed for them.
Christ’s prayer – covering the whole chapter of John 17 – is His longest recorded prayer while He was on earth. It is also the longest prayer in the New Testament.
One of the things Jesus prayed to the Father in this “high priestly prayer” was for the unity of the Church: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (vv 20-21).
We note that Jesus’ prayer was not just for the disciples, but for the unity of believers in every age. In verse 11b, the Lord had prayed a similar prayer for unity: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” This reveals our Saviour’s deep desire for oneness among His children. Just as He and the Father enjoyed an intimate union, all who believe in Him ought to be united in heart and mind.
One way to spiritual unity is to commit ourselves to brotherly love. We must be willing to love our brethren with the love of Christ. Emulate our Saviour’s unconditional love for us. This agape love is highlighted in I Corinthians 13. Such love fosters patience and mutual trust among the brethren. Such love keeps us from judging others and enables us to deal graciously with them. We will not set aside our brethren because – “they are hard to relate with”; “they are not my kind”; “they are of a different personality”. We must be willing to accept and accommodate their idiosyncracies.
It is evident that the Lord delights in seeing unity among His own children. This is reflected in the call of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians to be of the same mind: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1: 10).
There should not be division or strife among us who know and love the Lord. However, it is not easy to cultivate this spirit of unity. Because of our depraved nature, we are all inclined to be proud, selfish and contentious. We become unhappy when things do not go our way or when someone has hurt or offended us. We tend to yield to our own will by harbouring a bitter and unforgiving spirit. These negative reactions cause enmity and create schism in the church.
But we thank God that it is possible for us to strive towards spiritual unity because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. When our lives are yielded to the Spirit, we will be able to subdue our selfish, proud and sinful nature. We will be able to fulfil the Lord’s desire – “that all may be one”. May the Lord help each of us to exercise true Christian love so that we can do our part to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4: 3).