John 17

Read John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth–the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth–the word of God–to find our unity there.

Genesis 11, Ezra 10, Matthew 8

Read Genesis 11, Ezra 10, and Matthew 8 today and this devotional which is about Genesis 11.

The flood was over and back in Genesis 9 God renewed his original covenant with humanity. God had told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” in Genesis 1:28b; in Genesis 9:1 God told Noah and his sons the same thing: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.'”

Chapter 10 described for us in geneaological form how the three sons of Noah developed into three branches of the human family tree. Here in Genesis 11, the people in society decided they did NOT want to follow God’s commands to “fill the earth.” In verse 4 we learned that the people felt they had to build a city because “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The desire for human unity, then, was to unite against God and his commands.

The Lord confused their langauge in order to keep humanity from unitiing against him. In the words of verse 6, “The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” The phrase, “nothing… will be impossible for them” was not an expression of fear that humanity would gain omnipotence. Rather, it is a statement that the wickedness of humanity would know no boundaries if people could communicate freely. The language boundaries God created at Babel caused one language-group to distrust and fear the other language groups. That fear caused each group to seek safety in distance which “scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

This passage does not teach that language or cultural or racial boundaries must be maintained. God did create humanity to be a unified group. It was sin that necessitated the boundaries that we read about in this chapter and that remain today.

When Jesus taught the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (v. 19), he was re-establishing the basis on which humanity could and should function as a unit rather than as separate people groups. The basis of human unity is God. When humanity worships the true God, it can truly be one. But that “one-ness” is oneness in Christ, not in humanity or in common approaches to living in sin.

God wants the human race united but he wants us to be united in holiness, not in ungodliness. Babel is about dividing the world so that it will not be united in ungodliness. Jesus and his redemption is about uniting the world in him.

We can have great fellowship and genuine love, then, with people look different than we do, talk differently than we do, and have a different cultural heritage. When Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, all believers from every nation, language, culture, and race will be united in every aspect of reality because we are united to Christ spiritually.

So, don’t separate from others because they have a different language or skin color or whatever else. Instead, unite with other Christians from different culures, love them genuinely, and seek to reach others for Jesus regardless of human boundaries. “God does not show favoritism” according to Romans 2:10 so let’s not be guilty of that, either.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, Psalm 133

For today’s Bible readings, read Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, and Psalm 133.

This devotional is about Psalm 133.

This Psalm praises unity. When God’s people worship him together, serve one another in love, and resolve their problems with each other biblically, that is both pleasing to God and a pleasant environment to be in.

It is also a difficult environment to create and the songwriter acknowledged that. When verse 3 says, “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” These places are unfamiliar to us so let me just tell you briefly that Mt. Hermon is way up North of Israel, far beyond the sea of Galilee while Mt. Zion is in the South part of Israel in Judah. So if the dew of Mt. Hermon fell on Mt. Zion, that would be a miracle. It can’t happen naturally because they are hundreds of miles apart. The author here is saying that when God’s people live together in unity, it is a miraculous thing.

In verse 2, the songwriter told us more about unity. The “precious oil” described in this section was the anointing oil that set Aaron apart to serve as God’s high priest. It was a blessing from God to serve in that priestly role and the anointing also promised God’s power.

Put these images together and we see that Psalm 133 is saying that unity among God’s people is a blessing from God that requires his power (v. 2) in a miraculous way (v. 3). When God’s people are unified, then, God is glorified because only he has the power to cause people to be unified and it takes his miraculous work for it to happen.

We need to remember this when we have conflicts with one another. Conflicts are usually connected to pride from one or both people involved in the conflict. Only the blessing and power of God can keep us from going at each other’s throats. So, when you have a conflict to resolve, it is time to pray for God to work and glorify himself by ending the controversy and repairing the relationship.

Is there anyone in your life that you need to have a difficult conversation with them? Ask God to prepare your own heart and the heart(s) of the other party to bring about this miracle of unity.

John 17

Today we’re reading John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth–the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

I keep thinking of more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth–the word of God–to find our unity there.