Chapter 17 is not part of the discourse proper, but appears to have been prayed in the Upper Room with the disciples that evening. Scholars call it "the great high priestly prayer" of Jesus. Notice the direction of His requests in this prayer. After asking repeatedly that the Father would "keep them in your name," Jesus said, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me." (vs.20-21.) Unity.

"...that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me." (vs. 23) Unity, love.

"...I have made your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them." (vs. 26) Love, unity.

Stick together. Love each other. Look to Jesus in prayer.

Interesting that He emphasized unity and love far more than prayer. Maybe because those are harder to achieve? Contrary to their independent natures? Require more effort?

In the early part of the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the disciples were "all together in one place" and praying (Acts 2:1), "were together and had all things in common" (Acts 2:44), "and the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).

They had learned their lesson well, it seems, from the Lord Himself.

On the internet, I ran across an excellent devotional from the First Baptist Church of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, dated October 4, 2003. A church member by the name of Dan Burns shared on the subject of protecting the unity of the church. He writes:

"Unity in the church is so important that the New Testament gives more attention to it than to either heaven or hell. God deeply desires that we experience oneness and harmony with each other. Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ's body."

"Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than His church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony. If you are a part of God's family, it is your responsibility to protect the unity of where you fellowship. Ephesians 4:3 says, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Mr. Burns had six suggestions on how to protect the unity of the church.

  1. Focus on what we have in common, not on our differences.
  2. Be realistic in your expectations.
  3. Choose to encourage rather than to criticize.
  4. Refuse to listen to gossip.
  5. Practice God's method of conflict resolution. (Referring to the three step process of Matthew 18:15-17)
  6. Support your pastors and leaders.

Burns ends with this: "We challenge you to accept your responsibility to protect and promote the unity of this church. Put your full effort into it, and God will be pleased. It will not always be easy. Sometimes you will have to do what is best for the body and not yourself, showing preference to others. That's one reason God puts us in a church family, to learn unselfishness. It is your responsibility to protect the unity of this church."

Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.