Reason for unity : An overflow of God’s essential nature [“Essense” is a technical term].
The very person of God necessitates unity, because God Himself is said to be “essentially triune.”
We understand God is a Trinitarian God (Father, Son, and Spirit).
There’s much mystery in this, but He is 1 God, but in 3 persons.
Ontological - Every person of the Trinity is the fullness of God Himself.
We’ll get into this in detail when we do the episode on the Trinity.
But every person of the Trinity isn’t ⅓ part of God, but the 100% fullness of God. This is a mystery (and we’ll try to unfold some of it in the Trinity episode).
Economical - How the different persons of the Trinity work out their roles.
The Father didn’t die on the Cross.
The Son doesn’t indwell the Church.
The Spirit doesn’t send forth the Son into the world.
So God is a Trinitarian God, but He is also triune.
That is to say, no person of the Trinity acts on their own accord apart from any other person of the Trinity. They function in complete unity and harmony.
There is One God, One mission, One purpose, One glory. And this last part is key, the one God does all that He does for the ultimate purpose of bring Himself a singular glory.
Gen. 1:1-3 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.”
So, here, we see all three persons of the Godhead working in complete unity to carry out the single purpose of creation.
God (The Father) creates (v.1), by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), by means of the Son (v. 3).
We know the Word of God (“God said…”) to be the Son of God.
John 1:1; 1:14 [The Word becomes flesh].
Col. 1:15-16 [For by Him (speaking of the Son) all things were created]. The Son is the divine means through which the Father carried out His creative work.
So this one God’s eternal plan and purposes, was agreed upon by all person’s of the Trinity, as this One God determined and purposed His One mission from eternity past. So there’s Triunity within the Trinity.
Again, we’ll flesh more of this out one we talk about the nature of the Trinity, but for our purposes, the point to understand is that unity is a function (or necessary result/overflow) of God’s eternal nature (i.e., essence).
For this reason, then, the people of God are brought into unity with each other. They’re brought into unity with God, and so by the very necessity of that, they’re brought into unity with each other.
Just consider the words of Jesus: “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matt. 5:23-24)
The Apostle Paul consistently urges the various churches to be of one mind. That they would labor together, building one another up in the faith and growing in love for one another.
In 1 Timothy he wants the men to pray with holy hands, not having wrath or dissension. He has a very, very low view of those who harm the unity of the church:
Romans 16:17-18 "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting."
Titus 3:10-11 "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned."
So pursuing and maintaining proper unity is not optional for the Christian.
The High Priestly Prayer
Jesus prays in John 17 for the unity of God’s people.
This is a commonly misunderstood and misapplied passage.
Many use it argue for why Christians and various locals churches must strive to come into unity with one another.
Combined worship services.
Combined social works within the city.
Combined youth events.
Combined gatherings for prayer.
If churches choose not to be part of these types of things, they’re then often accused of being divisive, or walking in disobedience to John 17.
But this produces questions; what was Jesus actually doing in this prayer? Are these indictments legitimate against these other churches who choose not to partner with other local churches?
Well, it’s important to begin by understanding that Jesus wasn’t revealing a hopeful desire.
This wasn’t sentimental (or wishfulness sentiments) on Jesus’ part.
He’s not simply revealing His heart (or emotional passion) for what He hopes will happen.
Rather, in the context, Jesus was making a request of the Father to bring about some things, but through what He would soon accomplish on the cross.
So remember, this was the night of Jesus’ arrest.
This was his final prayer and request of the Father before His crucifixion.
He’d be on the cross the very next day, and so He knew that the hour had come for why He even came into the world.
So what Jesus is doing, is He’s now praying that the Father would actually bring into being the actually reason for which Jesus was sent.
And vss. 20-24 is clear that one of these reason, was to accomplish the unity of those for whom He was about to die.
Not only would they be the unified people of God, but they’d also be unified in His mission.
They’re being incorporated into the eternal purposes of the Trinity, which (Acc. to 17:24) is the glorification of God Himself.
So how should we understand this prayer?
Among other things, Jesus is praying for unity, but in light of what He was about to accomplish in His cross-work.
It’s through this work, that unity would be accomplished and brought into being.
This is one of the great reasons for the cross of Christ.
So this unity would would then manifest itself in Acts 2 with the outpouring of the Spirit.
[c.f., episode on Spirit-baptism. Spirit-baptism is the means through which all believers come into unity].
This was the beginning of the Church, and therefore, the beginning of the realized unity of the Church.
The point to understand is John 17 should not be used to argue that Christians should strive for unity because the prayer is somehow revealing the wishful heart of Jesus.
Rather, it reveals what would happen due to what Jesus was about to accomplish on the cross.
So in Acts 2, this is explicitly seen in the many different people groups/languages that were present.
In fact, this was the function of tongues in this passage.
It was a sign that there would be no more boundaries between the various languages and people.
Rather, they’re all coming into unity at the outpouring of the spirit, and being arranged as a new, singular people. [This is the reverse of Babel.]
In other words, unity is a great indicative, not imperative.
Unity is something that was actually accomplished.