Guard The Unity!

John 17:20-26

In our Scripture passage today Jesus gave us an objective, a strategy, and tactics for influencing
the world for Him.
At the heart of this plan is God's desire for unity among His believers.
We must understand how distractions affect our unity.

When the church begins to become a threat to the devil's kingdom, one of Satan's favorite ways
hinder and to stop the church dead in its tracks, is to bring distractions into its life.

We need to understand this.
When distractions come, they don't always look alike.
Sometimes those distractions are painful, and sometimes, they may seem good, and even pleasant.
But the result is always the same -- distractions causes us to miss God's will for us – His blessings.

We must be determined to guard the unity of this church.
And for that we need to turn in our Bibles to the last part of the high priestly prayer that Jesus prayed
in the garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest and crucifixion.

John 17:20-26: "My prayer is not for them alone.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message that all of them may be one,
Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:
that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory,
the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that
the love you have for me maybe in them and that I myself may be in them
."

When you look at this passage of Scripture, if you have some military background,
you may remember that there are three essentials to military planning
– that is every successful missionary campaign.
They contain three things – an objective, a strategy, and tactics.

We can explain that in this matter.
The objective is the goal – in a military campaign.
It may be to capture a hilltop.
It may be to capture a city, or set a hostage free.
Whenever you're aiming toward – that's your objective.

Strategy is the general procedure or the overall plan by which you propose to accomplish the objective.
The tactics are the specific things you do to carry out the strategy.
Any successful military campaign will always incorporate all three of these things.

First comes the objective.

Twice in this section of the high priestly prayer of Jesus, He states the exact objective
that was always in His sight when he lived upon this earth, and that was that He was going to commit
to all those who followed after Him, as His disciples – and that includes us.

In verse 21 Jesus says, "… so the world may believe that you have sent me."
Then in verse 23 Jesus states the same objective and similar words,
"… to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

In these two phrases we see the entire objective of God and that one, simple target – the world!
John 3:16 also states this: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life
."
The objective and focus of God's love is the world.

We can get so busy in our lives that we forget this, or else get distracted from this objective.
Some of us have been Christians for so long that we forget that at one time, we were part of this world.
We must remember that when we left the "world" and became a part of God's family,
God is still aiming beyond us.

Sad to say, there are those who seem to feel that God's program stops with them,
and that His entire purpose in coming into the world and leaving by the cross
and the resurrection is to get them to heaven.
If that were the case it would be much simpler if we would just erect a chopping block in every church,
and just as soon as someone becomes a Christian – just chop his head off.
Then we can be sure that they would get to heaven without any difficulty.

But it is clear from the Scriptures that the Lord has not intended for it to be that way.
He leaves us here in order that we may learn how to share the painful process of drawing a struggling,
rebellious creation unto himself.
We must become part of the process of reaching the world for Christ.

The church is here for one thing – and that is that the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus.
In other words that Jesus is God in human flesh.
That Jesus is the only way for sinful people to be reconciled with the holy God.
And that Jesus is the authoritative voice of God telling human beings have to live as God intended them to live.

But we cannot and must not isolate ourselves from the world.
The world is the very objective that we are trying to reach with the good news of Jesus.

Now think about the strategy.

How does God expect to accomplish reaching the world?
That is the strategy that we need to know, and that is found in verses 21 and 23.
Look at those two verses again: "that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me
."

Look at verse 23 again where Jesus said: "I in them and you in me.
May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them
even as you have loved me."

As Christians we are part of our church – people who are from a variety of personalities,
backgrounds and talents and gifts and maybe even other nationalities – the strategy is
that we be brought into complete unity.

Let us look at it another way.
God's divine strategy for reaching the world – and let me make that more personal here
– make our community to have an awareness of Jesus Christ and His message and plan of salvation.
It is to create a family at this church that spans color barriers, race barriers, socio-economic barriers,
interest barriers class barriers, national barriers, age barriers, and any other barrier that is known to mankind.

And this family is to be filled with joy and warmth, care and concern that those
who are on the outside of his family, who are observing what goes on at this church
will be envious of the special relationships that they see here – and of the love we have for each other
– and the respect and the trust that we have for each one.

In other words, the non-Christians of this community will be like homeless orphans,
pressing their noses up against the glass, looking with envy at the activities of the large family
who is gathered in a warm house to express our love to our great God and to each other.
And the incredible thing is that when a church is this way, there isn't any more powerful
evangelistic thrust known, anywhere!

It is so sad to say that in recent years, many churches have failed miserably at this strategy
in their communities.
I wish I could illustrate this point by pointing to a large number of people in our church today,
who saw what was taking place here has drawn many to our church by the oneness and joy
and excitement they saw in this church family.
But I can't.

Sad to say, that over several years many have been responsible for alienating people,
driving away some, getting some angry, frustrating others, and making this an uncomfortable place
for some.
This is not because we are terrible people.
This is not because we are mean-spirited.
This not because we don't care about people's feelings.

It is because we forgot the "holy strategy" set down by her Lord Jesus Christ.
We have forgotten the unity in our midst is God's strategy for reaching this community.
I pray that we are beginning to recapture the spirit of unity in our church.
But, to truly recapture it, we must never forget that this is God's strategy,
and we dare not violate it ever again.

We must understand that the world is starving for meaningful personal relationships.
And if we are not providing those relationships in the church, we are just another organization, among many.
And that was never God's intention for us.
God wants His church to be a force for Him, in order to reach the world
with His message of love and reconciliation.

Now let's think about the tactics.

Unity is difficult to see.
Our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our commitment to His objective and strategy is an invisible thing.
It is in your heart and your mind.
And people can't see your heart and mind.
And that is where the tactic comes into play.

Look at verse 22 were Jesus said: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one…"
The word, glory, means an exalted state.
In other words, we have been entrusted with the highest commodity
that anyone could ever have in his or her possession.

What is that glory or commodity that we have been given?
Look at verse 26: "I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known
in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them
."

Here is the tactic for reaching the objective of God which is the world.
Here is the tactic by which God's strategy for unity in His church will take place,
and that is when Christians love each other with a love that is patterned after God's love.

Now let us not misunderstand this.
This isn't a feeling love.
This isn't an erotic love.
This isn't some syrupy love.
This is a commitment to an unselfish love that seeks the best in other people.
John 13:35: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

That is God's plan!
The objective is the world.
The strategy is the unity in the church.
The tactic is that we love each other.

We must have the tactic of love, and understand the practical ways to make this happen.
So here are three essentials that we must have if we are really going to demonstrate this God-like love.

There must be mutual contact – that is the first essential.
God says of His love in Deuteronomy 31:8: "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you nor for sake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged
."

So, if we are showing God's love, we will retain contact, and not avoid it.
In a personal conflict, the stronger of the two parties will always make an effort to resolve things
when someone has been "hurt" by someone in this church.

Who is the stronger one in that situation?
The stronger one will always make an effort at resolution.
We need to remember that we are to love each other, simply because we are Christians.
There is no room in the Christian faith for selected love.

Such love as I love this Christian – but not that one.
I only love the people at this church who haven't hurt me or offended me.
I only love other Christians who are just like me.
I only love you when I agree with you.

You see, that is the kind of love that the world uses.
When we use that kind of love in our church, then we are no different from the world.

So the first essential to the tactic of love is that we have contact with all Christians,
just because they are Christians.
It doesn't matter whether they are stupid, or wrong, or irritating or stubborn, or foolish, or different from you.
Contact is essential to love.

Then there must be mutual concern.
This is the second essential to this tactic of love.

By that we mean to have a genuine interest in other Christians at this church.
This isn't some passing or superficial greeting, like: "Hi, how are you doing?"
And then, go on your way.
This is a willingness to listen to the answer.

Every contact we make with each other should be marked with a readiness to help, to share, to listen,
to pray, or some other way to demonstrate a willingness to bear one another's burdens.

Galatians 6:2: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

We could say that this verse actually teaches us that we should carry each other's burdens,
and in this way we will fulfill the tactic of God that is needed to build unity in the church,
and to penetrate the world with God's message of love and reconciliation.

We need to make it a point to remember the things that people tell us, and remember to pray for them.
Many of the things shared with each other on Sunday morning never make it to the time of prayer.
And most of us are not prepared to show mutual concern by remembering what we are told we come to church.
We must change that by carrying each other's burdens on a deeper level than we have ever done before.

Then there is a mutual benefit.
This third essential to the tactic of love is a mutual benefit to each other.

1 Corinthians 12:7: "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
That verse simply saying, that this church has something you need; and you have something I need.
We all can learn from each other – old and young people in this church.

This world is not the same as when we grew up!
It is changing, and to reach the next generations for Christ, we must change our methods
from the way we have done things in the past.
And I would say to all of you are younger that you don't have all the answers.
You can benefit from the wisdom and experience of the older Christians in this church.
They can keep you from making mistakes that will take years to recover from.
The bottom line is that we need each other.

And when we see each other's mutual benefit, we are carrying out tactic of love
that God would have us show to the world.
I pray that we all will see this loving unity that we've been talking about this morning,
and that it is not something that we conjure up within us.
It is something that is given to us.
It is in us by the virtue of the fact that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

It does require our consent and commitment.
God stands ready to love someone else through you, if you let yourself be the channel of that love.
When the people of this church are ready to consent to love, God is ready to bless us, and empower us,
and pour out His love like showers from heaven.

We cannot forget that the thing that makes the objective of reaching the world with God's message of love
and reconciliation, and keeps us from sabotaging that divine objective, is that we willingly
and gladly consent to love any Christian, at any time, for the sake of Jesus.

That is the basis for Christian unity.
We must hold on more tightly to these four essentials than we would lay aside our own prejudices,
our own preferences, and our own desires.

Let me ask you, "Are you willing to join that great effort?"
The Lord just didn't put us here just to enjoy this community – but to reach this community for Jesus.

"We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord

And we pray that our unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they'll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side

And we'll guard each man's dignity
and save each man's pride
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love."
-- "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" was written by Peter Scholtes.

Now we need to pray:
"Lord, make me willing to love the people in my church,
and the Christians in this community, without reservation.
Have me show that love to them,
for the sake of the One who died for me
." Amen.

This sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White