Inclusive, Yet Exclusive.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. – John 17:9-10 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus made a very interesting, yet non-debatable point in this section of His prayer. He had been referencing “the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). He made it clear that it was for these individuals for whom He was praying. “I am praying for them … those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus clearly had in mind His disciples – all those who had believed in Him, including Mary Magdalene and the other women who had become part of his extended earthly “family.” Anyone who had placed their faith in Jesus and believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had become part of the exclusive group for which Jesus was praying. He distinctly sets them apart, saying, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me.” Jesus echoed His belief that His followers were given to Him by God the Father. These men and women, from all walks of life, with their varying backgrounds, diverse economic situations, and varied sin stories, had been moved by God to step out in faith and follow His Son. And as far as Jesus was concerned, they belonged to the Father. But as the Son of God, He shared in that unique and exclusive relationship with the Father and His children. When God chooses to adopt someone into His family, they become His child and heir, and joint heirs with Christ. They get included into an exclusive family that enjoys unique benefits and privileges. This inclusion should never be taken lightly or for granted. It is not based on anyone’s merit and can never be earned or deserved in any way. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). Salvation is a gift of God, made available through the death of His own Son.

There were going to be others who believed in Jesus and who would be included into this exclusive, yet growing family of God. A little later on in this same prayer, Jesus will tell the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20 ESV). After His death and resurrection, and just prior to His ascension back into heaven, Jesus would tell His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 29:29-20 ESV). God continues to call individuals from all over the world to Himself. Millions upon millions of people have been included into the family of God by placing their faith in the Son of God as their Savior. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). His death by crucifixion, along with His miraculous resurrection, continue to draw people back to God. It is all the work of God. Paul reminds us, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV).

Christ died for all. His death was sufficient to pay for the sins of all mankind. But not all have have believed. There were many in Jesus’ day who rejected His message and refused to accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. They remained dead in their trespasses and sins. At the beginning of his gospel, John writes, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13 ESV). The light, Jesus, was made visible to all, but not all received Him as the light. They preferred to go on living in darkness. Not all will be saved. The faith family of God, is inclusive to any and all, regardless of the color of their skin, the severity of their sin, their social and economic status, or intellectual prowess. But it is also exclusive. Jesus had made it clear. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). There is no other way. You can’t get to God through any other means. That exclusivity means that not all will be included in the family of God. Not all will accept Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. But for those of us who have placed our faith in Christ and been reconciled to or made right with God, we should rejoice and realize that our status as God’s children is due to His grace, not our merit. The very fact that we belong to God brings glory to Jesus because He is the one who made it possible. Without Him, we would be lost.

Consider the Source.

Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. – John 17:7-8 ESV

John 17:1-26

In His prayer, Jesus claimed that His disciples had come to know and understand that everything He had – His power, miracles, position, words, insights, mission, and message – were from God. Jesus had spent three years of His life giving them the message He had received from God. It was a message concerning repentance. God was calling them to turn, not only from sin, but from their old thinking regarding God and how to be made right with Him. No longer would strict adherence to the law be the way in which men attempted to earn favor with God. Animal sacrifices, always an incomplete and temporary solution to man’s sin problem, would no longer be the preferred method for finding forgiveness of sins. God had sent His Son to be the permanent, once-for-all remedy for the death sentence that hung over mankind as a result of the fall. Jesus came preaching, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT). “Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. ‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” (Mark 1:14-15 NLT). Jesus came bringing a new message of hope and restoration. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17 NLT). Rather than salvation based on outward performance and an unachievable adherence to a set of moral and ethical standards, Jesus came offering salvation by faith alone in Him alone. He taught that there was only way in which might be made right with God and it was Him. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). 

And Jesus said that His disciples had received these words and come to believe that He had been sent by God. He was, as Peter confessed, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). He was the Son of God just as the voice of God had said at both His baptism and His transfiguration. Jesus was not just a man, a prophet, rabbi, teacher, or miracle worker. He wasn’t just a good man, He was the God-man. He was God in human flesh, God incarnate. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was divine and divinely sent to bring the salvation of God to a lost and dying world. He was the fulfillment of the promises of God made hundreds of years earlier by the prophets of God. He was the long-awaited-for Messiah. He was the promised descendant of David who would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and whose kingdom would have no end. Jesus was sent by God to pay for the sins of the world. He took on human flesh, lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial death on behalf of mankind, in order to satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. The wages of sin is death. Rebellion against God results in a death sentence. But God provided His own Son as the substitute for every person who has ever lived. His death, as the sacrificial Passover Lamb, propitiated or satisfied the wrath of God. His shed blood was necessary, because God had said, “for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:11 NLT). The writer of Hebrews tells us, “according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT). God sent His Son to die. He had to be the sinless, spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. And the disciples, when they heard the words of God spoken by the Son of God, received and believed them. 

As implausible as it all sounded, they believed. As radically different and paradigm shifting as the message of Jesus was to their Jewish sensibilities, they believed. There was much that the disciples did not understand. They didn’t always comprehend everything that Jesus said. They didn’t always like what they heard coming out of His mouth, especially His admission that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem and die. But they believed that He had come from God. They believed Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus had made God known and knowable to man. “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18 NLT). Jesus pointed men to God. He was the very manifestation of God in human flesh. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14 NLT). And the disciples believed. Belief in the words of God concerning His Son are still the basis for salvation today. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:35-36 ESV). We must consider the source – Jesus Christ has been sent by God to be the means by which men might be made right with God. He was the God-provided sin substitute and spotless sacrifice who made our reconciliation to God possible. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).

Keeping God’s Word.

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. – John 17:6 ESV

John 17:1-26

At this point in His prayer, Jesus switched the emphasis from Himself to His disciples. In fact, this section is the longest of His entire prayer and focuses solely on the future well-being of His disciples. But before He lifts up the disciples, He acknowledges that He has manifested God’s name to all those He had given Him out of the world. Jesus had lived His life in such a way that He revealed that nature and character of God. His very existence made the true nature of God recognizable and knowable to men. Paul described Jesus as “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV). John wrote, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” John 1:18 ESV). Again, Paul emphasized that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). When Jesus stated that He had manifested the name of God, He was saying that He had made the very essence of God known to man. Through Jesus they had come to know who God really was. After His resurrection and just before His ascension back into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7 ESV). Jesus had made God known. But the exact nature of God is only knowable to those whom God has chosen to reveal Himself. Jesus believed that His Father had given Him all those who chose to believe in Him. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37 ESV). This is one of those tension-filled concepts in Scripture with which many wrestle and struggle. It involves God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Did God choose us or did we choose God? Jesus clearly viewed those for whom He prayed as having been given to Him by God, not as those who had chosen to follow Him. At the end of the day, Jesus believed in and counted on the sovereign will of His Father. Yes, the disciples had each chosen to follow Jesus. They had left everything else behind and willingly walked after Jesus. But Jesus seemed to believe that even their decision to do so was the will of God. He had prayed throughout the night before He chose the twelve who would be His disciples. God had clearly directed His choice of the original twelve. Jesus saw everything as having been directed by and controlled by God. His sovereignty even extended to choice of all who would eventually believe in Jesus as their Savior. Later on in this same prayer, Jesus says, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9 ESV). This belief is why Jesus could be so confident when He thought about the future of His followers. They were in the hands of God. They belonged to Him. Interestingly enough, Jesus said, “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6 ESV).

Then Jesus emphasized that those whom God had given Him had kept the word of God. They had believed on Jesus as the Son of God. At the baptism of Jesus by John, God had spoken these words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (John 3:17 ESV). At the transfiguration of Jesus, three of the disciples had heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (John 17:5 ESV). God had made it clear that Jesus was His Son. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He was not just another man, a prophet, rabbi, or miracle worker. He was the Son of God. And those who had accepted that fact, had “kept the word of God.” They had listened to Jesus. They had believed the words of Jesus. They had accepted the fact that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to the Father. When Jesus had asked the disciples who they believed Jesus to be, Peter had spoken up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Then Jesus had responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 17:17 ESV). In other words, Peter did not come to his realization on His own. God had revealed it to him. God had made it possible for Peter to recognize and comprehend the divine nature of Jesus. And that same testimony – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God – would be the basis for every other person to come to be reconciled or made right with God.

The disciples did not live completely obedient lives. Neither will we. But we can keep God’s Word, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, by continuing to rely on Him as our Savior and sin substitute. We can continually rest in Him as the way, the truth and the life. We can persistently believe that Jesus is the Son of god and the Savior of the world.

Mission Accomplished.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. – John 17:4-5 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus had done what He had come to do. Interestingly enough, this prayer was prayed before His death, burial and resurrection, yet from Jesus’ perspective, even that part of His mission was as good as done. He was committed to complete the full assignment given to Him by God the Father. Jesus had come to earth and taken on human flesh. He had lived a sinless life. He had spread the news of the coming Kingdom of God and preached a message of repentance, calling people to return to God. He had performed miracles, healed the sick, ministered to the poor and spiritually needy. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the religious elite and trained the men who would carry forward the message of the gospel when He was gone. And all that Jesus had done brought glory to His Father in heaven. Why? Because He had been obedient to all that He had been asked to do. The apostle Paul encourages us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV). Jesus lived His entire life on earth in order to glorify God the Father. Jesus was humble and not in it for His own glory. He suffered rejection, ridicule, false accusations, betrayal, torture, and eventually death – all in order to glorify God. His miracles were meant to glorify God. His words, whether encouraging the downtrodden or admonishing the arrogant, were said in such a way that they always brought glory to God. Paul challenges us to live the same way: “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). Peter echoes those same sentiments. “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 4:11 NLT). Jesus lived fully obedient to and dependent upon His Father in heaven. He did nothing out of selfishness or with a hint of self-preservation. He knew His destiny included death, but was willing to go through with it because of His love for the Father. He trusted in His heavenly Father and was fully assured that His death would be acceptable to God as payment for the sins of mankind. He was also confident that God would glorify Him by raising Him back to life and returning Him to His rightful place. Paul tells us, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV).

Jesus’ entire life brought God glory, from the moment of His miraculous conception by the Spirit of God in the womb of Mary to His death on the cross. He lived to bring glory to God. He died so that men might be restored to a right relationship with God. For Jesus, the glory of the Father was more important than anything else. It was His life’s mission. When sinful men and women place their faith in Jesus as their sin substitute, it brings glory to God, because salvation was God’s idea. He sent His Son to die for the sins of man. He provided a way in which men might be reconciled or made right by Him. And the only way it could be accomplished was through the incarnation and crucifixion of His own Son. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:8-9 NLT). Paul goes on to remind us, “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” (Romans 5:11 NLT). All to the glory of God. Jesus came, but God is the one who sent Him. Jesus obeyed, but God is the one whose plan He obeyed. Jesus died, but God is the one who raised Him back to life. So God gets the glory.

Do I live my life to the glory of God? Is my primary focus in life to bring Him glory through my willful obedience and humble submission to His will for my life? Like Jesus, my entire life should be lived to the glory of God. When I listen to His Spirit’s prompting and obey, it brings Him glory. When I humbly submit to His will, even when I don’t understand or like it, I bring Him glory. When I point people to Him and share His love with them, I bring Him glory. When I admit my weakness and allow Him to display His power through me, I bring Him glory. When I trust in the promise that He will some day glorify me and live with a sense of peace and joy, I bring Him glory. To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Knowing God.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. – John 17:3 ESV

In what has come to be known as His high priestly prayer, Jesus gives us a wonderful definition of what it means to have eternal life. For far too many, eternal life is little more than heavenly “fire insurance,” a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that will allow them to escape the penalty and pain of hell. Eternal life gets them a guaranteed place in heaven. In other words, it becomes all about a future destination. But Jesus emphasized that it is really all about a relationship that begins here on earth and culminates in heaven. The whole point of heaven is the unbroken relationship with God it will provide – free from the effects of sin. The whole point of hell is that it will be an eternal existence completely separated from any kind of access to or relationship with God. The point is far less about the physical pain and suffering of hell than it is about the emotional and spiritual suffering that will be the result of an eternal existence completely severed from any hope of a relationship with God. There will be no more common grace extended by God to any and all. No joy, no laughter, no gentle rains, calming breezes, no moments of rest or the simple pleasures of a good meal. In this life, it is God who graciously allows all to experience the joys of his creation. “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45 NLT). In hell, wherever it will be, those things will no longer be available because God’s presence will be inaccessible and unavailable.

But in His prayer, Jesus did not focus on heaven, even though He had already promised His disciples that He would return for them and take them to be with Him there. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3 ESV). His prayer equates eternal life, not with heaven, but with a relationship with God the Father and with Himself as the Son of God. Eternal life is about a restored relationship with God. It begins at salvation and finds its full fruition at the point of our glorification when we see Jesus face to face. The moment anyone, by faith, acknowledges Jesus as their sin substitute and the sole source of their salvation, they are reconciled or made right with God. They go from being His enemies to His adopted child and heir. “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT). “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son” (Romans 5:10 NLT). The salvation provided by God through Jesus is not about a destination, but a relationship. It is about God reconciling lost and hopeless men and women to a right relationship with Himself. It is about God doing for us what we could never have done on our own. We could never have earned our way back into God’s good graces. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

Eternal life is about knowing God. It is about having a right relationship with Him and Jesus is the one who makes it possible. But being made right with God, while wonderful, loses its significance if we do not find ourselves desiring to grow in our knowledge of the one who made our salvation possible. In Paul’s prayer for the believers in Colossae, he asked “God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:9-10 NLT). A growing knowledge of God – that is the essence of eternal life. Warren Wiersbe has described this growing intimacy and awareness of God in this way. “To know God personally is salvation. To know Him increasingly is sanctification. To know him perfectly is glorification.” We are to experience a growing and ever-expanding understanding of God as we live submitted to His Spirit, read about Him in His Word, and grow increasingly more committed to His will for our lives and this world. Coming to know Christ was intended to allow us to get to know God – intimately, personally and progressively more and more. That is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. It is less about knowing where you are going when you die than it is about knowing God – the one with whom you will spend eternity after you die.

The High Priestly Prayer.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” – John 17:1-2 ESV

John 17:1-26

Jesus had just told His disciples that He would be leaving. He had warned them that the hour was coming when they would desert him and scatter in fear. He was on the eve of his betrayal and arrest. Jesus knew that the fate for which He had come was near. And in spite of all this, Jesus was able to tell His disciples, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33 ESV). And after He had spoken these words, He prayed. Jesus was not alone. Even though His most faithful followers would end up denying Him and running in fear at His arrest, His Father would be with Him. And it was to His Father that He turned. The prayer that He prayed is both amazing and inspiring at the same time. It provides us with a glimpse into Jesus’ relationship with His Father and reveals the scope of the divine plan for man’s redemption.

Jesus was well aware of His circumstances. He was not surprised or caught off guard. It was for this very moment that He had come to earth. His incarnation, God becoming man, was in order that He might live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death on man’s behalf. And that hour had come. But Jesus’ response to His impending death was far from fatalistic. His was not a helpless resignation to an event over which He had no control. No, Jesus was facing His circumstances willingly and with a deep desire to see His Father glorified. He prayed, “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus knew that God was going to glorify Him through His own death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Long after the events surrounding Jesus’ death and ascension, Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV). Jesus knew He was going to die, but He also knew that His Father was going to bring Him back to life. Not only that, He knew that He would be restored to His rightful position at the right hand of God. He would be glorified and His Father would be glorified. But at the moment Jesus prayed this prayer, it was all a matter of trust on His part. He would still have to go through a humiliating arrest, a series of sham trials, all kinds of verbal and physical abuse, and the excruciating pain of a Roman crucifixion. But Jesus knew His Father well. He was intimately familiar with His Father’s will and His own role in it. So He rested in the fact that His suffering was an essential part in the redemptive plan of God.

The purpose of Jesus’ coming was to provide eternal life to man. God had given Him authority to do so. After His ascension, Jesus would tell His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). Then He would proceed to commission them to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus had authority over all flesh. He had both the power to save and to judge, to forgive and condemn. His death, burial and resurrection would become the final determiner regarding the eternal fate of all mankind. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NLT).

Jesus faced His fate with faith, knowing full well that His Father loved Him and that His Father’s will for Him was best. Even in His prayer in the garden, just moments before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus would pray, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). His human nature did was what was normal and natural – it desired another way. It resisted the idea of the gruesome death ahead. Which is why Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42 ESV). In His humanity, He preferred a different solution. But in His deity, He knew that His Father’s will was best – not only for Him, but for all mankind. What a sobering reminder of our need to trust our heavenly Father. So often, we find ourselves facing difficult circumstances and we pray that God would remove us from it, but we fail to trust His will and rest in the reality that He is ultimately in control and has our good and His glory in mind at all times. We can trust Him. Because Jesus trusted God, we now have a relationship with the Father and the promise of eternal life. So no matter what we might face in this life, we can know that our future glorification is assured, and rest in that unfailing promise from God.

One Voice.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6 ESV

Why can’t we all just get along? Disunity and disagreement plagues the church today. The body of Christ is marred by a lack of harmony and portrays to the world a less-than-flattering image of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And yet, our unity was of paramount importance to Paul. It was even a high priority for Jesus, because it was the primary focus of His prayer in the garden on the night He was betrayed. He pleaded with the Father, “that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV). It was to be the supernatural unity of the followers of Jesus that would give living proof of His claim to be the Savior of the world. Our Spirit-empowered ability to get along would give evidence to a lost world that Jesus’ death was far more than just martyrdom. He died so that we might have new life. He gave His life so that we might receive a new capacity to love one another – in spite of all our differences and diversities. The early church was made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life. There were Jews, Gentiles, pagans, the poor, the wealthy, slaves, masters, the educated and uneducated, dignitaries, tax collectors, former prostitutes, commoners and distinguished civic leaders. And the very fact that they could all come together and exist in harmony and unity was the work of God. But Paul knew that this unity would be under constant attack by the enemy. Satan’s strategy will always be to destroy the body of Christ from within. He will do everything in his power to create disunity and sow discord among the people of God. He will encourage selfishness and self-centeredness. He will subtly promote a what’s-in-it-for-me mentality that always proves to be divisive and destructive.

But Luke describes what the early days of the church were like. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47 ESV). There was a supernatural sense of unity. They were drawn together for a common cause and shared a common faith in Jesus Christ. Each had come as a sinner, unable to redeem himself, but had received forgiveness from God as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. No one, despite the severity of their sin or the dignity of their social position, was any different than anyone else. They were all sinners saved by grace. And years later, Paul prayed that the believers in Rome would have that same sense of unity and harmony among themselves. But he knew that God would have to provide it. God would have to grant them the ability to live in unity. Their natural tendency would be toward selfishness. But God is glorified best when we are unified most. When we “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our prayer should be for unity. We should desire to live in harmony with one another – God-ordained, Spirit-empowered harmony. Jesus commanded us to love one another, in the same way that He loved us – sacrificially and selflessly. Paul tells us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). Later in his letter to the Romans, he wrote, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10 NLT). Peter gave a similar word of encouragement. “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude” (1 Peter 3:8 NLT). Our unity is paramount to our testimony. Getting along is essential if we want to get the attention of the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. Because what good is our testimony of Christ’s life-transforming power if we can’t even get along with those who we call our brothers and sisters in Christ. So unity should be our constant prayer. It is God who has made us one through faith in His Son. It is God who must keep us one as we struggle to live godly lives in the midst of a godless generation. We must make unity among the people of God one of our highest priorities and a constant part of our daily prayers.

Visible Faith.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Christ.  – Philemon 1:4-6 NET

They say faith is hard to see, but Paul would disagree. Faith has fruit. Our belief in Jesus Christ should have a direct impact on the way we live our lives and should be visible to all those around us. Paul had heard of Philemon’s faith. Others had been able to see it and talk about it. They had been first-hand recipients of Philemon’s love – a direct byproduct of his faith in Christ. One of Paul’s other prayers, found in his letter to the Philippians, read, “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation–the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ–for this will bring much glory and praise to God” (Philippians 1:11 NLT). As we grow in our faith, the fruit of that faith increases, impacting those around us. Which is why Paul prayed that Philemon’s faith would deepen his understanding of every blessing that belongs to him in Christ. Our faith in Christ should result in a growing awareness of the incredible blessings we have received from God as a result of our relationship with His Son. We enjoy His unmerited grace, mercy, forgiveness,and love. We have the ongoing assurance of His abiding presence. Nothing we do can ever alter our relationship as His child. He never falls out of love with His children. As the incredible nature of the our relationship with God sets in, our faith should increase, along with our love for those around us. When we realize just how much we have received from God, we should desire to share that same love, grace and mercy with others. The apostle John writes, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12 NLT). God’s love for us was never meant to terminate on us. His love should flow through us to others, in order that they might feel the love of God in a tangible way.

As we grow in our understanding of the blessings of God available to us through Christ, we are able to turn from our normal and natural inward fixation to a Spirit-motivated love for others. We begin to live out what Paul described: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). We become known for our love for others. Our faith in Christ takes on a visible nature that others can see, feel and experience. We become less self-centered and more other-focused. Our selfishness slowly gets replaced with a spirit of selflessness and sacrifice. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should be accompanied by a love for others. That is the fruit of righteousness. Paul knew that as Philemon grew in his understanding of all that he had received in Christ, he would increase in his desire to love others. So that was the heart of Paul’s prayer for Philemon. And we should pray that same prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ today. Our love for one another and our love for the lost are tangible expressions of God’s redemptive, restorative love for us. We are to love as we have been loved. We are to show grace as we have received grace. We are to extend mercy as we have had mercy extended to us. We are God’s ambassadors, His representatives on this earth. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’’ (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 NLT). But the most effective way to get people to return to God is to allow them to experience the love of God through us. They can’t see God, but they can feel His love as we love them as He has loved us. Oh, that our faith would grow and that our awareness of God’s great love for us would continue to increase. Then that love would find expression in our selfless, sacrificial love for others. And the world would take notice.

Filled With Hope.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 NLT

Paul had hope. Not a self-manufactured hope based on some unreliable man-made institution or undependable individual. His hope was based on God. For Paul, God was the source of all hope. It was God who had sent His Son to die for the sins of man. It was God who had provided a way of salvation when there had been one. It was God who made possible forgiveness for sin when condemnation and death was the fate faced by mankind. God provided hope when there was none. Earlier, in his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul wrote, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance” (Romans 8:24-25 NET). Our hope should be in the future fulfillment of God’s promise to fully redeem and restore us to a right relationship with Him. While we can enjoy His presence and experience His power even now, there is a day coming when we will be completely transformed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. The apostle John reminds us, “we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). Paul put it in slightly different words when he wrote, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5 ESV). While we are daily being transformed into the likeness of Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, that process will not be completed until God calls us home or His Son returns. That is why Paul referred to the hope of righteousness – a belief in and reliance upon a future, as-yet-unseen reality. The day is coming when we will be like He is. At this point, we are seen as righteous in God’s eyes because of the sacrificial death of His Son. We are positionally righteous, but not practically so. We still sin. We still struggle with our sin natures. While positionally righteous before God, we can still find ourselves doing unrighteousness things. But our hope is based on the very real promise of God that there is a day coming when sin will be no more. We will be fully, completely, and wholly holy.

And Paul prays that we might be filled with that hope, revealing itself in peace and joy as we trust in God. Peter put it so clearly and optimistically. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV). Like Paul, Peter wanted us to know that our hope is based on a future promise. Our salvation, while fully accomplished in Christ, is not yet complete. Jesus saved us so that He might one day glorify us. We will be like He is. We will struggle with sin no more. Our sin natures will be done away with. These mortal bodies will be replaced with new bodies that will not suffer from disease, decay or death. We will enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself promised His disciples, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3 NLT).

Paul prayed that God would fill believers with hope – God-based hope that results in joy and peace. Our hope must be based on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Because of what He has done, our future is secure. Nothing that happens on this earth can change that. His sacrifice was sufficient. I can’t read this prayer of Paul without thinking of the words of a great old hymn.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.

We need the God of all hope to fill us with joy and peace as we continue to trust in Him. We can trust Him because He sent His Son to die for us. We can trust Him because He has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. He freed us from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death through the sacrifice of His own Son. And because of that incredible gift, we have hope.

Right, Not Wrong.

But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. – 1 Corinthians 13:7-9 ESV

Paul was the consummate pastor. He had a pastor’s heart and cared deeply for the people under his care, whether they were part of church he helped start or members of a fellowship he had never had the pleasure of meeting. And as a result of his pastor’s heart, Paul prayed pastoral prayers. At one point, Paul had urged the elders of the church in Ephesus, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock–his church, purchased with his own blood–over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). He wanted the elders to share his heart for the people of God. In Paul’s mind, the members of the local fellowship were far more important than he was. They took precedence over his own well-being, safety and reputation. Paul wasn’t in it for the glory or the gain. He didn’t do what he did for recognition or reward. He was a servant of God, serving the people of God – selflessly and sacrificially. And the great desire of his heart was that they do might do what was right. He wanted them to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. He wanted them to understand the full scope and benefit of the gospel message. It was that message that was the heart and soul of his ministry, and he would never have done anything to harm or alter that message in any way. Paul was willing to suffer persecution, misunderstanding, rejection, physical abuse, verbal threats, false accusations and assaults on his character – all in order that the people of God might live godly lives. If he had to appear weak in order for those whom he discipled to become strong, so be it. Paul knew that his calling by Christ was to a life of service and humility. So he put himself last and the people he served, first.

And as usual, Paul turned to God for help. He prayed. He prayed regularly and fervently. He prayed expectantly and hopefully. He asked His loving Father to provide the strength, wisdom, and guidance needed so that the flock might live according to His will. It is God’s desire that we do right, not wrong. When we pray for spiritual growth and godliness in the lives of others we can pray with assurance, because we are praying within God’s will. “God’s will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). God’s greatest desire for His children is their continual transformation into the likeness of His Son. And so that is what Paul prayed for. That is what he longed for and expected God to bring about, because he knew that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Ultimately, Paul’s prayer was for the perfection. He was longing for the day when they would be fully completed in Christ. He knew that God was in the process of perfecting them, sanctifying them, step by step, from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Christ-likeness is the objective. Godliness is the goal. And in the meantime, it should be our prayer that each believer live their lives, empowered by God’s Spirit, and doing that which is pleasing to God – that which is right, not wrong. Only God can give us new hearts. Only God can transform our behavior. But we can pray to that end – regularly, expectantly, passionately and thankfully.