by Charles R. Swindoll, taken from the Swindoll Study Bible
AS JESUS PRAYED for His disciples, He prayed for three things: that they would be unified, that they would be protected from the evil one, and that they would be made holy.
First, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ unity. If you study the twelve disciples, you willnotice that they were individualistic men. They were not necessarily cooperative. They were stubborn. They were at times dull and unteachable. They were proud. Matthew was a tax collector. Peter was a fisherman. John and James were called “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). Yet the Lord prayed, in effect, “Father, I want You to take these tough-minded men and build them into a unit.” In John 17:11, He prayed, “Protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.”
Second, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ protection. “I have given them your word,” He continued. “And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:14-15). These verses give us a clear description of Jesus’ strategy. He never encourages living behind the walls of a monastery, either physically or spiritually. He wants His disciples to be in touch with the world so that the world will have His light. If the world never saw or rubbed shoulders with Christians, it would have no light. So Jesus was saying, “Lord, I don’t want You to take them out of the world. Leave them in the world, but preserve them.” It’s not about isolation, but insulation. We need to be “insulated” so that we can move through the fire and the crucible of this world without being discouraged or destroyed by the evil one.
I think Jesus’ two requests for unity and protection are linked. The evil one discovers disunity and hits us at that chink in our armor. That’s why we, the church, are told by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 to keep ourselves united in the Spirit. The Spirit of God gives unity, and we are to cultivate it. We are to bridge the gaps, the cracks, the chinks. The whole purpose is so that we might have a positive effect on a decadent, perverted society.
Third, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ holiness. Notice this third request: “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 17:17). First Jesus said, “Keep them,” and now He says, “Sanctify them.” He wants His followers to be set apart for their intended purpose. He doesn’t want them to ever lose the vision. How are we made holy? Scripture tells us right here: through God’s Word, which is truth. You cannot live the life you were fully intended to live apart from this Book. If you get away from the Source of truth and move into the wastelands of subjectivity and human opinions, invariably you will be led astray. If you’re living your life apart from regular contact with the Word of God, the world is on its way to moving in. We who believe in Jesus today are included in this prayer (see John 17:20). Jesus has prayed for us to have unity, protection, and holiness. These things have therefore been given to us. We need to live them out.
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