Words are powerful, especially a person’s final words. A loved one’s final words impact us for years to come. In the same way, the final words of Jesus will continue to impact us until he returns.
Jesus not only spoke seven separate times from the cross, but in his last hours, he offered up a prayer that included us. A careful reading of Jesus’ longest recorded prayer (John 17) reveals Jesus prayed not only for his followers then, but for his followers now. Quite literally, Jesus prayed for us. And he asked God for only one thing on our behalf—that we be united.
Don’t miss the significance. Jesus had only a few hours left before his crucifixion, but he was most focused on our unity. Period. Big, expansive ministry was not at the forefront of his mind or his prayers. Nor were capital campaigns or technology upgrades. Nothing mattered more to Jesus in his final hours than for us to be united.
Jesus did not pray that we would experience philosophical or organizational unity, but relational unity.
“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” (John 17:20-21). Jesus did not just suggest we live this way, he commanded it (John 15:9-12). This is important to Jesus because the degree to which we are united in the church is witnessed by a watching world outside the church.
My, how we need those prayers today.
A year has passed since COVID-19 began taking its toll on our country and particularly on our relationships. Like cream rising in milk, COVID-19 slowly brought conflict to the surface among us. As Christians, we disagreed over whether to wear masks and a host of other issues. Not only did we socially distance ourselves, but we relationally distanced ourselves from one another. Now is the time for us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). After all, our unity mattered more to Jesus in his final words than anything else.
How do we experience relational unity in the church, and in our marriages, families, and friendships? Similar to the two substances that are needed to produce water—hydrogen and oxygen—relational unity also requires two essentials—both of which were modeled by Jesus. Elders must pursue both of these essentials, for we are called to lead by example as we follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Submission Is Essential, Not Optional
Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart, a person speaks (Matthew 12:34). The way we think determines how we speak. Think of how Jesus spoke. When speaking about God or to God, Jesus always used the term “Father.” Only once did Jesus address him as God (i.e., “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46]). Though he was equal with God (Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9), Jesus willingly submitted himself to God. He chose the lesser, respectful role of a son to a father. Jesus made a conscious choice to submit under the sovereign authority of God throughout his earthly life. Even in his final hours, Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane that God’s will would be accomplished in his life; nothing more, nothing less, nothing else (Matthew 26:39-44).
To experience relational unity, we must intentionally and mutually submit to each other. The apostle Paul commanded us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). One practical way we honor Jesus is by living in true submission to one another, both in the church and in our homes. Submission is witnessed in servanthood. Jesus did not come to be served, “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When we have this same attitude to serve others before self, there is a great likelihood we will experience relational unity.
Humility Is Essential, Not Optional
In Paul’s Christological statement (Philippians 2:1-11), we read that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (v. 8). Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, modeled perfect humility. From the day of his birth to a humble girl, when he was laid in a manger in a barn, to the day of his humiliating death on a cross, Jesus walked in true humility.
Humility means to “go to a lower place,” and Jesus did just that. He left his regal home in Heaven. He came to wash feet, touch lepers, welcome tax collectors and sinners to his table, and ultimately he gave his life so that others may live eternally. Christlike humility is not a philosophy, but a reality. Jesus chose to walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:8), and so must we. If we hope to experience relational unity, we must embrace authentic humility.
When threatened by predators, a pufferfish will inflate to more than double its size. Its sharp spines can deliver toxin that is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. The toxin in one pufferfish can kill 30 adult humans. In something of a similar manner, when we puff ourselves up, both in pride and power, we become toxic to those around us at church, home, or wherever we happen to be. Relational unity requires us to be both submissive and humble.
This is easier said than done. Leadership expert Ken Blanchard defines EGO as “edging God out.” We need God’s presence and power to become united. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As elders, each of us must depend on the Lord to empower us to be both submissive and humble if we desire to become one with one another in the same way Jesus and the Father are one.
Scripture says Jesus lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). It’s good to know Jesus is still praying for us.