In this passage, Jesus shares the meaning of discipleship, implying that it is based on the realization that Christ came forth from God to call and unite God’s children and to usher in obedience to God’s Word.
Religious issues have created a highly charged political environment which is splitting churches and the political world, issues which, in my opinion, are private spiritual matters, such as abortion and sexual orientation, and private prayer concerns have now become political footballs, subject to public opinion and public policy.
In some cases, I understand the politics, especially when one’s civil and human rights are violated, but to saddle politicians with these religious issues, and then, based upon their political position, label them with or without character, is wrong and judgmental. Yes, it is true what sin is, as clearly stated in scripture but why do some think it their job to label others sinners?
Jesus’ greatest desire was for His disciples to work together and, in doing so, we would all become one. He wanted us unified as witnesses to God’s love. So this raises two questions: Are you a real disciple of Jesus? And are you helping to unify the body of Christ or divide it?
Christ’s point is the disciples were given to Him by God and, through them, God intended to bring glory to Him. The disciple is a person who knows he or she is commissioned to a holy task designed to bring glory to Jesus. Christ also offers a warning: We are to be set apart from the world — and we will be hated by the world.
Christ also points out in John 17:13, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” Joy is a common theme in Christ’s teaching; He wants us to be joyful. But, through hatred and bickering, we steal people’s joy and create climates of division and distrust.
Yes, God hates sin but Jesus teaches us to hate the sin but love the sinner. Our job as disciples is to gently, and prayerfully, bring the wayward back into right relationship with God.
Paul reminds the Romans in 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore, real disciples know they are not to judge the sinner but pray for them. Jesus was open and accepting of all people, regardless of sin, and He did what He could to show the love of God to all.
Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by truth; your word is truth.” Today, fundamentalist and liberals both argue over Scripture. Christ’s purpose was to encourage us to look beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law and find the principle behind the Commandments and what is the law's true intention.
To Christ, the law was never intended as a moral slide rule but, rather, as evidence of our transgressions. Jesus prays for us to be unified in harmony and love, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united.
To bring about unity we can pray for others. But, if we argue, gossip and bicker, we are not being the disciples Christ prayed we would be. For, in doing these things, we fail to show love. But if we pray for and build up one another, we lift up Christ and, thereby, become a unifying force.
One of the major disconnects creating division in the world, and the church, is poor teaching on the meaning of prosperity. What scripture means by prosperity is this: When we apply God’s wisdom, the fruit — the results or byproduct — is not found in quantity but in qualitative goodness and in the crop’s receiving God’s approval. Just as a tree soaks up water and bears good fruit, we are to soak up God’s word, producing good actions and attitudes that bring glory to Christ and promote unity.
When we’re focused and fruitful, and refuse to get side-tracked by divisive issues that are best left to God to solve and judge, then we become one, with Christ and God and all others.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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