This Fall, commit to community
John 17 has rightly been described as the holy of holies in the Bible. Only there can you find an extended conversation between members of the Godhead, as Jesus, the Son — on the night before his death — prays to God, the Father.
Throughout John 17 one of the main themes Jesus comes back to over and over in his prayer is the community he longs for his followers to experience. First, Jesus describes the kind of community his followers can experience: true unity amidst real and important differences.
The unity of God’s people is patterned after the unity of the Father and the Son (17:21). The Christian doctrine of the Trinity shapes the practice of Christian community. Though the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God, the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father. Thus, the Trinity reveals oneness even when there is not sameness, as well as distinction without division. The unity that Christ envisions for his people is a unity that depends on difference.
Jesus also says something about why this kind of community matters: “I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (17:23).
When people who are deeply different come together and form community because of the shared fact that they have been loved by Jesus Christ, the community that is formed is a living and breathing manifestation of the gospel. The gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ — brings reconciliation. But the reconciliation that the gospel brings is not only about bringing people back into relationship with God; it’s also a reconciliation that enables people who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other to become part of the same spiritual family, and to do life together in relationships of interdependent difference.
This kind of community — real difference and yet real unity — is both rare and refreshing. Emmanuel Katongole, professor of theology at Notre Dame, writes about the possibility of Christian community:
“We are called to be strange in the same way that the early Christian communities were strange to the world around them. The [Christian] community in Antioch brought together Jews and Samaritans, Greeks and Romans, slaves and free, men and women in a way that was so confusing that people around them didn’t know what to call them. So they called them ‘Christians.’ The only way they knew how describe their peculiar actions was to say that they were followers of an odd preacher from Galilee.” The world is longing for such new and odd communities in our time.
Finally, Jesus prays about what makes this community possible: “For them I sanctify myself” (17:19). To sanctify something is to set it apart for a specific work or use. Here Jesus says that he has set himself apart to do the work that he was sent into the world to do, namely, bringing God’s salvation by dying as a sacrifice for sin. Through Jesus’ death the reconciling power of God is made known. Thus, it’s not too much to say that Jesus’ death made it possible for you to form and participate in community, coming together with people across all kinds of difference for the purpose of loving and serving each other, and the world.
How then can you apply all this grand theology of John 17? One way is to commit, or recommit, to community inside the church. If you’re already plugged into a Community Group, then reengage with your group this fall with the passion of Jesus’ prayers for your community as seen in John 17. If you’re not yet in community, maybe new to Redeemer or the city, consider signing up for one of our newly forming Beta Groups (redeemer.com/beta). Beta Groups are short, seven-week groups that give you a chance, with others that are also new, to experience the power of community.
As Christine Pohl has said, the quality of our life together is a testimony to the truth of the gospel. Experience the power of Jesus and the wonder of the gospel afresh as you commit to community this fall.
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