We’re in this together.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”John 17:20-23 ESV
This passage from Jesus’s high priestly prayer for His followers on the night before His crucifixion is one that I think most of us just read over and nod. It sounds really spiritual, but we have no idea what it means. What do you think it meant when Jesus told the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.”
I’ve heard a few attempts to preach this as a call to Christian unity: “Quit fighting with the brethren!” While that’s good advice, it seems plain to me that Jesus is talking about something much greater than just not arguing. He says that we are supposed to be united, or connected, just as He was to the Father. What does that mean? In describing His relationship to the Father, He said all kinds of unusual stuff:
“that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father (John 5:32).”
“I and the Father are one (John 10:30).”
“the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 10:38).”
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father(John 14:9.”
These are statements that go beyond just being in agreement on some subject, or being part of the same organization. This is a sharing of identity that indicates a common essence. If we are one as they are one, then that brings new insight to the challenges of the “one another” scriptures in the previous lesson: The call to rejoice with, weep with, have the same care for, suffer with, bear the failings of, and build up one another, even to bear one another’s burdens, take on a greater weight. Your joy is our joy. My pain is our pain. I no longer have a burden, we have one. We are connected in our essence. What happens to you in some sense happens to me. This is the language of covenant. We share identity. We are identified with one another.
Covenants in the ancient world were accompanied by any of a number of ritual exchanges signifying the one-ness of the parties. Think of the marriage ceremony: The exchange of vows, the exchange of rings, taking the name of the partner, and so on. The idea is that these two lives have now become one. That’s what Jesus prayed in John 17. He is in the Father, the Father is in Him, He is in us, we are one with them and with one another. We are connected so intimately we share identity, life, and nature. We are the Body of Christ. Jesus asked that we be made perfectly one just as He and the Father are one by the glory of God in and among us. That glory indwells us and binds us in nature and purpose, and it does so whether we know it or not. We are one, my friend.
The prayers that proceed from this supernatural glory-connection are powerful. We looked at Epaphras and his prayers for the church at Colossae. It was his home church, and Paul noted that he was “one of you.” He was identified with them. (Colossians 4:12) The prayers of those connected to us spiritually, part of the same “family” so to speak, have special impact on us. When God plants us in a local fellowship, it has spiritual importance. We begin to share lots of things. Some are natural: a place to meet, a circle of friends, some common experiences. But it goes beyond that. Our relationship to our community of faith is a spiritual connection based on covenant. We draw life from that connection.
Remember: The people to whom we are connected exercise a greater authority when they pray for us (spouses, children, elders, …). Our connection to the local Body gives us a place of special authority in praying for others in that Body. With that connection comes responsibility. Praying for “one another” in our local faith community is now a responsibility. Our connected, covenant prayer has special impact. We are not supposed to be in this alone, nor should we leave others to go it alone.
Paul had strong connection to several local congregations and repeatedly referenced his need for their prayers. He also encouraged the church to pray for one another that they might live out the full will of God. That would include health. (Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:12; Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 1:17-23; Hebrews 13:20-21)
Paul’s strongest connection seems to have been with the church at Philippi. His language in the letter to them speaks of a confidence and shared mission that bred a powerful prayer relationship.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.Philippians 1:3-7 ESV
Four big ideas stand out in this passage. Each one is connected to the next.
- Partnership in the gospel: They shared with him in the mission of preaching the resurrection of Christ from the beginning. Because of this longstanding relationship, He prayed regularly for them and it was a joy. They were in it together.
- Confidence that they would fulfill their destiny: We often quote verse 6, thanking God that He will complete His work in us. That’s a wonderful sentiment, but Paul goes on to tell them the reason he is so confident of what God will do in them. Notice in verse 7:
- I hold you in my heart: What a great phrase! It’s even better than it sounds. Greek scholars tell us that this phrase could also be translated, “You hold me in your heart.” I believe Paul intended just such a double meaning: “I hold you in my heart, and you hold me in your heart.” The reason for his confidence was the heart connection between them. He and the folks in Philippi had something in the spirit that bound them together, and they knew it.
- Partakers together of grace: To be “partakers together” means that they have and experience the same grace. They share it in common. Surely this could mean that they have all been saved by the same grace, but wouldn’t that be true of every church? Paul only uses this language to this church. I believe Paul is referring to his apostolic grace, the call and gifting that God gave him. (Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:10, et al) He saw the Philippian church as sharing in his apostolic calling. He wasn’t just the apostle to them, he was an apostle with them. This was indeed a special connection.
Having identified the depth of the connection, Paul begins to recount how he prays for the church out of his intense love for them:
For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.Philippians 1:8-11 NKJV
After briefly describing his current predicament of imprisonment and noting that God was using him even in jail, he gives testimony to the confidence he has in their prayers:
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.Philippians 1:18-19 NIV
In the middle of his mess, Paul is rejoicing because he has confidence in 2 things: the prayers of the church at Philippi and the supply of the Spirit to help him in his situation. He didn’t make a grand confession of his faith or complain about the fact his human rights were being abused. He said, “I’m gonna be OK because you guys are praying and The Holy Spirit is helping.” The prayers of the connected are powerful!
At the close of this letter, Paul penned a verse that has been used by many to claim God’s provision of their every need. That’s fine and dandy. But in light of the tone of this letter, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that there was more in play here. Let’s read the context of Philippians 4:19.
Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:14-19 NKJV
Notice all the “sharing” language. Paul is thanking them for sending resources to help him in his evangelistic efforts. He tells them that they did well by sharing in his distress. He uses a word here that means to participate in something with someone. They were in it with him; they saw his distress as their own. He also points out that in the early days, they were the only church that “shared” with him concerning giving and receiving. Not just giving, but giving and receiving. There was a mutual sacrifice and benefit in their relationship. He waxes poetic in verse 18 about the gifts they sent, then makes the bold promise: My God shall supply all your need!” His confidence that God would provide for them came from their relationship of giving and receiving, or being partakers together in the ministry. You blessed me, therefore I know my God will bless you.
Here’s the point: Paul was confident that God would fulfill His plan for this church based on the connection that they had. There was something in their hearts put there by God. This connection spawned reciprocal prayers that were sure to be effective. He knew their needs would be met, not just because they gave, but because they shared in his distress. They were “partakers together of grace.” The struggles were shared as were the rewards. There is supernatural power in connected, covenant prayer. We are not designed to do this alone. We have just begun to experience the power in our connection to our faith family. There is so much more, and we need it all in this hour.
Next steps: In our next lesson we will begin looking at the dynamics of praying for those to whom we’re connected. We especially want to be effective in praying for those who are in need of healing. Until then, start making connected prayer a habit. Take time to pray for those in your local church. Pray for them by name, stopping to give special attention to anyone that particularly stirs your heart. Be alert to your spirit, even your dreams. If someone “comes to mind” or shows up in a dream for no apparent reason, pray for them at the first opportunity. It’s a heart connection. God planted you there. Don’t ignore it.