The Power of One

It is of the utmost importance to Jesus that we live in unity.

George Wright
Aug 18, 2019    38m
In this sermon Pastor George Wright teaches us that Jesus places great importance on his followers living in unity. He explains that we need to work together as one to advance the Gospel and be a reflection of the Holy Trinity. He acknowledges that unity can be hard, especially in the divided world we live in today. He closes by giving us advice on how to live in unity. Video recorded at Columbia, South Carolina.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

George Wright: 00:00 Let me encourage you now to grab your Bible. We're going to be in John's Gospel, chapter 17. This is actually the second part of a series where we are walking through the prayer of Jesus in John 17, and it's in this prayer that we see the heart of Jesus on display for his followers, because it's in this prayer that Jesus knows his time on earth is coming to an end. He knows the cross is right before him, and he knows that this is going to be a very difficult season for his disciples to navigate, and he's praying for them. Praying that they would understand the truth, praying that they would live out their faith, and he's praying that they would be united together for the sake of the gospel advancing through their lives. Jesus is praying for his disciples because he loves his disciples, and he makes that clear here in John 17, and we're going to pick up where we left off two weeks ago.

George Wright: 01:02 We actually stepped away from this series last Sunday, but we're back into John 17 today. We'll actually be covering verses 6 through 11, but I just want to read verse 11 of John 17 to get us started, because it really does begin to show us the central theme of this prayer and really the heart of Jesus on display for his disciples. It's our custom here when we read our opening scripture in the message to stand together as I read this text, and so I'd invite you now to stand with me. If you're new to Shandon, or if you're joining us online, we stand each week for the reading of God's word so that we can all be reminded that the word of God is our authority, it is the foundation on which we stand as a people of God, it is what God says is right and good and true.

George Wright: 01:51 So this is the word of the Lord through the prayer of Jesus. In John 17:11, Jesus says, "I am no longer in the world, but they my disciples, my followers, they are in the world and I am coming to you, Holy Father. Keep them in your name, which you have given to me, that they may be one." Here's that central idea of this prayer, that they may be one, even as we are one. The prayer of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, for his followers, is that the followers of Jesus Christ would be one. United together for the sake of the gospel advancing through us. As we consider this text this morning, would you pray with me that God would use this in our lives?

George Wright: 02:49 Let's pray now. Father, as we stand before you, and as we consider your word, it is my prayer that you would have your way among us. That your Holy spirit would come and and guide us in this time of examining the scripture. That the word might not just be something that we hear, but the word might be implanted into our hearts and our minds and become something that we truly live. So I pray, Lord, that the living word of God would be active in this place, in our lives here today. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen. You may be seated. Thank you for standing.

George Wright: 03:44 So as we step into John 17 again this morning and we see this central theme that runs throughout this prayer beginning in verse 11, I just want to be very clear up front, we're going to be talking about this for the next couple of weeks. Because this theme runs throughout the remainder of the prayer of Jesus in these verses, and I want to be very clear the theme that the central idea, the central idea of the prayer and the heart of Jesus for his followers is unity. That his followers would stand United, that his followers would live United. And his followers would be one as a picture of God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit in perfect union, the Holy Trinity, three in one. The followers of Jesus are to be a reflection of this truth, a reflection of the community that he's had among God himself, three in one.

George Wright: 04:48 But let's be honest right up front, unity is not easy. In fact, unity is incredibly difficult, and we can look out at our culture today and we can see that so clearly on display over and over and over again. In fact, it would really be easy for us to conclude that unity is just one of those ideals of the past, it's kind of one of those things that is no more, and it's not even possible. A how in the world can we be united in a culture that is so divided over literally everything. I was reading some research this week about the division, the growing division, the polarization of our culture. And I came across a fascinating research project. It was looking at people on both sides of the spectrum as it relates to their belief, as it relates to their political persuasion, as it relates to what matters most to them, and they asked the question of both sides, what is the greatest threat to our nation today? The overwhelming response from both sides, was the people who disagree with our side. I mean, yes you're laughing, it's comical. The only thing that we can agree on is that we are divided, and it's the other side's fault, I mean that's where we are. So how in the world can we as a church, how in the world can we the followers of Jesus live in unity, stand in unity when there are so many among us who we don't even agree with each other. We have different preferences we have different styles that we're more likely to to lean towards. We have, we have different ideologies that matter to us. We have different passions. How in the world can we stand in unity? Unity is so hard. We're going to talk about that as we walk through this prayer.

George Wright: 06:49 First, I just want to lay out very quickly, why according to scripture, unity is so hard. I'm going to give two reasons. Why is unity so hard? Number one probably goes without saying, but the word of God shows this, unity is hard because people are involved. It's true. I once heard a pastor say ministry would be so easy if it weren't for the people, and I can understand that. I mean, the reality is when you get a group of people together, you're gonna have problems. Now, all people are broken, all people, the Bible says, have sin. For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, that's Romans 3. We all have issues, we all have struggles, we all have things going on in our lives that make it difficult for us to stand together, to get along with one another.
George Wright: 07:43 And the Bible points to something that really is revealing, James chapter 4, let me lay this before you. James chapter 4, verses 1 through 4, unity is hard because people are involved. The scripture says this, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." Isn't this so revealing? There is a war in our own heart, a war waging in our own hearts between that which is of God and that which is of the world. And here is the part that's so helpful to me personally, James four is saying, look, everybody passions. Everybody has things in their lives that matter incredibly a lot to them. Everybody has things in their lives that they are totally devoted to and totally passionate about, and that's not bad in and of itself. But the reality is so quickly, our passions can drive our worship. And our passions can become the very thing, the object, of our worship. Replacing the seat in our life that only God should occupy as the object of our worship, and when our passions become more important than anything else. When our passions become more important, even then God, then we're going to fight anyone who gets in the way of us experiencing our passions. Everybody who disagrees with us becomes our enemy, and we divide because our passions have become an object of worship. We all wrestle with this. This is a human problem, to take what we are passionate about and to make it an object of our worship, to put it on the throne of our lives, to occupy a seat that only God should occupy. So the word of God is saying, look, unity is hard. It's hard because people are involved, and people have passions, and people's passions are not gonna agree. And when passions are out of place or out of line, you're only going to have division.
George Wright: 10:39 But secondly, the word of God speaks to this. There is an enemy of God, an enemy of God that hates what God loves. And so if Jesus is praying for unity, and the heart of Jesus is that his followers would be one, you better believe that the enemy of God is seeking to destroy what matters most to the heart of Jesus. Far too often we either` bury our head in the sand, or live ignorant, or just act like the enemy is not at work. And yet the word of God makes it very clear, he's on the prowl. First Peter chapter five verse eight, "Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour." Have you ever wondered why division in the church is so common? Why do churches split? Why do people leave churches mad, over insignificant things? Why is there so much tension as people disagree in churches? Well, certainly there's a lot of issues at play, and the scripture is reminding us here that the enemy of God is doing everything he can to plant seeds of division among the people of God. Because the enemy of God hates what God loves. And if Jesus prays for it, you better believe the enemy is going to attack it. And so as we navigate this prayer, we need to understand, yes, unity is difficult. That's why Jesus is praying for his followers to be one. He knows it will be hard, but it is of the utmost importance to Jesus, it is of the utmost importance to the heart of God that the people of God fight for unity, strive for unity, seek to live by faith in unity. Because it's through unity that we have the opportunity to point to the good news that we've received.
George Wright: 12:54 I'm gonna lay out a definition we're gonna use for the next few weeks as we navigate this prayer for unity. Unity is a common purpose that flows out of a common belief. A common purpose that flows out of a common belief. Unity does not mean sameness, it doesn't mean we agree on everything. But it means we have a common purpose, an overall ideal, that we believe in, that we're striving for that flows out of our foundational beliefs. We stand together for the glory of God to be revealed in us.
George Wright: 13:30 So what are some common beliefs? Well, Jesus helps us navigate this in his prayer? Remember, Jesus is praying this prayer with the disciples as they've just gathered in the upper room. They've had the last supper that we now call the Lord's supper. They've had this amazing scene where Jesus washes the disciples feet. He's been teaching them, He's been preparing them, for what's about to take place as he goes to the cross. And they're still gathered together in this sacred moment as he prays this prayer, so he's praying out loud for the disciples, and at the same time he is teaching the disciples as he prays. So what is he teaching? He's pointing to these core beliefs, this foundational belief that allows us to then have a common purpose, united as one.
George Wright: 14:20 John 17, go back to verse 6, we see the first belief that is essential. Jesus says, "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you." We talked about this in week one, I know that was a couple of weeks ago, you've probably long forgotten that by now. But in week one at the beginning of John 17, we see Jesus affirming and declaring his deity, He is God. That's what's happening here in verses 6 and 7, we must be united in our belief of who God is if we are going to be a people of God who live in unity as an answer to the prayer of Jesus. Be United in our belief of who God is. Jesus says, here, "I've manifested your name to the people who you gave me." What is this all about? Jesus is saying, I have shown the people that you gave me a true living picture, God the Father, of what you are like. You see, Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh. He is the image of the invisible God, the visible picture of God, that demonstrates the very nature and the very character of God.

George Wright: 15:56 Flip over to Hebrews chapter 1 to see another example of this. Hebrews chapter 1, beginning in verse 3, right near the end of the Bible. The writer of Hebrews says about Jesus, Hebrews 1:3, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, He sat down in the right hand of the majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs." Jesus is better than the angels. That's pretty incredible. The scripture is saying, Jesus is God, He is the revelation of who God is, He is the radiance of the glory of God, the very picture of God in the flesh. If you want to know God, look to Jesus. Do you know him? If you want to see God, look to Jesus. Have you seen him?
George Wright: 17:15 If we are going to live as a people of God United under a common purpose, we must understand that our belief about God must be rooted in what God says about himself in his word. And that leads us to the second point from today's message. John 17 verse 8, Jesus says, "For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth, I came from you. And they have believed that you sent me to be a people of God, to be a church that is united for a common purpose that flows out of common belief. We must be united in the belief that God's word is truth. Now, when I was a kid, as a preacher's kid myself, from time to time, I would get something that my dad would bring home from the office that someone would give to the preacher as a gift. And my dad didn't want it, so he'd pass it off to his sons, and it was usually one of those Christian kind of cheesy gifts. Now, forgive me if you love Christian cheese, but I'm not a huge fan of Christian cheese. And here's part of the reason why, we got these t-shirts, they came home from my dad's office. Do you remember these tee shirts from like the eighties and nineties that would take a slogan out of culture, and then they'd Christianize it and put it on the tee shirt. Like my favorite one that I was never allowed to have was the Budweiser logo, and it said God's wiser. Instead of Budweiser, it says God's wiser. And then instead of King of beers, it said King of Kings, how awesome is that? I mean, that's leading people to Jesus right there. I mean, come on. But I wouldn't allowed to have that one, that was a little too controversial for our home. So my dad brought me two shirts. The first one was the Lord's gym, and it was this jacked Jesus with big muscles, and he was doing a pushup with the cross on his back. So strong and amazing. But the other way my dad gave me, I think he really wanted me to have, because it just was a simple tee shirt and it said, truth, on the front of it. And on the back of the shirt it said, truth, what God says, regardless of how I feel. What God says, regardless of how I feel.

George Wright: 19:56 Why does that matter? We live in a culture, and a time, in a day and age, when truth is now being defined as, the way I feel. And when my feelings change. Here's the great thing about our culture today, when my feelings change, I can just change my truth along with it. Yeah, I believed that yesterday, and it went along with the way I was feeling, but today I feel different so I'm writing a new definition of truth. The problem with that is it really means truth is all about me. If everybody has their own version of truth, especially as it relates to today's message, there's no way we can get along with anybody. Because you threatened my truth, how dare you threaten my truth? You are my enemy. If you threaten my truth, the only thing that we can do is divide, the only thing. How dare you threaten my truth. If truth is about what we're feeling, and truth is about our preference, if truth is about the way we want to live, and truth is ever changing, we are in a very, very dangerous spot. The word of God shows us that there is a truth that is unchanging. A truth quite honestly, this might hurt some of your feelings, it doesn't really care how you feel, because it knows what's best for you. And it knows that your feelings are important, but your feelings are not God. So the Bible shows us that there is a truth that is unchanging, it is uncompromising, it does not evolve, it is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. It is tested by time, and it will stand. And the question for the people of God is, will we be united through the word of God and what God says is right and good and true? Or will we just go with the flow of our feelings, seeking to change truth based on how we feel?

George Wright: 22:22 Second Timothy chapter 3 verse 16 and 17, one of the great passages in scripture about scripture. You always need to look at scripture in light of scripture, and we always need to see what scripture claims about itself. Look at what the word of God says here through the apostle Paul, writing to Timothy. Second Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work." Now that sounds great, but here's the problem, reproof is painful, correction is uncomfortable, training in righteousness is not easy. Far too often we are looking for the truth that is easy for us, but the word of God lays out the truth not that we always want to hear, but the truth that we need to hear. And sometimes it gets in our face, and sometimes it steps on our toes, and sometimes they can be painful to hear what we need to hear, but that's how much God loves us. And in his grace and mercy towards us, He doesn't just tickle our ears and say what we want to hear, He lays out what we need to hear so that we can see he truly is who he says he is. He is our hope, and his love toward us never fails, it is grounded in the truth.

George Wright: 24:15 One of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis, and he's got a ton of great quotes, is this one right here. He says this, "I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." And that's hard to hear in today's culture, but it is important. Listen, I believe with all of my heart that the message of the gospel will make your life better, with all of my heart I believe it, but I do not believe it will make your life easier. Life is hard. I believe with all of my heart that the word of God is exactly what we need, it is right and it is good and it is true. But the word of God is going to be very uncomfortable, because the word of God is like a double edged sword, it pierces the heart. It says what we need to heart, it cuts through to the heart of the matter. Because God loves us, because God is gracious towards us, because God is compassionate and kind as the perfect Father. He speaks the truth that we need to hear. And as we wander, he calls us back, he invites us to come home, and his love never fails.

George Wright: 25:56 That leads us to the next belief that is so important, if we're going to stand united as the people of God answering the prayer of Jesus. John 17 verses 9 and 10, we see this in the prayer of Jesus, "I'm praying for them. I'm not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me for they are yours. All mine are yours and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. Jesus is saying, if we're going to live as one, live united for a common purpose that brings glory and honor to God, and lifts high the name of Jesus, we must be united in the belief that God is for his people. This is so incredibly important, and please hear me, as Jesus prays and says, I'm not praying for the world. He's not saying I hate the world, or I'm against the world. No, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." But Jesus thinks specifically here in this prayer, I am praying for my followers, and I'm praying that my followers would know that I am for them. I love my followers, Jesus is saying, this is so important because how many times do you look out at the world around us, or how many times do you look at what's going on in your life and feel hopeless? How many times do you look at all the changes in our culture and go, has God left? Is God even here? How many times as you're navigating your story, do you feel overwhelmed and do you face discouragement? I'll confess you, discouragement is one of the biggest things I battle, discouragement can be overwhelming. I need to be reminded, church we need to be reminded, that if you are in Christ, God is for you. He loves his people. Please hear this.

George Wright: 28:15 Romans chapter 8 verse 31, highlight this in your Bible, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies, who is to condemn Christ Jesus, is the one who died. More than that, he was raised, he was at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. God is for his people. And I know you've heard me rant and rave and make comments about social media on too many occasions, I'm doing it again. Because here is the reality, this is mind blowing to me when I look at some of the things that quote unquote the people of God put out on social media about what's going on in the world around us, and how all hope appears to be lost, and just are overwhelmingly negative and fearful. I'm like, do you believe in God or not? Did you believe that God for you or not? Well, look at the culture, the culture is going to hell in a handbasket. Maybe so, but that's why God has left the church here. So we can be a part of what he is doing to reveal to the world, there is hope, His name is Jesus. He's coming again. All hope is not lost. Trust in him, and you will be good. Don't we need to hear this, God is for his people. If you trust your life to Jesus Christ, you can stand in confidence knowing that God is for you. Not because of how great you are, but because of how great he is. If we're going to live united, for the glory of God to be seen in us, we must be united in the belief that God is for his people.

George Wright: 30:38 Finally, we come back to the verse where we started, John 17 verse 11, Jesus says, "And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world." The church is in the world. We're going to talk about this more in the coming weeks. "And I'm coming to you Holy Father, so keep them in your name, which you have given me. That they may be one even as we are one." If we are going to live as an answer to the prayer of Jesus, if we are going to stand as one, if we are going to be united for a common purpose, for the glory of God to be revealed through us. That others might see the love and grace of God in us, and hear the good news of the gospel through us. If we're going to be united as a church, we must be united in the belief that unity is essential for the church to point to Jesus. Again, this is not just a suggestion or a good idea. No. According to Jesus, we'll see this more throughout the rest of the prayer. According to Jesus, unity is essential for the church to point to Jesus. So what does that mean practically? What does that mean? It means we as a church must resist the urge to make church about usm and live by faith to make church about Jesus. We fight that every week. We all do. We must resist the urge to make church about us, and live by faith to make the church all about Jesus. We must fight our desire to be more concerned with our wants and our preferences, then we are concerned with the heart of Jesus.

George Wright: 32:29 And please hear me. This is the tricky one to navigate. We must focus on what holds us together, and what we wholeheartedly agree on, grounded in the truth of God's word. Instead of over and over and over again, focusing only on our differences and the things we disagree about. We're gonna disagree, we're a family. Do you have one? You disagree. But the people of God, the people of God, must look up, must look up to that which matters most. Fix our eyes on Jesus, who he is and what he has done grounded in the truth of his word, United for the sake of a common purpose, not being petty, choosing to fight about the things that don't even matter, that aren't even in the word. But stand up for that which truly points to Jesus, will we be a people united for the sake and the glory of God being revealed through us? I believe we have been. I believe we are. I believe we will be. But I believe we can so quickly lose our way.

George Wright: 33:55 So I want to close with this, Hebrews chapter 12 verses 1 and 2, a reminder of those who have gone before us in the faith, and the invitation that God has given us to live by faith. Hebrews 12 verses 1 and 2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and every sin which clings so closely, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Do you want to run the race with endurance for the glory of God? I believe many of you do. Do you want your life to point to the good news of what Jesus Christ is? I believe many of you would say yes, absolutely. So that means according to the word of God, we need to be honest and we need to evaluate what wait are we holding onto that is preventing us from standing in unity with the body of Christ. What sin is clinging closely to us, that is preventing us personally, don't point to others, personally preventing us from living United for the glory of God. Will we lay it down. Will we looked at Jesus and see the finished work of the cross, and lay down the weights and repent of the sin and trust in the grace and mercy of God that makes all things new as we look to him. If we will do that, we will stand out in a divided world as a beautiful picture of unity, and the good news of Jesus Christ as an answer to the prayer of Jesus, revealing the heart that Jesus has to those around us. Let's pray that God would use us to stand together for the sake of what matters most to Jesus.

George Wright: 36:31 Let's pray. Father, we love you. We are grateful for your love, so grateful for this prayer. It is not only a gift as we see the heart of Jesus for his followers, but is also a gift as it teaches us. And so I pray, Lord, as the scripture teaches, as the scripture corrects, as the scripture reproves, and trains us in righteousness, that we would listen to that which you say. That we would invite the Holy Spirit to take these words off of a page, and place them in our heart that we would live as the answer to the prayer of Jesus. I pray, Lord God, we as a church, we bring glory and honor to your name and
would point to Jesus and all that we do. And finally Lord, is we close, I pray for those who are among us, or those who perhaps are joining us online for this message, that they recognize right now, that they are disconnected from you. They recognize right now that they don't have a personal relationship with Jesus, or perhaps they are living very far away from the good news that you've laid before us, I pray that today would be the day that they would see you inviting them to come home. That you and your love are inviting, you are calling them even now to turn from their sin, to turn to the gift of salvation, to turn to the good news of Jesus. We pray that today there would be some who trust in what you have done, Jesus, and who will be saved. We thank you for dying for our sin, the cross. And we thank you for defeating sin and death in the power of the resurrection. We want to live in light of what you have done. All glory and honor belongs to you. It's in Christ's name I pray. Amen.

Recorded in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Shandon Baptist Church
5250 Forest Drive
Columbia, South Carolina 29206