Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.
13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)
Pt. 2 -- The Church is not OUT OF the world (v. 15)
When we talked about Jesus’ followers not being “of the world” as well as Jesus’ prayer that God SANCTIFY his followers in the truth of God’s word, we recognized that one conclusion that could be drawn is that Jesus’ followers should retreat from the world. After all, what better way to be “set apart” in holiness than to be separate.
But Jesus’ prayer offers some context and a different meaning to our understanding of “sanctify.” He prays in verse 15: “I do not ask you to take them out of the world.” So there, sandwiched between two descriptions of his followers (and himself!) as being “not of the world” he clearly does not understand that to mean separating or removing his followers from the world.
Jesus’ understanding of the Church is not as cloister or retreat or walled community. (There was a model for this in his day in the Essene community; he did not choose that relationship with the world!) There has always been a strain of church-thinking that pushes to withdraw from the world; but that is not Jesus’ desire. Rather, we are to be somewhere between the extremes of looking just like the world and running from it.
What Jesus does pray in v. 15, in conjunction with the plea not to remove his followers from the world, is that God will “keep them from the evil one.” He asks for God’s protection. That begins to frame our understanding of that NOT OF but NOT OUT place the Church is to inhabit. We will not only face the hatred of the world (v. 14) but the attack and deception of the evil one (v. 15). Thankfully, Jesus already intercedes for us and our protection in the place to which he calls us!
Posts in this series:
pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?