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. 3 -- The Church is sent INTO the world (v. 18)
Jesus continues in prayer, asking the Father to send his followers (that’s us!) INTO the world. And we are not just sent without direction or any-old-way-we-please; we are sent as the Father sent the Son into the world. (v. 18a) And how is that?
The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw God’s glory… (John 1:14)One of Eugene Peterson’s most memorable translations is of the phrase “dwelt among us”: Jesus “moved into the neighborhood…” THAT is how Jesus prays for the Father to send us into the world… to move into communities and neighborhoods, to flesh out Jesus’ teaching about “Who is my neighbor?”
And lest my personalization of the teaching miss the greater point, let me re-state this: Jesus desire is for His Church to make a home in this world and enflesh the Gospel in witness to God’s glory in Jesus Christ.
It is true that this world is not our home in the eternal sense. But like the Exiles in Jeremiah 29, God has asked us to make a home here for His glory. We are to build and live and plant and eat and marry and multiply (Jeremiah 29:5-6) in this world, because God sends us as living witnesses to His glory even as God sent the Son to dwell among us.
Jesus then returns again to the SANCTIFY language (v. 19). We now see that in the context of neither losing our identity to the world nor separating from the world, that sanctifying is to happen in the world… in the neighborhood. Somehow we are to be “set apart as holy” in the midst of this world that is both our calling and other.
There is another way to understand being “set apart” and that is as DISTINCT. To be distinct is to be in-the-midst-of yet retaining a particular identity. That is, perhaps, a more helpful way to understand Jesus’ prayer for the Church in the world… that it be made distinct in the truth of God’s Word while continuing to bear witness effectively as good neighbor witness to God’s glory.
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?