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. 4 -- The Church FOR the world
I would add one final observation that doesn’t appear explicitly in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, though it certainly underscores Jesus’ understanding of what it means for his followers to be the faithful people of God.
For many in the Church today, it will be a challenge and stretch to turn back from retreat and engage the world in the manner modeled by Jesus and entreated in his prayers. But it is an insufficient understanding of this purpose and calling if we only do so fearfully and reluctantly. Church-in-the-world is not God’s backup plan or merely obligation for Christ-followers. It is God’s revealed purpose from the beginning.
I frequently remind my congregation (and give thanks!) that when humanity turned from God in the Garden, God did not turn from us, but has continued to pursue us in mercy, grace, and love. This is not to say there were not dire consequences for sin, but to say that God did not abandon us to ourselves. When God cut the covenant with Abraham in Genesis, it was not to set aside a special people to withdraw out of the world into a new Eden, but to mark a distinct people in blessing for the purpose of blessing the world (see previous comments on “sanctify”). So also the Church, grafted in as God’s people, have not been set aside to withdraw out of the world, but to mark a distinct people in blessing for the purpose of blessing the world and witnessing to God’s glory as manifested in Jesus Christ.
The Church, then, is purposed for more than simply co-existing IN the world; we are purposed FOR the world, to live out love, mercy, and grace in witness to God’s great love, mercy, and grace in Christ. This act of witness is, in fact, an act of worship – at least obedience, but hopefully an act of JOYFUL obedience.
We have often been reminded that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son….” Jesus prays that God will send us as God sent him. This does not mean that God gave the Church to save the world (that’s Jesus’ role!), but it does mean that God purposed the Church FOR the world in love. May we view the world and the people around us as our neighbors, for the sake of Christ and in joyful, worshipful obedience to the One we follow.
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?