“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 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 17:20-21).
The Lord Jesus prayed for unity among His people. The kind of unity Jesus desires for us is the kind of unity that He had with His Father. Such unity is necessary to persuade a lost and dying world that Jesus is sent from the Father.
When Christians divide over doctrine, they reveal to the world they are not one with the Father and Son. It is difficult to appeal to the world, when brethren cannot agree with each other. When the world outside of Christ sees 600 major denominations and thousands of independent community churches, it must be a stumbling block to their faith. They don’t know what to believe.
Jesus, however, did not pray for unity in spite of a diversity of doctrine, because of two things. First, before Jesus prayed for unity, he prayed that his disciples would be “sanctified in the truth” (John 17:17). Being set apart in the truth is what unites us; it is essential. The Lord Jesus has always wanted His people to agree, to be of the same mind and the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10-13). When people began departing from the truth, they were to be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17-18) so they would not cause further division.
Second, the unity which Jesus desires for us is the same unity which He had with the Father. Jesus remained unified with the will of the Father throughout his ministry, even to the point of death on a cross. He sought always to do the will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 8:28-32; 14:31). We too must yield our souls to the Father and say, “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). To suggest that Jesus believed in a diverse doctrine from the Father is to distort the truth. Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50).
When people today pray for unity with others who hold doctrines that are “outside the truth,” they are actually praying something very different from Jesus’ prayer. Jesus would never pray for unity without truth, because Jesus came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) and identifies Himself as the truth (14:6). To unite the truth with a lie is to deceive not harmonize. May God help us to find unity within the truth, not in spite of it.