Recently, I asked my congregation to come with me, listen and sit close to Jesus as he petitioned his Father in John 17. What a privilege it was to listen in and glean from this most sacred prayer.

We as a church sat up close as Jesus’ love for his disciples, and those who would come after them, poured out in his prayer. To consider this prayer takes place just moments before the events of passion week begin points ever clearer to the loving heart of our Shepherd.

As we reflected, I found it amazing that the focus of Christ’s prayer was on the unity of the Church.

Unity in the Church is designed to be a reflection of the unity that exists within the Godhead. “I pray that they be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).  The fact that Jesus makes reference to unity no less than four times certainly demonstrates the priority that God places on unity within the Church.

What is a priority for Jesus ought to be a mandate for those of us who have the privilege to serve as His under-shepherds.  While most of us and our leaders would agree that the Church needs to be unified, we struggle to gain ground in this area. As I have the opportunity to walk with and listen to many pastors, I get the sense that we struggle because we have a tendency to unify around the wrong things.

The Church today is more divided than any other time in my life. The political climate, racial tensions, volatile world events have all splintered the Church in ways that have hindered our testimony to the world.

So what connects our EFCA East churches with other churches around the world? What connects our EFCA East churches with the Church 100 years ago? Five hundred years ago? One thousand years ago?

It’s not our politics. It’s not our challenges regarding racial injustice, even though, sadly, racial injustice has been present for centuries. The glue that should connect EFCA East to churches around the world and across the centuries is our unwavering commitment to the essentials of the Gospel!

The changes that many of us would agree need to take place in our culture are not the root of our problem, but the fruit of our problem. It’s the transforming power of the Gospel that softens hearts, changes mindsets and shifts culture. As leaders in God’s Church, it is our responsibility to be faithful to the message of the Gospel and demonstrate, by our own examples, how the applied Gospel manifests itself in loving all people, honoring all people and upholding the dignity of all mankind created in the image of God.

Christ is the solution to every problem in every culture and every time period. Christ is the Hope of the World and we as leaders are called to uphold this truth without minimizing the changes that need to take place.

I know you know this. I also know the pressure that we often feel to address the loud voices around us. We hear the cries, we see the pain, we try and navigate our churches and leaders through all the confusion while we wonder what’s the best way to proceed.

I get it. You want to be faithful. You want to be authentic. You want to be a part of the solution to many of the challenges your church and your community face; and while you seek for the golden nugget, the healing words, you know in your heart the answer hasn’t changed.

It’s Jesus! He is the answer and He is our hope.

I take great comfort in knowing that when Christ prayed for His disciples, he knew full well what the next couple of years would present to them. Social, political, racial and familial unrest was soon to come upon the Church, but Jesus doesn’t pray for them to avoid it. He doesn’t pray for how they should address it. He prays that in the midst of it all, they would remain in unity!

The unity of the Church is to be gathered around the essentials of the Gospel. The unity of the Church is what will get the attention of the world.

Listen to Christ’s words:

John 17:21–23 (ESV)

21 that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

So the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus.

So the world may know that the Father sent Jesus.

That the world would know that the Father loves them even as the Father loves Jesus

It’s no wonder why Jesus put such a premium on the unity of the Church; and it’s no wonder why the enemy seeks to bring disunity within the Church. What was a priority for Jesus became a plot for Satan.

Following this sacred moment that takes place between Jesus and his Father, we discover in chapter 18 that Jesus goes to the garden to pray. While praying in the garden, Jesus is confronted by his betrayer and the band of soldiers, officers and priests who came to arrest Jesus.

The moment for which Christ came is upon them. He came to die – it was his mission. He had been sharing that with his disciples all along. As the soldiers came to arrest Jesus we learn that Peter, caught up in the moment with a plan of defending his Lord, cuts off the ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant (Matthew 18:10).

Jesus responds:

  11 “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

In the midst of all that was going on politically, culturally, socially and within the religious community, Peter gets distracted by the chaos and reacts by cutting off the ear of Malchus. It’s as if he forgot that God had a plan and that God was still fully in control. Jesus instructs him to “put his sword away, shall I not drink the cup my Father has given me.”

It’s interesting to me that the scripture records this event. Malchus’ ear was his God given organ to hear things… and not to hyper-spiritualize the moment, I just find it interesting that Peter’s distracted moment would cause Malchus’ to not hear anything around him, including Jesus.

When the Church takes up its sword and gets so caught up reacting to all the chaos that’s going on in the world, we fail to see what God is doing in the midst of it all. We’ve inadvertently cut off the ear of the world, keeping them from hearing the message of the Gospel to which we have been entrusted to deliver.

Pastors, as you approach the pulpit, recognize that you have the awesome privilege of being part of the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer that we would be one, even as the Father and Son are one. Are there swords that need to be put back in their sheaths?

Leader, never forget the power of your influence. What you say matters. What you say is remembered and what you say puts in motion the action of those who listen. Lead with the priority of preserving the unity of the Church. Make sure your leadership reflects the model and priorities of our Lord.

Together, let’s be sure to put our swords away, see what God is doing in the midst of all the chaos, and be sure to bring the life changing message of hope to the world!

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Tony Balsamo

District Superintendent at EFCA East
Tony is the Lead Pastor of Integrity Church, a church he planted in 2005 on Long Island, NY, where he resides. Integrity is a reproducing church that is committed to church multiplication, raising up leaders and building an authentic community of Christ Followers. He also serves as EFCA East Co-District Superintendent. Tony married his best friend, Laura in February 1996 and enjoys spending time with his family outdoors: camping, hiking and traveling. Tony and Laura have 4 amazing sons, Joshua, David, Jonathan and Gabriel. 

4 Comments

  1. Paulo Freire on May 9, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks for these good words. Thanks for your emphasis on unity and how important it is.

  2. Greg Scharf on April 17, 2024 at 8:59 am

    Thanks, Tony. Good word; necessary reminder.

  3. Joshua Ott on March 9, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Yeah I was so grateful for this reminder.

  4. Michael S Martin on March 3, 2021 at 8:56 am

    Thank you Tony
    Insightful, provides a stirring up of the reality of our mission vs what are actually our carnal reactions.

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