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John 17 Study Guide 2: Sharing in Community

Community Group Study Guide — Sharing in Community
John 17:11-12, 20-23

Main idea:
Our unity as a church demonstrates the love of God. Jesus prays that the fellowship that he shares with the Father would be experienced by his people and that they in turn would be “one.” This unity will help the world know that Father sent the Son. 
Study Information:
As we mentioned in the last study guide, John 17 is one extended prayer that Jesus has for his disciples before he goes to the cross. The first theme from this prayer is how God the father is glorified and Jesus’s prayer that his disciples would grow in their enjoyment of God. Glorifying God means making him known and that goes hand in hand with our enjoyment of God. 

The next theme we will focus on is how Jesus prays that the church would have the same kind of unity that Trinity experiences. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all one God, yet different persons, existing in eternity in complete fellowship and love for one another. This means that God did not need to create humanity or the universe to experience love. God has never experienced lack or need and therefore we can truly share in the overflow of his love and community when we are reconciled to God by Jesus’ death. In his prayer for unity we hear Jesus prays for two things: first that we’d know and experience this fellowship with God and second that the church would model this type of unity to the world so that they’d know that God the Father sent Jesus the Son (John 17:23). 

John 17:10-13 — God the Father and God the Son are One
The nature of the Trinity can be a complicated doctrine to understand. One time I was at a family camp and heard some elementary age kids discussing the Trinity and one said confidently “no, there are three gods!!! God, Jesus and the Spirit”. Not to be outdone, the other kids replied back with just as much assurance, “no, God and Jesus are the same!” The truth is they’re both wrong. The Bible teaches us, in places like John 17, that there is one God but three persons who exist in complete and perfect fellowship. The prayer does not overtly mention the Spirit but does give us a window into the Trinity. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit and so forth. But there is one God, and according to John 17 each person has experienced perfect fellowship with the others with the language “I in you and you in me.” The church has historically used the terms “persons” and “essence”. They are three persons of the Trinity and one essence: God. This is a really important component of our faith. It helps to make sense of Jesus’ claims of divinity and at the same time reconcile the scriptures teaching that we worship one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). More than that, it logically helps us understand that God did not create people out of need to be worshipped or loved; if that was the case we’d be worshipping a God who lacked something. God did not create out of boredom or because he needed servants, he created as an overflow of his love. God created, and later redeems, because he desired to share what he has known for eternity. That is why we see God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve during the cool of the day, because humanity created us good and without sin and we were meant from the foundations of the earth to experience his presence. Jesus is praying that what was lost when sin entered the world would be reversed…, that we’d experience the love of God and the fellowship among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that he has always known. 

Look at John 17:10-11. God works to make himself known through his followers which is what it means for God to be glorified in us. This is why Jesus prays for our unity and that we may be one as the Father and the Son are one, so that God would be glorified. Notice he prays for unity and not that we’d be the “same.” There is unity among the persons of the Trinity and that unity means fellowship and love, but they are not the “same.” Jesus’ prays that we’d experience what he shares with the Father, which is perfect fellowship and love. Can you even imagine what that is like? We get glimpses of it here and now in how we’ve can be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus death and resurrection, but those are just appetizers to what life with God will be like for eternity. Jesus elaborates on this truth in verse 12, we’re told that he guards those who are his from being lost. Jesus is praying that we may continue in the faith; this kind of fellowship we get to experience is something we are meant to enjoy forever. But more than this, even as we are invited into a deeper fellowship with God, so too we are invited to deeper fellowship with other believers. 

John 17:20-23 — That They May Become Perfectly One
Christian unity is different from any other kind of unity you can experience in the world. It is supernatural and comes from God’s nature and increases as we draw closer to God. Jesus does not pray that we’d all be the “same”, that would be praying for uniformity. The Trinity includes three distinct persons, yet they are one. The church is comprised of millions of different people who confess faith in the son of God and the local church at West Hills is filled with hundreds of different individuals who gather together to glorify and enjoy God. Though we are different individuals, we are described as one body, one family and one church. Because of our reconciliation to God in Christ we have something that unites us together that is more significant than any sort of worldly affiliation. 

Notice that this unity comes from us being united with Christ. John 17:20 is one of the strongest statements around what theologians call “union with Christ.” Just as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, so too we are counted in the Triune God. God invites someone who is very much “other” than himself, us, to share in union with him through the reconciling death of Jesus (Galatians 2:20). God does not look to a list of worldly characteristics to see if we first qualify for unity with him. In many ways he saves people from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and experiences. God looks beyond our outward appearance, intelligence, interests, etc. Jesus connects how union with Christ testifies to God’s character. Our unity is unique in what it points to (John 17:23). When Christians walk in real unity they testify that God the Father sent Jesus and that God loved them (his followers), even as he loved Jesus. To be clear, this unity is built around a common faith in Jesus which requires seeing him as our Lord and Savior, believing that we’re forgiven of our sin because of his work, confessing that he is God and trusting him for new life. It means that we are sincerely striving to live as disciples of Jesus by putting into practice what he taught and commanded. This requires us who follow Jesus to put to death hostility towards other believers, to not assume evil of them, to bear with one another and to take practical steps to love those who may not be like us (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). 

There are many things in this world that would try to divide us and turn us against one another.
Some of those things come from within the church like the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, something they did many times during their time with Jesus. However, there are many threats from outside the church, especially now. When we reduce Christian faith to “real Christians do _______” we’ve moved away from unity and towards uniformity. 

One area we commonly trip up is in focusing on outward experiences or worldly distinctions as a way to determine unity. If your Christian relationships are only with those who have similar politics, jobs, hobbies or experiences then you may be lacking in how you express genuine unity with other believers. All of these things can be important, but it is not supernatural unity to have friendships with people you are so similar to that you’d be friends anyways even if you were not believers. 

Another common way we can err is to focus on secondary theological issues as the main aspect of our unity. We want to major of the core theological concerns that the scripture teaches, but we often invert that and define our “tribe” or family in the faith by secondary issues like teaching on end times, spiritual gifts, worship style, etc. We should have convictions around those areas of what the Bible teaches, but let’s not use those as dividing lines for fellowship compared to things like being saved by grace, the nature of the trinity and our view of scripture’s authority. 

The kind of unity we are invited to share does not come easily or automatically. It starts with a common faith, but also involves a common commitment to a local church, shared time together, communication, respect and serving one another. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read John 17:1-26

How does this passage help us understand the nature of the Trinity? Look for specific verses that teach that the person of the Trinity are one and yet different persons. What was eternity like before creation?

What is the significance of John 17:11 and 23 and us being invited to share in the fellowship that God himself experiences?

John 17 happens right before Jesus is arrested and goes to the cross. How does the timing of this prayer add to the urgency of this plea for unity among the disciples? (Hint: it seems like times of adversity require even greater unity in the church - if so, how should that help us navigate our modern lives?)

What are some ways believers can work for unity in the church? How would you assess your current church unity? Does it look supernatural or just like what you’d expect from someone in the world who doesn’t follow Jesus?

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