Bible Study

John 17:6 –19

Believers who have a healthy relationship with the Bible stand stronger against the world. by Major Valerie Carr

During the height of the pandemic many people found new-to-them hobbies. Many found “retro” activities to pass the time indoors: cross stitch, watercolors or picking up a musical instrument for example. One church congregation created a puzzle exchange. Members would bring their finished pandemic-purchased puzzles to the church building and take home another puzzle to complete. Puzzles are built around the concept of finding how pieces fit together to create a bigger picture from the sum of the parts. Anyone who has worked on puzzles knows the frustration of finding a piece missing, or worse, a piece from a completely different puzzle in the mix.

In this month’s Bible study, we continue looking at prayers from the pages of Scripture. We are looking at Jesus’ prayer found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17. The prayer focuses on His hope for those who would be left behind after His death, resurrection and ascension. The primary concern of this prayer is to establish where believers fit in, to which kingdom they belong.  

Jesus’ final prayer for those who believe in Him was that they would keep centered on the truth of God and not be mixed up in the false idols of the world around them. His prayer was concerned with His followers, His disciples, remembering who they belonged to. His prayer offers us a model for seeking God’s protection from the forces of this world that threaten to distract and distance us from the Savior.  

Jesus uses the phrase “the world” (which means “not heaven” in the Greek understanding) 10 times between verses 6 and 21 (v 6, 9, 11, 13–16). He uses the word “belong” in relationship to a believer being part of God’s Kingdom six times in the same passage (v 6, 9, 10, 14, 16). Contextually we understand that Jesus’ prayer is seeking to clarify these two things in the life of His disciples. The duality of the lived experience of believers is the central theme of Jesus’ prayer. We are part of a Kingdom that is both now and to come, therefore we physically exist in a world that will not know the fullness of Christ’s reign until His second coming (Revelation 1:7).

Everything in this world that is not of the Kingdom of God vies for our attention and seeks to wholly own us. Jesus understood this and prayed for protection from this influence for those who followed Him: “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (v 15). Jesus’ primary concern seems to be the effect staying in the world will have on the believers. He personally understood the intensity and cunning the enemy of Heaven is willing to use to lure believers away from the Kingdom of God. He had His own experience with temptation through physical needs, desire for protection and personal pride (Matthew 4:1–11).

Everything that is not of God is scrambling to distract us from God through whatever means necessary. Often the distraction morphs over time until it slowly has full possession of our time, thoughts and behavior. We become so entrapped because we allow the world to slowly edge out God in our lives. For some that may be through addictions to physically harmful practices. Others become distracted by seemingly innocuous addictions that end up consuming their lives, like social media, desire for others’ approval or failure to care for their holistic self. Still others become torn away by a world that is consumed with the act of survival which is fed by the doubt of God’s willingness to care for you and your family. This is a person so busy getting through their day that they convince themselves there isn’t enough left over (time, energy or resources) to concern themselves with God’s agenda.  

Jesus’ prayer is that God would protect us from the enemy that would seek to lure us away from Him and His Kingdom’s way. He prays for God’s protection to be evident in the believer’s life. In verse 11, He says, “protect them by the power of your name.”  And in verse 15, He prays, “keep them safe from the evil one.” His prayer does not ask that the temptations be eliminated, that the world be done away with or that they be rescued from an existence in the world, but His prayer is that God’s presence be real in their life. He prays that God would be a spiritual fence between the disciple of Jesus and whatever stands opposed to God’s way.  

Jesus goes on to pray that God’s protection be manifested through three things: unity, holiness and the Word. In verse 11, He prays that God’s protection would be evident “so that they will be united.” The Greek word suggests movement toward a common goal. It is a prayer that believers would be more committed to their shared desires within the Kingdom of God, that they would be willing to work through their differences of opinion to get there together. Just like members of a sports team cannot all play the same position, believers must each play their own role in conjunction to achieve their common goal. Jesus explains that the goal of the unity of believers is so that “the world will know that [God] sent [Jesus] and that [God] love[s] them” (John 17:23).

In verse 17, Jesus prays, “Make them holy by your truth.” In addition to being united, believers can resist the pull of the world by seeking holiness in God’s truth. Holiness has been described as God-centered living in the present moment as one grows deeper in their knowledge of Christ. David Field, in his article on John Wesley’s teaching on holiness, says that Wesley taught that “holiness is the restoration of the moral image by the Spirit of God so that a person’s life becomes characterized by ‘justice, mercy, and truth.’” It is a daily decision to live out the understanding that “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).

Continuing in verse 17, Jesus prays, “Teach them your Word.” This prayer is connected to His prayer for the believer’s holiness. It seems that our personal holiness is connected to our commitment to growth in the Word. The more we understand what God has shared with us about Himself in Scripture, the greater our understanding of what life we are called to live. The Word provides us with a grasp of how to withstand temptations that seek to distract us from our first purpose. Believers who have a healthy relationship with the Bible stand stronger against the world. As it says in 1 John 4:4, “The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” Jesus understood that Scripture was a mighty weapon against the enemy and prayed that His followers would continue to seek refuge in its words.

Jesus’ prayer asked the Lord to help His disciples know where they belonged and to Whom they belonged. Like pieces of the puzzle coming together, He prayed that through unity, holiness and God’s Word, believers would find that they did not belong to the world but to the Kingdom of God. His prayer was for the disciples then and His disciples now. It is a special feeling when we realize as believers today that this prayer was for us too. We are left with the challenge to trust God for His protection and seek to be an answer to Jesus’ prayer in our own lives. 

Questions to ponder

  • How have I seen the answer to Jesus’ prayer in my own life as a believer?
  • Where am I being distracted by “the world?”  How would unity with other believers, holiness and/or the Word help my struggle?

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