There is a most important principle lying on the surface of the high-priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus in John chapter 17. It culminates here in verse 18. The development is as follows.1 His own are seen as being associated with ‘the world’ in four perspectives:
The above order is important. Those who are involved in evangelism must be manifestly different from the world. We don’t become ‘like them to win them’. It is the very opposite - our distinctiveness is our strength. A casual approach is not in keeping with the dignity and grandeur of the message we proclaim. The world’s methods are not ours! We must not compromise with a value system based on worldly thinking - we are not to console by our life, but to condemn - not arrogantly but axiomatically by our unworldliness.
It is of interest to look at the context of each of the verses in turn.
The believer has been given as a love gift from the Father to the Son, ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word’, v. 6.
It is a thrilling thought that we as believers in the Lord Jesus have been given to Him as the Father’s love gift. Since we were ‘chosen … in him before the foundation of the world’, Eph. 1. 4, it is likely that the love gift was given then as well. In this context, it has been well said that, ‘God is seen to be moving for His own glory and the eternal satisfaction of His own heart … Election as taught in verse 4 has to do with a sovereign God, is connected with the past and is related to persons; predestination as taught in verse 5 has to do with the Father’s good pleasure, is connected with the future and is related to a position marked out for persons … Israel knew something of election and sonship, but with a difference: their election was as a nation, they were an elect race: their sonship was as a nation, “Israel My son”. The election of this unique day is individual as is also sonship’.2 Thus, the thought is that ‘before the foundation of the world’ we were as individuals, known intimately to the heart of God and without any merit of our own, given by Him to His Son as a love gift ‘out of the world’ to share in the blessings of an eternal relationship and to have the opportunity of being associated with the display of His glory.
The love gift here is linked with the manifestation of the Father’s name and the ‘keeping’ (‘holding fast’, ‘guarding’) of the Father’s word. The idea in the word ‘manifest’ (phaneroo) is to make visible what has been hidden, whether by teaching or deeds. The Lord Jesus did this in His ministry and miracles. He could say, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’, 14. 9. He thus disclosed the meaning of the ‘name’. The Father’s love, joy, peace, gentleness but also His antagonism to sin in all its forms was displayed in the lovely life and walk of the Lord Jesus. Thus, the first step in effective evangelism is to appreciate God’s electing provision in taking us ‘out of the world’ and appreciating something of the significance of ‘the Father’s name’ and the keeping of the Father’s word.
Interestingly, the context here is also of the believer as a love gift from the Father to the Son. ‘And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through [en, “in”] thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled’.
The phrase ‘in the world’ is thus used three times in these two verses: once negatively and once positively of the Lord Jesus, and twice positively of the believer. The Lord has, as it were, already left the world and gone back to the Father. While the Lord Jesus was in the world, He had ‘kept them in thy [the Father’s] name‘, v. 12. However, He was going back to the Father. He was leaving them and commending them into the care of His ‘Holy Father’. Those who are thus kept - ‘in thy name’ - will know also what it is to be kept ‘from the evil [one]’, v. 15. While the believer is ‘in the world’, he is not exempt from the Father’s influence. There is a serious danger of being overwhelmed by the world’s value system.
These verses teach us the two fundamental necessities while ‘in the world’. The first is to live consistently with the honour of being kept ‘in … [His] name’. The significance of this preposition ‘in’ (used twice) has to do with the sphere of which the Father’s name speaks. The name is the self-disclosure of the person and here it is clearly that of holiness, since the Lord Jesus is addressing His ‘Holy Father’. The lesson is that a sanctified condition is clearly necessary if the believer is going to be effective in evangelism. The lack of holiness today is perhaps one of the most serious hindrances in this regard.
The second main focus here is on apostolic unity ‘that they may be one, as we are’, v. 11. This was answered, as evidenced by the Pentecostal unity in the early Acts. There was a paralleling in the world of the unity of purpose of divine persons. God is still looking for unity today. Alas, again, the lack of unity among God’s people is altogether apparent. The pride of the human heart is far too evident. A united company of believers is one of the most powerful tools for evangelistic ‘success’.
In these verses, the Lord Jesus is emphasizing four features that distinguish believers from the world. ‘I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world’.
Observe that verse 16 is a repetition of what was said in verse 14, thus emphasizing its importance.
The first feature that marked them out from the world was their reception of and adherence to the ‘word’. Note that the ‘word’ here is in the singular, as distinct from ‘words’ in the plural in verse 8, ‘I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me’. These were the daily communications the Son had received, Isa. 50. 4, 5. The ‘word’ in the singular is the accumulated totality of divine communication to His own.
Second, their implementation of the inerrant and infallible ‘word’ in their behaviour led to hatred from the world, ‘the world hath hated them’. The Lord had informed His own, 15. 19, that this would be the case. It is, of course, no different today, cp. 1 John 5. 19, 20. Separation from the world is the fundamental strength of the faithful evangelist, 2 Tim. 4. 1-5; Rom. 12. 1, 2.
The third feature is conformity to Christ, ‘They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world’. This is surely one of the highest accolades possible. This is a constant theme in the Epistles, ‘put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ’, Rom. 13. 14; ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ’, Gal. 3. 27.3Perhaps our failure in this is one of our greatest weaknesses in assembly testimony.
The final characteristic emphasized here is the need to be kept ‘from the evil’ or, perhaps more accurately, the evil one. It is evident that this is not something we can do on our own.
The Lord Jesus prays that the Father should do it for them and us. Satan is always busy, and the believer is not exempt from responsibility in this regard. We have to be aware of his tactics - sometimes as ‘a roaring lion’, 1 Pet. 5. 8, 9, requiring us to ‘be sober, be vigilant … [and resisting] stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world’. On other occasions, he uses subtility, ‘But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ’, 2 Cor. 11. 3. We cannot be careful enough!
We have now reached the apex. ‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world’.
Those who are the love gift of the Father to the Son in electing provision, are now ready to be sent into the world as their Master was. Although currently ‘in the world’ as to physical location, they are ‘in the world’, but not of it and are distinct from it as to spiritual condition. The word for ‘sent’ (apostello) is akin to that used of ‘apostle’. The Saviour was clearly aware of His own commission, as sent by the Father, and was conferring a similar dignity on those being sent by Himself.
It is a tremendous honour to be commissioned by Christ. There can be little doubt that the phenomenal success seen by the apostles in the early Acts (see, for example, 2. 41; 4. 4) was due to the principles enunciated here being put into effect.
The possibility of emulating them is available to us - the sacrifice and cost is great. Are we prepared to count that cost, follow the example of the early apostles, and know the warmth and wealth of spiritual success?
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