We have been taught that though we are in the world, we are not of it. Sadly, the world has so encroached upon us as Christians that the distinction has been seriously blurred. In this prayer of our Lord in John 17 we hear the Son saying to the Father on two occasions, ‘they are not of the world’. Are not these words of our blessed Lord a challenge to us? Do not other Scriptures teach us the same? ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world’, 1 John 2. 15.
The prayer of our Lord in John 17 gives us an insight into what God really thinks of us and why He has left us in this world. It is interesting to note that John speaks in his writings more about the world than any other New Testament writer. The word he uses mostly is kosmos meaning the habitable world of mankind. What is then our relationship and responsibility as far as this ‘world’ is concerned? This chapter clearly defines that for us. Note the statements the Lord makes.
1) ‘out of the world’, vv. 6, 15
In verse 6 He speaks of those whom the Father has given Him out of the world, initially referring to His disciples, but later including all those who would receive and believe His word. What a glorious thought this is – we have been saved, delivered out of this present evil world and we have been given as a love-gift to the Son from the Father. Though we are still in this world we do not share in its condemnation and doom, Rom. 8. 1, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’. Ephesians 2 verse 3 tells us we are no longer children of wrath as others who have no hope. How wonderful to know that we are safe and secure in the hand of the Father and the Son, John 10. 27-30. Our salvation is complete and fully assured in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, though verse 6 tells us that we have been given out of the world, no longer belonging to the world because we are His, in verse 15 our Lord prays that we should not be taken out of the world but that we should be preserved in it. ‘Keep them from the evil’, or evil one. Is it not comforting to know that while we are here we have divine Persons looking after us? ‘The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry’, Ps. 34. 15.
2) ‘not of the world’, vv. 14, 16
Twice He speaks these words to the Father. In the hearing of His own He is saying, ‘they do not belong to this world’. This present world is not our home. Writing to the Philippians Paul says, ‘our conversation’, that is citizenship, that is the place we really belong to, ‘is in heaven’, Phil. 3. 20. This world is no friend to God or the children of God. John describes it in his First Epistle as lying in wickedness and in the power of the evil one. Let us never forget that this world is under the control of the evil one. The Lord spoke of him as the prince of this world, Paul, as the god of this world. It is a world full of deceit and falsehood. ‘Many deceivers are entered into the world’, warns John again. How careful we need to be, constantly on our guard against the wiles of the devil, who can present himself even as an angel of light. It is the word of God that should be our guide not the philosophies of men. This world is at enmity against our God. In verse 14 He tells the Father ‘the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world’. If we belong to Him then we do not belong here.
We are just pilgrims passing through. Heaven is our home and that is where our inheritance is says Peter, ‘to an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you’, 1 Pet. 1. 4. If that is where our treasure is then that is where our heart should be! Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3 verses 1 to 2 sounds the corrective note for us to ‘seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’. That is our problem today. We are too taken up with the things around us. We do not belong here. So let us then live as those who wait for their Lord from heaven.
3) ‘in the world’, vv. 11, 12, 13
In verse 11 the Lord is sharing with the Father the fact that He is no longer going to be in the world, but that His own were going to be left in the world. He is anticipating that glorious moment when He will return to heaven, His work done, His mission here fully accomplished. Knowing what kind of a place this world is, He pleads for the Father’s protection and special care for those He is leaving behind.
You will notice that He prays specifically for their unity, ‘that they may be one, as we are’. Unity is a characteristic of the Godhead, and it is the purpose of God that all who are His should be marked by oneness, for He has made us one, see Eph. 2. 13- 16. We are one body in the Lord. We see He develops this even further when, later, He is speaking to His Father not only about the band of disciples, but the whole company of those who believe on Him, ‘that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’. Oh! if only we could appreciate how vitally important our oneness, our unity, is to God, and how mightily it will affect our testimony in the world, see Eph. 4. 3. It is the work of the enemy to divide and to cause dissension among the people of God.
Then, in verse 12, He says, ‘while I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name’. Little did they realize how much they owed to Him not only as their Master and Teacher but as their Shepherd, Guardian and Guide. Even now in heaven ‘he ever lives to make intercession for us’. We are in the world but He has not left us orphans, He has given us His Holy Spirit, another Comforter, so that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are looking after us, protecting and providing for us.
Again, in verse 13, He gives us an insight into His heart and mind concerning His own, ‘these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves’. He prayed this beautiful prayer in their hearing so that they, and we too, should share the joy that was His because of them and in them. He wanted them to know just how precious they were to Him and to the Father. It is little wonder that He prays, ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory’, v. 24. Yes, beloved, in the world but not of it, and while we are here we are not forgotten, and never forsaken, but we are greatly loved and constantly cared for from above.
4) ‘into the world’, v. 18
‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world’. What a dignity and honour has been conferred upon us. These words are intended to impress upon us that we are here to fulfil a divine purpose, and to accomplish a divinely appointed work. What is so astonishing is that He compares our mission with His great mission, ‘as … even so’. As our blessed Lord was here for the Father, we are here for Him also.
What an example He has been to us! In John 5 verse 30 He says, ‘I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me’. John 7 verse 16 declares, ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me’, and John 8 verse 29, ‘he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him’.
This is the example and that is the pattern we too should follow. It is His will, His words, His works we are here to fulfil. What a privilege but what a responsibility! How can we possibly fulfil such a task? Perhaps our Lord’s words in John 6 verse 57 may help us for He says, ‘As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by (through) me’. This was Paul’s secret, ‘the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’ Gal. 2. 20. Let us never forget we do not belong here, we are ‘not of the world’; we belong to Him for we are ‘out of the world’. We are only here in the world because He has sent us to represent Him to fulfil His commission, to make disciples of all nations, for this we are ‘sent into the world’.
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