THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD
by Bob Wheeler
Jesus has begun His last great intercessory prayer for His disciples, and He quickly turns His attention to their position in the world. He prays, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (John 17:6; NKJV).
The disciples, as we have already noted, were chosen by God the Father and given to Christ the Son. But they were given to Christ “out of the world.” The “world” is the fallen human race in general – human civilization as we know it – sinful and corrupt. The disciples, then, were chosen from “out of the world” – they were no longer a part of the world, the surrounding human society. They no longer marched to the world’s drumbeat.
Of these, Jesus says, “I have manifested Your name” to them. “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me . . .” (v. 8). The “words” (ta hremata) are the actual spoken words. The Father gave these words to the Son, and the Son gave them to the disciples. This is critical. Christianity is a revealed religion – it is based on facts and information that can only be known through the writings of the prophets and apostles. All of this is denied by large segments of the modern professing church (liberal theology), but Jesus clearly claimed it. It is absolutely critical. Apart from divine revelation Christianity has no more claim to be true than any other religion, and Jesus would have been a madman to have claimed otherwise.
And then Jesus says, “they have kept Your word” (v. 6); and in particular “they have believed that You sent Me” (v. 8). In other words, what marked the disciples was their doctrinal orthodoxy – they “kept Your word.” The “word” here is the logos, the doctrinal content of the revelation. And they “kept” it – they were careful to observe it and obey it. And in particular it involved believing something about the Person of Christ – that He had been sent by the Father. (It must be kept in mind that John had a specific apologetic purpose in recording this – that the Jesus who spoke these words was the eternal Son of God).
Jesus then prays for them. His concern here in particular is their position in the world. He Himself is about to depart from the world, but they will remain in it. And this points to the position that all Christians are in as we try to relate to the surrounding human society. “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You” (v. 11a). Jesus was conscious of the fact that He was about to be reunited with His Father in heaven. But He was also conscious that His disciples would be left behind here on earth: “ . . .they are in the world” – to face the trials and difficulties, the hostility and opposition that a Christian meets when he tries to live a godly life in a fallen, sinful world.
Jesus says, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (v. 14). “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (v. 16). Jesus had given His disciples the “word” (logon) of God, the word logos here referring to the truth of God as it has been revealed to man. Again, Christianity is a revealed religion; it is based on a revelation from God. And as the very Son of God Jesus was in a better position than any merely human prophet to know exactly what God the Father thinks and wants, and that is what He has revealed to us.
But this revelation has the effect of creating a division within human society – a division between those who accept this revelation and those who do not. Those who have received this revelation now see life in an entirely different light; they can no longer accept the false values of the world or conform to its standards. The hostility of the world is the result.
But Jesus also says, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (v. 18). The world translated “sent” is a form of the verb apostello, from which we get the noun apostolos or “apostle,” a “sent out” one. It implies someone who has been sent on an official or authoritative mission. The primary reference here is undoubtedly to the apostles, but there is an application to the church as well. We are not called merely to exist in the world; we have been sent out by God into the world on a mission. In one sense, then, all believers are “apostles”; we all represent Christ in the world and have been sent by Him to proclaim the gospel to the world. And Jesus draws an analogy between our mission and His own. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” He was the sinless, holy Son of God, who spent three years in this sin-cursed world, and was finally crucified. If we have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit we are in somewhat of the same position. We have been called to live godly lives and to preach the gospel, and we meet the world’s hostility as a result. We are walking in Christ’s footsteps.
How, then, can believers function under such circumstances? Jesus says, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as we are” (v. 11b). We are not left to struggle on our own. We would be unequal to the task if we were. But Jesus “kept” His disciples while He was here on earth (v. 12), and now He asks the Father to continue that protection. It points to the eternal security of genuine believers.
Jesus specifically says, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (v. 15); the “evil one” being Satan. God loves us; He protects us. But that does not mean our physical removal from the world, but rather that we should be protected from the evil forces that are at work in the world. We must still face hardship and difficulty, like anyone else. We will also face opposition. We might even be called upon to face a martyr’s death. But in it all God will be with us, will protect us, and will strengthen us inwardly until it is time to call us home.
What all of this means for us practically is that as Christians we are not a part of the surrounding society. We are live lives of non-conformity to the world. We should care about our neighbors and our country; we should work to improve the quality of life in our communities and alleviate hardship and suffering wherever we can. Christian love demands no less. But we must not share the world’s values. We must approach the mass media skeptically, maintain business integrity at all times, and beware of aligning ourselves too closely with any one political party. And above all else we must recognize that mankind’s deepest problem is its sin, and that Christ is the only answer. Let us ever be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ.