Friendship is one of the most valuable commodities of life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote: “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to me when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.”
George Washington wrote: “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity.”
The closest friends Jesus had were His disciples. These were the men He spent the most time with; the ones He took time to teach patiently and thoroughly. These were the men who cared for Him when He was weary and celebrated with Him in the times of victory.
This morning we continue with our study of John 17 — the prayer Jesus prayed. Last week we looked at Jesus prayer about Himself . . . we observed the NATURE, AMBITION, and PURPOSE of the Savior. This week we look at His prayer for His friends. You will be moved by what He prays for . . . but even more by the applications we can draw for ourselves.
How Jesus Viewed the Disciples
To begin look at the description of the disciples in verses 6-10,
I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.
Notice what Jesus says about them: they are special gifts from the Father; they have been obedient; they were accepting of the truth; they were certain of His nature; they brought Him glory. This is quite a positive description, don’t you think?
Imagine what Jesus could have prayed: “Lord, thank you for the disciples but you know how dull they are. Help them to understand what I’m trying to tell them. Help them to remain faithful, I know how they are prone to run away when the trouble comes. . . . ” In truth, Jesus knew what was ahead. He knew about the upcoming denials. In fact, He warns Peter that He will deny Him three times before the rooster crows. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, none of this is included in the prayer. It’s all positive.
Can you imagine how these words spurred on the disciples in the difficult days? When they felt like giving up wouldn’t those words have helped them keep going? Can’t you almost hear them: “The Savior believes in us!”” The Lord is counting on us!” I believe Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He wanted to encourage rather than discourage. He wanted to spotlight the potential not the failure. He wanted His disciples looking forward, not back.
Do you understand that this is the way Jesus looks at you? The Lord sees what you CAN BE. He sees the potential and rejoices at what He can do through you. While you are wallowing in self-pity over present difficulties Jesus celebrates your future victories. While you are dragged down by past sin, Jesus is rejoicing over your future faithfulness.
Do you understand that Jesus is your best friend? We sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” but do you believe it? Realize that He is not looking at your past . . . He is looking at your future. The past has been dealt with on the cross. It’s you that won’t let go of the past . . . .He calls you forward. You, like Lot’s wife, keep looking back.
I help coach a girl’s softball team. I’ve learned that wrong needs to be pointed out but not harped on. The girls need to know what they need to correct, but when they know they have made a mistake I don’t have to say anything. In fact, in those times when their heads are down I need to focus on what they are doing right, and can do. If I don’t, they will surely be defeated. Jesus does the same with you. He says, make note of what you need to correct and then MOVE ON.
Is this the way you deal with people in your life? Are you weighing them down or setting them free? Are you spotlighting the past or cheering for the future? Most people are painfully aware of their failures. A good friend is on who spurs you on; who calls you forward. What kind of friend are you?
Jesus’ Prayer for His Friends
Jesus asks the Father for four things regarding his disciples. Look at the text with me: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one.” (V.11) The word for “protect” means to guard or keep. But here’s the question: What does He want them to be protected from? It’s not the Devil and his powers because He gets to that in verse15.
Whatever it is that He wants them protected from will be a threat to their oneness and unity. Here’s my suggestion: Jesus prays that the Father protect them from themselves. The greatest threat to unity is sinful human nature. Jesus has seen it in the disciples before. They argued over: who was the greatest; who should sit at the right and left of Jesus in glory; who should wash the feet; why they couldn’t do certain miracles; whether they should let the children come to see Jesus. It’s human nature.
We are naturally drawn to bitterness, jealousy, self-centeredness, pettiness, gossip, grudges, anger, prejudice and much more. Each of these things is deadly to the church and to relationships. Jesus is praying that the Father would protect them from such division. If the disciples were going to carry the message to the world, they needed to work together. So do we.
The apostle Paul stated it positively: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Eph. 4:32-5:2]
Here’s the application question: are you building oneness or destroying it? We’ll look at this more next week.
The second thing Jesus asks is that they might have, “the full measure of my joy within them.“ In fact Jesus seems to say that the very reason He is praying out loud is because He wants the disciples to hear Him. He wants them to know how He feels and how committed He is to them. He wants them to be joyful.
Of all the things Jesus could have asked, He asked that they might be joyful. He could have said He hoped they would be serious or studious, or militant or a political powerhouse. But instead He wants His people to be joyful. He wants us to be characterized by laughter rather than soberness. He desires that our focus be the resurrection, not the crucifixion. He knows that people are drawn to the joyful rather than the sad. Which are you?
Thirdly, Jesus asks: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”[v. 19] Jesus wants us to remain in the world . . . .why? It’s simple: we can’t reach the world unless we are in the world. We are to be “salt” and “light” in a tasteless and dark society. What Jesus is asking that His disciples be the influence-ers rather than the influenced.
Paul said, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ” We are in for a battle as we seek to influence the world. Satan will use the influence of culture, worldly philosophies, outright aggression . . . anything to silence the faithful follower. Our Savior asks that we be protected and strengthened during this time. Do you remember Peter? Jesus said, ““Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” [Luke 22:31,32] Jesus is praying for you too, my friend. He will see you through the storm. You will minister again.
I think there are some practical implications from this desire for us to be thermostats rather than thermometers. First, we need to have non-Christian relationships in our lives. How can we influence anyone if we huddle all together and never venture into the world? Yet, too often we hide in our meetings and gatherings and never venture out into the world. We go to Christian schools, Christian concerts, Christian cruises and let our fingers do the walking through the “Christian Yellow Pages”. These things are not bad in and of themselves. They might however point to an attitude of isolation. You need to befriend the non-believer and seek to show them Christ’s love. At the same time, secondly, we must be cautious in our non-Christian relationships lest they drag us down.
Finally, Jesus prays: ‘sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’ [V. 17] The word “sanctify” means to “set apart”. It refers to the process of being set apart for God’s usage. He wants us to be holy . . . to be more like Jesus in our everyday life.
How do we do this? We become more like Jesus through our exposure to the truth. We learn the truth by reading the Bible. Practically,
- it shows the importance of making the Bible the “supreme court” or final authority in our lives
- these words show the importance of personal, regular, daily Bible Study
- these words underscore the importance of applying Biblical truth.
There you have it . . .the prayer that Jesus prayed for His disciples. Now before you resolve to become some of these things please understand: Jesus is praying for believers. He does not see a reason for hope or joy for the non-believer. The things Jesus calls us to are not things we can do in our own strength. We need His help. It may be that you sit here today but you have not received Jesus as your forgiver and leader for life. Before you do anything else, make sure you settle that issue.
Once that issue is settled let me ask you some searching questions:
- Are you looking forward or looking back in your life? Are you focusing on your potential or your past failure? I encourage you to put a sign on your mirror that says: “God looks at where He wants to take you . . . not where you have already been.” Let go of the past and look ahead!
- Are you maintaining harmony or destroying it by the way you talk about your brothers and sisters in Christ? Work at giving them the benefit of the doubt. Cut them some slack. Resolve to work at building relationships, not destroying them.
- Do you have any significant non-Christian relationships? Are you being influenced or being an influence-er? Look for some new relationships and begin praying for those people. Pray that God might use you to show them His love.
- Are you a student of the Word? I encourage you to read the Bible daily. Begin at the beginning of a book and read it all the way through. Start with the Gospels or Acts or the book of Romans. Read with a pencil . . . underline the things God will teach you. Then after you have underlined . . .obey.
Friendships are some of the most precious things we have. You have no better friend than Jesus. He’s praying for you, just like He prayed for His disciples. Stay close to Him . . . He’ll stay with you for the rest of the journey. He’ll make sure you make it home alright.