We Do Not Belong to the World
And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth. – John 17:11b-19
There are many powerful ideas in this Gospel passage. The two most important are that God wants us to be one in our faith and our love for one another, just as Jesus and the Father are one. The other is that we do not belong to this world any more than Jesus did.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.” Clearly it is the intention of God that we be one. But divided Christianity makes it almost impossible for us to make this claim of oneness today.
The promise in this passage is that when we are one in Jesus’ name, that name the Father gave him, we will be protected while we are in this world that hates us because we do not belong to it anymore than Jesus did. From whom will we be protected? From the evil one whose sole intent is always to separate us from one another and, therefore, from God. It is the evil one who wants us to be divided, competing with one another, because it is in this division that we have turn away from God and toward the world. We become one with the world rather than one with God in these divisions. These divisions are too often the products of human doctrines, not God’s. Who but the evil one would desire such divisions?
The other truth is wonderfully expressed in an early Christian letter from around the year 200 A.D. called simply “The Letter to Diognetus.” In it the author states, “Though they (Christians) live in Greek and barbarian cities, as each man’s lot is cast, and follow local customs in dress and food and the rest of their living, their own way of life which they display is wonderful and admittedly strange. They live in their native lands, but like foreigners. They take part in everything like citizens, and endure everything like aliens. Every foreign country is their native land and every native land a foreign country…They find themselves in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3: Romans 8: 12-13). They remain on earth, but they are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:16; 13:14) They love all men, and are persecuted by all men. To put it briefly, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.”
As Christians we know that we are to be “in” the world, but not “of” it. We are to love one another as Jesus loved us. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. We are to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us. We are, in short, to emulate Jesus in word and in deed in this world, for by doing so we are showing the world that we are not of it, that we are foreigners in it, that this world is not our home. In doing so we will be recognized as different. To some who are of this world, this will be an uncomfortable challenge. Others will consider us foolish. Yet others may see us as enemies worthy of their condemnation and persecution. It has been so since the beginning of the Church.
We Christians believe that we are not alone in this life. We know that God is with us, that the Holy Spirit is our support and our guide. Now, it is true that we can be one with God individually. That is part of the truth here too, certainly. And all who are united as one with Jesus will be protected from the evil one as he promised. But as the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, when we are divided as we are, that protection is diminished. When the divided denominations of Christianity condemn one another, or accuse one another of this or that, and separate themselves by man-inspired, human doctrines, this is not of God, but rather, it is of the evil one. “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)
Is it any wonder, then, that the world often ridicules Christianity? We are of the world when we divide ourselves from one another like this. This is not of God. It is the work of the evil one in our midst. It is only in our oneness with God that the evil one is frustrated. Though we may live in different countries, though we may speak different languages, and come from different cultures, even within a given country, our Christian faith in the One God ought to be the force that unites us as one with one another and with God despite all of our accidental differences. This would show the world that, though we are in the world, we are not of it. Yes we may be hated, but how many souls would God draw to the Church if we were one in all things, just as Jesus and the Father are one?
Let all Christians pray with and for one another, then, that we may be one, just as the Father and Jesus are one. This, and only this, is our salvation. Let us in prayerful humility begin to dialogue with one another in love. Let us be joyful in the hope of God’s love and the power of His grace. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes it will take time. And, yes, we will have to forgive one another for past wrongs and present failures. But in doing this we will be doing God’s will, not our own. We will be one with God in all things. We will be one with one another in Jesus’ name. We will be in this world, but we will not be of it.