“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
The following article was written just prior to a number of young people publicly professing their faith.
In this high-priestly prayer Christ has solved the problem of Church and World once and for all. That’s why it may no longer be a problem for us. Christ has prayed the Father with all the energy of His Redeemer’s heart that we should clearly see both the chasm that yawns and the bridges we must build between the Church and the World; both that we’re strangers to the world and citizens of the world; both our refusal to contribute to world-building and our great desire to build in the world.
Every effort to define the scriptural relationship between church and world shall have to start from the outline drawn by Christ, and be directed by the Spirit of Christ who daily conforms our will to Christ’s steadfast will which He reveals to us in this prayer.
“Church and World!” Today these two are still living together on the earth, in the one city, in the one house. Yet they are two communities which are unable to commune together because different spirits control them, forcing them more and more apart and pressuring them more and more into confrontation. And still, Christ, who is working toward the final separation, desires to have these two communities live together, though not letting them turn that togetherness into true communion. Here lies the calling of the church which is not of the world and yet in the world.
The Church is not of the world, as Christ Himself is not of the world. The Saviour rejoices in this before He departs. Now He can show the Father the first fruits of His work, His small flock which He has gathered from this world. These were born “from above”, just as He came “from above”, born again through the same Spirit from whom He was conceived. That’s the way Christ transformed them into His likeness, in harmony with the origin of their life. They are born of God (John 1:13) or of the Spirit (John 3:8), they have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and for that reason He will conform them more and more to the goal of His life: the sanctification. Hear Him declare His unwavering will to His Father: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am” (John 17:24).
Christ’s disciples are not of the world. Between them and the world stands the great antithesis, put there by the Word of God. They heard and believed the Word of Christ, whereas the world rejected it. This made the world unleash its raging hatred against the church. The word of Christ is standing between them as it condemns to death and raises to a new life, and through that action intensifies the contrasts to the utmost.
And then the question arises whether “being not of the world” shouldn’t be followed by “being taken out of the world”. After all, it is not possible for them to live together; the chasm cannot be bridged; the antitheses can only be intensified. Moreover, in the end it is unavoidable that they go their own way – for ever. Would Christ’s work not be finished more quickly, then, if those who are not of the world were also taken out of this world, as He was taken out of the world?
Hear Christ’s prayer: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world.” We are not “of the world”, yet we are “in the world”. That’s how Christ desires it. And He is unable to desire it differently, because He longs too intensely for the perfection of His work. It is a perfection He can achieve, not by taking us out of the world but only by placing us in the world; only by preparing a place for us here (Revelation 12:6); by putting us to work to build His kingdom here in the midst of the world-builders. He reaches that perfection only by giving us a place in the world as His workers.
That is the way leading to the perfection of His work of salvation. Christ has to finish His advance in the world as He accomplishes that in His church, right until the last day. It is the only way to bring His work to completion.
“Father! I thank You, that they are not of the world! But do not take them out of the world! Allow Me, Father, to prepare a place for them in the world, in order that My work may be completed; in order that the ways leading to the perfection and beauty of My work, are not broken up Father, I want them to be in the world, in order that through them I may struggle on to the end of the world, to the perfect fruit of My work of redemption.”
In this prayer, Christ does not delay the complete union of Himself and His believers. On the contrary, He is making haste, for He will come quickly. What we see is Christ praying His Father that the way to that everlasting union not be broken up; that there will always be ways and means of progress. Progress, for He reveals His will that the Father should keep us from the evil One. If we would again fall into the hands of the evil One, Christ’s progress, insofar as it would depend on us, will be delayed. It is only through His believers being kept from the evil One that Christ can go forward to the complete perfection of His work of salvation, to the moment when all His own shall be where He is (verse 17).
“Church and World!” Let it no longer be only a problem for us, but rather command, duty, task. For Christ’s prayer is also about us (see verse 20). Every morning, when we open our eyes again, we know that we must be here, that we are allowed to be here, as the result of the Father’s hearing of Christ’s prayer: “They are not of the world, but I pray, Father, that You should not take them out of the world.”
Thus every morning tells you and me that Christ prepares a place for us here, that He is unwilling to miss us here, that He still wants to come into the world through us.
Now Christ must become flesh and blood in me. His will concerning me (not of, yet in the world) must be actively desired by you and me.
On the day of his profession of faith and Holy Supper celebration, Nietsche desired to be taken up immediately and be with Christ. He never learned what it means to be “not of the world, yet in the world”.
Coming Sunday many will publicly profess their faith before Christ’s congregation. That includes their confession that they are “not of the world” but “from above”. It also means that they desire to be in the world because Christ desires that in us.
Yes, in confessing the name of the Lord as those who are “not of the world”, we still are happy to take the place in this world which Christ gives to us for as long as He desires; to fight in this world for Him, to overcome the evil One, and to work together with Christ unto the day of completion.
No, we do not profess our faith in order to find quiet enjoyment in a pleasurable rest in isolation from the world, and in the desire to be quickly taken out of the world. Christ desires to find us in glowing zeal for Him “ in keeping our promise that we will regard all our days in the world as working days for Him, and in the faith that no struggle or difficulty will take away the joy of our labour for Him. For Christ has prayed for us that the Father should keep us from the evil One.
We believe the power of the prayer of this Righteous Man. He will be heard. Has He not Himself secured that hearing of prayer? Whoever keeps His Word will be kept from the evil One! Thus we profess, Lord, our faith. And our heart is glad that, although we are not of the world, a place is being prepared for us in the world through the power of Your prayer, twelve hundred and sixty days (Revelation 12:6) until You come, so that we may be where You are.
Translated by J Eikelboom from a meditation in HET RIJKE WOORD by Dr MB van ‘tVeer.