Pray for Others

Lesson Focus: Based on Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, this lesson reveals ways believers should pray for one another.

Pray for Unhindered Fellowship: John 17:9-12.

[9]  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10]  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. [11]  And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

[12]  While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  [ESV]

[9] Jesus makes a distinction between the little band of disciples and the world. His prayer is not for the world. This does not mean that the world is beyond God’s love. Elsewhere we are specifically told that He loves the world [3:16]. And throughout this chapter it is plain that Jesus came with a mission to the world, and that the disciples were now to carry it on. The world is to be reached through the disciples and it is for His agents that Jesus prays. But He could scarcely pray for the world as such. As the world it was ranged in opposition to God. Its salvation lay precisely in its ceasing to be the world. Prayer for the world could only be that it be converted and no longer be the world. But that would be a different prayer. Now He prays rather for the little group of His friends. Notice that they are again described in terms of their relationship to the Father. They have been given to Christ. They belong to the Father. However wide is the love of God [3:16], however salvific the stance of Jesus toward the world [12:47], there is a peculiar relationship of love, intimacy, disclosure, obedience, faith, dependence, joy, peace, eschatological blessing and fruitfulness that binds the disciples together and with the Godhead.

[10]  It is characteristic of this Gospel to describe the disciples with reference to the divine act and not their own: we belong to God, He gives us to His Son. It is also a frequently made point that there is community between the Father and the Son. What belongs to the One belongs to the Other. It is worth noting that yours are mine goes beyond all mine are yours. This latter expression might perhaps be said by any creature, but yours are mine points to a very special relationship. Any one of us may hopefully say to God that everything we have belongs to God. But none of us can say that everything that belongs to God is ours. It is worth noting that Jesus now returns to the thought of glory which we saw in the earlier part of the chapter. But now He says that He has been glorified in the disciples. Outwardly the little group was not distinguished. The men of the day saw nothing about this group to mark them off as eminent in any respect. But, just as the world’s values were all wrong concerning the cross, so were the world’s values all wrong concerning the apostolic band. In them the Son of God was actually glorified.

[11]  Jesus’ departure from the world is so near that He can use the present tense of it. His work in the world is done. He is no longer in it. But the disciples are in it. Just as it is His task to go out of the world, so it is their task to remain in the world. The expression Holy Father is a reminder of both aspects of God’s nature: His awesome holiness and His tender, loving care of His children. Jesus goes on to pray that the Father will keep the disciples. This probably means keep them from evil, but the end of the verse makes it possible that what is meant is keeping them from disunity. In your name, which you have given me points to the whole revealed character of God. Jesus prays that God, the God He has revealed, may in that revealed character keep those who have such need of Him. The purpose of His keeping of them is that they may be one, a thought which recurs in verses 21, 22 and 23. We should be clear that the unity for which Christ prays is a unity which rests on a common basic attitude, that of abiding in Him and having Him abide in them. It is the Divine unity of love that is referred to, all wills bowing in the same direction, all affections burning with the same flame, all aims directed to the same end – one blessed harmony of love. It is not the unity of organization that is being prayed for. Rather it is unity of heart and mind and will.

[12]  Now comes a brief retrospect. During His earthly ministry Jesus kept them in your name, which you have given me. Again there is the thought of revelation. It was in the power of the God who revealed Himself that Jesus kept the disciples. He guarded them safely so that none perished but Judas. The son of destruction points to character rather than destiny. The expression means that he was characterized by lostness. The reference to the fulfilling of Scripture brings out the thought of divine purpose. This does not mean that Judas was an automaton. He was a responsible person and acted freely. But God used his evil act to bring about His purpose. There is a combination of the human and the divine, but in this passage it is the divine side rather than the human which receives stress. God’s will in the end was done in the handing over of Christ to be crucified. The particular passage of Scripture which is meant is not said, but probably Psalm 41:9 is in mind.

Pray for Joy in the Midst of Opposition: John 17:13-16.

[13]  But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. [14]  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. [15]  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. [16]  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  [ESV]

[13-14]  Once more we have the thought that Christ is going to the Father. But He is still in the world. And as He is in the world He speaks these things with a view to the benefit of His disciples. He prays for them in order that they may have His joy in all its fullness in themselves. On an earlier occasion He had said that He came that they may have life and have it abundantly [10:10]. It is something like this that He has in mind here. Jesus’ gift to them was God’s word. The supremely significant thing is the revelation. The Word of the Father is not a natural possession. It is given only by Christ. Word here will mean the entire message that has been revealed. It is a natural transition to the thought that the world hated the disciples. During the time they had been with Jesus they had been given over to learning of God. This meant that inevitably the world opposed them. The disciples and the world were situated on opposite sides. Now it can be said that they are not of the world. That Jesus is not of the world is easy enough to understand. This Gospel reiterates the truth that His essential being is heavenly. He came forth from God. But now He says that His followers are not of the world even as He is not of the world. In a sense of course they were. They were born originally into the world, and as part of the world. But in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus has made it clear that men must be born all over again if they are to see the Kingdom of God. It is in this re-born state that the disciples are thought of as not of the world. And the re-born state is the significant state. It is origin and character rather than outlook that is meant.

[15-16]  Since they are not of the world it might be thought that the prayer would be made that they should be removed from the world. Jesus now makes it plain that He has nothing of the sort in mind. Their place is still in the world. It would be bad for them and disastrous for the world to have them taken out of the world. The place of God’s people is in the world, though, of course, not of it. Jesus recognizes the power of the evil one and prays for His own to be kept from him. They have a task to do in the world so it is important that they should be in the world. But it is equally important that they should be kept from evil, for evil is fatal to the discharge of their task. The statement of verse 14 is repeated. As they belong to a Master they share His detachment from the world.  The Christian’s task, then, is not to be withdrawn from the world, nor to be confused with the world, but to remain in the world, maintaining witness to the truth by the help of the Spirit, and absorbing all the malice that the world can muster. The followers of Jesus are permitted neither the luxury of compromise with a world that is intrinsically evil and under the devil’s power, nor the safety of disengagement. But if the Christian pilgrimage is inherently perilous, the safety that only God Himself can provide is assured, as certainly as the prayers of God’s own dear Son will be answered.

Pray for Devotion to Jesus’ Mission: John 17:17-19.

[17]  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. [18]  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. [19]  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  [ESV

[17]  The holiness word-group from which sanctify derives is rather rare in the Fourth Gospel. At its most basic level of meaning, holy is almost an adjective for God: He is transcendent, distinct, separate from His creation, and so the angels cry unceasingly in His presence, Holy! Holy! Holy! [Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8]. Derivatively, then, people and things that are reserved for Him are also called holy – whether a censer for an altar in the temple of the old covenant, or a man set apart to be the high priest. Ideally if someone is set apart for God and God’s purposes alone, that person will do only what God wants, and hate all that God hates. That is what it means to be holy, as God is holy [Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16]. Jesus is the one whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world. That is, the Father reserved the Son for His own purposes in this mission into the world. Otherwise put, the Son sanctified Himself – i.e. He set Himself apart to be and do exactly what the Father assigned Him. Now He prays that God will sanctify the disciples. In John’s Gospel, such sanctification is always for mission. The mission of the disciples is spelled out in the next verse. The present verse focuses on the means of the sanctification: in the truth; your word is truth. This can only mean that the means Jesus expects His Father to use as He sanctifies His Son’s followers is the truth. The Father will immerse Jesus’ followers in the revelation of Himself in His Son; He will sanctify them by sending the Spirit to guide them into all truth [15:13]. Jesus’ followers will be set apart from the world, reserved for God’s service, insofar as they think and live in conformity with the truth, the word of revelation [6] supremely mediated through Christ (Himself the truth, 14:6, and the Word incarnate, 1:1,14) – the revelation now embodied in the pages of the Bible. In practical terms, no one can be sanctified or set apart for the Lord’s use without learning to think God’s thoughts after Him, without learning to live in conformity with the word He has graciously given. By contrast, the heart of worldliness, of what makes the world the world [1:9], is fundamental suppression or denial of the truth, profound rejection of God’s gracious word, His self-disclosure in Christ.

[18-19]  As Jesus was sanctified and sent into the world [10:36], so the purpose of the sanctification of His followers is that they are sent, by Jesus Himself, into the world. The mission of Christ forms the pattern for the mission of the apostles. Earlier we have read that the Father sanctified Him and sent Him into the world [10:36]. He has just prayed that the Father will sanctify them and now He sends them into the world. The parallel is impressive. Their lives are not to be aimless. They are given a definite commission by their Lord. Their task is to discharge it, even as He discharged His mission. Again in verse 19, we have the thought of sanctification, but now Jesus says that He sanctifies or consecrates Himself. He sets Himself apart for the doing of the Father’s will, and in this context this must surely mean death. It points us to Calvary and all that Calvary means. This is connected with the disciples in two ways. It is for their sake. He dies for them, to do for them that which they could not do for themselves. And further it is that they also may be sanctified in truth. It is purposeful. He dies with a view to the disciples being sanctified, being set apart for God. It is only on the basis of what He has done for them (redemption) that His prayer for their being sanctified may be answered (intercession). In other words, only after Jesus completed His mission on earth, can He sit down at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does keep them in your name in verses 11 and 12 mean? (see also verses 14 and 15). Why is this so important that Jesus would keep repeating it in His prayer to His Father?

2.         What does Jesus mean by: of the world, in the world, out of the world? What does the world mean in these verses? In verse 9, Jesus says that He does not pray for the world. Should we pray for the world? If so, then how should we pray?

3.         What does sanctify mean? What is the relationship between sanctify, truth and word? How can we allow God’s word to have this effect upon us? Why is verse 18 placed between 17 and 19? How is being sent dependent upon being sanctified?

4.         What does it mean in verse 19 for Christ to sanctify (consecrate) Himself? Why is the disciples being sanctified by the truth the result of Jesus sanctifying Himself?


The Gospel according to John, D.A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Gospel according to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

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