That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:21—NKJV)

It is a commonly held belief that unity is a virtue to be pursued at all costs. Religious ecumenists will even site this verse as their proof text to ignore those crucial things which distinguish us as they press us to join them for some lofty cause. However, pursuit of “unity” is never the glue which holds people together for long. Distinctive truth held firmly and in common is the strongest of religious and societal glues. This text actually teaches distinctiveness is the greatest medium for the fullest unity. I propose that neither unity nor separation are virtues to be pursued but rather are by-products of a pursuit for the high virtue of truth.

One of the most practical illustrations of this principle is a marriage between a man and a woman. The purest “oneness in unity” is founded upon the most precise observance of separation unto your spouse, and from every one else, out of allegiance to the marriage covenant. Only by such separation can you create a covenant of truth and fidelity paving the way for the greatest possible trusting union between human beings. Rather than being decried as dividing, this purity is rightly to be celebrated!

Not only is this principle seen in the home but it is also evident in society at large. America has been unique, resilient and shining in distinction to the rest of the world, not because of our pursuit of unity amidst our diversity, but rather because Americans have had a love of individual freedoms assured by our constitution—in short, a common truth which has held us together and made us the destination of all freedom-loving people. There is no other explanation for such a country to exist because we do not have a common ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious bond. Our unified bond boils down to our individual commitment to the freedoms derived from our Creator, defended by our U.S. Constitution, and held in common with other Americans.

The text of John 17 is known as the “High Priestly Prayer” of Christ. On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus prayed a great sweeping prayer for His disciples and for us (those who will believe in Jesus through the disciples’ unique ministry in recording the Bible for the generations of believers to come). Christ surrounds the disciples with a prayer of protection while He is absent from them (verses 9–12), of distinction while they are operating in the world awaiting Him (verses 13–23), and of anticipation of being reunited in glory (verses 24–26).

It is a prayer of distinction because of the emphasis found by simply counting the words used often in verses 13 to 23. “Truth” appears three times, “Word” appears three times, and “Sanctify” (set apart) appears three times. These words all emphasize that which divides from unbelievers but unites true believers. Fidelity to the written Word of God is the only sure foundation for lasting, unfeigned unity (“one” appears five times from 9–26, speaking of unity of spirit rather than organic unity). It is for this reason that God says we are not to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1).

The greater the body of belief held in common the greater the depth and durability of unity! (For believers, it is always God’s truth revealed in the Word to which we must yield.) This basis of unity (or lack thereof) will be evident in all your relationships, whether with your Lord, your friends, your family, your business, your church, or your country.

Are you resting on the truth of the forgiveness of your sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as stated in the Scriptures? Do you value all biblical doctrine enough that it rules over your decisions and affiliations? Do you pursue service for Christ in a church of believers of like faith and practice, and in so doing obediently display biblical unity to a lost world? Trust and obey.