Praying for the Church

In preparing a sermon on "prayer" a couple of weeks ago, I came across some comments by James Boice in regards to Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in John 17. His comments are a welcome and timely reminder of what the church is, and is not to be.

What did [Christ] pray for?

It is significant to notice what he did not pray for. He did not pray that his disciples would become so numerous that they would dominate and then transform the world and its culture, though he recognizes that they are to be a missionary church. In fact, Jesus makes a distinction between his own and the world, declaring emphatically that his prayer is not for the world at all: "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me" (v. 9). He did not pray for the conversion of the Roman emperor or, failing that conquest, that a different, Christian emperor might be brought to the pinnacle of world power. Earlier he had rejected the temptation to worldly power himself (Mt 4:8-10). He did not pray that there might be Christian laws or that the theocratic political system of the Old Testament might be extended worldwide.

Jesus was not thinking of numbers, political structures or laws at all instead he was thinking of two things: the glorification of God, the character and conduct of those by whom God would be glorified. It was a way of acknowledging that the city of man will always be man's city, hostile to God and thus filled with every vice wickedness, but that the people of God are to glorify God as a people apart, God's new society, whether or not they are "successful" in terms of numerical growth or influence. They are to glorify God by being God's people.

From: James Montgomery Boice, Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996) pp. 243-344.