The Lord prayed many prayers. These prayers were also beautiful and deeply meaningful. They let us see into the heart of the Savior. Of all the prayers he prayed, however, none was, and is, more important than the one he prayed on the night of his betrayal. Three times he repeats the significant phrase, "that they may be one" (John 17:11; John 17:22; and John 17:23).
Among the ancients, a repetition of three added significant impact to the communicator's point. This practice was an indication of the communicator's desire to reinforce the importance of his point — the repetition of "Holy, Holy, Holy ..." referring to God is one memorable example (Isaiah 6:3). This petition was very important to the Master, and must also be important to us.
Mortals have established a number of systems to bring about oneness. Early in church history, the responsibility passed to elders, bishops and finally popes; but unity on expression from a dominant head did not produce unity of life in the followers. Through the various reformation attempts, systems of interpretation of Scriptures were developed to assure unity of belief; but these, being man-made, generally failed. Somehow, it was believed, agreement on interpretation of the Scriptures would produce unity in the followers. It sounded rational, but rational and realistic are only similar in the fact that they both begin with the letter "r."
To be one is an attitude! It will never be achieved by total agreement on all points of the Word. This is not because such agreement is bad. Agreement is one of our aims in searching the Scriptures, but total agreement seems to lie outside our grasp. While many divisions have resulted in differences over the meaning or application of Scripture, the root of disunity is found in the hearts of human beings, not in their ignorance. I certainly do not wish to take anything away from the need to continue our efforts to understand the Word alike, but listen to the focus the apostle Paul uses when he calls the believers in Philippi to unity:
Nothing is said here about doctrine, as important as that is, but Paul addresses the attitudes of love and compassion as the bedrock of unity. That has not changed. Two thousand years have passed since Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal, and all the systems of human creation have failed. Only a deep love for God and His children will ever answer that plaintive prayer of our Lord and produce the effect, "[T]hat the world may believe that You have sent me" (John 17:21).