Tri-Unity

Original Date: 
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Series: 

John 17:20-23 The Dance: Tri-Unity

It is Not Good
Do you know what the first flaw in creation was? Did you know that even before sin entered the world there was a problem?

Here’s how it goes: again and again, in Genesis 1, we are told that God saw what He had made, and it was good. I covered this at our Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday night. God said “Let there be light” and there was light, and it was good. God made the dry ground and the seas, and it was good. God made the birds and the fish, and it was good. God made the animals on the ground, and it was good.

It was all good. In fact, by the end of the sixth day, after God has made the first man and woman, He looks at everything that He has made, and pronounces it all very good.

But then, in Genesis chapter 2, we get a little more detail on what happened on that sixth day. When God created humanity, we are told He started first with Adam. He formed him out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. He planted the Garden of Eden and He gave it all to Adam.

And here is where we have our first flaw. Genesis 2:18: The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” It was just Adam, and God said it was not good for him to be by himself.

Now, all of the wives are agreeing with this. “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” Beth knows that if she leaves for any length of time, things fall apart. The house gets dirty, the dishes pile up, the kids get out hand.

But that’s not exactly what God is getting at. Instead, I think God is saying there is something about the way Adam is made—and thus, something about the way we are all made—that makes it not good for us to be by ourselves. We were not made to live our lives in isolation. We were made to live our lives in relationship, in community.

Of course, the end result is that God makes Eve and invents marriage, and by the end of day 6 everything is “very good” again. But I don’t think this is strictly about marriage. Marriage is one way we meet our need for relationship; but whether you are married or single, we all need community.

Think about it: you can see the evidence of our desire for community all over the place. We are probably the most connected generation ever. Facebook now claims over 1 billion members. We have cell phones that allow us to be instantly accessible anywhere in the world. Thanks to Twitter and Instagram, we can constantly bombard each other with even the most boring details of our everyday lives. You can sit down at a restaurant in Iowa City and take a picture of your appetizer and then send it to all your friends so they can be jealous of your onion rings (not that I know anybody who would do anything like that). Technology has enabled humanity to be more connected, more informed, and more social than at any other time in history.

And yet, connectivity does not equal community. Being able to make quick connections with lots and lots of people does not mean there is depth of relationship.

About 10 years ago a sociologist name Robert Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone. His central premise was that even as we are developing more and more ways to communicate, we are actually becoming increasingly isolated from one another. Some of the evidence he cited—among lots of others—was that in the previous twenty years the number of people who bowled had gone up, while the number of people bowling in leagues had severely declined. It seems that we are losing our sense of community.

At any rate, my point is that we were made for relationships. From Adam onward, human beings have always longed to be in community with other human beings. Facebook or bowling leagues, quilting circles or online gaming communities, V.F.W.’s or churches, people have a deep desire to be in relationship.

My question is: where did that come from? Where did that need for others come from? Why do we have this innate longing to be connected to other people?

And the answer is: God. God created us for community.

The Bible teaches that we are made in the image of God. And one of the things that we have been learning the last couple of weeks is that God has always existed as a community. And so, it follows that we would have a deep desire to be in relationship, just like our Maker.

God Has Never Been Lonely
Let me back up a little bit for those of you who haven’t been with us the last couple of weeks (and by the way, that’s o.k., I’m not trying to make you feel bad for missing church, we’re glad you are here today!).

The last few weeks we’ve been tackling one of the most difficult concepts in Christianity: The Trinity. Christians believe that God is one single essence who has forever existed as three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All three are God, but there is only one God. It’s one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, and something we will probably never fully understand, but it is what the Bible teaches. The Father is God. The Son (Jesus) is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. Three persons, one nature, the Trinity.

Now, I’m arguing that because God has always existed in this eternal fellowship it only makes sense that creatures made in His image would have a deep longing and need for community.

Let me put it another way: God has never been lonely. Some religions argue that God created human beings because He was bored. He was all alone and He needed somebody to love. But that doesn’t work. The Bible says the God of creation does not need a thing (i.e. Acts 17:25). The Trinity teaches that God has always existed in perfect relationship and love. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always had one another to love and adore and communicate and share and cooperate with. Together, they created the world as an expression of their love and a display of their glory, but it definitely wasn’t because they were bored.

Mark Driscoll says: “The God of the Bible is in himself eternally relational.” (Doctrine, p. 35). And, because we are made in the image of this Triune God, we too have a need for relationship. I’ll phrase our big idea like this: The Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all communities. We can learn a lot about human relationships by looking at the community of the Trinity.

That All of Them May Be One
Let me see if I can ground this in Scripture for you. John 17:20-23 is going to be our text today. It’s not strictly about the Trinity—we’re not going to see anything in here about the Holy Spirit—but it does get at this idea of eternal community within the Godhead. As Jesus talks about His relationship with the Father, we’re going to get a sense of Trinitarian love.

So, John 17:20-23:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

This is the night before Jesus dies. We’re just a couple of hours away from Judas showing up with a band of angry soldiers and kissing Jesus on the cheek. And Jesus is praying for His followers. We call this “Jesus’ High Priestly” prayer, because Jesus is praying on behalf of His disciples.

And He starts out praying specifically for the apostles—the little group of people who will be the beginning of His church. That’s the “them alone” in verse 20. In the verses before this, He prays for their protection from the evil one and also for their message.

But starting in verse 20 Jesus also prays for those who will believe because of the apostles’ preaching. In other words, Jesus is praying for the church down through the centuries. In a very real sense, He’s praying for you and for me. He’s praying for every Christian alive in the world today.

And His goal is that we will be unified. His prayer is that, verse 21, “all of them may be one.” Jesus is praying for our community. Our relationships. He wants His followers, down through the centuries, to be characterized by oneness. There should be a strength of connection between us that holds us together.

Jesus’ prayer, in fact, is that the strength of our community will become the indisputable proof to the world that He is the real thing. Verse 23: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.”

When non-Christians begin to investigate the church one of the questions they are inevitably going to ask is: do these people like one another? Do they love? Is there unity and agreement, or is there discord and hostility? Jesus said that it is by our love for one another that people are going to know we belong to Him (John 13:35).

This is what Jesus prays for: that there will be such remarkable unity among His followers that the world will be unable to understand it outside of Jesus. That people who otherwise might not have anything in common, perhaps even people who would be natural enemies, people of different races and incomes and educations and politics and jobs, would be unified in such a way that the world will be amazed. To the point that they can only conclude that Jesus, in whose name we gather, must be for real.

Now, what is that unity supposed to look like? What does Jesus cite as the model for this oneness? Nothing less than the relationship of the Son with the Father. Verse 21: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Verse 22: “that they may be one as we are one.” Verse 23: “I in them and you in me.”

Here’s a peak at the relationships that exist in the Trinity. D.A. Carson writes, in a commentary on these verses:

The Father is actually in the Son, so much so that we can be told that it is the Father who is performing the Son’s works (14:10); yet the Son is in the Father, not only in dependence upon and obedience to him, but his agent in creation (1:2-3) and his wholly concurring Son in the redemption and preservation of those the Father has given him (e.g. 6:37-40; 17:6, 19). The Father and the Son are distinguishable (the pre-incarnate Word is ‘with’ God, 1:1; the Son prays to his Father; the Father commissions and sends, while the son obeys), yet they are one. (The Gospel According to John, p. 568)

The Son is in the Father. The Father is in the Son. They are unified in purpose, and yet they are distinct from each other. Add in the Holy Spirit, and you have the Trinity. These three unique persons—each with their special roles and gifts and responsibilities-- surrounding one another and working together in perfect unity.

And that’s the model for us. This perfect community, this ideal oneness, is what we are to strive for in our relationships with each other. That we may be one, just as Father, Son and Spirit are one.

Three Part Harmony
Let me try to illustrate. The last couple of weeks I’ve thrown some foreign words at you. Perichoresis the first week. Homoousios and Homoiousios last week. Now, let’s think about the actual word “Trinity.”

“Trinity”, as I’ve said repeatedly, is not a word that appears in the Bible. It’s a word theologians latched onto to explain what the Bible teaches. Thus, the origin of the word “Trinity” is not Greek, but Latin. Our English word Trinity comes from the Latin word Trinitas. And Trinitas, in turn, is itself made up of two root words: trinas and unitas.

Trinas, as you might guess, means “three.” And unitas means “one.” So Trinity literally means “three-in-one” or “Tri-Unity”. The wonder of the Trinity is that we have these three distinct persons and they are perfectly unified in all that they do. They cooperate with each other without losing their identity.

As John 17 indicates, Father and Son (and by extension, the Spirit) are perfectly “one.” The Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father. Always cooperating in everything they do, there is no discord between them.

As I said the first week, one way theologians have attempted to picture this is with the image of a dance. That’s the word perichoresis. The Father dances around the Son. The Son dances around the Father. The Spirit dances around them both. They are always in step with one another, and yet individually they each bring their own unique part to the dance. So, as we saw last week, the Father plans our salvation, the Son accomplishes it, and the Spirit applies it to us. That’s the Dance.

Another, similar illustration, might be to think in terms of harmony. I’m not a music guy, but I’ve asked Mary and Beth and Arv to come up and give us a little demonstration of harmony.

*Ask Mary to explain “unison singing”: all the voices singing the same words and the same melody. All singing the same notes.

Have Mary and Beth and Arv sing a few lines in unison.

Ask Mary to explain “harmony”: all the voices singing the same words, but different, complimentary notes.

Have Mary and Beth and Arv sing the same lines in harmony. Note the depth and richness and beauty that comes from “tri-unity”.*

That, it seems, is how the Trinity works. Perfect harmony. Three “Voices” singing the same song, yet each Voice joyfully sings a different part without any discord. Together, the three contribute a richness and texture that no one voice alone could accomplish.

Christian Community
And doesn’t that sound like a great model for our own relationships with each other? In our relationships and community, shouldn’t we endeavor to follow the pattern of the God in whose image we have been made?

Remember, that’s the point. The Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all community. And so, as we seek to live out Jesus’ prayer and display Christian unity to a watching world; as we seek to have our own deep, built-in needs for relationship met; we can look to the Trinity as our guide.

As we wrap up this morning, there are four aspects of Trinitarian life that we should seek to incorporate into our own relationships.

So, first, we should live lives of love. Love comes from God. It is appropriate that we should seek to love those around us.

C.S. Lewis points to the famous verse in 1 John that says “God is love.” A lot of people want to switch that around and say that “Love is God”, that is that anytime feelings of love spring up it should be treated with the utmost respect. Like love is the most important thing. As the Beatles say: all you need is love.

But that’s not what it says. It says that “God is love.” That God is always loving, and love springs from Him. And, as Lewis points out, that can only be true if the Trinity is real. You can only say that God is love if there has always been someone for God to love—or, as the Trinity shows us—if there have always been perfect loving relationships within the Being of God.

And so, we too were made to practice love. We were made to live in community and dependence on one another.

Doing your own thing is, of course, the “American way.” Our heroes are those rugged individuals who can do everything for themselves—guys like Superman and the Lone Ranger and Rambo. We like to celebrate independence.

And yet God’s design is that we should be in loving relationships. We should be accountable and connected, we should help one another. We were made to love.

Or, again, the Trinity teaches about unity within diversity. The beauty and mystery of the Trinity is that the three persons of the Godhead remain distinct, even as they accomplish the same purpose.

Shouldn’t this be our goal in relationship with each other? To celebrate and value our differences of personality, temperament, gifting and passion even as we work together for the common goal? Isn’t that the beauty of harmony? Many voices, all singing the same words, and yet each contributing something unique and rich to the piece.

We must do way with notions of conformity that expect everybody “to be just like me” even as we work together. This applies to marriage relationships, family relationships, work relationships, how we work together in our town and state and nation, and to the church. There is beauty in unity within diversity.

Then, we can learn something about authority and submission from the Trinity. The wonder of the Trinity is that there are clear lines of authority. The Father sends the Son and the Spirit. The Son submits to and obeys the Father. At times, the Son submits to the will of the Spirit, and at other times the Spirit submits to the Son. We insist that all three members of the Trinity are equally God, and yet authority and submission are lived out with love and joy.

We live in a culture that despises authority at nearly every level. Whether it is the authority of the police, the government, teachers or parents, we tend to downplay the necessity of submitting to authority. And don’t even talk about submission in marriage.

And yet, the Bible encourages us to submit in a number of contexts; and the example of the Trinity shows that there is a way to exercise authority that is not domineering and there is a way to submit that is not devaluing. If God the Son could joyfully submit to His Father’s will at the cross, then perhaps we can joyfully submit to those who are rightfully in authority over us.

Then, finally, I want to say something about joy. I would imagine that the Trinity is the place of the greatest joy that has ever been or ever will be. I mentioned this the first week: the idea that for all eternity the Father and the Son and the Spirit have existed in perfect, loving relationship—admiring and affirming one another. The Father singing the praises of the Son, the Son singing the praises of the Spirit, and the Spirit singing the praises of the Father, ad infinitum. Mark Driscoll says another synonym for the Trinity is “Happy” (p. 15). Perfect joy.

And that’s something we need to bring to our relationships with one another as well. We are made in the image of the Triune God. We were made for community. We were made to take delight in one another, to live with each other in joy.

And so, let us learn from the Trinity to live in community with one another.