John 17:15, I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
This morning, the world waxes worse and worse due to the problematic seducers that inhabit it. While we understand from Scripture that men by nature are no less totally depraved than since the day of the fall, there is more manifestation of wickedness (worse and worse) today due to the relaxation of checks and boundaries for the workers of iniquity. This manifestation of wickedness grows daily, and while it would be easy to get downcast, downtrodden, and depressed about it, the child of God has many things – even in the midst of a troubled world – to rejoice in. Even though many of these matters could be investigated, we hope to cover one such promise that remains true today regardless of the downward spiral that the world finds itself in.
Our study verse is set in the midst of what is commonly called the "High Priestly Prayer of Christ." He utters these blessed verses a mere hours from His arrest, mock trial, and eventual torture and death. What often strikes me about this language is that Christ knew that His time on earth was short – though we know not exactly how much time we have left in our lives. As a minister, I have experienced and witnessed watching people in the last moments of their life and observed that people freely talk and think fondly on those things that are the most important to them. When stripped of everything to see just how mortal our mortality really is, people see with renewed vision what is truly the most important thing to them. Here we get a glimpse into the character of the GodMan Jesus Christ as He tells us what is most important to Him. The whole prayer revolves around what He has done for us and how much we mean to Him. In addressing those points, we glean many rich doctrinal insights into how He and the Father covenanted to save us, how He accomplished that great work while here, and the glorious outcome of those events.
As Christ so dearly and lovingly prays for His people before His father, He makes the request found above. The request of Christ was that the Father would be pleased to keep us from the evil while we traverse here through this world. Since we understand that the requests of Christ were always heard and acknowledged (John 11:41-42), we can take great comfort and rest in the knowledge that this prayer of promise stands today just as surely as ever. Christ freely admits in the following verses that we (His family) are not of this world in the same manner that He is not of this world. As the redeemed family of God, our home and inheritance is out of this world.
Since our home is not here, it would seem to make more sense to pray that we all simply go home would it not? Paul found himself in that same quandary in Philippians 1, but he confessed that while going home to the Lord is far better than anything else there is something needful here if we still have life, breath, and being. Christ specifically does not pray that we be taken from this world (that will happen some blessed day), but beseeches the Father on our behalf for our journey here. That supplication is that the Father would keep us from the evil while here.
This thought brings out another question does it not? If Christ prayed – successfully so – that we be kept from the evil, then why do we have so many problems in this world? Fair question, but the answer is painfully simple yet quite broad. Consider what the world would be like should God not have any daily interactions and providential dealings with us? How would our health be? How would our spirit be? How would those around us be? Very importantly, how would the workers of iniquity – God's enemies – be? Truly, we can say that things are as well with us as they are due to the fact that His hand is daily with us and restraining things around us. Without the restraining providence of God, wickedness would overrun the world completely to the extinguishing of goodness, morality, and any kind of order in the world.
Extending from this thought somewhat, God keeping us from the evil shows that His kind hand of grace keeps us from the dreadful mess we would make of ourselves if left to our own devices and state. Christ promised a few chapters before that we were in His hand, while He was in the Father's hand. (John 10:28-30) This unified and doubly secure position that we have in Christ in God is such that nothing can happen to undo or overturn what God's abundant grace has wrought for us. Should God have sent His Son to save us and then said, "Keep yourselves till I come back" nobody would be left standing and fit for heaven when He returned. Truly, He keeps us from the evil that He redeemed us from in that we will never be cast from His sight utterly and completely. Though the toils of life get great, our sins at times mount up like the hilly ranges of this world, and our spirit cries in despair, nothing can prevent Him from bringing us home to glory to Himself.
Therefore, we conclude from Christ's prayer that our position is secure never to be shaken. We also conclude that our daily travels will not include things that we cannot bear or get through. (I Corinthians 10:13) All the evil that we could not bear or deal with, He has either taken out of the way or restrained from us. The dual but opposite problem of arminianism and absolutism is simply this: both fail to comprehend the loving and gracious hand of God upon us to keep us from the evil. The arminian fails to see that God's hand has both scooped us out of the pit and keeps us from the pit forever, and the absoluter fails to see that God's hand has not foreordained all things but rather He lovingly restrains many things out of kindness and compassion to His people. Both ideologies present a warped and skewed perception of the Almighty, but Christ here shows a very different perspective of He and His Father. Evil that we could not bear eternally is kept from us, and all the evil that we could not deal with here in time is kept from us as well.
The point for us today is amazingly clear, yet I just as amazingly fail at following it. Since God has done so much for us (but the smallest fraction of which we have knowledge of), nothing that happens daily is worth being downcast about. The words "I can't" as they pertain to doing that which is right in this world do not belong in the vocabulary of the child of God. Since the evil we could not deal with has been kept from us, we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us. (Philippians 4:13) Since He has redeemed us from the evil that was justly ours, this world is not our home nor worth our worry. We shall go home and out of this world in good time dear friends, but He specifically prayed that we not just simply be removed. Therefore, we have a great task of service before us to honour Him for what He has done, devote our heart, soul, mind, and might to His service, and remember that things are very well with us – both today on the earth and one sweet day in the endless day of eternity.