Recently, I preached on the amazing “High Priestly” prayer of John 17. At the end of that urgently passionate prayer, in vv. 20-23, Jesus amazingly offers appeals not for Himself, but for the future fellowship and unity of His followers.
As I prepared for my sermon, my mind was naturally drawn to my favorite work of literature—J.R.R. Tolkien’s epoch epic trilogy, The Lord of Rings. Set in an imaginary “Middle Earth,” Tolkien tells of the war of the free peoples—including elves, dwarves, men, and, of course, hobbits—against the evil Lord Sauron, the Lord of the Rings.
To defeat him, nine ragtag representatives of the free peoples attempt to destroy the One Ring to rule them all, which, if found by Sauron, would be used maliciously to bring all Middle Earth under a second darkness.
So, why do I bring this up—other than to talk about my favorite literary work? Tolkien was a believer. And though he claims he did not purposefully set out to write a Christian fantasy—his worldview does percolate often to the surface of Middle Earth.
Perhaps that is true regarding the nature of the “fellowship of the ring” itself—these nine characters. But even if not, I think Tolkien’s band of an elf, a dwarf, two men, five hobbits, and one wizard, does conveniently mirror in some way the ideals of unity and fellowship Jesus prays for in John 17:20-23.
Indeed, these members of the fellowship of the ring differ in almost every conceivable manner. Hobbits, for instance, measure only to the height of child, have furry feet, and enjoy adventure-less comfort in a pastoral corner of Middle Earth called The Shire.
And yet, what unites these disparate individuals is a common purpose and calling—to save the free peoples from the brooding, encroaching darkness.
So also, what unites us as believers is a common purpose. And what is that purpose? As Jesus prays in John 17: “so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (v. 21) and “so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (v. 23).
Still at times, as happened in Tolkien’s story, our fellowship can be threatened by division. Indeed, at several key points in the journey, the fellowship nearly fractures. At one of those moments, as these free peoples are at each other’s proverbial throats, a sage advisor of the fellowship cautions them with words that we should heed today: “Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.”
So also for Christ’s church, for God’s purposes to be achieved through us, we too must be working together for this common purpose and be unified in that purpose. And we must always remember who the true enemy is.
So, let us go forward, then, unified in our fellowship, to love, serve, and share, so that “the world may believe” in the Christ sent into the world.
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.