Have Mercy

“Have Mercy on Those Who Doubt…” (Jude 22)

A week before the start of my 5th grade year, our teacher fell from the roof of his house breaking, if I remember correctly, his hip and leg, and would be out of the classroom for the first semester.  While tragic, there was a part of me that was overjoyed. This particular teacher had a reputation for being tough on students. My older brother had him for a teacher and told me all sorts of stories. Plus, our substitute for the semester was a new, young, female teacher – everyone was happy!

That was until the start of the second semester. When our regular teacher returned, he felt it was his mission to whip us into shape, to correct the inadequacies of the substitute’s teaching methods.  There were push-ups for wrong answers.  He tapped his cane like Thor’s hammer on our desks to get our attention. There was a lot more yelling involved than the first semester. Generally, it was a miserable experience.

I wonder, then, if this was the temptation that Jude experienced in his letter to the Church. He wanted to write to them about their common salvation in Jesus Christ, but because of the false teachers who had crept in and twisted the gospel into a license for sensuality and rejecting the Lord and Master Jesus Christ, he instead had to plead with them to contend for the faith.  Hearing of how they had been deceived and deluded, one response could have been like the return of our 5th grade teacher, “The beatings will continue until moral improves!”

Instead, Jude gives gracious instruction, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”  Those who have been led astray by the false teachers, who are struggling with doubts, questions, worries, and fears, show them mercy.  Don’t come down with wrath, judgment, or an air of superiority.  Be gentle with them and avoid vilifying those who are honestly and humbly struggling with some aspect of the faith. They are still in the faith, though they may have doubts, so encourage them in mercy and kindness.

How we need to be reminded of this today! Too often, in times when we are feeling particularly content in our own righteousness, we sit in evaluation of others faith and wonder why they’re not as mature as we are. We grow impatient with others continued struggle with sin, their slow growth in faith and fruitfulness in the Spirit, and we vent our frustration, “shouldn’t they know better by now?!?”

So Jude reminds us to show mercy.  Mercy is the withholding of judgment, exercising instead, patience, kindness, and compassionate care.  Mercy is born from a humble and honest self-evaluation. Mercy is the recognition that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Mercy is forgiving not seven times, but seventy times seven. Mercy is the means by which we know the grace and favor of God in Jesus Christ, therefore we are to be merciful to others as well. 

To quote from Shakespear’s Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

SDG

Keep in the Love of God

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
Jude 20-21

As we watch the political circus of 2020 America play out before us, one of the most troubling casualties in this process has been the contest of ideas. Our debates, talk-shows, and advertising leading up to an election has all been ad hominem, attacking the person rather than the ideas. We’ve devolved into a cult of personality, where image triumphs over content, and we all suffer for it. “We can’t tell you what we stand for,” they’ll say, “but we’re certainly better than the other guy.”

Friends, you cannot grow in faith if you are only focused on what you are not. This is the point that Jude is making in verses 20-21. So much of his letter is spent exposing the character and motives of the false teachers in the church; but simply recognizing the false teacher does not help us to contend for the faith. Instead, Jude tells us that as faithful followers of Christ, we must keep ourselves in the love of God. I’d like to explore these two verses with you, briefly, to help encourage you in this today.

(Full Disclosure – I’m coming off of a head-cold, and have been short-winded and very tired the last week, so writing like this today is an effort. I’m relying heavily on Thomas Schreiner’s work in The New American Commentary on 1, 2 Peter and Jude.)

As you first read through verses 20 and 21 of Jude’s letter, the first inclination is to see this as a list of 4 imperatives: 1) Build yourselves up in faith, 2) Pray in the Holy Spirit, 3) Keep yourselves in God’s love, and 4) Wait for the mercy of Christ. In the Greek, however, there is only one verb, “keep.” So the main point that Jude makes here is, while false teachers would have you pursue the pleasures of the flesh and twist your faith, we are to keep ourselves in the sphere of God’s love – being loved by Him and loving Him ourselves. The participles”building,” “praying,” and “waiting” are the means through which we abide in that love.

Thomas Schreiner notes, “the first way believers remain in God’s love is by continuing to grow in their understanding of the gospel, the teachings that were handed down to them at their conversion… Jude did not think that growth occurred mystically or mysteriously. Instead, believers experience God’s love as their understanding of the faith increases. Affection for God increases not through bypassing the mind but by means of it.” The scriptures teach that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Loving God with the mind means daily learning, studying, and growing in our understanding of God. As we study God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, God’s mercy and grace, indeed, all the perfections of God’s character, we will be built up in our faith, which will hold us fast in the love of God.

The second way we keep in God’s love is by praying in the Holy Spirit. This is not, as some speculate, suggesting the charismatic prayer in tongues, but rather is a more general notion of praying by the leading and influence of the Holy Spirit.  It is prayer that is guided not by our own sinful passions and desires, but prayer that is governed by the Spirit of God who leads, guides, and teaches us to pray (Rom 8:26-27). To abide in the love of God without prayer would be like running a mile without breathing. Love for God is nurtured, nourished, through prayer.

The third means of keeping in the love of God is through waiting upon the coming mercy of Jesus. It is that faithful expectation of Christ’s return, His coming again.  The false teachers would have downplayed Christ’s return, denying His coming again in judgment, allowing them to indulge in sensuality and rebellion. To remain in then love of God, then, is to acknowledge His return, and to live in faithful expectation of that day.

What does it mean to “keep in the love of God?” Involved in our abiding in God’s love is growth in faith, prayer in the Spirit, and awaiting the return of the King. And yet, at the heart of it all is God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  I leave you with this from Schreiner’s commentary:

Our love for God depends upon his love for us. Hence, the two cannot and should not be rigidly separated… Those who trust in Christ remain in the faith because of the preserving work of God the Father. Nevertheless, the promise that God will keep his own does not nullify the responsibility of believers to persevere in the faith. God keeps his own, and yet believers must keep themselves in God’s love. Jude represented well the biblical tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. On the one hand, believers only avoid apostasy because of the grace of God. On the other hand, the grace of God does not cancel out the need for believers to exert all their energy to remain in God’s love. 

SDG