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

3 Warnings and a Funeral

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
Jude 11

There are certain stories in the Scriptures that you would like to have represent your life. My name being a Biblical name, I have always hoped to be characterized like the Ethans of the OT, one was a singer in David’s assembly as they brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:19), another was one of the wise men in Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31), one Ethan composed Psalm 89. Go Ethan!

Of course who wouldn’t want to be counted as one of the of the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, hearing from our Lord, “Well done good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21). Apart from the grace of God, however, we’d all end up like the other servant who hid the master’s talent, “You wicked and slothful servant…” (Matthew 25:26).

Isn’t interesting, then, so see which Biblical narratives Jude uses to describe the false teachers who have crept into the church, twisting the grace of God into sensuality and rejecting our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Already Jude has compared them to the unfaithful Hebrews who died in the wilderness, the angels who fell from glory, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in their immorality and unnatural desires.

In our reading from Jude today, the Biblical analogies continue. Each warning is taken from key stories from Israel’s history, each ending in death (thus the title).

  • They have walked in the way of Cain.  It was Cain who killed his brother Abel in jealousy over the fact that God honored Abels overing over his own. Keep in mind, it was Abel who brought the firstborn of is flock, while Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Many speculate that the difference in the offering was that Abel brought the firstborn while Cain brought something lesser, but that misses the point. The bigger issue here is the heart of the worshipper. As Romans 14:23 teaches, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” As Abel’s offering was accepted, we must understand that he gave his offering in faith in the Lord. Cain offering was rejected, so we may surmise that he did not bring it in faith, but merely out of duty or religious custom. His heart, as we see in Gen 4, was filled with hatred for his brother, and he walked in darkness (1 John 2:11).
    This is the hypocrisy of the false teachers. They came to the Lord through religious customs, but they had not part or lot in the Lord.  Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of religion without faith, righteousness based on character and good works. The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of pride, a man establishing his own righteousness and rejecting the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ.” They said they worshiped the Lord, but they did not come in faith, but their teachings would lead to the destruction (murder) of many. In this way they were walking in the way of Cain.
  • They abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error. Balaam’s story is a cautionary tale. He was hired by Balak to proclaim curses on Israel as they were in the wilderness. Now anyone claiming to be a prophet could do this, and get paid well for it. But something unexpected happened.  God actually spoke to Balaam. God warned him not to say anything that God didn’t tell him to say. So 4 times Balaam set out to curse Israel and get his reward, but God prevented him, turning the curse into a blessing.
    But that didn’t stop Balaam. If he couldn’t curse Israel directly, he could work indirectly to bring a curse upon them. He set up altars to Baal, and brought the women of Moab to Israel. In Numbers 25, we read that “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal at Peor.” This incident at Peor is said to have been the device of Balaam (Num 31:16), he was paid well for it, and many thousands of Israelites died from the plague from the Lord.
    This is the corruption of the false teachers. While some are brazen enough to proclaim heresy in the name of Christ and profit from it, others are more subtle. They will nuance the message of the Gospel in the name of inclusivity, re-interpreting Scripture according to cultural demands, and soften the radiance of the glory of God to make Him more approachable. They do this for their own profit (financial, social, etc), all at the expense of the lives of those who follow their teaching.
  • They perished in Korah’s rebellion. Korah was a Levite who raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. This was their claim, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord” (Num 16:3).
    This didn’t happen overnight. You can imagine this had been brewing for a while, with quiet whispers, secret meetings, and outright plotting to oust Moses and Aaron. In rejecting Moses and Aaron as God’s appointed leaders, Korah was rejecting God’s authority, and was rejecting God himself. All involved were swallowed up when the ground opened beneath them – the teachers, and those that followed them.
    This is the attitude of the false teachers. They come as their own authority, ignoring the authority of the elders, flaunting the authority of called pastors, and ultimately, despising the authority of God and His Word over their lives. They reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

As we consider our own lives in the light of God’s Word, let us ask ourselves, could these stories be applied to our own lives? Jude’s letter helps us to identify the false teachers who would lead us astray, but it also serves as a mirror to help us to see how we have already been compromised, so that we may repent and turn to the Lord Jesus and contend for the faith.

We walk in the way of Cain anytime we come to God through the self-righteous works empty religion. We fall into Balaam’s error anytime we say I know what God says, but I choose to do this instead. We perish with Korah when we grumble and gossip against those whom God has given in our lives as spiritual authorities.

So let us “walk in the light, as He is in the light, having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

SDG