Bound to Love and Truth

Reading through Proverbs 3 today I was struck by a passage that I (sorry to say) usually overlook. When I hear someone refer to Proverbs 3, my mind is usually drawn to verses 5 & 6:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

I’ve taught this passage so many times. There are songs to help you memorize it. The verse is underlined, highlighted, emboldened, so much so that it dwarfs the rest of the chapter.

And it shouldn’t.

I was particularly struck in today’s reading by the immediately preceding verses 3 & 4:

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”

The word for “steadfast love” in this text is none other than הסד, pronounced “chesed,” which refers to the faithful covenant love of God for His people. Likewise, “faithfulness” is from the Hebrew, אמת, pronounced “emet,” which can also be translated as “truth,” and is expressive of God’s covenant keeping.

Just sitting and reading this passage, “do not let steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you” makes us think that this is something we need to do. Without digging deeper into this passage, we might glance at it and think, Well, I better try to be more loving and faithful in order to find favor and good success in the eyes of God and man.

But that’s not the case.

The author of Proverbs here is calling us to mindfulness. He’s not talking about our steadfast love and faithfulness, but God’s. It is God who is steadfast in His covenanted love for His people, and faithful and sure to keep all His promises. The point of this passage is not to try harder, but to remember the covenant keeping nature of our great God.

God has promised to save, and has saved mightily in Jesus Christ. When we were dead in our sins and trespasses, God, in His love and mercy, did send His Son who would take our guilt, our shame, bearing our sins upon His cross, so that we might, by His grace receive forgiveness and the promise of everlasting life. We receive all this, not through our own effort, but through faith in Jesus Christ, resting in and receiving Him as He is revealed in God’s Word. This is the blessing of God’s covenanted love and faithfulness.

So when we are called to bind steadfast love and faithfulness around our necks and to write it upon our hearts, it’s not our own, but God’s love and faithfulness.

The promise given here, that we would find favor and success, are also magnified in the Hebrew. “Favor” here is the Hebrew word הן, pronounced “hen,” which is usually translated as “grace,” or “gift.” And “success” here is from שכל, sekel, which is elsewhere translated as “discernment, understanding.”

We are to set this truth of who God is and what He has done so close to us, that they reshape us, they reform us, they help us to see everything through the lens of God’s love and truth.

What a promise for God’s people! If we would keep before us the love and faithfulness of God, bind them around our necks, write them on our hearts, so that we would continually be reminded of all that God has done, and is doing for us in Christ Jesus, how we would grow in the grace and knowledge of God.

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