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

Wrestling with the pigs

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil,
was disputing about the body of Moses,
he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment,
but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” Jude 9

There’s an old adage that says, “Never wrestle with a pig, you’ll both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.” If you listen to the political rancor today, or watch the videos of the protests and riots, and you find this adage to be proven true.  Talking heads, or masked masses, scream and yell at each other, attacking not just the ideas but the people behind them, and seemingly getting a thrill out of the spectacle that they’re making. I watch and listen, trying to understand what’s happening in the world around me, and all I see and hear is arrogance, pride, a blatant disregard for the lives and dignity of others; ultimately, a flat out rejection of the imago dei

This is the cantancorous spirit of the false teachers that Jude is rebuking, those who had crept into the church and were twisting the grace of God into sensuality and denying the Lord and Master Jesus Christ (Jude 4). Verse 8 ends with the charge that these false teachers “blaspheme the glorious ones,” a phrase that needs further explanation, and thankfully, Jude gives it.

In verse 9, Jude refers to an apocryphal story about the burial of Moses. We’re told in Deuteronomy 34:5-6 “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” Illustrating the attitude of the false teachers, Jude shares the story of Michael the archangel contending with the devil, disputing about the body of Moses.  It is likely that Jude is drawing from the aprocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses, which included this story of Michael the archangel contending with the Devil over Moses’ body. The Reformation Study Bible notes that this was “likely a historical event that was preserved in Jewish memory, which was then picked up and written down in the Assumption of Moses, from which Jude may have drawn,” or it was simply a story of legend that all the young Jewish children would have known.

One can imagine that the Devil was arguing that Moses shouldn’t belong to the Lord because he was a sinner. Or, as Calvin suggests, it was possible that the Devil wanted to take Moses’ body and create a shrine.  “Satan almost in all ages has been endeavoring to make the bodies of God’s saints idols to foolish men” (Calvin).  What we know for certain is Michael’s response. Here’s the archangel, the chief of the angels, contending with the devil himself, and he refuses to get into the details, to go back and forth in debate. He simply declares, “the Lord rebuke you!”

The New Covenant Commentary summarizes this well:

Ultimately, the point is that the arrogance of the infiltrators is placed in stark contrast from the meekness of the powerful heavenly being who, though he could be justified in claiming a greater sense of authority than mortals, nevertheless approaches delicate matters with a decided sense of humility. Even while representing God, Michael the archangel never presumes the role of Judge; that role belongs to God. Rather, by appealing to God’s authority, he is able to invoke God’s judgment without undermining God’s position. By implication, those infiltrators making judgments of others are in essence playing God, by virtue of which they put themselves in danger of divine judgment. 

Mbuvi, Andrew M. Jude and 2 Peter: A New Covenant Commentary. Ed. Michael F. Bird and Craig Keener. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015.

The church could and should learn a lot from Jude today. How often do we put ourselves in the place of judge, jury, and executioner?  We are certainly called to discern the truth from lies, to hold fast to, and even contend for, the faith. We must point out errors, according to the word of God, in order to correct and train in righteousness. 

But through all of this we must resist the temptation to put ourselves in the place of God in pronouncing judgment on one another. We tend to use worldly means to fight spiritual battles, plotting out well-devised debates, looking for a mud-pit to roll around in for a while.  Even Michael, the archangel, with all of his authority, knew better.  He engaged the devil with humility, and in respect for the authority of Christ, so that he refused to even pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but entrusted the matter to the Lord.  If the greatest of the good angels refused to speak evil of the greatest of the evil angels, surely we should refrain from speaking evil of one another.

Along with this teaching from Jude, Psalm 44 offers a great reminder:

For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our foes
and have put to shame those who hate us.
In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever.

As we seek to contend for the truth of the gospel, let us do so always trusting that the Lord will fight the battles for us. It is the Lord who saves, the Lord who preserves. Let us, in humility and faith, look to Christ and walk with Him.

SDG