When he came to Jude 21, he said something I don’t remember hearing before. In that verse, Jude exhorts believers to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” What exactly does that mean? Are we responsible to make sure God keeps loving us? If we fail at our responsibilities, does God quit loving us? In the sermon, Dr. Rupp explained that this keeping was a command for the believer to continually remind himself of God’s love for him. That made me wonder. Would others agree with that explanation of the passage? Soon, I was involved in an in-depth study of the verse and its surrounding context. The end result was this message from Jude 17-23.
But you, loved ones, remember the sayings foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, because they told you that during the last time there shall be mockers living according to their own lust for ungodly activity. These are the ones making a distinction, worldly minded, not having the Spirit. But you, loved ones, building on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves from harm in the love of God, earnestly expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some which are disputing, but rescue some snatching them out of fire, but have mercy on some with fear, detesting also the shirt defiled by the flesh.
Remember the warnings (17-19).
Jude wanted to write to these believers about their wonderful salvation, but felt led instead to write about their need to contend for the orthodox doctrine which they had been taught and had believed. So, to begin with, he reminds them of the danger of false teachers. Had Jude read Second Peter before writing this epistle? It sure seems like it. In the verses preceding this paragraph, Jude described the false teachers as wicked, sensual, and rebellious. But then as he addreses these believers, he calls them beloved. They were different than the false teachers in that they were loved by God. What did he want to get across to these people who were loved by God? He wanted them to remember the warning given to them by the apostles.
The authority of the warning
You know how it is with sermons. Some times, even after taking notes, you forget what it was all about. But when the message is delivered by someone special, you tend to remember it better. As Jude speaks about this warning, he makes it clear that the warning should be received as authoritative. The apostles themselves had warned these believers of these dangerous people. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly.
The content of the warning
Verse 18 seems to be a summary of what Peter said in 2 Peter 3. There Peter had told his readers that there would be mockers who lived according to their lusts. They were further described as sensual, divisive, and without the Holy Spirit. Sensual has the idea of being worldly minded. Divisive has the idea of making a distinction between groups of people. Some say that the gnostic heresy was at work here, where people were classified into three groups of people. Some were naturals at being spiritual, some had to work hard at it, and some would never attain it. In any event, what they taught caused unnecessary divisions within the Church. (On a side note, have you noticed that fundamentalists are often referred to as divisive Christians. Note here that Jude looks at things quite differently. It is not the obedient believer that causes division but those who have turned from the truth.) Jude continues to describe the false teachers by their lack of the Holy Spirit. In other words, there was no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in their lives. Instead, they were characterized by the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). No wonder the apostles had warned them about these people! They were leading Christians back into the sinful lifestyle from which God had saved them.
Preserve yourself (20-21).
When Robinson Crusoe first landed on the island, he knew that he had a huge job cut out for him. If he was going to keep himself alive, he was going to have to work hard at it. So, with great effort, he setup a place to live. He scavenged as much as possible from the wrecked ship. He even planted a garden and built a fort to surround his cave. Basically, he did everything he could to preserve his life.
This is exactly what Jude is trying to do for every believer. He is attempting to show the way to preserve our spiritual lives from destruction. So, after a lengthy description of the false teachers, he instructs the believers how to keep themselves from falling into the same lifestyle espoused by the false teachers. How could it be done? Jude says, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” What exactly did he mean?
From a quick read, it seems that Jude is saying that we must do something for God to keep loving us. That’s a bit scary. It almost sounds like our salvation is dependent on our actions. I don’t think that is the case at all. We know from many other Scripture passages, that our salvation is based on Christ’s righteousness not our own (Titus 3:5-6; 1 Pet. 3:18). So, if it’s not referring to our salvation, what is he saying? Let me try to explain.
When he says “keep yourselves,” he is using a Greek imperative that carries with it the idea of preservation or keeping from harm. Jude is explaining how we can be kept from harm and also remain in a loving relationship with God the Father. What he means is that Christians can choose by their actions to remain in loving fellowship with the Father. Or they can choose to live outside of the loving protection given to those who obey God’s commandments. This is not talking about losing your salvation, but about having a right relationship with God.
To understand this better, think of what Jesus said about the relationship between our actions and the Father’s love (John 14:15, 21). He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. In other words, our actions will evidence whether we truly love Christ. Now how does that affect God’s love for us? We know that God loved us when he sent Christ for our sins (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Does his love for us change depending on how we act? Yes, it does. Jesus said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
“It is interesting that in verse I he addresses them as men who have been found by the love of God, and in the next verse he prays that divine love, along with God’s mercy and peace, may fill them; but here he urges them to fulfil their side of the covenant of love with God. The emphasis is here placed upon their contribution to that relationship, whether or not the love of God means ‘God’s love for them’ or ‘their love for God’. The language recalls Jesus’ words, ‘I have loved you; abide in my love’ (Jn. XV. 9, RSV). And Jude would certainly have echoed Jesus’ next words, ‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love’ (Jn. XV. 10, RSV).”
Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1980), 185.
Jesus was explaining that our fellowship with God can be broken by our actions. God will not disown us as children, and he will still love us as a father, but that loving relationship of care and protection can be withheld due to our lack of obedience. That is a terrible thought. But it is not something that must happen. Jude makes it clear that there are simple ways in which we can keep ourselves under the loving care of God our Father. He lists three ways to accomplish this in verses 20-21.
Building up your faith (20)
The first participle connected to this imperative is building. As we strive to keep ourselves in fellowship with God, we need to be building on the foundation of faith in Christ. Virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love need to be diligently added to our faith if we are to progress as Christians (2 Pet. 1:5-6). Notice that Jude uses the present tense to describe this work of building. This implies that our building is an ongoing work which we should never discontinue. We should never think that we have arrived.
Praying in the Spirit (20)
It has become popular in charismatic circles to say that praying in the Spirit is the same as speaking in tongues. Because they believe that this practice is still appropriate for today, they work themselves into a state where they believe the Holy Spirit is directing them to speak in some angelic language. From my study of tongues in the Bible, I have become convinced that it was God’s was of getting the attention of others in their own language as opposed to some unknown gibberish which nobody can interpret. But I digress. What is type of prayer is Jude speaking about?
If you were to look into a Greek Bible you would notice that the word spirit does not have the article next to it. This indicates that it is speaking about spirit in general. It could refer to the Holy Spirit or just spiritual prayer where our spirit communes with God. In either case, we need to be walking in the Spirit, allowing him to direct our spirit into close communion with God the Father.
Expecting the return of Christ (21)
The third and final way given by Jude to keep ourselves under the umbrella of God’s protecting love is our attitude about the future. As the believers faced the mockers described by Paul and Peter, they needed to keep their eyes on the promise made by the Lord Jesus. He would come again and receive them unto himself. But until that day they needed to be looking forward to his return. Believers should be living with a sense of expectancy.
When Sharon was pregnant with our first child, we never knew what to expect. There were several times that Sharon thought the baby was about to arrive, but he didn’t. So, when the phone rang and she told me that the baby might be coming, I wasn’t sure what to do. At the time I was at my office desk at Northland working on some project. Was this the real thing or should I finish working. What made things worse was that she was calling from the hospital with no more contractions. So, with her mother by her side, she told me to come to the hospital when I finished work. After hanging up the phone, I told my co-workers what had happened. That’s when my boss, Jerry Hairgrove went into action. “You big dummy get out of here.” So, I did and some hours later the baby was born.
I tell you that story because it parallels what we face today. God has given us work to do, but we don’t know how long we have. As the years pass our expectancy isn’t the same. We begin to act as if the Lord will never come back. This is a mindset that hinders our relationship with the Lord. When you begin to feel comfortable in this life and you begin to think that this is all there is, you lose the expectency that God wants you to have. Beware of this because it will hinder your relationship with the Lord
Rescue the perishing (22-23).
In the last two verses, Jude reminds us of our duty toward the lost. Those who have experienced the love of God in their lives, ought to share that love with others. In my experience there are two types of evangelism. One seeks to get the message out without a concern for the soul of the lost person. As long as you preach the news to them, you have done your job. The second type expresses the news with compassion for the lost soul. This is the type of evangelism to which Jude refers here. He divides the people to whom we speak into three categories.
Those who are wavering (22).
As we speak to the lost we will meet some who are wavering in their opinion of the gospel. The word used by Jude is diakrinomenous. In most cases it refers to a difference, or making a judgment about something. But when used with the middle voice, it can refer to someone who is at odds with himself, wavering, or doubting (BAGD 185). This, I believe, is the correct way of understanding this sentence. We are to have mercy on those who are struggling with their understanding of the truth. As we speak to them, we must realize that God’s Spirit must work to bring them to the place that they will believe. Be merciful to such people. The Lord will work as we show them God’s mercy.
Those close to the fire (23).
There are times when a more forward approach is necessary. Those who are close to death must hear the gospel soon before they die. As you speak to such a person, you have the zealous desire to see him saved before he is lost for eternity.
During my years on a block mason crew, I met a man who enjoyed telling the Christian teen-ager about his sinful exploits. Later when I moved to another job, this same man was the manager at my next job. One day, I heard that he was in the hospital having experienced a heart attack. I felt led of the Lord to visit the man in the hospital not knowing how long he had to live. That day I visited Bill in the hospital and told him of his sinfulness and need for Christ to save him. I later learned that he didn’t appreciate my message, but he needed to hear it anyway.
Those defiled by the flesh (23).
The last type of lost person mentioned by Jude is the one so sinful that it is necessary to keep up your guard when witnessing to them. This morning’s message from Leviticus 11-15 gives a good background for what Jude was saying. Just as the Israelites were instructed to keep themselves clean, so must Christians. We who are Christians can easily be led astray by the sinful people to whom we are witnessing. We must reach out to them with compassion, but also with a hatred for the sinful life they are living.
If you are a Christian, let me conclude by saying two things. First, God loves you. If you have repented of your sin and received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are one of the beloved ones of God. No matter what happens, God will love you and keep you forever. But I must tell you another thing. If you choose to follow the sinful desires of the flesh, it is possible that you could step outside the boundaries of God’s loving care. You don’t want to do this. But if you want to remain under the umbrella of God’s loving care, you will need to keep your relationship right with him. If you love him, keep his commandements.
There are alot of things that have caused Christians to turn away from God’s love. But none of them has brought the joy and peace that can come from a loving relationship with God the Father. So, make your choice tonight to live for him who loves you with an everlasting love.