Keep Yourself in the Love of God
Series: Stand-Alone Sermons
Jude tells his readers how to respond to false teachers and those mocking the faith by keeping themselves in the love of God, through building up God’s church, praying in the Holy Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of Jesus.
Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 50, Jude-2 Peter, Richard Bauckham
Today we’re taking a break from our summer series looking at the Psalms, next week we’ll be starting a series on our identity as a church – who are we, what do we do, why do we do it.
Growing up I took piano lessons for more than 12 years. One of the many things that Mrs. Joyce Nelson taught me from my very first piano lesson was that playing the piano involves more than just knowing how to read the notes on the page and what key to play. Mrs. Nelson taught me how to perform, that a performance started from the time I left my seat to walk up to the piano all the way to when I sat back down. From making sure the bench was at the proper height, checking that I was the exact right distance from the keys, focusing my breathing before I started, no detail was unimportant. One of the most important things Mrs. Nelson taught me was what to do when something went wrong. It could be anything from forgetting a section I had memorized, to one of the piano keys sticking, to, as I vividly remember, the wedding coordinator forgetting what song all the bridesmaids were supposed to walk into and having to just keep looping through Canon in D until they figured it out. I didn’t hope for things to go wrong, and I practiced so that they wouldn’t, but given enough opportunities playing the piano sooner or later challenges were going to come and it was crucial to be prepared for them.
Today we’re looking at the book of Jude, named for its author, who most biblical scholars believe to have been the brother of Jesus. Jude wrote as a response to false teachers who were causing division in the early church and were scoffing at, or we might say mocking those who believed in the Christian faith, even leading some of the more vulnerable members of the church to join in their immorality.
Jude starts by reminding his readers that these challenges are not an unexpected situation, that the Apostles had told them that this exact sort of thing was going to happen. In 2nd Peter we read that in the last days, or, the time period between Jesus’s first and second coming, scoffers would come, following their own sinful desires and mocking those who followed Jesus. Jude wants his readers to remember that hey, we knew this was going to happen, and sure enough these people did show up and the challenges had come, and here’s how to respond.
Followers of Jesus will never outgrow the need to contend for the truth and resist false teaching. One of the most striking things about Jude’s letter is that instead of telling his readers what they should do about the false teachers, he tells them what to do about themselves. He doesn’t tell the church to hop on Facebook and get in a comment war with someone you’ve never even met, or come up with a slick marketing campaign, or even to argue at all with them. Instead, he instructs his readers that the way to handle the false teachers, the way to live as followers of Jesus in the midst of a fallen world, is in verse 20, and is just one thing – keep themselves in the love of God.
Today we’re going to see that the way to live as Christians in a fallen world is by keeping yourself in the love of God, in three ways – building up God’s church, praying in the Holy Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am by nature a doer, and I am also by nature impatient. When I’m listening to a sermon I start asking the question “ok, just tell me what do I need to do” usually about thirty seconds into the introduction. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, since it’s important to think about how we can apply Scripture to our lives, but it can be incomplete, or even lead us into despair. Why? By ourselves we can never do enough to keep in the love of God. Our efforts on our own will always fall short of God’s standard, even when we are doing what could be considered good things. Jude says it is actually God who keeps us in his love, through our own efforts. In verse 24, just past what we read, starts one of the most famous benedictions in all of Scripture. It reads, “now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy”. As we go we’ll see that the greatness of Jesus is first and foremost what motivates us, and that because of that greatness we can’t help but want to live in the manner that Jude describes.
The first way we keep ourselves in the love of God is by building up God’s church.
Build Up God’s Church (20a)
Jude’s instruction is “build yourselves up”. The image here is of someone that is building upon a foundation that was already laid. How do we know Jude isn’t telling his readers to go off and become the most individually skilled Christians they can? Let’s look at the idea of building in Ephesians.
Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Jude is reminding his readers that the church is a holy temple, and that they are being built not only individually, but together, into a holy temple in the Lord. Where the false teachers were causing divisions in the church, the way Jude tells his readers to resist this is to keep themselves in the love of God by building themselves up, together, in the most holy faith.
So then how do we build ourselves up?
This “most holy faith” is not just the foundation, it is also the means by which we build. In verse 3 Jude describes what he’s telling his readers to fight for as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” If this foundation of the church is this “most holy faith” and the “most holy faith” has been entrusted to us, then we have an active role to play in building up the church, and in doing so keeping ourselves in the love of God.
When I think about the idea of building up the church one of the first things that often comes to mind is being on a serving team. If you’re newer with us you may not be aware that every Sunday morning when we come in this room is a completely empty space, and teams of volunteers set up chairs, hang curtains, run cables, adjust cameras, check projector visuals, rehearse songs, teach Gospel truths to kids, and that’s just on a “normal” Sunday. Now, are these things what actually builds up one another in the most holy faith? Not necessarily. Here’s the distinction. When the COVID shutdowns started back in March of last year I realized that sometimes I was so focused on the things I was doing as part of a Sunday serving team that I was missing what it truly meant to build up God’s church. My identity as a member of Citylight had become tied to the idea of helping make Sunday morning perfect, and so when those Sunday mornings got taken away and we were forced to watch from home via livestream, it helped me to see that building up God’s church was more than just being on a serving team.
Building one another up in the most holy faith is ultimately done by knowing and caring for others in community, by singing songs of praise to one another, by hearing the word preached aloud, by admonishing one another and lamenting. And what a gift to have so many people at Citylight that are not only committed to that idea but work tirelessly week after week to enable gathering for worship and in citygroups where all of those things can take place.
Many things in the city of Philadelphia just aren’t easy, and some weeks when we come in here it really does feel like we have to contend for the faith and fight to build up God’s church. And yet when I show up early on a Sunday morning and see volunteers who have lots of good reasons that morning to, like the false teachers were doing, grumble and complain, instead joyfully and gladly and excellently enabling us to gather for worship, where we build one another up in our most holy faith, it strengthens my faith and helps keep me in the love of God. I know that even on the Sundays where things are a challenge, ultimately God, through our efforts, promises to keep us in his love.
But honestly, even apart from being on a serving team, one of the most encouraging things you can do as a member of Citylight Church is to just faithfully show up week after week. I am in awe every time I see families with kids make it to church, and so many of you do that week in and week out. That demonstrates not only to me but to everyone else that building this church, fighting for the most holy faith, is so important to you that you make it work even when it would be much easier not to have to load everyone in the car and leave the house on a Sunday morning. Even in the face of a world that at times mocks you, that scoffs at you, for treating this as important, you still show up. In doing so you are helping to build up the church and keep your fellow church members in the love of God.
First way we keep ourselves in the love of God – by building up God’s church. Second way, by praying in the Holy Spirit.
Pray in the Holy Spirit
Have you ever known someone that, when something bad happens, immediately responds by stopping and saying we need to pray? It’s an amazingly powerful way to approach life, and if that’s you then you are a tremendous gift and encouragement to the church. Much of the time when I come face to face with the reality of living a fallen sinful world, my first inclination is not to stop and pray. I want to do something, I want to get out and do what I think of as helping. And yet, throughout the Bible, when the authors of Scripture are confronted with sin and the brokenness of the world, they stop and pray. So how do we do this?
In Ephesians 6 the Apostle Paul is telling us how to stand firm as Christians, as it says in verse 11, “stand against the schemes of the devil.” How do we do that? In verse 18 we read,
Ephesians 6:18- praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
The means by which believers stand firm is prayer. How do we pray in the Spirit? This is one of those places where Paul chooses to be very clear. He uses the word “all” four times in this verse – “at all times”, “with all prayer”, “with all perseverance”, “for all the saints”. Have you ever tried to argue with someone where you know they are 100% right, they know they are 100% right, and they’re ready for anything you try to come at them with? Paul is sort of doing that here. “Well how many times a day should I pray? Should it be in the morning and evening? Before meals?” Pray at all times, or at every opportunity. “What if I don’t see any results? What if I don’t know if my prayers are working?” With all prayer and supplication. Keep alert with all perseverance. What am I supposed to pray for? Who am I supposed to pray for? What if I’m new here and don’t know anyone? Pray for all the saints. We have an obligation to help keep one another in the love of a God in the midst of a fallen world by praying for each other.
Next, the Holy Spirit helps keep us in the love of God by helping in our weakness.
Another argument I often make is that I don’t know what the right thing is to be praying for, or when I look at the world it seems so complex and messed up that I can’t even see a way out of a situation. Guess what? That’s exactly correct! You don’t know exactly what you should be praying for! And yet, pray at all times anyway. Paul acknowledges that we are weak, and “do not know what to pray for as we ought.” As we pray, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God Himself, not only stands alongside us but intervenes in our prayers, pleading before God the Father on our behalf. When we feel like the world is too far messed up for prayer to make a difference, when the false teachers seem too strong, when we just feel too weak to pray – the Spirit already knows just how weak we are. Take heart that you can approach God in prayer knowing you already have an advocate that knows about the fallen world, and is groaning and interceding to keep us in the love of God.
Jude wanted his readers to remember that in the face of false teaching, people that were causing division, surrounded by people following their own passions, one of the most important things the church needed to do was to pray in the Holy Spirit.
How do we keep ourselves in the love of God? First by building up God’s church. Second, by praying in the Holy Spirit. Third, by waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ
Sometimes when we hear the word “mercy” we think of someone crying out for something they don’t deserve, like someone that has been convicted of a crime asking a judge for leniency. The idea here is that we are eagerly waiting for something that we are confident we are going to receive, because of what Jesus has done for us. We aren’t approaching God asking Him to go above and beyond in showing mercy, but rather approaching confident that we are in good standing because of Jesus and therefore expect to find favor.
Since we have confidence in our standing before God because of the mercy of Jesus, we are to wait confidently and live confidently. If you’re new to Philadelphia in the last couple years or even for anyone that’s not born and raised here I need you to imagine something that might terrify you. Imagine for a moment that you’re a lifelong born and raised fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. Imagine you went back in time from today to February 4th, 2018, knowing full well that, spoiler alert, the Eagles were going to win Super Bowl 52. Think about how confident you’d be as you sat next to your friends who were watching that game for the first time. When bad things happened in the game you’d still be confident even as everyone else around you was mourning. Why? You know what’s going to happen. Wouldn’t this change how you watched the game?
Jude is telling us that one of the ways to live in a fallen world and keep yourself in the love of God is not to be aloof or removed from the brokenness of the world around us, not to just turn a blind eye to the false teachers hoping they will go away, but to confidently wait knowing that because of Jesus we will receive mercy.
The idea of waiting can feel like a passive command, like we’re just sitting around idly, ignoring all the hurt and pain in the world around us. Jude immediately tells his readers how to apply this idea of waiting for mercy and in doing so answers the question his readers probably had of what to do about those in their congregation that had followed the false teachers. Look with me starting in verse 22:
22 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; 23 to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh
Three quick ways that we live as people waiting for the mercy of Jesus.
First, people waiting for the mercy of Jesus treat others with mercy. Jude doesn’t tell us to berate or ostracize those that have followed the false teachers, but rather to have mercy on those who were doubting. Because God is merciful and had mercy on us through Christ, so we too are to have mercy on those that are drifting from the love of God.
Second, people waiting for the mercy of Jesus save others by snatching them out of the fire. The consequences of sin are too great for us as believers to sit around and watch those around us continue to follow their own ungodly passions. I was born and raised in a part of Kansas called the Flint Hills, which is home to the largest tallgrass prairie in the world. One of the things that happens every spring is different sections of prairie land are burned, which helps promote new growth and keep harmful plants at bay. When you are burning a prairie there are clearly defined places that you do not want the fire to go, and people will drive around on ATVs with water tanks on the back making sure the fire does not go anywhere that could cause damage or threaten people. You will never hear someone experienced with prairie fires say that the way to deal with an out of control fire is to hope it blows back the other way, or to leave it alone and see if its behavior changes. When you see the fire where it shouldn’t be, you take immediate action with hopes of saving and protecting whatever is on the other side. As we wait for the mercy of Jesus we help keep those around us in the love of God by snatching them out of the fire.
Third, people waiting for the mercy of Jesus show mercy with fear. This describes the manner in which we are to show mercy, by showing fear towards the sin being committed lest we too be drawn into it. How do we live confidently and yet show mercy with fear? It circles back to our big idea, keep yourself in the love of God. The words of the false teachers and the allure of sin are too strong for you to attempt to battle the sin like what the false teachers had brought in on your own. Have people in your life, maybe in your city group or discipleship group, that will help you stay in the love of God even in the midst of a fallen world.
If you’re a Christian, there are going to be people that mock you and scoff at you. There are going to be false teachers who sound very appealing and offer what seems like an easier and more fun way of living. There are going to be people living immoral lives that say “come, follow me, it’ll be better.” It was true in Jude’s day and it’s true in our day.
Stay at it. We have a God who not only is able to keep us in his love, but who does so with great joy. We have the gift of the church, a community where others can help build us up and snatch us out of the fire when we stray. We have the Holy Spirit, who knows the mind of God and intercedes on our behalf. And ultimately, we have the hope of the mercy of Jesus, a hope that enables us to wait and live confidently. In the midst of a fallen world, keep yourself in the love of God.