Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Answer is Love

Buckle your seatbelts, interblog. Tonight I'm going to walk through an entire book of the Bible. You heard/read me right. A whole book. All in one go.

Don't worry, it's just the book of Jude. (25 verses)

The first two verses are the standard greeting found in the New Testament letters--the sender, the recipient(s), and a greeting. Similar to the To, From, and Subject lines of an E-mail, actually. From these we see it was written by Jude, the brother of James. (Probably the brother of Jesus; Jude humbly doesn't make the connection, instead calling himself "a servant of Jesus Christ") The recipients, "those who have been called, those who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ", is extremely non-specific; Jude might have intended the letter to be copied and passed around among churches like a chain latter.

And after the greetings, Jude launches into a 14-verse verbal assault against false teachers occupying well over half the book. In verse 3 he mentions he'd have preferred to write a nice, fluffy letter about their salvation, he "felt [he] had to write and urge you to contend for the faith." In verse 4 he explicitly warns about false teachers in their midst, seeking to replace the gospel with an excuse for licentiousness. Defending the gospel against corrupt teaching was a common theme of Peter and Paul's letters as well; we can be thankful for their devotion to making sure the churches got it right. It was especially scary as the New Testament as a compiled volume didn't exist yet; the churches mostly had oral teaching on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and whatever the apostles left them with. When the apostles left to plant churches elsewhere, the "baby churches" were vulnerable. We all tend to forget or live without the gospel on our own anyway; just imagine how hard it would be to hold on to it with someone charismatic trying to alter it into such pleasant lies.

In the following verses, Jude gives numerous warnings about the justice reserved for those who reject the Lord, citing Old Testament examples like Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, and Satan and his angels. Verses 12 and 13 poetically compare false teachers with drifting clouds, uprooted trees, "wild waves of the sea", and wandering stars.

Then in verse 17 he gets to the practicals. This is the part of the book that really struck me. After finishing warning them of these men, I would have imagined his advice for the churches might have been something like "rebuke these godless men and their teaching, and cast them out of your midst." Shows how much I know. His advice is amazing:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
Jude's advice isn't to rebuke the false teachers, practice some apologetic arguments to counter their words, or reject them from the churches--it's to continue building their faith and be filled with the Spirit in order to love these people. The quality of the love varies--show mercy to some, "snatch" others from the fire--but the point is to defeat false teaching with love, not aggression or carefully crafted arguments. And if this is how they were to treat unbelievers in their midst trying to alter the gospel, how much more fellow believers with whom they didn't see eye-to-eye?

The best thing the gifts of wisdom and knowledge have taught me is when to use them--and when not to try. Words of wisdom can help someone plagued by questions, or they can deepen interpersonal rifts. The love of Christ is more important than being "right". Maybe I'm just reminding myself of this fact, but this blog is an overflow for my brain and I've been thinking around this topic a lot lately. Good night.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. - 1 Corinthians 13:2

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