Text: “keep yourselves in the love of God;” Jude: 21a
It cannot be said that this is an unknown or especially misunderstood text from holy Scripture. Yet I doubt whether the deep riches it contains is readily recognized and open to every faithful Bible reader. Maybe this could be classified among the not sufficiently-understood words of the Bible.
Did you ever analyze the short sentence which is this command: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”? How should we conceive of its meaning? Is it that we should persistently continue to love God? In itself that would be a worthy admonition. Or do we read here that we should carefully examine ourselves as to the possibility that we might weaken or fall short in our love to God?
In my opinion we are on the wrong track if we try to understand the text in this way. The questions asked above are completely out of place here because the love of God in Jude: 21a is not our love for him, but his love to us. And this means that Jude has been inspired of God to admonish us to keep ourselves in God’s love to us!
I believe that we must take this very literally, just as it stands. The preposition in is one of place in this case, so that it means to say the same thing a physician might say to a patient, “Keep yourself in bed,” or a teacher to a pupil, “Keep yourself in school.” Similarly, God’s Word here says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Stay within that love as your shelter and refuge. Stay there in order to find safety and security, never leave its precincts, remain within the warm rays of the sunshine of God’s love, and avoid by all means the dark shadows of sin and evil.
One thing here is certain: God loves his children in Christ. That gracious love is as a shining light upon their way and in their hearts. Indeed, his love is as a father’s to his children, and that love will not and cannot be diverted. Just for that reason we should deliberately keep ourselves in that love, for within its walls we are safe, within its fortress we most certainly are kept by him who loves us with a vigor far greater than the strength of our devotion to him.
But how shall we do this? Is it not at least too hard for us (or worse, is it not altogether impossible) to keep ourselves in God’s love?
Jude recognizes the urgency of that question. His short letter describes the dangers which always threaten believers in this world. Church members here are as sheep among wolves, he wrote. He saw that many Christians would be tempted to leave the safe shelter of God’s love in order to enter upon that wilderness which is a hostile world full of evil temptation. In the nineteenth verse of this epistle he speaks of those who cause divisions by their scoffing and self-indulgence, people who are worldly and without the Spirit. Then he offers the full statement which is verses 20, 21:
But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life (RSV).
This means that we have to respond with obedient service to God’s command if we desire the safety of the fortress of God’s love. We cannot withdraw into inactivity, waiting until God’s Spirit might work in our hearts. We have to read and ponder God’s Word, both personally and in the fellowship of the Church, for this is to “build yourselves up on your most holy faith.” We have to pray “in the Holy Spirit,” which is not only to say certain words in regular routine, but to give utterance to our deepest and sincerest feelings through the Spirit who prays within us and who binds us to that Word. A living faith, closeness to the Lord, willingly being led by his hand—these things keep us in his love, providing the assurance that his love for us will never fail.
Doing these things we may live in good hope, for in the shelter of God’s love we may anticipate that future which is open to us, thanks to the mercy of Jesus Christ!