Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

15 January 2016

Listening to our God, not our gut.

Loving God and one another requires us to follow the Spirit’s lead. Not our instincts.

Jude 1.19-25

Years ago, I had to deal with an unteachable co-worker. We’ll call him Ulises. Nice guy, but nobody could tell him a thing: He knew what he already knew, and figured he already knew best. The attitude eventually got him fired. Our boss discovered repeated warnings just weren’t working, and sent him home.

Ulises followed his gut. Most people do. They encourage us to. We’re supposed to listen to that deep inner voice which tells us what we really want, what we really oughta do, what’s really best for us. The inner voice knows all. Don’t starve it.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a new idea, based on pop psychology. It’s been around forever. In the last century, even by people who didn’t believe in psychology, it was called “following your instincts,” or your hunches, or your gut. Somewhere deep at the center of our being, we knew the difference between right and wrong, true and false, wisdom and [cowflop]. It was pre-programmed into us, possibly by God. Follow the inner voice.

The ancient Greeks called it the pnéfma psychikón/“psychic spirit.” It’s the essence of life. First God creates the life-giving air, and we breathe it. In our lungs it’s turned into pnéfma zotikón/“vital spirit,” and once it works its way into our brains it becomes psychic spirit. This psychic spirit travels down our nerves and moves our limbs and makes us alive. Oh, and as a handy side effect it also imparts divine wisdom.

Your average person who follows their inner voice, likely doesn’t believe any of that crap. But Plato, Erasistratus, Galen, and plenty of Greeks sure did—and of course some of those beliefs trickled into the church, and warped a few teachers. Jude wrote about ’em.

Jude 1.19-20 KWL
19 They’re the ones making distinctions based on a “psychic spirit” they don’t have.
20 You, beloved: Build each other up in your most holy faith. Pray by the Holy Spirit.

We don’t follow any psychic spirit. Or the inner voice, the id, our instincts, our inner child. I like to joke my “inner child” is an inner brat, because he’s whiny and selfish, and needs to be put in “time out” forever. Brats need discipline.

In contrast, Jude told his readers to pray by the Holy Spirit. We’re not following our guts; we’re following our Lord. The inner voice is the wrong voice to listen to. The devil does a better-than-average job of tripping it up. Ignore it. Listen for God. The Spirit knows which way to go.

And confirm it with our “most holy faith”—the religion taught by Jesus, confirmed by the prophets and apostles in the bible, handed down and encouraged in by the Christians of our churches. You know who you believe in. Keep believing in him. Join hands with his fellow servants, and follow him together. Not on your own, where you can go horribly wrong. Together.

How we follow him together.

Like Jude said in verse 20, there’s building one another up in faith; usually we do that by interacting with fellow Christians. We encourage them as they encourage us. We tell ’em what we think God’s told us, and they tell us whether God told them the very same thing—or whether we’re all wet. We confess our struggles and sins, and they remind us God forgives all and wants to help us get better. We grow. Again, together—you can’t do this stuff alone.

And we pray by the Holy Spirit. True, Christians who dabble in Greek like to monkey with Greek prepositions, and turn en/“by” into all the other things en might mean—“in” or “with” or “through” and so forth. Fine; go ahead and monkey. Just so long that you don’t subtract the Holy Spirit from our prayers. He’d better be substantially involved in our prayer life, or we’re just wasting our time and his.

Other apostolic instructions:

Jude 1.21-23 KWL
21 Watch over yourselves in God’s love.
Get ready for the mercy of our master, Christ Jesus: Life in the next age.
22 Show mercy to those who are shaky. 23 Rescue them. Snatch them out of fire!
Show mercy to them in fear—“hate even the tunic stained by the body.”

The KJV puts verse 21 as “Keep yourselves in the love of God,” and annoyingly some preachers take this to mean we’d better stay in God’s good graces, lest he kick us out of his kingdom. Nope; not even close. Tirísate/“watch over yourselves!” has to do with guarding or taking care. Watch out for one another. Take care of one another. Love one another. I mean, the whole letter of Jude is about life together, and it makes no sense to jump right back to self-interest when we interpret Jude’s words.

The command “Get ready…” is part of the same verse and sentence: We’re watching over one another ’cause we’re getting ready for the kingdom. Life in the age to come begins now, with the way we live our lives today. Let’s help each other prepare for it.

Various interpreters take the next three instances of us/“those,” and figure Jude might mean three different classes of wobbly Christians:

  • Some are shaky—show ’em mercy.
  • Some are in fire—rescue ’em from it.
  • Some others—show ’em mercy cautiously, ’cause their sins are contagious.

Maybe so, but all of us can fall into any of these categories at different points in our lives.

A lot of preachers figure “fire” refers to hellfire. Maybe it does; maybe not. I mean, if Jude was writing about fellow Christians, they’re not going to hell, so the “fire” must therefore be some sort of suffering they’re already in. Might be a fire they themselves started; doesn’t matter. We gotta stop loving fellow Christians conditionally. Jude said rescue them, so let’s rescue them.

As for that odd bit about hating “the tunic stained by the body”: Certain preachers love to quote this one, ’cause they use it to justify hateful behavior. Y’see, they hate sin. As we should; God hates sin, and if we follow God we oughta hate what he does. Problem is, they like to extend what they hate. They hate sin and they hate everything sin touches—like “the tunic stained by the body.” They look at this proudly, as an example of just how zealous they are against sin.

They don’t realize this means they also hate sin’s victims. ’Cause if sin touched it, but it’s not sin, it’s not a perpetrator. It’s a victim. What did the tunic do that was so wrong? Well, nothing. It didn’t put itself on the body; it didn’t choose to get dirty. I mean, if this saying was meant to be used as a parable about what to hate, it falls apart awfully fast.

But it’s not about that. It’s about ritual cleanliness. I know; Christians assume none of the Law’s ritual cleanliness rules apply to us anymore, ’cause we’re the temple of the Holy Spirit, and he makes us clean. Well, a lot of those rules still make sense for hygienic reasons, and Jude’s audience would’ve followed those rules just because they were raised to. And in the Law, people were instructed: If you get semen, menstrual blood, or any bodily discharge upon any item, it’s ritually unclean. If you touch the item, you’re ritually unclean. Lv 15 This includes clothes. So devout Jews didn’t touch just anyone’s dirty laundry if they could help it. ’Cause you never knew.

So the idea here is caution. Yes, help fellow Christians who are in trouble. But don’t get mixed up in their sins. Don’t assume we can pull ’em out of the mud without getting our hands dirty. We don’t abandon them to their ruin, but we don’t naïvely think we’re temptation-proof. Practice a little healthy, rational fear: Pray up. Get help from more mature Christians. Then act.

In conclusion, praise.

Jude didn’t wrap up his letter with a bunch of shout-outs to people he knew from the church, as did Paul in some of his letters. He might have, and somebody trimmed it off in order to make Jude’s letter applicable to all sorts of churches—but I doubt it, ’cause that wasn’t a usual practice. It doesn’t read like it was truncated.

Instead it’s just a bit of praise to God, who’s so awesome.

Jude 1.24-25 KWL
24 To the one able to protect you from stumbling,
who in great joy considers you blameless, in his opinion—
25 God alone, our savior through Christ Jesus our master:
Our glory, greatness, power, and strength before everything else,
in the next age, now, and in every age. Amen!

God saved us. Did it through Jesus, whose death eliminated any barriers between him and sinful humanity. Those of us who trust in him, he considers right with him; Jn 1.12 in his dóxis/“opinion” (usually translated “glory”) we’re blameless. He forgives us everything, and he helps us avoid the things which get us in further trouble. In a nutshell, that’s our relationship.

A lot of translations, and Christians, like to phrase these doxologies, “To God be the glory, honor, power, wisdom,” and so forth—and in our minds we think, “Yeah, may God have all those things.” But that’s not what these praises mean. We’re not wishing these things upon God. He has glory, honor, power, wisdom, et cetera, already. Always had, always will.

What we’re doing instead is committing our honor, power, wisdom, yada yada, to him. We don’t have much, but every once in a while we get praised, we’re given authority, we’re put in places where people listen to us, we’ve got the wherewithal to get stuff done. And if we have it, God has it—for our lives are surrendered to him. Right?