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27 September 2019

Listening to our God, not our gut.

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. This 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 oughta do. What we really want, what’s really best for us, what’s the right thing to do: The inner voice knows all. Don’t starve it.

Sometimes we call it following your instincts, following your hunches, following your gut; following the core of our being which knows the difference between wise and dumb, true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. Christians imagine it was put there by God. And it’s not a new idea, believe it or don’t; it’s always been around. Every generation dusts it off and repackages it.

The ancient Greeks called it the πνεῦμα ψυχικόν/néfma syhikón, “psychic spirit,” the essence of life. First God creates the life-giving air, we breathe it, and in our lungs it’s turned into the πνεῦμα ζωτικόν/néfma zotikón, “vital spirit,” and then it works our way into our minds and becomes psychic spirit. This psychic spirit travels down our nerves, 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, has never heard of this and may even think it’s rubbish. But Plato, Erasistratus, Galen, and plenty of ancient Greeks sure did. And of course these beliefs trickled into the church, and warped a few teachers. And that’s where we get to Jude.

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 Christians aren’t to follow any “psychic spirit,” inner voice, id, instinct, inner child, or whatever you wanna call it. Because the scriptures actually call this our flesh. It’s our carnal human impulses, our self-preservation instinct gone wrong, our sin nature. I often joke my inner child is really an inner brat: 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 to follow our own spirits, but our Lord. The inner voice is the wrong voice—and the devil does a mighty good job of hijacking it, making evil look good or pragmatic, and getting us to do evil instead. So listen for God. The Spirit knows the right way to go.

And confirm him. One of the ways we do that is with our “most holy faith”—the religion taught by Jesus, confirmed by his 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 our own, where we can go horribly wrong: Together.

How do we follow him together?

Like Jude said in verse 20, we’re to build one another up in faith. Usually we do this 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—we 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 ἐν/en into all the other things en might mean—“in” or “with” or “through” and so forth. Fine; go ahead and monkey. Just so long we never subtract the Holy Spirit from our prayers. He’d better be substantially involved in our prayer lives, 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 renders verse 21 as “Keep yourselves in the love of God,” and annoyingly some preachers take this to mean we’d better make sure we stay in God’s good graces, lest he kick us out of his kingdom. Nope; not even close to what it means. The word τηρήσατε/tirísate! means “guard yourselves!” and has to do with being conscientious: Practice God’s love. Keep practicing God’s love. Watch out for one another, care for one another, love one another. I mean, the whole point of Jude’s letter is life together, and it makes no sense for him to suddenly threaten us with the chance of apostasy when he’s writing about how we interact.

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.

In his statement, “Show mercy to those who are shaky,” various interpreters take the “those” and “them” of verses 22-23, and presume Jude isn’t speaking of the same wobbly Christians, but three kinds of shaky believers:

  • Some are shaky. Show them mercy.
  • Some are in fire. Rescue them from it.
  • Some others… well, show ’em mercy cautiously, ’cause their sins are contagious.

And maybe there are levels to how immature these other Christians might be. But let’s be honest with ourselves: Any 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 to fellow Christians, they belong to Jesus: They’re not going to hell! So the “fire” must refer to some tribulation they’re already undergoing. Might be a fire they themselves started; might be persecution; might be just life being awful to them; 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 hating sinners. They hate sin—as we should; so does God, and if we follow him we oughta hate sin too. Problem is, they love to extend their hatred to the people who sin. They hate sin and everything sin touches, just like “the tunic stained by the body,” a shirt with big yellow sweat stains. They proclaim their hatred proudly, as an example of just how zealous they are against sin.

So… what’d the tunic do wrong? Well, nothing! It didn’t put itself on the body; it didn’t choose to get dirty. I mean, if this saying is meant to be a parable about hating everything which comes in contact with sin, it certainly doesn’t endorse this behavior. The tunic isn’t a perpetrator; it’s a victim.

And the saying isn’t about sin either. It’s about ritual cleanliness. I know; plenty of Christians recognize the ritual cleanliness rules are moot because we’re collectively the Holy Spirit’s temple. He continually makes us clean. But these rules still make sense for hygienic reasons, and Jude’s readers—especially if they grew up Pharisee—would’ve followed these rules just because it’s what they were used to. So 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 Hence devout Pharisees didn’t touch just anyone’s dirty laundry if they could help it, ’cause you just never know.

The proper idea Jude’s trying to teach is caution. Yes, help fellow Christians who are in trouble. But stay out of 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 stupidly think we’re temptation-proof. This is spiritual warfare here. Practice a little healthy, rational fear: Pray up. Get help from more mature Christians. Then act.

In conclusion, praise.

Unlike Paul’s letters, Jude didn’t wrap things up with a bunch of shout-outs to people he knew from church. True, 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 this wasn’t a usual practice. The letter 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, in his opinion, blameless—
25 to God alone, our savior through our master Christ Jesus:
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 him, he considers right with him. Jn 1.12 In his δόξης/dóxis, “opinion” (KJV “glory”) we’re now blameless. He forgives us everything, and 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, I really wish all these things upon God.” Nope; not what these praises mean. We’re not wishing these things upon God: He already has glory, honor, power, wisdom, et cetera. 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?

Apostles.