I was thinking recently while stuck in road construction how much time is spent simply waiting for something to happen. There’s not a day that goes by without us spending some time waiting for something. It seems as if God has weaved waiting into nearly every aspect of our lives. While there’s not much to do while waiting in road construction, God clearly intends for us to do something while we wait. In fact, Jude gives us some clear imperatives that tell us what we should do while we wait. Let’s look at what he tells his readers to do while they wait for Christ’s mercy with some help from the NIV Application Commentary.

Standing Fast While We Wait

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying 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.

Jude 1:20–21

“Dear friends” (see v. 17) again signals a transition as Jude now turns his attention to the believers and begins to tell them specifically what they are to do in response to the false teachers. He begins with injunctions focusing on the need to maintain their own faith. Here is the first requirement when false teaching arises: to secure one’s own spiritual position. Only then is one ready to reach out and confront those who are disturbed by it (vv. 22­–23).

Although the NIV does not make this entirely clear, we have in verses 20–21 four separate commands:

(1) “build yourselves up in your most holy faith”;

(2) “pray in the Holy Spirit”;

(3) “keep yourselves in God’s love”;

(4) “wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

Two characteristic early Christian triads are observable here: faith, love, and hope (1, 3, and 4); and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (3, 4, and 2).

Building While We Wait

The frequent New Testament use of the imagery of “building” to describe the spiritual development of the community probably comes from the idea that the Christian church forms God’s new temple (1 Cor. 3:9–15; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:4–10). New covenant believers no longer need a literal temple, for they themselves are now the place where God, in Christ, resides. “Build yourselves up,” then, is a command that Christians together encourage one another in holding fast to the truth of Christ and in maintaining a lifestyle that reflects that truth (for a similar idea, see Col. 2:7).

As in the similar phrase in verse 3, “faith” here means what Christians believe — the doctrinal and ethical core of Christian identity. This is what the false teachers were threatening; therefore, true believers must devote themselves to the faith with renewed dedication. It is possible to translate “build yourselves up by means of your most holy faith.” But the building imagery suggests that the NIV is on the right track, taking “the most holy faith” to be the foundation on which we are to build.

The New Testament elsewhere puts Christ in the role of the foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:7–17), or even “the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20–22). These are not, of course, competing, but complementary images. For it is Christ who accredits apostles and prophets, who, in turn, set forth and guard the “faith once for all entrusted to the saints.” Christ is the “ultimate foundation,” for we rest on him alone for salvation. But the apostles and the teaching they have given are subsidiary, but necessary foundations. They reveal to us the meaning of Christ and guard against any attempt to diminish who he is or what he has done.

Praying While We Wait

The form of the word in the Greek text may be suggesting that the second injunction is a means by which the first can be carried out — that is, by “praying in the Holy Spirit” we can build one another up in the faith. Many commentators think that Jude is enjoining believers here to engage in distinctly “charismatic” praying, including, though not limited to, speaking in tongues. They suggest that this praying is a praying in which the Spirit himself supplies the words. Without diminishing the importance and value of this kind of praying, I doubt whether Jude intends to be so specific. All praying that is worthy of the name will be praying that is done “in the Spirit” — that is, stimulated by, guided by, and infused by the Holy Spirit. Note Ephesians 6:18a: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Standing Fast While We Wait

Jude’s third exhortation combines with his description of believers in verse 1 to form an interesting and instructive pairing of ideas. Christians, Jude has said, are “kept by Jesus Christ”; now he urges them to “keep yourselves in God’s love.” Here we find the typical two sides of the New Testament approach to the Christian life. God has done all in Christ that we need to be saved; yet we must respond to God if we are to secure our salvation. God “keeps” us; we are to “keep ourselves.” Both are true, and neither can be sacrificed without missing something essential to the Christian pursuit of godliness.

Jude may be thinking as he writes these words of Jesus’ command in John 15:9: “Now remain in my love.” Christ loves us, unconditionally; yet we have the obligation to remain within his love for us. And this reminiscence is particularly appropriate because Jesus goes on in the next verse to note that it is by obeying his commands that we are able to remain in his love. It is precisely in this matter of obedience that the false teachers are so significantly failing to keep themselves in the love of God.

Mercy is Coming

Jude’s last exhortation, fittingly, directs attention to the future. God’s mercy is always present, but the Scriptures often associate his mercy with deliverance on the last day (see, e.g., Matt. 5:7; 2 Tim. 1:18). Here, therefore, “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” is something that we are urged to “wait for.” The verb translated “wait for” often occurs in such eschatological contexts. It connotes eager yet patient expectation and the kind of lifestyle that should accompany such hope for deliverance (see the use of the word in 2 Peter 3:12–14).

The connection between “eternal life” and the rest of the verse is not immediately clear. The NIV paraphrases the Greek here, taking the phrase with the word “mercy” (cf. also NRSV: “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life”). But the phrase can also go with the command “keep” at the beginning of the verse: “keep yourselves in God’s love … so that you may experience eternal life,” though the distance of “eternal life” from the command “keep” makes this option less likely. Thus Jude is urging his readers to look beyond the disruptions created by the false teachers to that ultimate expression of Christ’s mercy on the day he comes back in glory to bring his people to their eternal enjoyment of the life he provides.

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