“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1:1-2, NIV).
So often when we begin a study of a New Testament letter we just quickly glance at the introductory words and move on to what we consider the heart of the letter. After all, we are busy, aren’t we? We don’t have time to waste on the insignificant, do we?
And yet the greetings of these letters can shed light on what is on the heart of the writer. More than just a formality or a cliche, the words of greeting often give us a hint at what the letter will be about. Such is certainly the case in the letter, perhaps due to its brevity you might feel more comfortable calling it a postcard, Jude.
It is generally assumed Jude is the brother of Jesus, yet look at how he identifies himself in the greeting. He calls himself a servant of Jesus and the brother of James. This is interesting on a couple of levels. First, if I were writing a letter to a church you better believe I would let everybody know I am the brother of Jesus. I would use this relationship to gain power and control over people, wouldn’t you? But instead, he identifies himself as the brother of James. This James may have been powerful and a noted leader in his own right, but come on, are you going to claim James or Jesus?
Second, when he does refer to his relationship with Jesus, he calls himself a servant or slave. The writer does not seem interested in impressing us with his power, rather, he freely admits he is nothing but a servant. The idea of the writer being a servant fits nicely with the theme of the letter as a whole. Jude is writing to warn the church about false teachers who have slipped in to the church. I don’t know about you, but I have never known of a false teacher who was a servant. I have never known of a false teacher who was known for dying to himself and giving up his or her power.
In 1 Corinthians Paul taught that getting back to the concept of leaders being servants was crucial to stopping the divisiveness in the church (see for example, 4:1). Isn’t the same thing true of addressing the problem of false teachers? If it is understood that leaders are servants, it goes a long way toward addressing the problem of false teachers, since they are interested in promoting themselves rather than dying to themselves.
But these words of greeting tell us about more than the writer, they include rich language about God and His people.
- To those who have been called. . . . As I read these words I think of people in scripture who were called by God. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Samuel, David, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Mary, Peter, Andrew and the list goes on and on. I think of how some of them immediately answered the call while others hesitated and even tried to avoid God. As I read these words I think of how God has called me to Him through Jesus. God wants me, He desires to have a relationship with me and use me in His service. And the same can be said of you. False teachers will often get control of people by claiming a position of superiority over the people. These words remind the church that we are all are called by God.
- To those who are loved by God the Father. . . . As I read these words my heart is warmed as I am reminded of God’s love. God loves with with a Father’s love. Often false teachers manipulate people by convincing them that they have to do something (that something is whatever the false teacher is interested in) to earn a place with God. They subtly demean us to get us under their control. But here in these introductory words, God’s love breaks through, assuring us that we have a relationship with God that is not dependant on jumping through whatever hoops the false teachers have set up.
- To those who are kept by Jesus Christ. . . . Again, words of comfort and assurance. When we lose our assurance of God’s love for us, we are most vulnerable to the trap false teachers set for us: that we must know, experience, or do something more to really be God’s person. We are kept…by Jesus! Kept safe. Kept secure. Kept by Jesus for God. God doesn’t love us, call us, and then forget us. We are kept by Jesus. Repeat after me, I am kept by Jesus.
No, don’t skip over the introductory words of this letter. Verse two provides even more rich language to tell us something about ourselves and something about our God. “Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.” These words tell us what kind of God we love and serve and what kind of life God wants us to have. God is a God of mercy, peace, and love. We reflect God as we live a lifestyle of mercy, peace, and love.
One last time I want to ask you to slow down and not rush through the opening words, because I don’t won’t you to miss these last two words: “in abundance.” These words just put the icing on the cake, don’t they? Is your Christian life one of mercy, peace, and love in abundance? Do you experience in your church life mercy, peace, and love in abundance?
The pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) tell us much about false teachers that were around in the days of the first century church. And from reading the pastorals, one thing is clear about the church climate where false teachers are setting the tone, controversy, arguments, and division is the norm rather than mercy, peace, and love.
Jude has taken a sad song and made it better. It’s a sad song about the problem of false teachers in the church, but it is made better, better, better by the rich language that presents a great God who stands out against the backdrop of the sad stuff that is going on.