Have you ever known someone who turns out to be very different from what you originally thought? Sometimes we get that impression about a person as we get to know them. Other times people change. Then there are people who just fool you.
Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Talking to Strangers tells the story of a woman, Ana Belen Montes, who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency for years, but during that time she was a spy for Cuba. When word got out, it wrecked her colleagues. They couldn’t believe it. She had duped them. She was an impostor.
We’re used to hearing about stories like this coming from the world of intelligence. But there can be impostors in many places. Some people say that we are all impostors to one degree or another. Who lives a truly consistent life? In recent years, there is the trend of being a social media impostor. That is the person who selectively curates their social feed to make it look like their life is a certain way, usually really good, when in fact those who know them in person know things are very different. Christians can be impostors on social media, and in the church.
All summer we’ve been reading other people’s mail. Ancient letters in the Bible, like Titus, Philemon, 2nd John and 3rd John. This week we are reading a letter written by Jude, who is going to talk about impostors in the church. So before continuing, go ahead and read Jude verses 1-16.
In verse 1, the writer identifies himself as Jude, and he describes himself two ways: a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James. When he says he is a “servant of Jesus,” that’s a fairly common description that writers of the New Testament letters used, but the second label Jude uses is rather uncommon, “brother of James.” Who is James? James was at the time a leader of the Jerusalem church. Sometimes people refer to him as the Bishop of the Christian church in Jerusalem. He’s the same one that wrote the New Testament epistle of James. And here’s where it gets interesting: James was a brother of Jesus. So that means Jude was also a brother of Jesus.
Two brothers of Jesus each ended up becoming leaders in the church and writers of a book of the New Testament. I love that kind of detail. You might think, “Well, of course Jesus’ brothers would become famous. That happens all the time in famous families.” That is a good point, and it may have happened in this case too. But it didn’t start out that way. In John’s Gospel, chapter 7 verses 1-5, there is a brief story where John describes some animosity between Jesus and his brothers. It seems they weren’t too keen on the idea of their big brother’s sudden fame. John 7:5 says, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
But at some point, of his siblings, at least James and Jude changed their views and began to believe in him. To the point where Jude doesn’t call himself a brother of Jesus, but a servant of Jesus. He had come so far in his thinking, when he could have taken advantage of the family connection and said, “You know I’m Jesus’ brother, right?” But he didn’t. We see some measure of humility in Jude. That said, he does say he is the brother of James, so he still name drops a little.
After identifying himself, he describes who the recipients are, and we see that it is a general letter, to those who have been: Called, Loved and Kept.
That means Jude is writing to Christians. Christians are called by God into his family, to a new life as a child of God, and Christians are loved by God the Father, and finally Christians are kept by Jesus.
Do you hear the close family language in that phrase? Called, loved, kept. In this we observe the active role that God takes in being in relationship with us.
I believe it best to understand God’s love as not forcing us against our will, whether before or after we choose to give our lives to him. He’s not that kind of God. Instead we need to see this phrase in connection with verse 21. We’re going to study that more fully next week, but I at least want to point it out. There Jude says, “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” which means that we have a responsibility too, we can and should live in such a way to keep ourselves in God’s love.
Back in verse 1, though, Jude wants to remind the people that they are beloved and surrounded in care. They are family. As we’ll see, once he gets around to telling them his main purpose for writing, he has a reason saying they are called, loved and kept. I’ll give you a hint: they may need to be brave in what he is asking them to do, but they need not worry because they are called, loved and kept by God.
So may that be an encouragement to you. While you have the responsibility to keep yourself in God’s love, you’re not wholly on your own. God is at work, too, calling, loving, keeping you.
But why would the Christians need to be brave? And what about impostors? Check back in to the next post, as Jude will begin to reveal the reason for his writing, and why it is so important that the Christians ground themselves in God’s work of calling, loving and keeping them.