The flight attendant giving emergency instructions must be one of the most ignored persons in human history. It’s not that people are necessarily uninterested; they’ve just heard it all before. I decided to listen last time, and it helped me understand something in the Bible.
The book of Jude, like flight attendants, is one of the most ignored books of the Bible. So short in length that it doesn’t even get multiple chapters, Jude’s letter is relegated to the very back of the Bible, right before Revelation. If you open your Bible and find Jude on your left and Revelation on your right, which one are you really going to read?
We would do well, however, to remember that God put the Bible together, and not a word of it is wasted. Jude provides an important reminder to God’s people: Even though they can rest securely and confidently in God’s love, knowing that they are called and kept for the day Jesus returns (v. 1), there’s very real danger all around.
In Jude, the danger comes in the form of false teachers who were probably fairly orthodox theologically. The problem with the false teachers in Jude is not their doctrine, but their lives. They deny Jesus by turning the grace of God into sensuality (v. 4). In other words, no matter what they were saying, their lifestyles proved that their only lord and master was their own ungodly passions (v. 18). The recipients of Jude’s letter (now, you and I) would do well to heed the warning.
One of the themes that comes up in Jude is the tension between resting in God’s promise to keep his children and contending to make sure we don’t fall away. To Jude, the assurance that God will keep his children (v. 1, 24) does not nullify the call to persevere (v. 20-21). Because of God’s grace, God’s true children will not fall away. However, God’s grace does not give us permission to neglect the means God has ordained to keep his children from falling away. Grace must never lead to passivity.
The persevering believer fighting for his or life to remain in God’s love, however, must not only worry about his or her self. We are also responsible for others in the body of Christ who may have been led astray by the false teachers. In v. 20-21, Jude calls followers of Christ to keep themselves in God’s love by building themselves up in the faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of Jesus.
Then, in v. 22-23, Jude reminds those same believers to show mercy to doubters and snatch them out of the fire. I believe the order of these instructions is important and intentional.
Let’s return to the flight attendant for a moment. I always get uneasy when the instruction is given that tells people to first put the oxygen mask on themselves before trying to assist children or anyone else with their masks. In my mind this instruction goes against the manner in which Jesus’ followers are supposed to live. Doesn’t Paul explicitly say that we are to follow Jesus’ example by counting others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:1-11)?
But why does the flight attendant give that instruction? That instruction is given because the flight attendant (and those who write the script) understands that in an emergency situation, you won’t be able to help anyone else breathe unless you yourself are breathing. Helping other people requires an appropriate amount of attention to yourself.
Spiritually, the same rule applies. Jude tells his recipients to first focus on keeping themselves in the love of God. Then, he tells them how to treat those who are struggling around them. You can’t help anyone else to follow Jesus unless you yourself are faithfully following Jesus.
Parents, do you want your kids to follow Jesus? Make sure you’re doing it first. Teachers, do you want your students to thrive spiritually? Make sure you’re spiritually thriving first. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, but that command is meaningless unless we love ourselves appropriately.