What is the meaning of “keep yourselves in the love of God”? (Jude 21)
When walking down the street on a winter day, there is usually a shady side and a sunny side. One usually prefers to walk on the side where the rays of the sun’s warmth and brightness can envelope him, chasing away the cold damp winds of the winter. So the love of God, with all its blessings and promises, is available to comfort and encourage us if we keep our minds and hearts focused on it while traveling heavenward. Without doubt, precious sentiments are expressed in such illustrations, but there is a primary meaning in this verse which we can learn from the text, context, and content of the epistle.
First, we note the reason for writing, Jude says, is to encourage the saints to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto them. This word “faith” refers to the whole body of truth contained in the apostolic preaching and teaching. It is elsewhere referred to as “the apostles’ doctrine,” “the truth,” “sound doctrine,” etc. It includes all that is revealed in Christ, and the appropriate Christian conduct and practice in keeping with this. It is under assault by evil men, who can be termed “apostates.” They have acted covertly (crept v1, hidden v12) and overtly (revile vv8, 10). He particularly notes their godless behavior.
In Jude’s letter, the readers are exhorted to stand against this, or, to “contend,” a very strong word indicating continuous, costly, and agonizing combat. Verse 20 shows the means to do this.
In verse 21, the verb “keep” (tereo) is the idea of watching over, guarding, or preserving something where there is the possibility of losing it, or it being taken away. And, “yourselves” indicates this is the believer’s personal responsibility. The verb tense is an urgent imperative, like an order implying an obligation. The possibility of Jude’s readers being caught up in this evil onslaught was very real; this was a clear directive to exercise themselves to prevent being overtaken.
The next words, “in the love of God,” should be noted carefully. Surely, the love of God is so vast, so mighty, and embracive, that no believer could take himself out of its realm. Even if we wander, God’s love still enfolds us; we have no need to keep ourselves in love like His. But here, the preposition, the case of the noun, and absence of the article in reference to God’s love suggest not the specific, but what is characteristic, what is the sphere, what is the manner and attitude in which “keeping yourselves” is to be exercised. It would be easy to develop a contentious and bitter spirit while living in the context of false teaching and evil living, as happens when people hold the truth of God in a hard and antagonistic way, thus losing respect for it and them. It is essential to do the right thing in the right manner. Cultivating a love relationship with God is not the issue in this verse; demonstrating that love by my demeanor is. It seems that the attitude to be taken toward the three classes of believers taken in by the imposters represents acting in the sphere of God’s love, just as “keeping yourselves” is.