Do you remember being ten and having to write letters to relatives in other states (because your mom made you do it)? After you wrote “Dear Aunt Ruth,” what were you supposed to say? Usually, to buy time until your creative juices started flowing, you’d awkwardly write, “How are you? I am fine.”
When you grew up, you developed a bit more skill at letter writing, but that opening sentence still demanded that you adhere to certain conventions of etiquette. Now you wrote, “Dear Aunt Ruth, I hope this letter finds you well.” Neither you nor Aunt Ruth had any illusions about your originality, but both of you understood that you’d used a standard approach to beginning a letter.
Letter writers in the First Century also had fairly standard ways of beginning their letters, as we easily see by reading the New Testament epistles. In studying the short book of Jude, let’s keep in mind that he’s writing a letter that almost requires him to use a certain protocol before launching int his subject matter. After identifying his audience, therefore, Jude writes this brief greeting:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.~~Jude 2 (ESV)
In some respects, I feel hesitant to devote an entire blog post to this tiny verse. My caution comes, for the most part, from having seen so many Bible Study teachers (particularly in women’s Bible Studies and retreats) read way more into a verse than the author intended. And perhaps, as part of today’s Bible Study on Jude 2, it wouldn’t harm us to recognize that, to some extent, Jude’s greeting represents little more than our polite hope that our letter finds Aunt Ruth in good health.
Over scrutinizing a Scripture verse, especially by isolating it from its context, can lead us to develop spurious teachings. We generally mean well, and I do understand that point. Every false teacher I’ve named in my blog posts pretty much means well (at least from their perspective), but Satan tempts them into thinking that they’ve gained special insight int that verse. Before long, they create an elaborate doctrine around the verse, making it say more (and probably something other) than the Holy Spirit intends it to say.
So I don’t want to make more of Jude 2 than I should. Furthermore, I want to warn you against making more of isolated verses than you should. 2 Timothy 2:15, though written primarily to instruct pastors, makes it clear that God’s Word requires proper handling. Let’s respect the Word of God enough to handle it reverently.
Am I saying, then, that Jude 2 doesn’t really mean anything? Can we skip over it? Not necessarily. Although it is, for the most part, a convention in First Century letter writing, I believe it serves a particularly important purpose in Jude’s epistle.
Jude is getting ready to write an extremely brutal condemnation of false teachers who have infiltrated the church (Jude 4-16). As anybody who dares to confront false teachers will tell you, even Christians are quick to label such confrontation as unloving.
So several New Testament commentaries I read made a point of comparing Jude’s greeting to those of Paul and Peter. Interestingly, whereas Paul and Peter generally wish mercy and peace to their readers, Jude uniquely adds love. The Believers Bible Commentary puts it this way:
Jude wishes for his readers mercy, peace, and love. The greeting is peculiarly suited to those who were facing the onslaught of those whose aim was to subvert the faith. Mercy means God’s compassionate comfort and care for His beleaguered saints in times of conflict and stress. Peace is the serenity and confidence that come from reliance on God’s word and from looking above circumstances to the One who overrules all circumstances for the accomplishment of His own purposes. Love is the undeserved embrace of God for His dear people—a super-affection that should then be shared with others.
He wishes that these three blessings be multiplied. Not measured out by mere addition, but by multiplication!
By the time Jude puts quill to parchment, he’s already realized that God wants him to urge his readers to contend for the faith (Jude 3). Consequently, he understands that if his readers follow through on standing for sound doctrine, they’ll definitely need assurance of God’s mercy, peace and love. I can tell you from personal experience that taking a stand against aberrations from Scripture often results in intense pain as people malign your character. God’s mercy, peace and love become cherished treasures amid the hostile words and actions of false teachers and their followers.
So, while Jude’s greeting holds to typical letter writing practice in the First Century, it also offers assurance to all who follow his counsel to withstand those who distort God’s Word. Just as my Aunt Ruth knew that my hopes for her well-being went beyond a mere letter writing courtesy, Jude’s readers can trust his prayer that the Lord will multiply mercy peace and love.