What character traits really annoy you? Does it bother you when certain people (maybe colleagues?) seem to be negative all the time, spending most conversations complaining about something or other? Are you really bothered by those who are arrogant, and seem to only be nice to others when there’s something to be gained?
I suspect that we can all relate to this situation. (If not, as the saying goes, we might be that person, so a little introspection is appropriate.) However, this is nothing new. Jude, the author of a short letter near the end of the Bible, talks about people with those attributes:
These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.
Jude 1:16 NLT
Before we get judgmental, let’s pause to pray for those people. If we have let our distaste for others grow into making them our enemies (or if they have chosen to make themselves our enemies), those of us who follow Jesus have an obligation to pray for them (see Luke 6:27-28). Not only can God work in the lives of those who we pray for – even those we don’t get along with – our hearts will sometimes soften, both when we remember how many of our sins have been forgiven, and when we call to mind how Jesus loved those who were His enemies.
However, if we’re honest, it can be tempting to fall into these various traps ourselves. We may get frustrated and want to grumble or complain. Our “wants” fight for our attention, and insist that we meet them (even if they aren’t good for us). We want a little credit for what we do, and maybe we compliment someone for the sake of getting something (even if it’s just another compliment) in return.
The good news is that Jude offers his readers a healthy alternative.
But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
Jude 1:20-23 NLT
This passage is full of instructions on how we should treat others. The first part is proactive: working together with other people (and with God) to preserve the integrity of the faith and the body of Christ.
The second part is responsive: our reaction to people who are struggling with their faith should not be condemnation, but mercy and action. To be clear, I don’t believe that the people we are to help in the latter verses above are the same as those described in verse 16. Instead, my understanding of this book is that the first group (in verse 16) reflects false teachers, and those who are slipping in their faith (in verses 22-23) are those under the influence of false teaching. (I encourage you to read the entire letter of Jude. At just 25 verses, it’s a great message packaged into just a few minutes’ worth of reading.)
None of these instructions are necessarily about seeking our own benefits (although when the family of believers practices these things, we are encouraged and strengthened). When we encounter these “loudmouths”, we are not called to destroy them as people. Instead, we are called to fight against their heresies and misdirection, both by helping the body of Christ (where we are placed) to remain faithful to the truth, and reaching out to others to rescue them from falling into the trap of evil’s lies.
So, if you read the introduction to this article and were hoping that we’d find a way to get rid of annoying people, or to get back at them for the grief that we endure around them, I’m afraid that you may be disappointed. However, we can at least make sure that we aren’t causing the same problems for others, and keep praying that the people who bug us will read – and follow – this message from Jude, too.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.