Dear friends, although I was making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I considered it a necessity to write to you to encourage you to contend for the faith delivered once and for all to the saints. (Jude 1:3, LEB)
Way back in the first century, Jude had planned to write fellow believers concerning their common salvation. However, he had to change the topic because “certain men have slipped in stealthily” (v. 4) to spread destructive heresies.
When we read an instruction to “contend for the faith,” we typically think of preaching to the world and fighting for God’s truth in an ungodly society. But Jude is talking about the need to do this inside the church. And if they were dealing with problems like this back in the first century, you can be sure we’ll be facing them today as well.
A List of Wickedness
Jude said that we need to fight for the faith even inside the church because of ungodly people who sneaked in. As the letter unfolds, he explains in detail what sort of things these people were doing. It’s a long list, but I think it’s an important one to look at in detail.
- “Change the grace of our God into liscentiousness” (v. 4, LEB). They each used God’s grace as license to become “one who acknowledges no restraints, who does whatever his caprice and unmanageable frowardness dictates” (G766, Zodhiates).
- “Denying the only Master God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 4, my translation).
- “Defile the flesh” (v. 8, WEB). This means to stain, dye, or pollute the fleshly body.
- “Despise authority” (v. 8, WEB). The Greek means to do way with, disregard, reject, refuse, or slight those who posses power (human or divine).
- “Blaspheme majestic beings” (v. 8, LEB). Literally to blasphemeo (G987, speak reproachfully of and revile) doxa (G1391, glory, including anything connected with the glory of God).
- “Speak evil of whatever things they don’t know” (v. 10, WEB).
- “All that they understand by instinct like the irrational animals, by these things they are being destroyed” (v. 10, LEB)
- “Went in the way of Cain” (v. 11, WEB). Cain offered an unacceptable sacrifice, murdered his brother, gave in to the allure of sin, and refused to accept responsibility (Gen. 4:1-16).
- “Ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire” (v. 11, WEB). Balaam “loved the wages of wrong doing” and tried to find ways around God’s commands (2 Pet. 2:15; Num. 22-24).
- “Perished in Korah’s rebellion” (v. 11, WEB). The people involved in this rebellion disrespected authority, sought power that wasn’t theirs, exalted themselves, and complained against God (Num. 16).
- “These are hidden rocky reefs in your love” (v. 12, WEB). They are what other believers shipwreck against.
- “Shepherds who without fear feed themselves” (v. 12,WEB). This phrase connects to Ezekiel 34’s warnings to shepherds who feed themselves instead of God’s flock.
- “Clouds without water carried along by winds” (v. 12, WEB). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains this as people who promise good things but are really empty and easily driven this way and that.
- “Autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots” (v. 12, WEB). A scary picture when those who follow God are supposed to bear much fruit (John 15:5, 8).
- “Wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame” (v. 13, WEB). They’re noisy, but make little sense and earn shameful reproaches.
- “Wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever” (v. 13, WEB). Several dictionaries and commentaries suggest “wandering star” is used figuratively for erratic, false teachers.
- “These are murmurers and complainers” (v. 16, WEB).
- “walking after their lusts” (v. 16, WEB).
- “Their mouth speaks proud things” (v. 16, WEB). Pride, as well as several other items on this list from Jude, are things the Lord hates (Prov. 6:16-19).
- “Those who cause divisions” (v. 19, WEB) or “who separate themselves” (KJV).
- “Sensual, not having the Spirit” (v. 19, WEB).
Wow. That’s quite a list. And this was all happening in the church while there were still people alive who’d been taught directly by God in the flesh, Jesus Christ Himself. I suppose with that in mind, it shouldn’t be much surprise that they’re still a problem in the church today.
Correcting Self and Others
As we look at this list, it’s tempting to start pointing fingers at other people in the faith who we’ve seen do these things. But before we “contend for the faith” to other people, we need to make sure we’re not on this list ourselves. You cannot remove the speck from your brother’s eye until after you’ve removed the beam in your own eye (Matt. 7:1-5).
But you, beloved, keep building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. (Jude 1:20-21, WEB)
As Jude starts to wrap-up his letter, he shifts the focus to how we can avoid being drawn off and shipwrecked by/with these people. We stay close to God. We keep building up good things, stay faithful, continue praying in the spirit, keep ourselves in God’s love, and look for His mercy.
While we do this, we’re also to “contend for the faith” within the church. Jude says, “On some have compassion, making a distinction” (v. 22, WEB). We should, as God does, always be looking to extend compassion and mercy. Another translation renders v. 22 as “have mercy on those who doubt” (LEB). We must not be like Cain, who denied the responsibility of being “my brother’s keeper.” Christianity is not an individualistic religion, but a collective one. If part of the body is suffering or doing wickedly, the whole body is going to feel it.
We also need to “distinguish between the weak and the wilful” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary). Some go astray because they’re deceived or don’t know any better. But not everyone in the church is going to respond well to truth, and some actually fight it. Jude continues, “and some save, snatching them out of the fire with fear, hating even the clothing stained by the flesh” (v. 23, WEB). Sometimes, you need a more forceful approach when contending for the faith as you try to snatch people back from the edge of destruction. Even so, this should always be done in meekness and with the goal of them recovering from the devil’s snare (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Finally, we have to remember we cannot change people’s hearts. No matter how truthful or eloquent or Spirit-filled you are, there are people who will not listen and will not change. Because of that, there are also times when you need to stop engaging with contentious people and withdraw from them (1 Tim. 6:3-5). In the words of Matthew Henry, you should be “keeping yourself the utmost distance from what appears evil, and designing and endeavoring that others may do so too.” We need to be careful not to get so caught-up in trying to understand the other person’s point of view that we fall into the same trap they have.
Carrying the Lord’s Name
The third commandment reads, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7, KJV). We usually say this means not to use God’s name flippantly, disrespectfully, or as a curse word. And the command certainly includes that. But it goes a lot deeper as well.
The Hebrew word for “take” is nasah (H5375), and the primary meaning is to lift up, bear, or carry. This means the third commandment has to do with how we carry God’s name as we take it with us through life. And because “name” in Hebrew — shem (H8034) — is connected to one’s reputation, the commandment reminds us that how we act while carrying God’s name affects His reputation. For example, David was told that his sin gave “great occasion to Yahweh’s enemies to blaspheme” (2 Sam. 12:14, WEB).
We cannot effectively carry God’s name to those outside the faith if we are slandering His reputation by our actions within His house. People are supposed to look at the church and see Christ because we are His body. What does it teach them about Jesus if they look at us and see the wicked things on Jude’s list?
Contending earnestly for the faith starts by standing up for truth within the body of believers. We practice speaking the truth in love among each other while holding fast “to him who is able to keep them from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory in great joy” (Jude 1:24, WEB). That’s the starting point needed for us to shine as lights in the world.
Featured image credit: Claudine Chaussé via Lightstock