Crash-Course In Jude: Pre-Reqs for Paul, Part Four

The final general epistle is the shortest section of scripture we’ll look at in this blog series. Jude only wrote one letter that we have in our Bibles, and it’s just 25 verses long. That will leave us with enough space in this post for a wrap-up looking at common themes in all the letters that we’ve been studying over the past month.

Before we dive into Jude, here are links to the posts on James’s, Peter’s, and John’s letters. As I mentioned in those posts, there’s evidence that when the books of the New Testament were first put together the order had these letters between Acts and Romans (click here to learn more). This meant that if you read straight-through the New Testament, you’d read the general epistles before getting to Paul’s letters. The general epistles give us a foundation for understanding the connections between Jesus’s teachings, the Old Testament, and our lives as New Covenant believers, all of which is essential for properly interpreting Paul’s more complicated teachings. We can think of the general epistles as a kind of pre-requisite course for understanding Paul.

The identity of Jude is as debated as that of James (see that first post for more detail), and people went back-and-forth for centuries on whether or not to include his letter in canon. Now, though, it is “generally received over the whole Christian world” (Clarke’s Commentary). This letter’s theme is similar to 2 Peter and, as we’ll see later in this post, it also connects to themes that all the general epistles share. Taken as a whole, the general epistles by all four writers connect the New Testament back to the Old Testament, warn about dangers from outside persecutions and from evil men working within the churches, offer hope and encouragement, and tell their readers to do good and keep the commandments of God.

Warnings and Punishments

Jude addresses his letter “to those who are called, wrapped in the love of God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1, all scriptures from NET). Like most other general epistle writers, he has a broad audience that includes all Christian believers. He said he’d planned to write “about our common salvation,” but even though that topic is exciting he felt compelled to write about something else. He wrote “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (1:3). The NET footnote on this verse says, “The verb ἐπαγωνίζομαι (epagōnizomai) is an intensive form of ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnizomai). As such, the notion of struggling, fighting, contending, etc. is heightened.” When Jude talks about us contending for our faith, he means we need to fight and struggle for it with focus and determination.

In this letter, Jude focuses his warnings and encouragement to fight on a specific problem: “ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into a license for evil and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (1:4). He further describes them as people who “as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones” (1:8). They are murderous, blasphemous, rebellious, spiritually dead, double-minded, unstable, and a danger to everyone they encounter (1:10-13). They’re
“grumblers and fault-finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain” (1:16). Jude elaborates on the dangers these people pose and the evil they’re practicing throughout most of this letter. By the end, there’s no danger that we could see those who try to undermine the church as anything other than a serious threat.

These warnings about those who’ve “secretly slipped in” to the churches are placed alongside reminders from Jude that people who do such wicked things won’t get away with them. He bids his readers remember “that Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” and references a couple other Old Testament examples as well (1:5-7). This verse is one of several in the New Testament that explicitly identifies Jesus as the member of the God family who worked directly with Israel. With this short phrase, Jude reminds us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and that He still values justice and judgement as well as mercy (Jude 1:14-15).

How Ought We Behave

Jude doesn’t just focus on scathing indictments of those seeking to undermine the church while pretending to be faithful believers. He also warns us about how to recognize those people and gives us guidelines for how we ought to respond. As part of this, he references a scene that we don’t get anywhere else in the Bible.

Jude tells his readers, “But even when Michael the archangel was arguing with the devil and debating with him concerning Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a slanderous judgment, but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!'” (1:9). This story serves two roles in Jude’s epistle. First, it shows that those who dare slander spiritual beings, even the wicked ones, have no idea what they’re messing with. Even angels don’t go up against the devil directly; they call on the Lord to rebuke him. Secondly, the story gives us hints for how we ought to respond when faced with wickedness. We, too, can call on the Lord to handle the matter of wicked beings, be they human or otherwise. That’s the safest and wisest thing to do. This is a good illustration to keep in mind when reading things Paul would later elaborate on, including the fact that we’re involved in spiritual warfare and that vengeance belongs to God, not us (Rom. 12:17-20; 2 Cor. 10:1-6; Eph. 6:10-20).

Finally, Jude ends his epistle with encouraging remarks. He’s confident that those he’s writing to are not part of the problem he’s describing. Rather, they’re part of the solution as they continue to build up their faith, pray in the Spirit, stay in God’s love, and practice mercy.

But you, dear friends—recall the predictions foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. For they said to you, “At the end of time there will come scoffers, propelled by their own ungodly desires.” These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit. But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, maintain yourselves in the love of God, while anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life. And have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh.

Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.

Jude 1:17-25, NET

Common Themes in the General Epistles

As mentioned in the introduction, the general epistles all connect the Old and New Testaments, warn about dangers coming from inside and sometimes outside the church, offer hope and encouragement, and remind us to do good and keep the commandments of God. I won’t spend too much time on these shared points, but I want to make a few comments and share scriptures that show this overlap.

OT Connections

All the writers of the general epistles were very familiar with the writings we now call the Old Testament, and frequently reference the law and the prophets. Their insistence that Jesus did not do away with these writings and that we do well to read them today are a great foundation for understanding how Paul talks about the law operating on a spiritual level for New Covenant believers.

James 2:8-13; 4:11-12

1 Peter 1:10-12; 2:4-10

2 Peter 3:1-2

1 John 2:3-3:11

Jude 1:5; 14-16

Warnings

These four writers do not shy away from the fact that those who follow Jesus Christ will face opposition and trials. Most of them also talk about the possibility that theses trails will come from other people who are (ostensibly, at least) part of the church fellowship. These are warnings to help ensure that we don’t get caught off-guard by threats to our faith or discouraged when trials come.

James 1:2-4

1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:19-25; 3:14-18

2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:3-7

1 John 2:18-19, 22-26; 4:1-3

2 John 1:7-11

Jude 1:3-4, 6-19

Hope

It would be terribly depressing if all the general epistles focused on warnings and trials without offering hope and encouragement. All four of these writers encourage their readers to be ready, to hope in God, and to keep living faithfully. They also speak about the help God offers us, the certainty that He hears our prayers, and the wonderful future He has prepared for us. We are precious to God and He’s fully invested in us.

James 1:17-18; 5:7-11

1 Peter 1:3-5, 18-21; 2:4-10; 5:5-13

2 Peter 2:4-11; 3:8-10

1 John 2:12-14; 2:28-3:3; 5:4-5, 14-17

Jude 1:20-21, 24-25

Do Well

Finally, all four writers of the general epistles tell us that there’s something we’re expected to do. We need to love God and keep His commandments. That’s what shows our faith is real rather than just a surface-level thing that we talk about without actually practicing.

James 1:22-25; 2:8-26; 5:17

1 Peter 1:13-17; 1:22-2:3; 4:2-6

2 Peter 1:2-11; 3:14-18

1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10, 18-24

2 John 1:5-6

Jude 1:20-22

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Crash-Course In John: Pre-Reqs for Paul, Part Three

For the last two weeks, we’ve been studying the general epistles. Here are links to the posts on James’s and Peter’s letters. As I mentioned in those posts, there’s evidence that when the books of the New Testament were first put together the order had James, Peter, John, and Jude’s letters between Acts and Romans (click here to learn more). This meant that if you read straight-through the New Testament, you’d read the general (also called “catholic”) epistles before getting to Paul’s letters. That reading order makes sense, since the letters that James, Peter, John, and Jude write are phrased in simpler language than Paul’s writings. The general epistles also give us a foundation for understanding the connections between Jesus’s teachings, the Old Testament, and our lives as New Covenant believers. You can think of the general epistles as a kind of pre-requisite course to help us with understanding Paul’s writings, similar to how you’d need to take intro to composition courses before specializing in teaching writing.

In today’s post, we’re going to focus on John’s three epistles. The first of these epistles begins without addressing a specific group, though from the context of the letter it’s clear he’s speaking to Christians–those who whom the gospel was preached and who chose to believe it. James’s letter addressed those of Israelite descent who believed in Jesus, Peter’s letters addressed Jewish and Gentile believers, and now John’s letter is written to everyone. The purpose he gives for writing this letter is “so that our joy may be complete” (or “your joy” depending on the Greek manuscript you use) (1 John 1:4, all quotes from NET).The mention of joy comes at the beginning of all three of his letters, and frames the encouraging and weighty subjects he’ll be covering.

Walk in the Light

The strongest theme throughout John’s three epistles is love. Here is where we learn “God is love,” and are reminded over and over that because God loves us we must love one another. Though John brings up other topics as well, he ties them all back to this core message. God is love, and because we’ve received God’s love we are duty-bound to respond to God and to other people in certain ways.

We’ll return to love before the end of this post, but that word actually doesn’t show up in John’s first letter until the second chapter. Originally, of course, there wouldn’t have been chapters dividing up the text of this letter, but that fact does make me curious about what things John felt it was important to talk about before diving into the main theme of his letter.

Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10, NET

This recap of the gospel is what John starts his letter with. “God is light” is something that he wants to establish for his readers before sharing that “God is love.” If he just started off with “God is love,” then perhaps his readers might make the mistake that so many modern people have of assuming that because God is love, His love doesn’t come with any expectations placed on us. We who’ve received God’s love and who’ve been cleansed from our sins by Jesus’s sacrifice must walk in the light as well as live in God’s love. In short, we must “walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6).

John’s instruction to walk in God’s light is not a new commandment (1 John 2:7). It echoes all the commands from the Old Testament that could be summed-up as “love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13:9-10; James 2:8). On the other hand, John also describes this as “a new commandment” because the darkness of old has now passed away and we have a far clearer picture of the true light shining through Jesus Christ (1 John 2:8). As Jesus said, he came to fill the “law and the prophets” to their fullest extent. Doing that magnifies what obedience looks like now as we follow the spirit of God’s commands. With that background, John moves into talking about love.

The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. …

The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

1 John 2:4-5, 9-10, NET
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Be Warry of Dangers

John’s not writing about the contrast between people who are in God’s love and light and the people who are living a lie in order to scare us. Indeed, he has some very reassuring things to say to his readers (1 John 2:12-14). He’s writing to them, and to us, because we’ve been forgiven, we know God, and we are already overcoming the evil one. But John also knows that Christians face many challenges, and it’s easy to slip away if we don’t have reminders for how to follow God. So he writes to us about the wonderful life that God offers. He reminds us of all the wonderful things that await us as people who God calls His very own children. He also talks about the fact that if we have that hope inside us, we will work to purify ourselves just as God is pure (1 John 3:1-3). Alongside all this talk of love and light, John highlights the need to keep God’s commandments and stay faithful to Him in spite of the dangers we face.

Over and over again in these letters and in the gospel he wrote, John links love with commandment keeping. Alongside that, John highlights the importance of living according to the truth. This idea goes along with walking in the light, keeping God’s commandments, and practicing righteousness. In both of his two shorter letters, John says that he rejoices to learn that his children (apparently referring to those he taught this faith to) are living in the truth (2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:4). Living and walking in the truth ought to be our intention as well, but there are many things that try to work against that goal.

Many dangers face God’s people, and a lot of them are spiritual. One example that John talks about is people who are “antichrist.” Though there is a figure known as “the antichrist” coming in the end times, Johan says we’re currently in “the last hour” and that “many antichrists” have already appeared. These are often people who were once part of the Christian body, but have now left and who deny both the Father and the Son (1 John 2:18-19, 22-26). Much like Peter did in his second epistle, John warns that the most dangerous antichrists are those who are working from inside the church to subvert people into denying the Father and/or the Son. For that reason, we need to “test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-6; see also 2 John 1:7-11).

Even though John is very reassuring to his readers and continually reminds them of things like “we have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13), he also does not soften the strength of his warnings. In the second letter, he even says, “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:7-8). John wants us to take these warnings seriously and let them inspire us to remain in holiness. Whether or not we choose light, love, and commandment keeping is a choice that has eternal consequences.

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Love Always

It’s in the context of all these reminders, reassurances, and warnings that John highlights the vital importance of love. In these three letters, “love” is translated from agape or its root word agapao. This is a selfless, benevolent love that always seeks the good of the one who is loved. Agape is often described as “godly love,” although other words, like philos are also used of God’s love in the New Testament. As we read through John’s letters, we’re warned not to “love the world or the things in the world,” but rather to focus our love on God as we practice the things which are in accordance with His will (1 John 2:15-17).

John tells us, “Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God” (1 John 3:10). From that, we can infer that practicing righteousness involves loving our brethren. Indeed, John goes on to say, “We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians” (1 John 3:14). It’s worthwhile at this point to go and read all of chapters 3 and 4 because that section of the letter goes into so much depth on this particular topic. Because of God’s love for us–which results in us being redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice and being called the Father’s children–“we also ought to love one another “(1 John 4:11). If we don’t genuinely love each other, we can’t even say that we love God. Unless our love includes other believers, we have no concept of what God’s love truly means. And our love must also include keeping God’s commandments (2 John 1:5-6).

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As John wraps up his letter, he looks back on everything discussed so far and says this:

We know that everyone fathered by God does not sin, but God protects the one he has fathered, and the evil one cannot touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This one is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:18-21, NET

I find John’s writings some of the most poetic and inspiring of the New Testament. His emphasis on God’s light and love is beautiful, and I love the way he talks about God welcoming us into His light and His family. In a compassionate, empathetic way, John also writes about the need for Christians to live and walk in a certain way. We’re not to be fearful, worried that God will cut us off and cast us away if we slip-up, but we must at the same time commit to practicing righteousness instead of sin. God has given us everything we need for salvation. He loves us and He wants us as part of His family. We just need to be on guard to make sure we don’t let those good things slip away from us through neglect or rejection. We know the truth of what’s going on in this world and behind the scenes, including that the world lies under the power of the evil one. With that in mind, we can be vigilant in order to guard against putting any idols before God or falling prey to the influences of those who are antichrist.

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What’s The Church Supposed To Do?

If you ask the church that I’ve spent most of my life in what their mission is they have a ready answer: preaching the gospel and preparing a people. I can’t speak for your churches, but I imagine many (perhaps even most) of them would also point to some version of what we call The Great Commission as their mission statement.

Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20, WEB)

Is this a commission? yes, it’s “an instruction, command, or duty given to … group of people.” Is it great? since it came from Jesus and involves a responsibility given His disciples, yes. But is it really meant as the defining mission statement for the entire church from Jesus’ resurrection to His return? I’m not so sure.

What's The Church Supposed To Do? Looking At Scriptural Mission Statements For People Following Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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A Sobering Warning

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the group He spent the most time criticizing and correcting. They professed to follow God’s highest standards but were in reality hypocrites. They did righteous looking things just to get attention (Matt. 23:5). They went to great lengths to convert people only to pervert their faith (Matt. 23:15). They placed too high an emphasis on money received as tithes and offerings (Matt. 23:16-19). They neglected the “weighty matters” of God’s law and instead followed their own traditions. They even turned the temple itself into a marketplace where they exploited people coming to worship God (John 2:14-16).

The scary thing is, these people honestly thought they were the most righteous God-followers out there. That serves as a warning today that church leaders and organizations have to be very careful where they place their focus. And so do we as individual members of Christ’s body.

A Greater “Commission”

We certainly shouldn’t ignore Christ’s instruction to go, disciple, baptize, and teach. But we need to make sure we’re thinking of that command from Matthew 28 in its proper context. Because there are two other commissions that Jesus plainly told us are His greatest commands. Read more

Are We Living A Performance Or Living For God?

I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.

In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.

Are We Living A Performance Or Living For God? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Righteous Play-Acting

Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.

Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting. Read more

Commandments of Men

When we start talking about the relationship between God’s law and New Testament Christians, everyone wants to jump right into Paul’s writings. It’s easy to pluck verses from his epistles out of context and use them to argue the law has been abolished and you don’t have to keep the commandments. But is that really the best explanation for passages like Romans 7 and Colossians 2 in light of the rest of the Bible?

I’ve written quite a bit about Romans but never Colossians, even though some commenters have asked. But a short time ago I was re-reading Paul’s letter to Colossae and felt a nudge in my spirit, “study this,” as I read 2:8:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)

This verse provides context for what’s to follow. Paul’s going to be talking about the difference between following traditions invented by men and following Christ. He’s not just talking about whether or not the Old Testament law matters since Jesus came in the flesh. There’s another factor in play.click to read article, "Commandments of Men" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Jesus’ Take On God’s Law

Before going any farther in Paul’s writings, let’s look at what Jesus says. During His ministry, Jesus and His disciples were accused of things like Sabbath breaking, defiling Himself with sinners’ company, and unclean hygienic practices. We know that Jesus lived a sinless life and never broke His Father’s commands. But He did reject the additions humans made. Read more

Are You Who You Say You Are?

If we say we’re followers of Jesus Christ, there are certain things we should, nay, we must do. As we talked about last week, there are observable markers of being someone who follows God — things we should be able to notice when we examine ourselves. Those things are inseparably connected with Christ’s presence in us.

There is plenty of freedom within the perfect law of liberty, but there are absolutes as well. God is highly personal and He’ll work with you on a personal level. That does not, however, mean He has different requirements for how different people follow and worship Him. He’s also a just God who is not inconsistent in His commandments, laws, and expectations. We might have different understandings of what God expects, but as we grow toward God we should also be growing in unity as we understand His mind more fully. There isn’t one law for you and one law for me. There’s just God telling us all to walk in His ways.click to read article, "Are You Who You Say You Are?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Love + Obedience + Indwelling

John begins both his gospel and his first epistle with a focus on Jesus Christ’s role as the Word of life. Then, in the epistle, he focuses on how we can have fellowship with this great Being and His Father. We must “walk in the light as He is in the light,” “confess our sins” so He’ll forgive us, and then keep His commandments (1 John 1:5-2:3). We cannot claim to know God unless we’ve keeping His word and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:4-6). God wants us to be part of His family and that means becoming like Him (1 John 3:1-2). Read more