How does a pastor confront growing sin in his church? How does he arrest the sin’s spread and kill the virus? Jude presents a case study of one pastor’s effort. He has revealed the sin – perverting grace into sensuality and denying Christ’s lordship. He has warned of judgment that such sinners will receive. We will see now how he enables his flock to withstand sin. He will do it through doctrine – reminding them who they are and who God is; and he will do it through exhortation and counsel – instructing them what to do. Be thinking, as we study Jude’s letter, about your own struggles with sin and how his words to believers 2,000 years ago can apply to you today.
1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Note how the believers are addressed. First, they are “beloved in God the Father.” (In the Greek text, “called” comes last.) They are in the Father’s love. Think of Jesus’ image in John 10:29 of us being in the hand of his Father. He has us in his grasp – in his loving grasp, which leads to the second reality to understand about themselves: they are “kept for Jesus Christ.”
Jude could mean they are kept to belong to Jesus or kept until the return of Jesus when he comes in judgment. He could mean they are kept by Jesus. Whatever the case, the point is that they are kept, preserved, watched over. In verse 6, keeping their watch is what the angels failed to do; also in verse 6, keeping in chains is what God is doing to those same angels. So also in verse 13, what is translated as “reserved” forever is the same Greek term. God is keeping the reservations made for sinners. The only difference between the keeping of the saints and of the sinners is that the saints are kept in the love of God, while the sinners are kept in his just wrath.
Finally, they are “called.” They are in Christ, they are believers/saints because God called them, as Peter says “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Now note the common element of these three adjectives of Jude’s readers. He addresses them not as people who have done something for God, but who have had something done to them by God the Father and Jesus Christ. God has placed them in his love; God and Christ keep them; God and Christ have called them.
Do you see what Jude is doing for his flock? Before he alerts them to danger – sin and judgment – he ministers to them, reminding them of their security and responsibility. Because their coming to God is the result of his calling; because their remaining faithful rests on his keeping; because God loves them and does not merely tolerate them – their eternal status is safe. Furthermore, because God first loved them, because he remains faithful to them; because he has called them out of their miserable estate into his kingdom, they have responsibility to keep the faith and glorify him. Because their salvation is not of their doing nor initiated from their will, they do not have to fret over God bringing his work to completion in them; however, for the same reasons they do not have the liberty to go their own way. God has a claim on them.
I don’t know if Jude intended for his following greeting to correspond with the address, but we can see the correlation: Out of mercy God called them; his keeping them is the peace they experience; and, of course the love is the love they have in him. Jude wants this mercy, peace, and love to take hold of them.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Consider what Jude is exhorting his hearers to do – they are to contend for the faith. This exhortation is the purpose of the letter and everything else is written to help the hearers carry it out. He is not calling on them to struggle with their faith but to struggle against others on its behalf. He is not exhorting them to hold on to their faith but to protect the faith, i.e. the Gospel, “that was once for all delivered to the saints,” the unchanging Good News. They are to protect the faith, not from unbelievers outside the church, but from apostates and perverters of God’s grace who are inside the church. Whatever hazards there may be outside, the danger which can really undermine the Gospel is inside through those who affiliate themselves with the church. Against these persons, they are to contend for the faith.
How then are they to contend? First of all, have a right understanding of the issue. Thus, Jude discusses the sin and the judgment under which that sin and the sinners lie. They have to know whom and what they are contending against. They need to know the stakes – everlasting judgment.
They also need to be assured that God is in control. Therefore, know that these ungodly men are not true saints who slipped out of God’s loving grasp. They “long ago were designated for this condemnation” (4). The apostles predicted that, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (17-18). Jude may be alarmed by the situation, but he is not taken aback by it. He is not worried that God has lost control and that the Gospel will be lost. All the more, then, he urges his people to contend for the faith. They are to act in the name of Christ, under his banner, knowing that the victory belongs to him. They are not defenseless.
Now that he has conveyed understanding of who God and who they are in him through Christ, he exhorts them, whom he loves, to act.
20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
Though there are four actions they are told to do, three of those actions support one, which is “to keep.” This is the fifth and last time the Greek term for keep is used. What are they to keep themselves in? The love of God. What was the very first adjective Jude used to describe them in verse 1? Beloved in God. This is their identity; being in the love of God is what defines them.
How do they keep in that love? He tells them, “build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” They are to build themselves up – make themselves stronger – in the Gospel that is holy. What were they exhorted to do in verse 3? Contend for the faith. To contend for the faith, they must become strong in it. The Gospel must do its work of building them up.
They are to “pray in the Holy Spirit.” They are to acknowledge, as Paul reminded the Ephesians, that their battle is not with flesh and blood but is a spiritual battle. They may contend for the faith with argument, but only the Spirit can actually cause someone to hear and repent. They may build themselves up through teaching and studying God’s Word, but only the Spirit can give them spiritual discernment to profit. Prayer, more than any other activity, is acknowledging that God is indeed sovereign and that we are indeed powerless without him.
And then they are to wait, i.e., they are to wait in hope “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” How different is their wait than those of the angels in chains who wait for the “judgment of the great day” (6); how different from the wait of the ungodly for whom is reserved “the gloom of utter darkness” (13), the execution of judgment (15). When the Day of Judgment comes and all who have ever lived are resurrected – both the good and the bad; when the day comes in which all our deeds, words, and thoughts – both good and bad – are revealed; when that day comes, the last great display of mercy will take place when those who in Christ hear him say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
What then are they to do in regard to others? 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
They are to show mercy, of course. What else can recipients of God’s mercy do? They are to “have mercy on those who doubt.” Some are listening and watching these ungodly church intruders, and they are beginning to doubt the Gospel. All the more, those who have remained strong are to love them, patiently helping them to work through their doubts.
There are others who are near falling away. All the more the strong of faith are to go after them, “snatching them out of the fire.” The strong of faith are not to wait for the falling to come to them; they are not to wait for the “right moment.” They are to pray fervently for the falling; they are to seek them out, seek to waken them to their danger and take hold of them.
And then there are the fallen, to whom also they are to show mercy, but “with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” The strong of faith are still to love, still to pray for the fallen’s souls, still to confront them with the gospel; but now they must be careful lest they themselves fall. Many a Christian have fallen reaching out to the fallen, because they overestimated their own strength of faith. They fell by not keeping themselves built up in their holy faith, by not committing themselves to prayer, by letting the pleasures of the world veil their eyes from the mercy of Christ to come.
Is not the keeping of ourselves and others hard work? There are many pitfalls, and we ourselves are weak before temptations. How can we ever hope that we will have remained faithful to receive that final act of mercy at Christ’s coming? We can put our hope, our confidence, in God, as does Jude.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Glory to God who is able by his sovereign power and will to keep us from stumbling and so lose our way and ability to continue on. Glory to God who is able to present us blameless – not fairly righteous, not having enough goodness to offset our sin – but blameless; so that when we enter into the presence of the Almighty Judge, that will be a day of great, great joy. Glory to God, which is what it is all about. Amen.
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