How to preserve the Church: Lessons from Jude

“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” Jude 3 (NASB).

Jude, while wanting to write about the “common salvation,” had a change of plan — a change of subject. Jude told his readership to “contend earnestly for the faith.” To stand firm on, and defend the doctrines which they had been taught! This is a call to you and I today.

It doesn’t matter if you are reading Paul, Jude, James, or John, the New Testament is full of warnings against apostasy. False teachers are here. False teaching is as close as your local Christian book store. False teaching is being sent over the airwaves by Christian television. False teaching is rampant on the internet through emerging organizations and bloggers. This we can be sure of because it was promised: “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…” 2 Peter 2:1 (ESV).

After listing some historic examples of apostasy, and describing the heretics of his day, Jude commands seven things to be done in order to preserve the Church:

“But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” Jude 20-23 (ESV).

1. Build yourself up in the faith vs. 20a

The first thing he tells us is to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” All the doctrines and truths of our faith have been graciously given to us in the Scriptures. Acts 20:32 says that God’s Word “is able to build you up”! I can’t help but think that this was listed first on purpose; what better way is there to identify false teaching than to know the truth? I’m sure you have heard the illustration before—the best way to learn to recognize counterfeit bills is not the study the counterfeits but the real thing! It’s the same way with Christianity. This is our summons to study the Word; the more we are built up in the Scriptures, the better we will be able to spot the counterfeit.

2. Pray in the Spirit vs. 20b

Ultimately, if the Church is going to prosper, it will need the power of God on it. In Jude’s doxology he says, “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.” Who is able to keep us from stumbling? Answer: God. Any effort to walk in truth, or build ourselves up in the faith, apart from God, will be futile. God commands us to pray! It is our wartime walkie-talkie. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV). Using the Bible to interpret the Bible I would reference Romans 8:26-27 to give insight as to what “in the Spirit” means. Paul writes,

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (ESV).

Aside from that, praying in the spirit could be said to be simply the opposite of praying in the flesh. James gives a good example of this in James 4:3. Praying in the flesh is praying “that you might spend it on your passions.”

3. Stay in the love of God vs. 21a

It is clear in Scripture that God’s love is never ceasing; the oft-quoted John 3:16 shows us that He loved us even before we were redeemed! Paul, towards the end of Romans eight, says that nothing can separate us from the love of God! What then does Jude mean, when he writes, “keep yourselves in the love of God”? John MacArthur says,

“[This command] means to remain in the place of obedience where God’s love is poured out on His children, as apposed to being disobedient and incurring His chastening” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary 1985).

I believe it could be related to Philippians 2:12 where Paul says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Jude is saying that believers need to stay in a place of obedience where God can bless our lives.

4. Wait for Christ’s return vs. 21b

It may seem out of place, or like a strange commandment, but it is there. God desires that we wait for Jesus’ return! Not the kind of waiting that leads to slothfulness as the Thessalonians did, but with an eager anticipation that leads to action! The apostle John seems to say that having an anticipation of Christ’s return has a certain purifying power. He writes:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” I John 3:2-3 (ESV).

5. Have mercy on doubters vs. 22

As is true whenever false teaching takes place, the propaganda began to frustrate the moving of the gospel in the hearts of those whom the Church was reaching out to. There was doubting among them; would they believe the Gospel, or the new teaching of the apostates? Jude urges the Church to show compassion to these people, continuing to preach the Gospel to them.

6. Evangelize the lost vs. 23a

His next two commands go along the same line. The beginning of verse twenty-three says this: “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” In modern-day vernacular: evangelize. Peter wrote that the Lord “[does not wish] that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”; that is the great commission. God does not want a stagnant, infertile Church. Just as he commanded Adam and Eve (as well as every other living thing that He created) to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), He desires the Church—a living organism (Eph 4:15)—to do the same!

7. Carefully show mercy to the wicked vs. 23b

There is a textual variant in verse 23: the text behind the KJV produces only one group of people (hence, “Evangelize the lost,” and “Carefully show mercy to the wicked” would only be one command). The KJV reads, “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” Either way, it doesn’t matter; the point remains the same. Jude is saying that there are some in the world who are so polluted by the heretical teaching that we need to be careful (“with fear”) when we try to reach them. Carelessly mingling with them could cause their teachings to pollute our faith.

This passage has been a challenge to me, and I pray that it has been to you! Grace and peace.

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