I often wonder what sermons do to those who hear them and those who preach them. I have particularly wondered about this these past few weeks as we’re now wrapping up what has been an encouraging but deeply challenging sermon series on holiness. When I think on how these difficult sermons are impacting you I think of a word J.R.R. Tolkien made up. Being a philologist he often made up words and whole languages at that. But he coined one word that is appropriate for these sermons. Eucatastrophe. Many of you know the word catastrophe, meaning disaster or devastation. Tolkien took that word and added the Greek prefix ‘eu’ to it (which means good) and changed the whole meaning. A eucatastrophe is a sudden and favorable end to a story that seems to be headed toward certain doom. Of course you can see this concept all throughout Tolkien’s writings but I think it’s a fitting word to describe this sermon series. Because many of you have mentioned how challenging it has been to hear these texts and challenging they are! But that’s not the only thing you’ve mentioned. Many of you have also mentioned how good it is to hear the call to a stout and robust holy life. At first this kind of holy life seems impossible, then it seems difficult, then all of the sudden the holy life doesn’t only seem favorable it seems wonderful to the believing soul.
I’m praying that would again occur today in the small letter of Jude.
Jude, the brother of James and half brother of Jesus, is eager to write. More so, he says it is necessary to write because certain ungodly people who were long ago marked out for condemnation have crept in perverting the grace of God with sensuality, denying the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jude describes the characteristics of these intruders in v5-16, saying they live immorally, deny the truth totally, and will because of these things be judged by God completely. What are his readers to do about this? His main counsel for us is to be the opposite of them. Since these intruders were living faithlessly, Jude calls his readers to live faithfully.Really, in v17-25 Jude returns to his initial call in v3 to “…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” This word ‘contend’ in Greek is the word agonizomai, where we get the English word agonize. It’s a word the first century used to describe the strenuous training athletes devoted themselves to. That Jude uses it here means he is calling us to a true kind of agonizing as well. As the athlete trains each muscle group at a time…honing, sharpening, and preparing his or her body for sport, so too the Christian is be actively engaged in honing, sharpening, preparing, agonizing, and contending for the faith.
The question then becomes what does this kind of agonizing and contending for the faith look like? Jude’s answer is threefold. It looks like remembering, building, and rejoicing.
v17 marks Jude’s transition. While the majority of the letter has been about the false intruders, and while Jude will continue to warn his readers about those intruders in v17-19, the focus now turns away from ‘them’ to ‘you’ in v17. “But you must remember…” notice what he calls them? “…beloved…” By calling them the beloved of God, he’s reminding them of the realities he spoke earlier in v1. They are the called of God, the loved of God, and kept ones. Because of this they are to contend for the faith, but by doing what? By remembering. “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Remembering here isn’t intended simply as a mental exercise only, but rather something like a looking back to find life and power and strength to face their battles in the present.Thankfully, Jude did not leave it up to any of his readers, ancient or modern, to guess what predictions of the apostles we’re to remember. He tells us what they predicted in v18-19. “They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” Jude is most likely pointing back to 2 Peter 3 or 2 Timothy 3 and the warnings present in those letters which speak clearly of false teachers who will arise in the last days, causing divisions, worldly people who are devoid of the Spirit. If Jude’s audience feels surprised by these intruders or caught unaware this would’ve reminded them that God was not surprised by them at all. That alone is an encouraging thought isn’t it?
But what about these intruders? Who are they? And what were they teaching? I highly doubt these intruders came into town openly saying, ‘We’re here to deny Jesus Christ, to state that Jude is wrong and we are right, so come and follow us!’ Most likely they were saying something like ‘We’re the ones with true insight into the divine mysteries, Jude may present himself as a wise and spiritual man but he doesn’t have our level of wisdom. Leave him, leave these apostles behind, come and listen to us.’Whatever they said, however right it must have seemed Jude points out that their lifestyle deceives them. v18 says they do not follow Christ, they follow their own ungodly passions. This alone outs them as frauds and therefore they should not be trusted.’ Some think Jude says they are devoid of the Spirit in v19 because these intruders claimed to have special revelations from the Spirit that Jude did not receive. We do not know this for sure but the description of them in v8-13 certainly leaves this possibility open.Contrary to their own opinion of themselves Jude says the apostles said they’d come and they have now come. Remember this, and do not think it a strange thing, for you are living in the last time when many faithless people will rise up among you.
There are two principles here worth our attention.
First, these intruders claimed to know God more truly than anyone else, yet lived according to their own desires. Sadly many do the same today and we should be reminded that claiming to know Christ without following Christ is, as one commentator put it, demonic nonsense.Those who truly know Christ give evidence of it not by proud boasts but by obediently following Christ. Do not be deceived by the talk of some, watch their life and you will know where they stand.
Second, Jude calls them to stay away from sin and error and false teaching by pointing them back to what the apostles said to them. Do we not do the same today? Many things war against your soul today, many worldly false teachers intrude into the Church today, many so called modern prophets boast loudly of being filled with the Spirit when in reality they’re devoid of the Spirit. And many people are sadly eager to always hear new teaching or new doctrine. But, by saying they have found a new kind of Christianity they’re really saying they’re an old kind of heretic.It is these that cause all kinds of division within the true Church. What do we do about it? We can remember. The source of relief and power, the source of truth and wisdom, the source of clarity and discernment is found in the Holy Spirit inspired deposit of truth, the sacred Scriptures. Jude’s original audience needed to remember that contending for the faith firstly meant getting into the healthy habit of remembering what the apostles said. In view of the rampant false teaching going today, we must also remember that contending for the faith firstly means getting into the healthy habit of remembering what the apostles said too.
After stating that contending for the faith firstly means remembering, Jude goes on to teach the second part of contending for the faith, building. Building because in contrast to the false teachers who are tearing down by causing division, the believers are to set themselves to building up the community. Note he begins again with the identity marker ‘Beloved’ implying all of this building activity in the Christian life is formed from and fueled by our concrete identity in Christ. The kind of building Jude describes in v20-23 carries five concerns with it that are, as Andrew Jaenichen our Pastoral Assistant says, corporately personal. Or in other words, these five concerns have everything to do with our life together as a congregation and our lives individually.
First v20, A Concern for Truth – “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith…” Our most holy faith. This is the first thing they and we are called to build ourselves up in. I think we can understand why this is first. Just as a home has a solid foundation which it rests on, so too the Church has a solid foundation too, our most holy faith. Specifically the faith referred to in v3 that was once for all delivered to the saints. This holy faith consists in both the object of our faith and the content of our faith. The object of our faith because it is not faith in vague spiritual forces but a holy faith because it is faith in the holy God. His holiness makes our faith a most holy faith. The content of our faith because our holy God has revealed Himself in His holy Word and all of its contents make up the sum and substance of our holy faith.
So we could say this first concern is a call to build ourselves up in the truth of who God is and what God says. Any attempt, then, to discount, diminish, or lessen the importance right doctrine generally or certain doctrines specifically is a reversal of the trajectory we’re to head in. Because God is holy all of the doctrine in holy Scripture is to be treated as holy. This is why the false teachers we’re then and false teachers today are dangerous. Their error tears down, their error brings division. Truth builds up, truth brings unity to the Church. Do not miss that a deep concern for right doctrine is an essential element to how God builds His Church. Because our holy God has revealed our holy faith in the holy Scriptures our response must be a holy concern to know it, love it, and spread it.
Second v20, A Concern for Prayer – “Build yourselves up…praying in the Holy Spirit…” While the first concern is Jude’s call for his readers to do something the false teachers weren’t willing to do (namely devote themselves to right doctrine) this second concern is Jude’s call for his readers to do something the false teachers were unable to do, namely pray in the Holy Spirit. In v19 Jude said the false teachers were devoid of the Spirit. This isn’t true for Jude’s audience, and it isn’t true for any believer in any age is it? The moment we repent and believe, the moment we turn from sin and turn toward Christ in faith we’re forever filled with the fullness of God the Spirit and by His grace He begins to produce His fruit in us. This all works toward the aim that all our life is lived in step with the Spirit. This is how Jude is viewing prayer here. Praying in step with the Spirit. What does this look like? It means praying with your Bibles open, praying God’s Word back to God. This will move our prayer to be guided by, stimulated by, and prompted by the Spirit.Prayer is like a faucet. We don’t provide the water that flows through the pipes in the ground but we can turn the faucet on if we so desire. Prayer is one way we do just that. We either neglect it to our detriment or we employ it to our health.
Third v21, A Concern for Discipline – “Build yourselves up…keep yourselves in the love of God…” I wonder if some of you, at first, thought I misread that phrase. Hear it again, “…keep yourselves in the love of God…” Wait a minute. Didn’t Jude already tell us in v1 that we’re those kept by God? Doesn’t he tell us in v24 that He is able to keep us from stumbling? Yes He does. Why then do we have this phrase in v21 about us keeping ourselves in God’s love? Because it’s true. We must keep ourselves in the love of God. We could interpret this wrongly, saying because we keep ourselves in the love of God, God is therefore able to keep us. No, it shouldn’t be read like that. Rather, because God is able to keep us and is currently keeping us we are able to keep ourselves close to Him and His love. Jesus truly loves us but remember He told us in John 15:9-10 that we remain in His love by obeying His commands. All this to say, the call to keep ourselves in God’s love is a call to discipline, a call to implement and maintain healthy habits of godliness, a call to holy living with the aim of remaining intimate with Christ in our relationship with Him. How do we do this? By doing what Jude has already called us to do. Concerning ourselves with building up our doctrine and building up our practice of prayer. Do you think the apostles thought devoting themselves to Word and prayer was just a good idea? No! They knew that Word and prayer are the means by which we remain close to God.
I think we forget this and believe that holy living just kind of happens to us as we go throughout our Christian life when it actually takes work and effort and discipline and sweat and a certain kind of holy agonizing. This kind of effort and work isn’t opposed to gospel grace, it is actually produced by gospel grace. Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary I worked harder than anyone, though it was not I but the grace of God that is with me.” His hard work was the very thing that proved God’s grace toward him was not in vain and had come to him in power. Do you work hard? Do you contend? Do you agonize for your faith? If you don’t you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself living an unholy life. Church, holiness is a miracle of grace, but hear Jude here, act the miracle!
Fourth v21, A Concern for Waiting – “Build yourselves up…waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” So much of the Christian life is waiting, and here we find that waiting for the second coming of Christ when He will mercifully usher us into eternal life is also part of building ourselves up. Yes we have already received mercy but God’s mercy that brings us home to glory is the supreme expression of His mercy toward us who have believed.When we think of waiting I usually think of frustration. Waiting for someone to get ready, waiting to something to load and play, waiting in my car because I’m stuck in traffic, or waiting longer than I’m used to at a restaurant for my order. Waiting, waiting, waiting…we hate waiting. This is not what Jude has in mind. For him ‘waiting’ isn’t passive, it’s active. It’s ‘looking’ or ‘watching’ with an eager expectation for the second coming of Christ. In an age like ours cultivating the discipline of contentment and delayed gratification will not only do ourselves much good, but be a strong witness to our world that won’t wait for anything. We must have a concern to wait.
Fifth v22-23, A Concern for Mercy – “Build yourselves up…having 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.” The last call to build ourselves up is a call to mercy. Jude says here mercy must be given to others. Sometimes it must be patient. Specifically with those who doubt, probably in view here because of the false teachers. But mercy must sometimes be confrontational. Specifically with those who have believed the false teachers and are further down the track of disobedience than others. But more so mercy must sometimes even be extended to our enemies. Specifically extended to the false teachers themselves. They are false but they are not beyond redemption, and they ought to have our pity. But they should also have our distance and our fear because sin is no small matter. Knowing how quickly we jump off into it should lead us to a careful caution with any contact we have with false teachers and those led astray by them.
Jude believes we should be concerned for these things: for doctrine, for prayer, for discipline, for looking, and for mercy – and we ought to be concerned with these things. This is what building ourselves up looks like.
We now come to the end of Jude’s letter. He has told us of remembering and building, now he’ll speak to us of rejoicing. “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, 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.”
We have much to rejoice over don’t we? We rejoice that God is our Keeper, that we can keep ourselves in His love because He is able to keep us from stumbling. We rejoice that God is our Presenter, that we will be presented spotless and without blemish at the end before His glory. We rejoice that God is our Satisfier, that the gospel contains all that the heart of man could ever wish and long for. We rejoice that God is our Savior, that He has sent His Son to seek and save those who are lost so that all who believe in Him wouldn’t perish but have eternal life. And we rejoice that God is our Treasure, that for who He is and what He has done we will give Him glory forever. I love how David Helm ended his commentary on v24-25 saying, “Jude would say more, but what more could he really say?”
Church, may you remember what the apostles said. May you build yourselves up in our most holy faith by devoting yourself to a holy life. And may you rejoice ascribing to God the glory, majesty, dominion, and authority due His name forevermore.