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Text: Jude 1-2
"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: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you."
Introduction and Overview
Reading: Jude 1-25
Sometimes what you want to do isn’t what needs to be done – that was what happened when Jude decided to write his letter to a church/group of local churches somewhere in the Mediterranean region.
The letter he wrote is a short one and in some ways it is more like a sermon than a letter as it carries very little in the way of personal detail. It is important and of abiding relevance to us today in the 21 st century because, as Jude makes clear, the gospel doesn’t change.
This gospel message is not the result of human endeavour nor is it the fruit of our bright ideas. If it were then as society changed we would expect the gospel to change too but the gospel is not like that. The gospel of our salvation derives from God and he has given it to us as a whole, completed article. The gospel that was capable of turning the world upside down in the first century is, under God, capable of doing just the same in ours today.
As we consider the letter we’ll come across things that are a little unusual: why does Jude refer so often in such a short letter to angels? why does he quote from or refer to books that aren’t part of the Bible? Hopefully in the coming weeks we will find answers to such questions.
But for the moment we will concentrate upon a broader overview.
Jude had wanted to write a general letter about Christian salvation but changed his mind because he identified a serious problem that he knew simply had to be addressed.
Sometimes the church experiences trouble when she is attacked from the outside by enemies who do all they can to persecute the life out of her. But that was not the problem that bothered Jude now. The pressing problem was that false teachers/false teaching had invaded the church.
False teaching can proceed from well-meaning but misguided friends who ought to know and behave better but it can also proceed from enemies masquerading as friends, wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Jude understood that the influence of these false teachers is negative and indeed very dangerous. He summarises the essence of their teaching in stark terms:
They pervert grace
They deny Christ as our only Master and Lord
Now the false teacher does not usually come to a gospel church and say that he is opposed to grace. He probably wouldn’t get much of a hearing if he did, so he comes in a different way. He adds his "new understanding" of what grace is while failing to point out that his approach to grace has little or nothing to do with the grace that is proclaimed throughout the NT.
The false teacher will often speak much about freedom but not of the gospel freedom to become what we were always meant to be ie. true image bearers of God. No, the freedom of the false teacher is the licence to do whatever he might like to do or desire to do with never a second thought about holiness and upright moral living. And of course such teaching finds a ready hearing among men and women who long for just that sort of get out of jail free card which guarantees forgiveness while not requiring that the recipient to change his/her behaviour in any way.
The direction in which the teaching of the false teacher tends is towards the acceptance if not approval of immoral behaviour. Immorality and in particular sexual immorality is a potent temptation and many jump at the opportunity of yielding when they are told that it really isn’t as serious as all that.
Jude does not agree and he writes to alert the church to the dangers of allowing such teaching to be promoted.
In a similar way the false teacher within the church does not begin by overtly setting out his agenda to reject Jesus and to replace him with someone or something else – again such an attempt would be likely to fail. So, instead, Jesus’ teaching is reinterpreted with new perspectives being brought in and new emphases developed which he suggests will be better suited to the needs of the day. And the arguments can be dressed up to sound positive and helpful so that the unwary might not notice that Jesus’ own authority is quietly being pushed to one side and replaced by the wisdom of the age.
And pretty soon Jesus’ uniqueness is being downplayed and the exclusivity of the claims rejected.
Jude continues to describe just what begins to happen: the false teachers base their teachings not upon the authority of the Word of God or on Jesus but instead they emphasise the new light they have received "dreams and visions" figure prominently as well as reports of extraordinary and unverifiable spiritual experiences. It all sounds so immediate, so vital: here is a person with a special hotline to God, or so we are tempted to think but Jude thinks otherwise.
The false teacher with his dreams and visions etc. becomes spiritually arrogant and doesn’t hesitate to put himself about – it can sound impressive all that extravagant talk but it is not wise. The examples they have followed are not good nor is the example they leave for others to follow.
And at the bottom of it all Jude tells his readers lies simple self-interest. And how often do we find this to be exactly the case as spurious religious leaders live in luxury while their followers pick up the tab. Jude describes the false teachers of his day as operating for personal gain v.11, as looking after themselves v.12 and as showing favouritism in order to gain advantage v.16.
Is it any wonder that the presence of such in a church will cause trouble.
They may be pleasant, they may be popular, they may seem to have a method and a message well-suited to attract those outside the church but ultimately Jude says they are fruitless and they are headed for judgment.
Having discerned and analysed the problem Jude then proposed his plan of action and it consisted of two major elements. He called for those in the church:
To contend for the faith
To continue in the faith
In today’s world Jude would be considered politically incorrect because he believed that truth and error were not the same thing, nor were they two equally valid ways of looking at things. He knew that error was wrong and therefore had to be opposed.
The gospel of salvation, the faith, was something that had been delivered once for all to the church and it was the church’s responsibility to uphold and defend this faith. The church was not to seek to alter it, update it, improve it, to modernise it, or to try to make it more appealing or less offensive. No the church’s task involved none of those things: Jude called upon the church to contend for the faith.
Such a situation should not come as a surprise to the local church because such situations had been foreseen by the apostles who had warned well in advance that just such things would happen.
Neither should such a situation when it did arise fill the church with fear because the task of contending for the gospel should be undertaken with a confident expectancy of victory. After all just consider the examples that Jude refers to; they are all examples that demonstrate that God and his truth inevitably prevails! God is not mocked.
The temptation however that threatens to trip up a church that is serious about contending for the faith is that of becoming cold and negative – always focusing on the negatives and always looking for problems. When such a spirit develops it can all too easily become judgmental even contemplating with a certain perverse delight the destruction of the wicked. This Jesus did not do and we must do it either. So Jude urges the true believers to continue in the faith. He wants them as a church community to grow spiritually in their relationship with God and in their experience of him and his love.
Specifically for the church to continue/persevere in the faith will involve the members in:
Building one another up
Praying in the Holy Spirit
Keeping themselves in God’s love which is done by living lives of true Christian obedience
Acting towards others, particularly those who are in error, with mercy and compassion. One reason why some false teachers prosper in churches is because true believers can at times be so harsh and cold and this is most likely to happen when we take our eyes of Christ and somehow imagine we’ve made it.
Leading lives of God-pleasing holiness in an unholy world.
This will not necessarily be an easy thing to do and yet a balance is both necessary and possible as Jesus exemplified as he always pleased his Father while at the same time being the true friend of sinners.
Such is the general thrust of Jude’s short letter but before we conclude this short introduction I want us to take a look at the opening couple of verses and think a little about the author Jude and the people to whom he sent his letter.
Who was Jude?
v.1 "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James..."
Jude was a Christian man who humbly saw himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. Nothing particularly special about that, you might be tempted to say. But it is important to notice what else he says and how that ought to affect our appreciation of Jude’s humility.
Jude describes himself as the brother of James and there is only one James in the NT who could be referred to in such a manner and be instantly recognised. It was James who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem; James who was considered along with Peter as a pillar of the church; James who wrote the letter that carries his name; James who was known as the brother of the Lord Jesus. And that means that Jude too was a half-brother to the Lord Jesus:
Mt.13:55 "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?"
Mk.6:3 "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him."
Neither James nor Jude played the family card as though the fact of having grown up in the same family home with Jesus as their elder brother gave them any special spiritual privileges. Both thought it honour enough to be considered servants of this most wonderful man. False teachers on the other hand love to emphasise their importance, their spiritual experience and their spiritual clout.
You can’t trace your ancestry back to Jesus’ family but then again you don’t need to! Being connected by blood ties is not the thing that matters, what does matter is being willing to bow the knee to the only Master and Lord Jesus Christ and to become his servant and that privilege and high honour is open to all of you. Don’t put your trust in anything else but do make sure that he is your Master and Lord.
The phrase "our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" is how Jude describes his elder brother and you find it in v.4. It shows the high esteem in which Jude held Jesus. The word translated Master was frequently used in the Greek translation of the OT to refer to God himself and it is also used that way in the NT – Jude grew up in the same family home as Jesus but he had come to recognise that Jesus was something else, something very special indeed – no mere brother but the Sovereign God in human form!
What is your assessment of Jesus?
The Recipients of the Letter
Finally, I want you to notice how Jude describes the people to whom he writes. We don’t know much about them but it is likely that a good number were from a Jewish background – who else would have understood Jude’s references to those non biblical religious books?
Yet they are now Christian believers and what he says of them is true of you too if you have Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.
As we look at his description I want you to notice something that Jude likes doing in his short letter – he puts things in threes! As you look through the letter you’ll perhaps find it interesting and helpful to bear that in mind.
The three descriptions that Jude uses of these Christians are as follows:
Called by God
Loved by God – beloved in God the Father ie. you are in God’s heart!
Kept by/for Jesus Christ
And Jude longs for them to be growing in their Christian experience. The Christian life is evidently dynamic – these folk already had a genuine experience but Jude wants them to know yet more – there is in fact every possibility of great growth because he speaks not of addition but of the multiplication of these benefits. We’re not to take from this that they were very poor and feeble Christians so much as to realise that in terms of Christian experience the sky’s the limit!! Jude highlights three areas - another of his triads:
These Christians would need all they could get if they were to successfully contend for the faith as they continued to persevere and live their Christian lives in a God-honouring manner.
May the Lord multiply those same graces to us that we in our turn may stand up, stand up for our Master and Lord Jesus.