This is the third in our series of four sermons from the letter of Jude. Jude is a short letter of 25 verses and this evening we are focusing on v17-23. Like every part of the Bible this letter has a great deal to teach us in this day and age. One of the most disturbing features of the drift in our culture today is the drift away from the idea that there is truth to be known. The Bible is entirely clear that God has revealed to us his truth through his living Word, Jesus Christ, and his written Word in the Bible. The 20th century writer G.K.Chesterton was a great defender of, and contender for, the truth of Christianity and he has left behind for us many memorable sayings. Here is a line from his book "The Everlasting Man": "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."
Throughout its 2000 years of history, the Christian Church has often succumbed to the temptation to be carried along by the flow of the stream of whatever at the time was the spirit of the age. Whenever it does this it compromises the faith and exhibits deadness. A living Church based on the eternal living Word of God in Scripture will always challenge contemporary culture and be swimming against the tide of the times. When the Church is living by the Bible it demonstrates life and a real cutting edge. The short letter of Jude makes a very strong link between truth and right behaviour. It is uncompromising in its stance against those who distort the truth and live ungodly lives.
Heresy and immoral and ungodly living has penetrated the Christian Church from New Testament times and in one sense we should find this reassuring. It is not a recent phenomenon. We don't have to work hard to make the Bible relevant. The Word of God is always relevant and contemporary because it is eternally true. This brief letter of Jude is an appeal to us to contend in our generation for our eternally true faith and to live that faith out in godly living. It is both an assault on error and an encouragement for us to live holy and Christ-like lives. As Christians we are to know what is true and to practise what is true by living lives which are consistent with what we say we believe.
The book of Jude in general and the 7 verses we are especially thinking about tonight is a call to us to be alert. It is a call to be vigilant, discerning and to be aware of our need to grow in grace and holiness and to care for one another. As we learned last Sunday evening, Jude is a letter addressed to all the members of the Church fellowship, not just the leadership. So we must see it as speaking to each and every one of us here this evening. For convenience we may separate out the 7 verses into 4 parts: (a) 17,18 Remember the words of the Apostles (b) 19 Beware of false teachers and those who distort and change the truth (c) 20,21 Grow in faith and holiness (d) 22,23 Care for one another but be discerning
First, REMEMBER THE WORDS OF THE APOSTLES
Clearly right back in the times of the New Testament Church there were those around who wanted to change, dilute or distort the content of the Christian faith and the revealed Word of God. From the very beginning of human history in the Garden of Eden, Satan has succeeded in tempting man to doubt the word of God. Do you remember Satan's words to Eve, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" Satan always attacks our minds and would seek to cause us first to doubt and then to disobey God's Word and law. Doubt so frequently leads to disobedience.
In verse 17, Jude says both to his first hearers and then to us today 'Remember who gave you the Word and what they said.' In his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus had many disciples and followers but only a few were selected to be Apostles. They were eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus and included Paul who had that dramatic and life-changing encounter with the risen and glorified Jesus on the road to Damascus. The Apostles had also been given a commission by Jesus to carry the good news of the gospel of salvation into the entire world. Jesus had taught them, they had learned from Jesus and had been sent out by him. They had received from Jesus the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth who would guide the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). The Apostles began to communicate and to record the truth of the gospel. They were honest and reliable men guided by God to record truth.
Whenever something real is given, the counterfeit will usually appear and this evidently quickly happened in the early Christian Church- way back in New Testament times. It also happens today, of course. False apostles and false teachers began to appear and it became necessary for the Church to apply a test to protect itself against false teaching. Since the risen Christ had committed the faith to his Apostles one of the key tests in the early church was this: "Is this what the Apostles taught?" Apostolic teaching was and still is the test of truth. In verse 17-18 Jude says to them and to us,
Remember what the Apostles told you
They had prophesised that in these last times- that is the period from Pentecost until the return of Jesus at his second coming- there will be scoffers and mockers who will deny the Word of God and follow their own ungodly desires. They are people who speak contemptuously of Christian belief and Christian morality. Jude is echoing here what we also find in the words of the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3: 3) and the Apostle Paul (1Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 3) and the Apostle John (1 John 2:18 and 1 John 4:1-6).
This warning is given repeatedly and we must take it very seriously indeed. These scoffers are following their own ungodly desires and we are to have nothing to do with them. The Word of God condemns these scoffers for what they want to do and how they live and so they distort, change or dilute the Word of God. We see this process at work today in the Church. Sometimes people today, even in high places of rank in the Church say things of this sort: 'I have intellectual problems with the Bible.' This is often a cloak for the fact that they have moral problems because the Word of God in the Bible condemns what they are doing and how they are living. It is they who need to change, not the teaching of the Bible. The only sure way to be convinced of the truth of the Bible is to obey it in practice to the full. Distorting or rejecting the truth of the Bible invariably leads to ungodly living. The word of God is perfect and revives the soul. The precepts of the Lord are right and give joy to the heart. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They warn us and in the keeping of them there is great reward. (Psalm 19)
Secondly, BE WARY OF FALSE TEACHERS!
Why are we to be wary of false teachers? Jude says that they are the men would divide us, who follow mere natural instincts and who do not have the Spirit. It has been suggested that Jude had in mind people who thought themselves spiritually superior to ordinary Spirit-filled Christians. We have a warning here about people who create divisions. He says in fact to those who would divide in this way, 'Very well then, you ask for distinctions to be made - you shall have them! The Holy Spirit of God does in fact not govern you at all. You have ceased to be ruled by God and you have become de-humanised and governed by animal instincts. You follow your own instincts and you are governed by your own natural impulses. Far from being filled with the Holy Spirit it is very clear that you do not have the Holy Spirit at all. You are not Christians! You are counterfeit. You are heretics. You are not living spiritual lives at all.'
Sadly there are many around today in the Christian Church like that. We must be discerning and be alert. If we have been made right with God by trusting in what Christ has done for us on the Cross of Calvary, and if we have received the Holy Spirit of God in our new birth then we need nothing more, nor should we seek anything more. We have more than enough! Even today many true Christians have been confused and led astray by those who claim super spirituality and Christian superiority and as a result have lost their commitment to the all sufficiency of holy scripture. We must, as Jude warns us, exercise very careful discernment.
How can we do this? First by testing out what people say by its consistency with the Word of God in Scripture. Secondly by paying close attention to the Spirit of God. A life truly filled with the Holy Spirit will always turn us away from the person concerned to glorify Jesus Christ. If the Holy Spirit is truly present then the whole church, the whole body of Christ the whole body of believers is edified. So let us be careful and discerning and hold to a life in which both Word and Spirit dwell together.
Thirdly, GROW IN FAITH AND HOLINESS
Jude tells us, in verses 20 and 21, to build up our Christian life.
But you dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
The Christian life must never stand still. The heretics, the false teachers and the dividers tear down. As true Christian believers we must be involved in the business of building up- building up our own spiritual lives and building up the life of the local assembly or church to which we belong. The foundation of our Christian life is, in Jude's words, our most holy faith. And our most holy faith is the Christian revelation handed down to us by the Apostles and as recorded in Scripture. It is in this faith that we are to build one another and ourselves up.
If we have truly come to faith then a definite moral changes of direction will have occurred in our lives. We will have made a break from the love of sinning. There will have been a re-orientation of our desires. We are no longer slaves to sin. We have begun a journey that will be completed in eternity. We will still sadly sin but we will not yield to sin and we will daily seek to co-operate with the Holy Spirit. We will strive to obey God's laws as part of our love for him and we will trust in his power to sanctify us and make us holy. We need to continually call to mind that as Christians our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians we are daily to study the scriptures and allow the living God to speak to us through them his eternal word of truth. We are to seek to grow more like the Lord Jesus in thought, world and deed. As we do this then we draw ever closer to the kind of life we will enjoy in heaven. We are to build ourselves up in our most holy faith. Our faith is most holy because it is utterly different and entirely set apart from any other. It is utterly unique in the message it teaches and entirely different in the moral change it produces in human lives. We are to build others and ourselves up in this uniquely true faith and so live confidently in the context of a wider church where there is much false teaching. We must be clear about this.
This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. Much of the Christian Church in the west has gone with the flow of secularism and the spirit of the age and has fatally and sinfully compromised the Apostolic faith which it has been charged to defend and for which it has been commissioned to contend. Obedience to the revealed truth in scripture is central to our spiritual growth. You will not find a strong and fruitful Church or a strong and fruitful Christian where the Bible is ignored or distorted or is not the final authority. It is absolutely essential that we make time daily for quality devotional time by seeking the mind and the purpose of God as we read his living word in the Bible. We must do this in a regular and disciplined way. It must be an absolute priority. Members of the church in China used to have a saying- no bible no breakfast! If this was our rule, I wonder how many of us would go hungry?
Do you notice that Jude tells us that we are to pray in the Spirit? This means praying according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It means seeking the will of God for our lives. It means not expecting God to bless our own selfish plans and desires but to ask that we may be so changed that we pray, in the Spirit of the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, "not my will but yours, Lord, be done." As Christians we often pray in solitude and in a quiet places and at quiet times. But we must never believe that we pray alone. The Holy Spirit of God joins with us as we pray because he knows the mind of God and directs us in our praying. As we pray in this way we develop our love for God and our joy in obeying him. Jude goes on to say in verse 21
Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life
This is an echo of the prayer of the Lord Jesus for his disciples,
Now remain in my love (John 15:10)
This involves not just warm feelings but obedience.
If you keep my commandments, you shall remain in my love (John 15:10)
We grow in our love for God as we listen to his Word, obey it and delight in doing what pleases him. God's love is a holy love. It is not shallow and sentimental. To love God is to love what he loves and hate what he hates. This means that we must actively hate sin. To love God is to seek to please him by doing those things that he commands. But we have also hope. We look and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life. As believers we realise that on this earth we have no abiding city but we look for the city which is to come whose builder and maker is God. Jude reminds us of this hope. Our eyes are to be lifted heavenward and beyond this present life of change and decay. As the Apostle Paul says to Titus,
we wait for the blessed hope- the glorious coming of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13)
The Apostle Peter writes,
as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (2 Peter 3:12)
As believers we look earnestly for that day and Jude reminds us of the certainty of our Lord's return and this is something wonderful to look forward to. The full realisation of eternal life which we have already begun to experience since our new birth in Christ, will be completed when He comes to take all believers to be with him in the promised New Heaven and New Earth- the home of righteousness. Those three Christian graces of faith, hope and love enable us to grow in our spiritual walk with the living God.
Fourthly, CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER BUT BE DISCERNING!
Be merciful to those who doubt; Snatch others from the fire and save them; To others show mercy, mixed with fear-hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (v22-23)
It is clear from this that we have an obligation to other believers. We are to be kind to those who are in spiritual need and we are to exercise spiritual discernment. There were undoubtedly those in the New Testament Church as well as the Church today who were beginning to waver in their faith and to be assaulted by doubt. It is important that well-taught holy and mature Christians come alongside such people to give them spiritual help. To do this mercifully we must know our faith well and seek to convince them in love and with kindness. We need to be mature and discerning. Some doubters need positive and tender care.
Some immature believers sometimes behave like little children insofar as they think that they are always right. Sometimes if we tackle them head-on they become more stubborn. It is not enough simply to refute false doctrine. We need to support them and lead them in love, patience and fear. Every young Christian, whether they recognise this or not, needs a more mature believer to help them stand, walk and grow in the faith.
Many mature Christians need to be alert and watchful and assume responsibility for those who are younger in the faith. Clearly some people need more drastic measures. They are on a dangerous path of steep decline and backsliding and are in urgent need of rescue. A direct frontal approach may be the only answer. They need, says Jude, to be snatched out of the fire and saved. It may be that Jude has in mind people who have left the fellowship of the Church and are now part of a group who have fallen away from faith. They need snatching from the fire. Drastic action is sometimes needed to rescue unstable believers from the clutches of false teachers and undermining influences.
False teachers are not harmless eccentrics. They are lethal and can destroy people spiritually. This reference to snatching out of the fire is a reference to the Old Testament passages from Zechariah (3:2) and Amos (4:11). In the Zechariah passage, there is a reference to a burning stick snatched from the fire. The people of Israel had been brought back from captivity in Babylon and restored to their own land. God saw the people as having been a burning stick snatched from the fire. In Amos 4 we read "You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire." God was reproving the people for not having listened to his warning and judgement. They were as sticks saved from the burning but they did not appreciate this fact. If we really discern believers who are in huge danger because they have wandered very far from the faith, then more drastic methods may be necessary. We need discernment and wisdom in these matters. There is also a warning to us in the second part of verse 23.
to others show mercy, mixed with fear - hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh
As we seek to minister to the doubting we must be wisely concerned for our own spiritual welfare. In trying to help those who have strayed and erred, then we must be careful not to become trapped ourselves. Just as it can happen tragically that a would be rescuer has been drowned himself in trying to help a swimmer in difficulties, so when an unstable believer has been captured by false doctrine and teaching we must be wise save we fall ourselves. Satan can use the situation to damage us and we may become stained ourselves.
There is a principle here that Jude is laying down. Even the strongest believer must not think that they are beyond Satan's influence. If we are Christians, then we have in our new birth exchanged the filthy rags of our own righteous acts for the garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness that we have received through faith in Christ. When Jude uses the phrase "hating the clothing stained by corrupted flesh" he means that we must actively oppose evil and sin. We must of course love God's people but hate sin in all of its forms. Wherever sin is Satan has his foothold to exploit the situation. Not every Christian is properly equipped to deal with false teachers or with believers who have been influenced by them and seriously backslidden. It requires a deep knowledge of God's Word; a faithful and close walk with him and an understanding of Satan's strategies and the fullness of the Holy Spirit of God. It also requires mature spiritual discernment. In these situations we must seek the aid of wise and mature believers. So in our care for one another spiritual discernment is essential and so is holy and godly living. God says to us in his Word
Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:15)
Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)
The Christian life is to be one of growing holiness as we look for the coming of the Lord and for that day when we shall see our Saviour face to face. The Apostle Peter ends his second letter on this theme and indeed it is a theme running through the whole of Scripture. He writes, as Jude writes, that since this is the future that awaits us
What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the Day of God and speed its coming (2 Peter 3:11,12)
May this be our resolve- to live holy and godly lives, which are disciplined, prayerful and Bible-ruled lives. If the Word of God in all the scriptures is our guide and rule each day and if the Holy Spirit of God is our teacher then the glory of God will become our supreme concern and we will truly live in a way that pleases him.