It would be great if you could grab a Bible and turn to that little letter of Jude at the back end of the New Testament. And as we try to get our heads around it this morning we're going to need all the help we can get, so I'm going to pray:
Father God, your word is truth, we cannot have a cavalier attitude to your truth as it has eternal consequences. So help us to hear your word and know your truth this morning. But more than that give us the will to pray it through and act upon it too. Amen.
I don't know if your school days were anything like mine, but I still remember being in the playground at break time, messing around playing football, when all of a sudden we'd hear that distinctive chant go up: 'FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!' And as the call went up everyone would drop everything and run to gather round and join in the chant. This was a semi-regular occurrence at my school in Glasgow and I have to admit that as a young lad it was highly entertaining as it broke the monotony of school life. Until… one day… I found myself on the inside of the circle. And as my opponent and I danced around getting ready to engage I found myself asking: 'Is this worth it? Is this worth fighting for?' Now I know that's terribly intriguing, but I'll have to tell you later what happened! But with a finely honed physique like mine I'm sure it's not hard to imagine who came out on top!
But that's the kind of question we ask of any conflict, isn't it? Whether, we're watching from a distance as British forces head off into a war zone, or, if it's closer to home, as we're personally faced with a possible fight – over some consumer right or even the disciplining of one of our children. We weigh it up, don't we? And we ask: 'Is this worth fighting for?' Well, last week we began this mini-series in the letter of Jude. And we've called it 'Something Worth Fighting For', because this letter is a call to fight. Jude, the baby brother of Jesus, kicks off his letter by saying, verse 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."
Now the word 'contend' there is basically the word for 'fight'. They used it about Gladiators back in that day. So Jude is saying: 'Although I'd rather be penning you a note celebrating God's amazing grace and love to us through Jesus, I felt I had to write and urge you to fight like a gladiator for it – like your life depended on it.' Or at the very least because other people's spiritual lives depend on it.
And for those early Christians who Jude wrote to, the reason for fighting is made very clear in the next verse: as "certain people" (verse 4) had crept into the church and were teaching others that Jesus' forgiveness meant that they could just live as they pleased. As if Jesus came only to be our saviour and not our Lord! And so they rejected the authority of God's Word in the Bible and pursued and encouraged ungodly, un-Christlike living, which makes you wonder – if the true faith of Jesus Christ is worth fighting for, then why is Jude having to write, to tell these Christians, to fight against those who teach a false faith?
It's not always so easy to spot a false teacher. The most convincing falsehoods can be subtle, which is why we don't spot the danger. So Jude gives us three specific areas of life to put under the microscope, to test the validity of those who teach. Whether they teach like I'm doing this morning, from the front, or in the children's or youth groups around the rest of the building, or in a small group, or one to one. And excitingly they all begin with "P" – Passion, Power and Prestige!
The Desire for Sexual Passion
So let's start firstly with the desire for sexual passion. In verses 5-7, we have Old Testament examples of God's people being sexually immoral. Like:
- When angels rebel against the boundaries God has set, and come to our world to have sex with women in Genesis 6 – which is what verse 6 is all about.
- Or, when violent men try to have sex with angels in Genesis 19 – which is what verse 7 refers to.
Now that may sound pretty bonkers to us – I mean it may confirm your suspicion that Bible is, how shall I put it, a bit weird! But we have to expect some surprises when we open a book that deals with, not only the physical realm, which we can see and hear and touch and experience ourselves, but also a spiritual realm, which we can't necessarily see, yet we suspect to be there nonetheless. The Bible opens our eyes to this spiritual realm and we mustn't let the strangeness of that revelation distract us from Jude's main point for mentioning these incidents at the end of verse 7:
"they serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."
You see Jude is saying that we should not be uncertain what God's attitude is to those who reject his word and who rebel against his safe and loving boundaries for sex – either heterosexually or homosexually or any other kind of sexual. God has made his judgements perfectly clear. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, by what the insurance companies call an 'act of God'. Some of Jude's Jewish contemporaries wrote about the site still smouldering with volcanic activity in their day. They regarded it as a standing demonstration of God's judgement.
And so, Jude says: 'Do you see what happens to folks who reject God's word and pursue their own sexual pleasure as of first importance? They don't get away with it! They get punished. So why do you think it will be any different for, verse 8, "these people" who "defile the flesh" (i.e. they use their God given bodies in ways God didn't intend them to). Why do you think it will be any different for them?' Now I presume Jude deals with sex first because he knows that it is the most likely thing to pull us away from Jesus. Sex is a powerful force, isn't it? In all my time working for the church, whether in this last year or in all the years I worked with students and teenagers, I have seen more lives wrecked by sex than anything else. And it breaks my heart to see it.
'So when it comes to those who teach the Bible consider their attitude to sex,' says Jude. An unwillingness to control our passion in the sexual arena exposes us for what we really are and where we're heading. And of course it influences what we teach. A number of years ago a leading bishop in the Church published a book which divorced God from morality. He concluded that we could make up the rules when it comes to sex. Effectively he took the old Martini advertising slogan, 'Any time, any place, anywhere.' And he's added to it, 'with anyone.' Now, he's a leader in the Church, so why did he teach that? Well, it later came out that it was because of how he wanted to live. And many have followed suit. The things they teach justify and excuse their passion for sex. And if you think the dangers are just out there – with dodgy bishops and vicars in other churches, let me say that I'm convinced that Jude wants us to apply this to ourselves. Remember that these tests he's giving us are for all who teach, whether we're leading a small group or reading a Bible story to our kids or whatever, many of us do have opportunities to teach. And our experiences and behaviour will always affect what we teach.
So be wary of your passions. They can so easily lead you astray. And when that happens I guarantee that unless you repent, you will lead others astray too. False teachers don't just wake up one morning and say: 'You know what? I'm going to twist God's truth and lead folks away from Jesus.' No they are people, like you and me, who are careless in following Christ and prioritise their own desires over God's commands, and over the years develop a theology to justify their actions.
A Desire for Power
Well Jude goes on to highlight just how outrageous that kind of behaviour is, in the second point he makes: false teachers also have a desire for power, as what they are actually doing here is setting themselves up in the place of God.
Have a look back at verse 8 will you, as these folks not only "defile the flesh", but they also "reject authority" – God's authority, that is; God's supreme authority to define right and wrong. Do you see? No matter how nice or reasonable false teachers are, the big issue with them is that they have a problem with authority. As deep down they believe that their feelings and desires are the final authority. 'Beware of people like that,' says Jude. Even archangels, the servants closest to God, wouldn't act like that; look at how Jude continues in verse 9:
"But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgement, but said, "The Lord rebuke you."
Now we don't have time to get bogged down in all the details here, and we don't need to! The point is clear: not even the chief of God's angels would dare to make moral judgements of their own, rather than humbly submit to God's judgements. Not so the false teachers in verse 10:
"But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand"
You see if you think your dreams or feelings or ideas are the final authority, if you think so highly of yourself, well then you can wax lyrically about anything, can't you? You can even speak about things that you don't actually understand. Like when the Da Vinci Code came out, I remember speaking to a number of people who said to me: 'You know there is evidence that the Jesus of the Bible isn't really the Jesus who existed?' Even though the source of the evidence was a book which you'll now find in the fiction shelves of your local library!
And before you think I'm mocking others for their folly, let me confess how easy it is to be tempted to read an article or a book so uncritically that we're taken in or shaken by a new truth or life changing discovery the author claims to have found. You see, false teachers can "creep in" amongst us in print too. Even when it sounds spiritual, even when it sounds 'Christian' and it makes us feel good, be discerning. Jude says they could be speaking about things they really don't understand. And what understanding they do have he says is nothing more than animal instincts. They live by the law of the jungle. See how verse 10 ends:
"But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively."
You see, the only language they really understand is the language of desire. When you cease to be ruled by God's word, you become ruled by your desires; whether they be desires for sex, success, money, power, pleasure, or whatever. And that ultimately dehumanises people; it turns us into unthinking animals who live 'by instinct', as if we are unable to control our impulses!
So let me pull into a layby for a second here and ask: what's the main application here? I think it's this: we must each use the Bible to judge the teachers and teaching we hear or read. Jude is written to the whole church, not just a few church leaders. So if you're a Christian, you're responsible for judging the teaching and lifestyle of the teachers you hear, by comparing them with the ultimate measure of the Bible.
That's why at this church we teach through passages of the Bible like this. That's why we have Bibles in the pews and a space on the back of the service sheet to make notes. That's why we encourage people to follow in the Bible and to think critically about whether the preacher is actually saying what the Bible says and applying it fairly. And that's also why I want to encourage you to ask questions if there are things you don't understand or you think we've gone a bit off course. Please do that after the service though, it would be a nightmare fielding everyone's questions during a sermon! Now I know that might sound a bit daunting to approach those of us who preach in that way, but we must have that kind hunger to learn and humility of leadership if we're not going to be suckers for false teaching.
A Desire for Prestige
Ok, let me pull out of that lay-by and accelerate into the home straight with the third test of false teachers which is: that they have a desire for prestige, they simply look out for themselves. Look at verse 11, Jude says:
"Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion."
Jude reminds his readers of three Old Testament characters:
- Cain, the first murder in the human race, who killed his brother Abel because he couldn't cope with not being top dog.
- Balaam, a brilliant prophet with everything before him, who was so greedy for prominence for himself that he disobeyed the Lord God.
- And Korah, who, we read of in Numbers 16, became insolent and rose up against Moses, God's appointed leader.
The link between all three? They wanted a position of prestige. They wanted profit for themselves. They didn't want to play second fiddle; they wanted to be up there, with everybody noticing them. Jude says, 'beware of people like that'. People who seem to want to make a name for themselves. People who cannot bear to be in the shadow of someone else. And beware because, Cain, Balaam and Korah's actions all led to death for God's people. That's because false teachers are simply not interested in God's flock. Do you see in verse 12? These men,
"are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves"
A shepherd who doesn't feed his sheep is not a shepherd at all. He's just a man with a dog! And they cause the sheep great harm. I don't know a lot about sheep but I do know that when they're not fed they become weak, sickly, unable to stand up against attack and eventually they will die. Leaders who are out for themselves first and foremost don't care for, and feed people, God's Word. See if you're only interested in feathering your own nest, you won't faithfully teach the Bible. Because it's too much like hard work and it never makes you popular! People don't like being told to repent. People don't like being told how to live their lives, but that is what the Bible often does for us. And if we're just in it for ourselves, we won't teach that because we will be too worried about what people think of us. Beware of people who always say things that make you feel good, who flatter you, who only ever say nice things to you!
If you come to church week in and week out and find there is nothing here that challenges you or makes you feel uncomfortable, then something has gone horribly wrong. Now obviously it's not that we should deliberately set out to insult and offend people! But the Bible tackles every area of human life and so it will, from time to time, be unsettling to encounter what God has to say about certain things. But it's a good thing to be shaken up by God's word every now and again. It stops us from getting too comfortable or complacent in our Christian walk. And it shows that we're not editing or airbrushing what God has to say. So don't be fooled by people who always make you feel good, they are a con. That is Jude's assessment in verse 1, they're, "waterless clouds" and "fruitless trees". In other words they're useless. In fact they're worse than useless, they are dangerous! As verse 13 goes on to tell us, they're like an uncontrollable heavy sea that throws up a load of filth on a nice clean beach. And they're like a wandering star, i.e. a planet. We still navigate by the stars, but if you confuse a fixed star with a moving planet, it can lead you to your death.
The point is very simple. What do you do with fruitless trees on the allotment? Get rid of them. What do you do at a polluted beach? Go somewhere else. What do you do with a wandering star? Don't follow it. So what should you do with false teachers? All of the above. Exactly the same.
So the application is therefore really simple! If you move, and leave the area sometime in the future, you'll have to find a new church: so avoid one with false teachers. And if you're visiting here and are currently part of church where false teaching is stomached: Get out! And if you've got friends in a similar situation: encourage them to get out too! We mustn't tolerate a church where the Bible is not submitted to as God's word and the supreme authority for belief and behaviour. Don't be lazy and settle for a church that's near you, when it's teaching falsely. Many people have been ruined that way, by a misguided loyalty to their nearest, local church, or to the denomination in which they were brought up.
Another application arises from the illustration of the trees in verse 12. Fruitless trees shouldn't have fertiliser expended on them, which is why we shouldn't partner with, or financially support churches or organisations that don't submit to God's word and faithfully teach the Bible. We shouldn't be wasting precious resources "fertilising" the very false teaching we're called to fight. And we should encourage others not to waste their time or money their too.
Now most of the application in this little letter is in the final section we're going to look at in two weeks' time. So please come back then to learn, 'How to Fight'. But for this week we ask, 'Is this worth fighting for?' And as I asked that question in the school playground all those years ago, the answer was most definitely 'no', as Stevie Smith had only called me a name again and I'd had enough, lost my rag and embarrassed both of us by starting one of the lamest fights you've ever seen.
But here the answer is most definitely a 'yes'. Getting involved in any kind of fight is regrettable, but fighting for the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is necessary, says Jude. Because fighting isn't the worst possible scenario. The worst possible scenario is people being deceived to hell. As the bottom line recurring like a drum beat through this passage is that this is where these false teachers are heading.
Verse 4, verse 7, verse 10, verse 11 and verse 13 all speak of their condemnation, punishment, destruction, woe and "gloom of utter darkness". And if we're not getting the picture, finally in verses 14 and 15, Jude makes it clear that when Jesus comes back with all his angels for final judgement, these false teachers will be judged because they spoke "against" him, rather than for him. They change the wonderful grace of God into a license for immorality. Teaching that God has saved us, not so we can be wonderfully changed to be more like him, but so we can go on rebelling against him and do whatever we like. 'Don't believe it!' says Jude, 'don't be fooled!' As sadly their way leads only to destruction, not salvation, for others as well as themselves. Let's pray,
Father God, these are heavy, sombre words. And I must admit that like Jude wished that he was writing a different letter, I wish I was preaching a different sermon. But the gospel, the good news of what Jesus has done for us, is so precious, so amazing, so life transforming that it's worth fighting for. The stakes are simply too high. So help us to guard our own lives from error and train us to not only spot false teaching but to lovingly challenge and correct it. That many would be saved by your truth and stay true to you. Amen.