Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Are you contending for the faith?” I was preparing to guest lecture on the Book of Jude for a friend who teaches in a local community college. As I read through the book and studied what Jude was saying to his readers, I was surprised. I was not surprised at Jude’s concern about false teachers. I was surprised at how Jude told his readers to RESPOND to the false teachers.
In his short letter, Jude tells his readers that he was planning to write about their common salvation. Instead, he says that he decided to appeal to them “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. (Jude 3)
But, what did Jude intend for his readers to do? How were they supposed to “contend for the faith”?
In the next sentence, Jude warns his readers that some divisive and disruptive and ungodly people had sneaked in among them. For the next twelve verses (Jude 5-16), Jude tells his readers that ungodly people will be punished by God. He gives them several examples of how God judges and punishes the ungodly.
But, this still doesn’t answer the question. How are Jude’s readers supposed to “contend for the faith”? Read the next 7 verses:
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 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 17-23 ESV)
Did you see the commands? There are only five commands (instructions) in the Jude’s short letter, and they’re all contained in these verses. How would Jude’s readers (and us by extension) “contend for the faith”?
- Remember the predictions of the apostles. The apostles told them that people with ungodly passions would come in. They should not be surprised nor fearful of them.
- Remain in the love of God, by a) building each other up in faith (that is, helping one another trust God), b) praying in the Holy Spirit, and c) waiting for the mercy that comes from Jesus Christ.
- Have mercy on those who doubt.
- Rescue (save) those who are trapped in sinful behavior.
- Have mercy (cautiously – with fear) on those whose lives are covered with sin.
(By the way, the last few verses have quite different attestations in different manuscripts. But, most agree Jude instructs his readers to have mercy on others.)
I think it is very interesting that Jude tells his readers to “contend for the faith” (and thereby thwart the work of divisive, deceptive, and ungodly people) by encouraging one another to remain in God’s love and by having mercy on those who are doubting or sinning.
I’m not sure that this is the way the church is attempting to “contend for the faith” today. It seems that we tend to tear down those who disagree with us and ridicule or label or dismiss those who are doubting or sinning. Could it be that its not “the faith” we are contending for?
What if showing love and mercy contends for the faith more than apologetic arguments? What if helping and strengthening one another (other believers) preserves the faith more than creeds and confessions? What if “the faith” is more about living in God’s love and trusting him than it is about a set of systematic doctrines?
What if the church focused on love and mercy and allowed God to continue to deal with the divisive, the deceptive, and the ungodly as Jude shows that he always has in the past?