The Epistles typically introduce us to dangers that loomed large for the recipient church. They are complete with warnings, solutions, and exhortations. Jude is no different as it introduces us to a real and present danger that plagues the church. What does this have to do with you and me? Read on to find out!
(A) jude’s audience and his purpose (v1-3)
In his opening address, Jude describes himself as the "servant of Jesus”, and the “brother of James” (Jude 1). We know that James was the half-brother of Jesus, which means that Jude was probably Jesus’ brother, but he introduces himself as the servant of Jesus. This makes his self-introduction as the “servant of Jesus” point to something amazing. Think about the fact that James and Jude grew up with Him but called themselves His servants. It points us to the amazing truth of His Lordship! Jesus also had an unlikely disciple in Paul, who was a staunch enemy of Jesus. If it were not for his experience on the road to Damascus, he would never have followed Jesus! Jude, James and Paul were 3 of the most unlikely disciples of Jesus. Jesus counted among his followers both his family as well as his enemies. These 2 groups of people would not be our first pick if we were going to start a religion. In fact, when we read Gospels, we know that Jesus' family weren’t even believers initially! It was only when He rose from the dead that they believe. Something true and life-changing must have taken place for them to believe.
In the opening verses, Jude describes his readers in 3 ways -- called, beloved, and kept (Jude 1). These 3 actions are significant. First, it tells us that they were called when they first heard the gospel and responded to it. Isn’t this true for all of us who believe? Every one of us, whether we are first generation Christians or not, have been called by God, and have responded to that call - nobody saves themselves. The amazing grace that saved a wretch like you is the very same grace that called you! This means that at this very moment, you are beloved by the Father, and finally, kept for Jesus Christ when He comes again in the future. We can read this epistle for ourselves because we are called, beloved, and kept. Jude repeats this idea in the doxology, but we’ll get to that later.
Jude follows this up by calling for mercy, peace, and love to be multiplied to us (Jude 2). Peace and love we know well enough, but mercy seems rather unique, as we live in a climate that isn’t used to asking for mercy. But if we really think about it, all 3 things are wrapped up in the goodness of God, for goodness is to know God’s mercy, to be in His peace, and to dwell in His love. It is a reminder of who we really are, and of what Jesus has already done for us – something we’ve tasted, but want to experience more and more. How then should we pray for one another? Mercy, peace, and love? Or ambition, gain, and success? What are our priorities? What do we sincerely wish for one another? Let it be mercy, peace, and love.
Jude proceeds to explain that he wanted to write about their “common salvation”, but “found it necessary” to remind them to argue for Christ as He was originally made known (Jude 3). The emphasis here is on the need to “contend for the faith”, which suggests that there is something endangering it. There is the idea of protecting what is true from what is false – something worth thinking about. Have you ever tried to spot fake money? Some people make a living of doing so, and the very first thing they learn is what real money looks like. Nobody learns to spot fake money by studying fake money first. Study real money! The same principle can be applied here. In order to defend the truth, we need to know what the truth is, find courage, and then practice it by fighting for it.
(B) jude’s warning (Jude 4-16)
Jude’s warning turns specific (Jude 4). He tells us that there are people in the church who have come in unnoticed and perverted what is true. This is why they had to contend for the faith, and this is why we have to do the same! There are false teachers in the (universal) church today.
Jude warns us about 3 groups of people (Jude 5-7). The first are God’s chosen people who came out of Egypt, disbelieved, and were destroyed. The second are angels who were high and exalted, but were punished for their disobedience. The third are people who dwelt in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, were prayed for by a righteous man, but still received their just recompense. This spread of references might appear confusing, but don’t be! The main point is this: all 3 groups were judged. God’s judgement is real, and God’s judgement is going to come on the false teachers who have crept into the church.
The table below gives us an understanding of the whole section. While these descriptions are replete with details, we must remember to prepare in light of the warning rather than fixating on the intricacies of the warning itself. It is more important to care about defending yourself against the thief rather than considering the clothes that the thief is wearing. 2 Tim 2:22-26 reminds us not to waste our time arguing and debating things that have no value in helping you to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Don’t waste your time chasing after useless information! Ask yourself what it is in this text that God wants to tell you
This passage calls us to remember that there are dangerous false teachers. We must know what their false teaching is not - we must know the truth, bearing in mind that God will judge them in His time.
This call to know the true as revealed in God’s Word seems commonsensical, but it is actually something that we all struggle with desperately. Think about it. What are you excited by in comparison to the Bible? When you tune in to your favorite TV series, all you need to do is sit back and relax. In contrast, you have to think, imagine, and work hard when you read God’s Word. We see that God’s word has to contend with the pleasures of the world, making it harder and harder to become a Bible reader. But you must guard your heart, and you must guard what you bring into your heart. If you do not force yourself to read God’s word humbly and sincerely, you will not want to read God’s word. Train yourself to read God’s word and love it. Train yourself to see the truth of God’s word. It may be difficult at the beginning, know that nothing is more satisfying than knowing God through His word. The more you go deeper and train your heart for these things, the more satisfying it becomes.
We must remember that ungodliness (Jude 14) is in having nothing of God in you. It is a life that does not consider God, does not desire God, and chooses something over God! We must always be intentional about considering this. Do we choose our teachings to suit our desires? Or do we let the truth of His word shape our desires? Here is the challenge of the day: know God’s word, or you will find all ways to twist it. Know it, or you will not truly love it, and you will not contend for His truth.
(c) jude’s instructions and prayer (Jude 17-25)
After telling us what we should avoid, Jude concludes his letter by telling us what to do (Jude 17-19). He tells us not to forget the “predictions of the apostles” about “scoffers (who) follow their own ungodly passions”. To forget is to be caught surprised when what you were warned about actually happens. This surprise then turns into discouragement. Do not let that happen; do not be caught surprised; do not be easily discouraged. Be prepared!
Jude 20-21 contains 4 imperatives. Here, Jude tells his readers to:
- (keep) “building yourselves up in your most holy faith.” (Jude 20a)
This means to be faithful and draw strength in it. His readers were not to stray and build on something else but were called to go deeper and keep building. We can ask ourselves these questions: “Do we build at one place 6 days a week, and at another place one day a week?” “Do we compartmentalise our faith building?” We have to be faithful in building all our lives up in our holy faith. Anything less does not make the cut.
- (keep) “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20b)
The main point here is to make sure you are praying in a way that is in keeping with the Spirit, in accordance to God’s will, according to what you know God wants. Pray in alignment with what God reveals in His word.
- "keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 21a)
Remember that you already are in the love of God (beloved). How is it possible for us to stop being loved by God? This is really a trick question because it’s not possible. But we can feel that way sometimes when life doesn’t quite seem to match up to our expectations of having an almighty God love us. Remind yourself to experience God’s love. Bring it to the front of your mind. Keep trusting and believing in the truth that God loves you even when things go wrong.
- (keep) “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21b)
Be a serious "waiter". It is possible to wait but forget that you are waiting. Just think about how Changi Airport is designed as an ideal transit location. You have movies screenings, a beautiful garden, tons of eateries, and a vast array of many other things that make you feel like the transitory wait isn’t really a wait. We must not be like that. Remind yourself that this world is not our home, for we are only passing through it. Remind yourself of what is truly essential.
Jude is not done. He proceeds to outline how we are to respond to others (Jude 22-23). First, we are to have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 22). We all have our doubts. Don’t be impatient. Show mercy, show patience, and show kindness. Jesus set an example when He went to Thomas who doubted and showed him a kindness that he did not deserve. Jesus calls us to do the same. Second, we are to save others by snatching them out of the fire. Be intentional and sincere about sharing the gospel. It will pull them out of the eternal fire that they are headed to. Third, show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. As you share the gospel, be careful yourself not to become affected by sinful habits and living. We are to be persistent in reaching out, but we must also hate all sin.
Jude ends his letter with an interesting choice of words (Jude 24-25). The doxology entails a dedication for God to have “glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.” What is God going to do with the glory, majesty, dominion, and authority? Doesn’t God already have these things? We say this because we are asking Him to do something with them - keep us from stumbling, and present us as blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy. It is only with these things is He able to do so, and we know that He has these things, not only for a brief moment in the present, not only during time past, and not only in time to come, but before all time and now and forever! This doxology is a declaration rather than a petition, and it is a declaration that we should find great hope in. It tells you that the only way you are going to get to the end of your life and not fall away is if God keeps you, protects you, and holds you. He is the only one who is able to keep you from stumbling and present you as blameless, and it is to Him that you should cry out to.
Jude 25 also tells us that it is only through Jesus Christ that we have these things. This is the reason why the NT is full of the phrase “in Christ”, “through Christ”, and its many iterations. It hammers home the point that it is only because of Jesus that we know God’s saving power and glory and majesty. How can we understand this? Think about the electrical wiring that runs through your house and provides power for your light. Without the wiring, you would have no light. In a similar manner, the story of Jesus is the center of your power. No Jesus, no power. It reminds us that the way that we are to contend for the faith is to hold on to Jesus.
In sum, Jude’s letter reads this way:
“To all the Christians who are called, loved, and kept for Jesus Christ. Mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you. I wanted to write about common salvation, but now I want you to contend. There’s going to be a lot of false teachers and teachings. God has promised His judgement. It’s going to be confusing. Don’t be confused. You, who are precious to God, remember that these things will happen, build yourself up, pray in the spirit, wait for him, and keep yourselves in his love. It’s too much for you to do by yourself. It’s only possible if God empowers you. So pray that God has the requisite power to do that for you through Jesus, knowing very well that He does wields it.”
Written by Joshua Tay