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Monday, July 12, 2010

Contend!

As a young teenager, I nearly lost my right hand. The accident could have been avoided if I had obeyed my father’s instruction, but I just had to try. Perhaps many have done the same thing I was doing that day—lighting firecrackers and tossing them. The warnings are there for a reason, and my one act of foolishness almost cost me—one fast fuse is all it takes. One can never tell one fast fuse from any other—they all look the same. You can’t plan an accident like that. I believe God spared me all but the pain when the thing went off in my hand. I’ve never felt anything so horrible and pray I never do again.

The New Testament book of Jude is an amazing little letter. Many people not too familiar with the Bible may look for something short to read when they open the book for the first time and tend to gravitate toward the smaller books. Imagine the surprise when they read this little epistle! It nearly explodes in one’s hands! I believe the short book with its’ short fuse is part of the demonstration of the grace of God, teaching very quickly and powerfully one important principle that even the most immature in the faith need to know: contend for the faith. Why? Because the biblical worldview has enemies.

Jude is a short book with a short fuse and a loud bang.

One of the beauties of scripture is its’ timelessness. The problem Jude exposes is not new to his day, nor is it new to ours; therefore, we would be wise to pay attention to what it says.

First, there are people in The Church who should not be there. The Church is unique as it is the body of Christ. Mark Dever writes in, 9 Marks Of A Healthy Church:

· “Throughout Old Testament history, God made a clear distinction between his people and the world (see Lev. 13:46, Num. 5:3, Deut. 7:3).
· Christ says that entering the kingdom of God means being bound to the church “on earth” (Matt. 16:16-19; 18:17-19). Where do we see the church on earth? The local church.
· The New Testament explicitly refers to some people being inside the church and some people being outside (1 Cor. 5:12-13). This is much more than a casual association.
· The church in Corinth consisted of a definite number of believers, such that Paul could speak of a punishment inflicted by the majority (2 Cor. 2:6).
· Not only does the New Testament speak of the reality of church membership, but its dozens of “one anothers” are written to local churches, which fill out our understanding of what church membership should practically look like.

Why is it important? Biblical church membership is important because the church presents God’s witness to himself in the world. It displays his glory. In the church’s membership, then, non-Christians should see in the lives of God’s changed people that God is holy and gracious and that his gospel is powerful for saving and transforming sinners.”

Just because someone attends all the functions of a local church body does not mean that person actually belongs. Rudyard Kipling in his classic work, “The Jungle Books,” gives us a very clear picture of this kind of infiltration. Mowgli has been raised by the wolves, and the tiger Shere Khan (named after a Pashtun Prince Sher Shah Suri, “The Lion King” or “The Tiger King”) comes to Counsel Rock to take over the wolf-pack and to claim the man-cub as a prize (and a meal). The leader of the wolf pack is about to be replaced and the tiger steps in at the right moment, having already won over some by killing for (and subsequently, feeding) the more “desperate” of the pack. The lame tiger actually could care less about the pack—he just wants the man-cub. This is the warning of Jude’s epistle. The tiger does not belong among the sheep (1 Peter 5:8).

Second, these out-of-place people (called “ungodly” directly or indirectly at least 14 times) teach harmful doctrines. They redefine grace into license to sin and “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). This is not accidental or an act performed out of ignorance; rather, this is intentionally taking what is known to be true and twisting truth into a lie, “following after their own ungodly lusts” (v. 18). First glance seems to indicate that their teachings fall into two categories, but actually, the error is one: grace is not a thing but a person. The error begins in the attempt to strip the person of grace from His Sovereign work. No person is greater than God, who does not change—hence the warning concerning these individuals, who in turn not only follow in their own lusts, but invite others to do the same.

God's Word plainly teaches, "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Rom 13:13-14)

Early in his letter Jude says these people “crept in unnoticed” (v. 4) but now sets about exposing them. What do these dangerous imposters look like? First, they act “in the same way” as those from Old Testament history: they are grossly immoral dream-chasing, flesh-defiling, authority-rejecting blasphemers (vv. 5-8). They do ungodly deeds in ungodly ways, speaking in ungodly manners contrary to what God has said (v. 15). They revile both what they know by instinct and what they don’t know out of ignorance; they grumble, complain, “me first”, are arrogant, and will do whatever it takes to advance themselves (vv. 10, 16).

Jude is very descriptive of “these men.” Cain not only murdered his brother, but also was doomed to wander as a vagrant on the earth (Genesis 4); Balaam counseled people to sin (Numbers 31) and Korah questioned God’s authority (Numbers 16). These men wander from place to place leaving death in their wake with their false teachings, encouraging sin and despising authority.

They are called hidden reefs, clouds without water, autumn trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea, and wandering stars. Hidden reefs cause ship-wrecks. Clouds without water may seem threatening, but don’t deliver. Autumn trees without fruit are dead trees, best for firewood. Wild waves are noted for their crash, spewing foam over everything that stands near, and sweeping away anything that they catch. Wandering stars drift through space, space being what it is (a long distance between objects), not connected to anything. These descriptions are appropriate for these ungodly imposters. They have no place in the church and only contribute disaster and death.

What should we do if someone in our midst displays all these characteristics? How should we react if someone is found as an ungodly upstart?

We “ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘in the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’” (vv. 17-18). In other words, we should remember that we have been warned they would come. There is no surprise attack if the enemy is expected. “Fore-warned is fore-armed.”

Our reaction begins not with them, but with us. “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (v. 20-21) The steps are building blocks for us, plain and logical. First, we should know what we believe and are convinced of. Second, we should be a people of prayer. Third, we are to find our identity in Christ, who died and rose again because God loved us. Fourth, we are to live in the anxiety of His rescuing us from the presence of sin (this is perhaps the only time we are given permission to be anxious). In other words, we should be practicing the fundamentals of spiritual warfare as described in Ephesians 6. If C.S. Lewis were writing this, he might say we should be acting like King Peter.

Next, we are to tend to those who have been affected by ungodly influence. “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (v. 22). This is where Lewis might say we are to be like Queen Lucy, with our healing cordial. The enemy will at times reach a few of our ranks, and we must be prepared to show them great mercy and restore them to the faith. There will be some who are superficially affected (doubting), while others will be more deeply impacted by the work of the enemy. Regardless, our ministry should be one of mercy.

The task at hand is not easy. This is why the letter closes with this encouragement: God our Savior through Christ Jesus our Lord is able to keep one from stumbling. He is the only one who can make us “stand in the presence of His glory blameless and with great joy” (v. 24).

The glory is His.
The majesty is His.
The dominion is His.
The authority is His.
Yesterday, today, forever. He never changes.

Contend!

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