I stopped reading the Bible. Seriously, I did. Truth be told, though, I actually stopped reading everything (dumb concussion).
After a few weeks, when I tentatively picked up the Bible again, I found myself looking at the book of Jude.1 Interesting book. Not a particularly popular book though, judging by how many times teachers or preachers seem to refer to it. But as I found out …
If we claim to be followers of Jesus, the message of Jude is critical for us at this time in history.
“I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend2 for the faith” (v 3). Imagine being an Olympic athlete locked in physical battle with your opponent, struggling on behalf of your country. Imagine doing everything you can to prevail. Imagine refusing to give up!
I think that is what Jude had in mind when he encouraged the first generation of Jesus-followers to contend for the faith. And that is also, I believe, what twenty-first century followers of Jesus need to be encouraged to do. We need to contend ourselves, and we need to teach others to contend.
But … and this is the first big question … what did Jude actually mean when he encouraged his friends3 to “contend”? He seemed to have two areas in mind: lifestyle and belief.
- Followers of Jesus had turned grace into immorality (v 4) . God seems like a nice guy, so I can do whatever I want and God won’t get mad. Oops, that is a dangerous path to go down isn’t it? Funny how quickly we forget that although acceptance is the starting point of a relationship with God, transformation is the destination. Repentance is the only path between the two.
- Followers of Jesus had also rejected the exclusivity of Jesus. They wanted “Jesus and” rather than “Jesus only“. To some, Jesus was just another dish on the buffet table of self-centered spirituality. There is a big difference between the two, isn’t there?
Do you want Jesus and or Jesus only?
Here is the second big question … how do we contend for the faith? Part of the answer can be found in the grammatical structure of the underlying Greek text.4 The text of Jude contains the following five imperative verbs, which tend to function as commands or instructions:
- Remember (v 17) – “remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold”. If you or I want to contend for the faith, to stand for something significant, to resist the powerful tide that threatens to erode the reality of who Jesus is … we need to be grounded in scripture. There is no other option.
- Keep (v 21) – “keep yourselves in God’s love”. Hang on to the reality that you are deeply loved by God. Being loved is not an excuse for being bad (that is actually a rejection of love), but being loved gives hope, meaning, and purpose in a world that often assaults those who take the teachings of Jesus seriously.
- Be merciful (v 22) – “Be merciful to those who doubt”. If other people are working through issues of faith and life, and they express doubts about who Jesus is, don’t attack them. Seriously! Back off and show mercy.
- Save (v 23) – “save others by snatching them from the fire”. At the same time as showing people mercy, though, lets be sure to actively save them. If you saw your young daughter walking toward the fire at your campsite, would you just watch and say to yourself “she should know better”? Of course not … you would rush over and snatch her from the fire! We should do the same with those who stumble toward spiritual fires.
- Show mercy (v 23) – “show mercy, mixed with fear”. Finally, Jude reminds us to be careful. One of the first rules of trained first-responders at an accident scene is to make sure that they don’t become part of the accident scene themselves. In our desire to be like Jesus to others, lets remember that we are not Jesus. Temptation is subtle, powerful, and destructive.
So … where do you go from here? If you identify yourself as a follower of Jesus, what does it mean, specifically, for you to “contend for the faith” in your context today?
For me, as I look ahead, I am becoming compelled that part of my leadership journey with MB Seminary must be driven by a call to help train leaders across Canada to live out the message of Jude in their contexts. To encourage and equip others to contend for the faith. To be faithful and effective followers of Jesus!
- “Jude” is the name of both the book (written in either the late 60’s or late 80’s) and the author (generally accepted to be the brother of Jesus). ↩
- Bible nerd alert – the Greek term used by Jude is epagonizomai and is a hapax legomenon (search for that on Google!) which, in essence, means that it is very difficult to define. ↩
- This is a key to the entire letter … Jude was writing to, and about, followers of Jesus. He was not writing about the rest of society, but instead, he was calling the community of Christians back to the essence of the faith – right living (orthopraxy) and right belief (orthodoxy). ↩
- Yes, this is more Bible nerd stuff! The Bibles we read in English are translations from the original languages of the Bible, and in the case of Jude (and the entire New Testament) that language is Kione Greek. At times, there are nuances that can be more easily seen in the original languages than in the translated languages. ↩