Jude 17-25 preached by Timothy O'Day.
In Jude 17-25, we see how we are to contend for the faith. How are we to respond to the reality of false teaching threatening the church?
1. Do not let wolves catch you off guard (17-19)
2. Abide in God's love (20-21)
3. Confront false teaching with mercy and fear (22-23)
4. Remember that your perseverance is God's joy (24-25)
A common trope in movies is to have a motivational speech that rallies the heroes of the story as they are in a place of discouragement. They lost or they are against the ropes and they just feel like giving up. But then a figure steps forth, usually one who you might expect to be the least encouraging at this moment, and gives a speech that calls on everyone to try again. Inspired, the figures go forth and win the day.
What isn’t always present, of course, is a plan. The speech inspires, but really the speech isn’t enough. It wasn’t as if the people weren’t trying before and all they need is motivation. They need ideas. They need structure. They need to know what they are supposed to do.
The book of Jude is a call to contend. More than that, it is a call to war. It is not a call to declare war. It is a call to recognize and respond to the attacks already taking place. It is not a war being raged against you, per se. It is a war being raged against God and, subsequently, all those who align with God through Jesus Christ.
So far in the book of Jude we have examined the call to contend for the faith (1-4), why we should contend for the faith (5-16), and now we turn to instruction for how we are to contend for the faith. This, in other words, is the plan that goes along with the motivation of verses 1-16. The first 16 verses of Jude serve as the call to the church to wake up and face the present danger and then leads to verses 17-25 which lay out how we are to respond to this danger of false teaching.
So how should we respond as God’s church? Jude 17-25 instructs us in the following ways.
1. Do not let wolves catch you off guard (17-19)
As Jude turns away from reminding of the righteous reality of judgment, he turns to those in the church and calls them to remember the fact that the apostles warned of such people causing division in the church. He writes in verse 17 calling them to “remember…the predictions of the apostles.” Don’t let the common parlance of the word “predict” strike you too softly. People today will often use the word “predict” to mean something like “guessed correctly.” When someone says, “I bet such and such will happen,” and then it happens, many consider that to be “predicting.” But that is not what is mean by this word that Jude uses. This is foretelling. It is proclaiming beforehand what will happen. So what Jude wants them to remember is the apostles, those commission by Jesus to spread the gospel and order the church, foretold that there would be people that entered into the church who scoffed at the foundation of the faith and followed their own passions instead of the Lordship of Christ. We see such a warning in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 when Paul writes,
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, have the appearance of godliness but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
What Paul means by “the last days” is what Jude means by “in the last time.” This isn’t a small time period. They are saying that in the days before Christ’s return and the consummation of all things, these types of people will be present both in the world and making their way into the church. The first recipients of Jude’s letter were in those days and so are we.
What kind of people spread did they warn us about? Verses 18 and 19 tell us. People who scoff at the things of God, follow their own passions, pursue the priorities and praise of the world, and are devoid of the Spirit.
Today, just as then, people aim to dismiss the foundation of the gospel and the implications of the gospel. Today, just as then, people make their own desires their top priority and try to twist or dismiss Scripture in order to get what they want. Today, just as then, people feel pressure to align their values and convictions so that they may win the approval of a world at war with God. Today, just as then, people claim to know God but then live a life showing that they do not have his Spirit.
Scoffers say, “Did God really say that? Do you really believe what the Bible says about that?”
Those who follow their passions say, “I know the Bible says that, but that isn’t what it really means.”
Those obsessed with pleasing the world say, “that just doesn’t make sense in this day and age…” Or, rather, they are simply silent. Or, they say, “I’m not that kind of Christian.”
Today, just as then, we need to not be caught off guard by the presence of such hostility toward the faith once and for all delivered to us.
It is important for us to remember that we were warned this would happen for at least two reasons. First, we need to not be caught off guard in order to protect against discouragement. While meeting such divisions is never encouraging, if we do not have a category for people claiming the name of Jesus while pursuing a self-centered agenda, we will be overly discouraged. So many people encounter wolves in the church and throw their hands up and say, “I’m out” because they do not have this category. False teachers enter the church and wreak havoc. They abuse, molest, and destroy. This is wicked and we need to be prepared to encounter it and contend with it. Second, we need to not be caught off guard so we can protect ourselves from the siren song of “unity at any cost.” Unity is good, but unity for the sake of unity is ultimately destructive. It is unity for the sake of unity that actually keeps us from addressing matters that need to be addressed in order to protect those in the church. Seeking to be unified at any cost merely allows wolves to raid the flock.
The goal of false teachers is to build themselves up even if it means driving others away from Christ. Do not be deceived. The world is not neutral. People are not neutral. You are going to pursue the glory of God and submit yourself to his will or you are going to seek your own glory and make others submit to you.
2. Abide in God’s love (20-21)
Verse 20 introduces a contrast. We are not to be like those who are defined by their lack of the Spirit—those who scoff at the things of God, follow their own impulses, and live for the approval of the world. We are called to do several things in verses 20-21, but they are all centered around the call in verse 21, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is the command in verses 20-21, everything else simply explains how you are to do it. This call is central to all of the other directions in verses 20-21, so we need to make sure we understand what it means to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” What Jesus says in John 15:9-10 is helpful in that regard. There Jesus says to his disciples,
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
Do you see the logic in these words? Jesus is calling his disciples to abide in his love—or, put differently, to keep themselves in the reality of his love for them. He then tells them that they do that by keeping his commandments. This is couched in imagery of being like Jesus. Just as the Father loves Jesus, so now Jesus loves his disciples; just as Jesus abided in the Father’s love my constantly making it his priority to do what was pleasing to the Father, disciples stay in the love of Jesus by seeking to do his will.
If you recall John 15 you should remember that Jesus is not talking of obedience in terms of perfection but of connection. No one can bear fruit, no one can grow, unless they remain connected to Jesus. When you are connected to Jesus, you produce the fruit of good works. Obedience to Jesus is only possible by connection to Jesus.
Remaining in God’s love, then, doesn’t mean earning his love. It means keeping yourselves in the love that he has for you. It means rejoicing in the reality of his love, depending on the support of his love, not working against the purposes of his love by grieving him, but instead doing that which delights the one who loves you.
But how do we keep ourselves in the reality of God’s love for us in Christ? We have three ways listed in verses 20-21
First, build on the delivered faith. As the church of Jesus Christ, we do not build from scratch. We are building on the foundation delivered to us. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20-22,
“…You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
We are to build on what Christ has given us. False teachers aim to divide the body in order to gratify themselves. Our aim is to work together so that we would all be conformed to Christlikeness and thus be unified in Christ. We see corporate growth in godliness.
What does this look like? We are pointing each other back to the foundation of our faith, which is found in the Bible, and then helping each other apply Scripture in our lives. This is more than just generically reading the Bible and seeking to glean some wise sayings from it. This is reading the Bible together while also bearing the reality of our hearts to each other: our sins, worries, concerns, fears, and hopes. I need my entire person to be conformed to the teaching of Scripture and I need your help in being built up on the holy faith delivered to us.
The book Pilgrims Progress captures this reality beautifully. As Christian and Faith walk along the path to the Celestial City, they are bearing the difficulties of the journey together. They are exhorting one another to hold fast to the truth. They are building by drawing each other’s attention to the promises of God. We must do the same for each other.
Second, pray in the Holy Spirit. When you come to faith, you receive the Holy Spirit. He is the downpayment and guarantee that God will deliver you fully from this broken world when he returns. And so even now we can pray by the power of the Spirit. What does this mean? It means that when we kneel to pray, we do not simply shoot words at God and hope that he hears us. It means that he himself intercedes for us as we pray, even when we do not know how to pray. As Romans 8:26-27 tells us,
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Your greatest asset for being built up in the faith and for remaining in the love of God is the Spirit of God in you. When you pray, you have access to the power, presence, and intercession of the Spirit on your behalf.
And you have access not only for yourself, but for everyone else in the church. I heard an interview recently with a former Navy Seal who is famous among his circle for getting up at 4:30am every day. When asked why he does it, he spouted out some reasons but then he said, “you know, I wish I could sleep longer. I just can’t. Ever since I joined the navy I would wake up and think, “the enemy is training to kill me. I need to train so I can stay alive and keep my men alive.” He took the threat of the enemy so seriously that it still shapes the way he lives today. I’m not advocating that you necessarily get up at 4:30am everyday. But I am advocating that you take the threat of the enemy seriously. Satan delights in your prayerlessness. He does not want you to consider his schemes. False teachers delight in your prayerlessness. They do not want you to defend yourself and your brothers and sisters by laboring in prayer that you and others would live in the reality of God’s love.
Third, hope for heaven. In the second half of verse 21, we see that we are “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” This word “waiting” has a last times meaning to it (cf mark 15:43; Titus 2:13). We are waiting for the mercy of God that will come to us at his return. One of the beauties of the gospel is also what makes biblical Christianity different from every other religion and fake version of Christianity. In every other belief system you have to earn your good news. When you come to Christ in faith, you receive the verdict of innocent and beloved of God before you ever enter the judgment. That is to say, when you come to faith you are declared righteous and you now have that right standing with God because of Jesus’ work for you. But we cannot oversimplify this reality of innocence and imputed righteousness. If we do, we miss out on a key promise of the Bible. We are living now in what some theologians have called “the already-not yet.” That is to say, we have already received salvation but we have also not yet received it. While we are redeemed and belong to God now simply by grace through faith, we also await our full salvation. What do I mean? One day, Christian, you will sin no more. One day, Christian, death will be a distant memory. One day, Christian, sorrow will be a story we tell in order to celebrate how good our God is. Sin will be no more. Death will be no more. Sorrow and sadness will be no more. All will be made new including you. And you will behold your God.
The best is yet to come for us. We need to think about this more. We need to savor this more. We need to treasure this reality more. Why? Because we will treasure something. We are made to worship which means we were made to treasure. So you will treasure something that lies in the future. What is it? Maybe the hope of marriage. Maybe the thought of having kids. Maybe the thought of earning someone’ respect. Maybe a job that you think will make you finally happy. What scenario are you treasuring when you daydream? You will naturally long for something, and God has given heaven as our next and right great expectation. So think on the joys of heaven more.
As you do these things, Jude exhorts us to also do something else…
3. Confront false teaching with mercy and fear (22-23)
The reality is that false teaching will be with us until Christ returns because sin will remain in the world until Christ returns. So we must be ready to deal with various types of people when it comes to false teaching.
First, be merciful to the wavering. We must be ready to practice mercy toward those who doubt. These are people in the church who, upon exposure to false teaching, waver in regard to the truth. There will be people who genuinely are torn by doubt when they encounter false teaching.
Maybe this is you. You want to obey, but it is so hard. You want to trust God, but you have doubts. You’re wavering and you need mercy. Temptation to sin is so strong. Sin can be so pleasing to our flesh that false teaching that may have ounce sounded ludicrous to us now sounds appealing because it justifies giving into the temptation. I remember talking with someone one time who had recovered from a cocaine addiction. Before he took it for the first time, he told himself, “I’m just going to do it this once. I’m not going to be like these other people.” Then, as soon as the drug took affect, he remembers thinking, “This is my friend for life.” The pleasure mastered all of his thinking and reasoning. Sin can do the same to us.
I want you to know that if that is you, I want to show you mercy. I want all of us in this church to grow in showing this mercy. Perhaps you are struggling to believe that God is good, powerful, gracious, or even worth it. He is and I want to help you see that.
But let’s be clear on what showing mercy looks like. Showing mercy isn’t excusing your doubt by saying. It is helping you take it head on. To ignore your doubt isn’t mercy. To downplay the danger of your doubt isn’t mercy. But to take you and your doubt seriously in light of the truth of the gospel is mercy.
Christ has been merciful with us and continues to be merciful with us, so let us show that mercy as we deal with those who doubt.
Second, save those taken in. We should take opportunities to snatch false teachers and those under their sway from the fires of judgment. We do this by confronting the lies of the teaching and pleading with them to be reconciled to God. We should never write someone off as being too far gone. This will call for decisive action at times and not mincing our words. You will have to say to someone’s face, “you are wrong.” That isn’t being negative. That isn’t being judgmental. That is being helpful and kind. Just this week I was sitting next to a young man who was going on his mission for the LDS church. As we struck up a conversation, I asked him what he was going to teach people. After he laid out his understanding of the gospel, I told him he was wrong, opened up the Bible with him, and led him point by point where the Bible disagreed with what he had just shared with me. Was it uncomfortable at times? Absolutely! Is it pleasant telling someone that they are wrong on a matter so very close to their heart? No! But I am positive that I loved that young man by not ignoring the fact that he is under the sway of false teaching and has now become a false teacher himself. To have ignored him would be akin to watching someone walk into a burning building as they say, “I will be safe in here!” Mercy demands we speak.
Third, we show mercy with fear. The first two statements on mercy tell us about the recipients of our mercy, but this explains the manner of how we give mercy. Why should we fear as we show mercy? Because we are made of the same sinful flesh as those to whom we reach. We, too, can be drawn into the sin that has captured others. Remember the reality and righteousness of judgment. This is no game. You are not Superman. We plead with others as those who have been singed by the fire ourselves. We wreak of smoke and know the pain of the flame because we have felt its burn.
4. Remember that your perseverance is the unchanging God’s joy (24-25)
So much of the Bible, including the book of Jude, is a wake up call to the danger that we are in and the responsibilities with bear as the body of Christ in this world. Much of what Jude writes about may feel overwhelming. The dangers are real. The fight is real. The need for mercy is great.
When focusing on these instructions, it is easy to forget that God is at work in his church. So Jude ends by drawing our eyes back to God’s power and his priorities.
Look at verse 24, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory…” As you labor to walk in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, to be prepared to confront false teaching, abide in God’s love, and show mercy with fear, you can rest in this fact: God is the one who is able to keep you.
But more than this, look at the last part of verse 24. He presents you before his glory “with great joy.” That is to say, it is his delight, pleasure, and joy to present you as blameless before the throne of God.
God is not indifferent about you. God loves his people, treasures his people, and is determined to delight in his people. As the church, we have the joy, not the burden, of being his means to preserve his people as his Spirit works through us to take up his word and obey it. This is the God who has claimed us and now works in us. Since this is the case, we together can also take up this refrain of praise: “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”