Christian Responsibility

Contending for the Faith

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in
among you, not sparing the flock.—Acts 20:29

A verse-by-verse study of the book of Jude

What Paul predicted Jude saw as a reality. In the strongest possible terms, he denounced the heresies of belief and practice that had invaded the early Christian church. Some years later, the apostle John wrote of the rapidity of the spread of these heresies: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). This is the situation in the church of which Jude speaks.

Introduction—Jude 1,2

Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.

There is much debate as to whether the author of this epistle is the apostle Jude or the half-brother of Jesus, both of whom had brothers named James. Others claim these are the same. However, as T. E. Stracy writes in his exegesis of this epistle, “Not the author, but his inspired message, is the thing that is important.”

The author limits the ones to whom he is writing to those who possess three qualifications: 1) sanctified by God; 2) preserved, or kept, by Jesus; and 3) the called, or ones invited to run for the heavenly call. Robertson, in his Word Pictures of the New Testament, notes that the word “called,” grammatically, should head the list, and suggests the translation, “to them, who, being called are therefore sanctified by God and preserved in Jesus Christ.” In any case, the intended audience is not those who only claim to be Christians, but those who are deeply committed to the understanding of, and obedience to, the word of God and its precepts.

To these Jude expresses three desires: 1) God’s mercy to cover their transgressions resulting from original sin; 2) the peace and harmony with God which this would afford; and 3) the continuing love of God to protect them from the seriousness of the dangers that lie ahead. Not only does he seek these gifts for them but, in view of the severity of the perils, that they be multiplied unto them.

Contending for the Faith—Jude 3,4

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not that Jude had written an earlier letter, but that he had set his mind to the writing of an epistle on the common salvation, that is, the salvation held in common with other like-minded Christians (see Titus 1:4). The word “common” here (Greek: koinos) is not used with the thought of “ordinary,” but with the thought of “shared.”

However, Jude seems to have changed his mind before putting pen to ink and, instead of writing an informatory epistle on salvation, he considered it essential to write a cautionary letter warning his readers of false teachers in the church.

The phrase, “who were before of old ordained to this condemnation” in the King James Version incorrectly gives the thought of predestination. The Greek word translated “ordination,” prographo, Strong’s #4270, is more literally translated “written of beforehand” in the American Standard Version. It is probably an allusion to the prophecy of Enoch quoted in verses 14 and 15.

While the word translated “lasciviousness,” Strong’s #766, inplies sexual excess, Professor Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of the New Testament, remarks, “the fundamental thought is the acknowledging of no restraints, the insolent doing of whatever one’s caprice may suggest.”

The danger of which Jude warns his readers is that they are being falsely taught to take the grace of God offered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as an excuse for profligate living.

Old Testament Examples—Jude 5-7

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Jude elicits three examples from the Old Testament on which to base his warning:

Israel in the wilderness: Despite voluntarily binding themselves to God’s law given at Sinai, they failed to live up to its restrictions (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

The angels before the flood: Giving in to their attraction for the “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:2), they chose to abandon their heavenly home and divine instruction to satisfy their desires.

Sodom and Gomorrah: Yielding to the triple temptations of “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (Ezekiel 16:49), they not only lived a sensual life style, but sought to cohabit with the “strange flesh” of their two angelic messengers (Genesis 19:1,4,5).

That the “eternal fire” which they suffered was not eternal torment is adequately refuted by the mention of their eventual redemption (Ezekiel 16:55; Mark 6:11). The Greek word aionia, Strong’s #166, is often translated “age-lasting”; it is translated “age-abiding” by Rotherham and “age-during” in Young’s Literal Translation. Phillips perhaps captures the thought of Jude when he renders the final clause of verse 7, “stand in their punishment, as a permanent warning.”

Avoid Two Extremes—Jude 8-10

Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.

Jude’s description of these teachers as “dreamers” may be a reference to Deuteronomy 13:1-3: “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Pastor Russell suggests that the dignities to which Jude refers are “those whom God has honored and ‘set’ in the body” (Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 6, p. 166). Thus he suggests that these are not those who are in civil authority, but those whom God has placed in positions of responsibility in the church. These are those Paul speaks of in Romans 1:28 as those who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

Of these Jude says that they speak evil of things “which they know not [spiritually],” but are motivated by their natural mind, “as brute beasts.”

Nevertheless, Jude cautions his readers not to take judgment into their own hands. To support this thought he cites a vision of Zechariah where the angel of the Lord, identified as Michael in our text, resists Satan, yet he does not personally condemn him, but merely says, “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan” (Zechariah 3:2).

In like manner, true believers, while not following the counsel of false and self-indulging leaders, are not to bring against them a “railing accusation,” but to leave the final judgment to Jehovah.

Three Primary Sins—Jude 11-13

Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.

Three primary sins are highlighted in the epistle, highlighted because each of them is a root cause for the headlong pursuit of intemperate selfishness.

The Way of Cain: Jealousy—The illicit desire to have the position of approval, and the resultant anger when that approval is denied.

The Error of Balaam: Greed—The inordinate desire for possessions is another fruitful cause of excess. Indeed, “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

The Gainsaying of Core: Ambition—The desire for prominence and power is the third root of the indulgent spirit Jude saw creeping into the Christian church.

Waxing poetic, the writer likens those who possess such desires to four phenomena of nature:

To wind-driven, waterless clouds—Lacking purpose in life, they have only the form of good without its substance, driven by spontaneous desire to satisfy their lusts.

To barren fruit trees—Withered and dead, then made doubly dead by being plucked up; thus dead in original sin and again dead by apostasy of character.

To foaming wild waves—As such waves cast up a deposit of seaweed, sand, dirt, and flotsam on the shore, so these teachers bring every vile imagination to the minds of men with their words.

To wandering stars—Instead of bringing light to the church, their hedonistic teachings without fixed princicples go farther and farther into outer space, into the darkness of a spiritual “black hole.”

The Prophecy of Enoch—Jude 14,15

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

The source of Jude’s quote is highly debated. There is a Book of Enoch, the composition of which is thought to date to the third century before Christ. Although it is extensively quoted by such early church fathers as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origin, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullan, there is no evidence that the church of the apostles’ day considered it authentic, and some of its narrative seems bizarre and fanciful. While Enoch 1:9 does contain a prophecy similar to the one quoted by Jude, it seems more likely that he derived it from the large body of Jewish tradition.

Since Enoch lived about a thousand years before the flood, he may have understood it as predicting the end of the antediluvian world. This may provide insight into the naming of his son Methuselah, whose name means, “after he dies, may it come.” In light of these facts, it is interesting to note that Methuselah died the same year as the flood of Noah’s day.

However, the larger fulfillment of this prophecy is at the second advent of Christ, when he returns “with his saints” (as distinct from his return “for his saints”) to commence his thousand-year judgment of all mankind. This judgment (Greek: krisis, Strong’s #2920) is not a mere rendering of a summary sentence, but a full period of trial with an opportunity to correct and instruct mankind in righteousness. Pastor Russell expresses it well: “The work of that thousand-year judgment day will show men to what extent they are out of harmony with God, and will show them how to come into harmony with him” (Reprints, p. 5442).

A Predicted Apostasy—Jude 16-19

These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.

The character of these false teachers presents an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, they murmur and complain, and on the other hand, they are pompous, speaking boastful words. The New King James captures this last thought well: “flattering people to gain advantage.” But whether they complain and whine or whether they flatter, it is all for one purpose—to do what they want to do with no regard for God’s will or his commands.

This, however, should not take the church by surprise because the apostles had predicted it. Paul wrote, “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). John spoke of many deceivers entering the church in 2 John 7. Peter and James sounded similar alerts.

These do not, unfortunately, separate themselves, but rather, as the American Standard Version phrases it, “these are they who make separations.” This is the same danger of which the apostle Paul writes in Romans 16:17, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

The word translated “sensual” in Jude 19 would be better rendered “natural” and is the antonym for “spiritual.” Because their mind is attuned to natural things, they desire the things of the flesh, thus separating the spiritually-minded ones who desire the things of the spirit.

Christian Responsibility—Jude 20-23

But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.

Jude concludes his warning by instructing his readers how to handle this sad development in the church. He gives them responsibilities toward each other, specifying three groups within the church: the spiritually-minded, the tempted, and the deluded.

For those who seek the spiritual things he recommends a four-step program. First, they are to establish a strong and sure foundation. The Twentieth Century New Testament paraphrases the thought: “build up your characters on the foundation of your most holy faith.” This involves not only personal study, but also employing the modifying influence of discussing your faith with other spiritually-minded Christians.

Step two is frequent, thoughtful, sincere prayer, asking for both guidance and the courage to apply that guidance in the Christian walk. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

The third step is keeping one’s self in the love of God. Writing on this text, Pastor Russell penned these words: “The keeping is with you. God will never force your will. God is not now seeking those who need to be compelled” (Reprints, p. 5725). We maintain this relationship with Him by humbly obeying His will.

Finally, there is the step of waiting. This is not an idle wait, but an anticipatory expectation for the Lord to accept our intentions and best efforts for the deed, and thus in mercy rewarding our imperfect attempts with everlasting life.

But there is a second group within the church. These are likewise spiritually-minded, but through the weakness of their flesh are tempted by the “do it your own way” suggestions of false teachers. These must be dealt with compassionately and, by a non-judgmental approach, assisting them to follow the course of sacrifice. The American Standard translates this verse, “And on some have mercy, who are in doubt.” It is those with doubts, torn between the Bible path and the easier road suggested by the apostates that need strengthening.

The last group is the backsliders who are succumbing to temptation. These are not to be rejected but pulled, as it were, “out of the fire.” The fire here is the purging temptation to which they have yielded. These need a firmer warning of the disastrous course they are taking. And, while we abhor the spots on their robes of Christ’s righteousness, we do not hate the one wearing the robe. We are to hate the sin, but not the sinner.

Benediction—Jude 24,25

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

After writing such a strong warning of those who are diluting and distorting the gospel, Jude concludes with this graceful benediction, thus assuring both the ones to whom he wrote and us today that, if we keep entrusting ourselves to God’s care, we can and will come out more than conquerors through him who loves us.