How’s your heart? – Jude 1-16, Part 3

25 Sep
Photo by Mitchell Hollande on Unsplash

How is your heart? We normally think of this question in medical terms. But in this post, think about your heart in spiritual terms. Does God have your heart?

In this series of posts on the first 16 verses of the ancient letter called Jude, we’ve been learning that Jude was writing to Christians to talk with them about impostors in the church. If you want to get up to speed with what we’ve discussed already, you can read Part 1 and Part 2. We left off with Jude revealing the impostors in the church.

At this point, I start thinking to myself, I wonder if the church already knows this, or is Jude revealing it to them for the first time?  Would people be reading this letter thinking, “What?  Who in the church is like that?  Who is he talking about?”  Would they be getting all concerned about being infiltrated?  It’s like when you hear on the news that hackers stole a million Target customer passwords, and you think, “Did they get me too?  Is my account compromised?”

Look at verse 5.  Jude says the church actually did know what was going on. It could be that Jude is saying that what church knew about was the material that he is about to teach, which are three illustrations from the Old Testament. Even if so, as we continue hearing what Jude has to say about how the impostors were behaving in the church, it will become very clear that the people in the church knew about it. My guess is that they not only knew about it, but worse, were allowing it to happen, and that’s what has Jude so concerned.  In other words, the secret impostors weren’t hiding themselves all that well.  That’s why Jude is confronting the church, because the church knew who the impostors were and didn’t deal with them. The church wasn’t contending for the faith.

Jude, in verses 5-7, brings up illustrations from the Old Testament, then, to remind the people of God’s judgment against unfaithfulness in his people.  Clearly Jude wants to motivate the church to contend for the faith. 

The first illustration in verse 5 is the story of the Exodus, and how even after rescuing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they rebelled against God and he punished them.  The second illustration in verse 6 is about rebellious angels, which is admittedly a somewhat mysterious reference, but carries the same idea as the first.  The third illustration in verse 7 is the story Sodom and Gomorrah which were judged for their sin.  The conclusion Jude says, is that these stories serve as an example of what happens to those who rebel against God. They will face consequences.  So don’t rebel against God.  It won’t go well for you.

Jude continues in verses 8-9 when he says that in the very same way (as the illustrations from verses 5-7 described) these godless impostors in the church do three things: pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings.  We’re not told how they do these evil things yet.  But clearly polluting your body is not good, and is likely a reference to sexual impurity.  Rejecting authority is not good either.  Of course neither is slandering celestial beings, but what does that specific behavior refer to?   We hear a lot about not polluting our bodies, and especially through sexual impurity.  We also hear a lot about rejecting authority. These are common problems in our day.  But slandering celestial bodies?  What is he talking about?

In verse 9 Jude explains this with an illustration of slander from an apocryphal book, called The Assumption of Moses.  Because it is an book, it is very interesting that Jude quotes from it.  This doesn’t mean that the story Jude quotes is true.  It could be a parable.  We don’t know if Jude thought it was true or not.  That’s not what is significant about Jude’s use of a non-biblical source.  What we do know is that Jude is using the story to prove his larger point.  So let’s see how Jude uses this story. 

In the story, the archangel Michael and the devil dispute over Moses’ body. Michael wants the body of Moses for the Lord, but the devil makes a claim on the body because Moses, early in his career, had done evil when he murdered an Egyptian. What Jude points out is that in the argument Michael chooses not to disrespect the devil!  Instead he demonstrated humility by saying “the Lord rebuke you,” showing his trust in the Lord.  Compare that to the ungodly impostors in the church.  They were arrogant and did not have the humility that Michael showed, even with the devil!  You’d think Michael would have permission to slander the devil, right?  But instead he humbly places his trust in God.  The impostors in the church were nothing like that, even willing to commit slander against God’s angels.  Jude is using this to describe how far these impostors hearts were from God.

Therefore Jude gives us a principle we need to remember: God cares so deeply about our hearts.  As we are in relationship with God, our lives and our actions are the outflow of what is going on in our hearts.  In the story Michael showed his heart to fully trust in letting God handle the devil.  In this letter Jude is pointing out heart issues in these impostors and then encouraging the hearts of the Christians to trust God and make the brave changes that were needed.  We need to examine our hearts. Are we allowing God to guide us, to fill our hearts with his love?

Impostors in the church – Jude 1-16, Part 2

24 Sep

Are you an impostor? Are there impostors in your church?

In part 1 of this series on Jude 1-16, we talked about impostors, and in this next post we’re going to learn a whole lot more about them.

In verse 2 Jude gives the Christians a customary short blessing featuring mercy, peace and love, all important rich terms, but we have studied them in recent weeks, so let’s move on to verse 3.  There we read that Jude wanted to write them about the salvation that Christians share, but something became more important.  It seems he wished he could write an encouraging letter, but now he can’t. 

Instead he felt he had to write and urge them to contend for the faith.  In that phrase we have Jude’s purpose for writing: to encourage the church to contend for the faith.  That word “contend” is defined as “to exert intense effort on behalf of something—to struggle for.”[1] He is saying, “Church, you have some work to do, and it might be really hard. But no worries. You can do it – you are called, loved, and kept.  God is with you.” 

So Jude’s purpose for writing them is to point out some issues.  He wanted to write an encouraging letter, but instead he realized he needs to confront them.  Why?  What happened? In verse 4 he tells them.  The issue that has Jude concerned is that there is a secret crisis in the church.

He says that certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago secretly slipped in among them.  So there was an infiltration in the church.  It almost sounds like a spy novel, a CIA story.  Like an FBI agent who goes undercover and becomes part of a mob family for a couple years.  But in this case, it’s not good guys secretly infiltrating the bad guys to take them down.  It is bad guys entering the church. Impostors.

These people who secretly entered the church are godless, Jude says.  That’s a serious charge.   People in the church that are godless?  You might ask, but don’t we want godless people to become part of a church family, because then they can get to know God?  Yes, but that’s not what these godless people were doing.  They were secretly malicious. 

How do you enter a church secretly?  Not through a back door, because at that time there were no church buildings.  Jude is not speaking literally about entering a building.  He is talking figuratively about people becoming part of church family, and the primary way you do this secretly is to lie about who you really are.  It is to say that you are a Christian, when in fact you are not. It is to be an impostor. 

How do we know this? Because Jude says they are godless.  And he says the impostors have an agenda.  They change the grace of God into a license to sin.  That means they are giving false teaching.  To exchange the grace of God into a license to sin works like this:  It is a person who says, “Well, God is a gracious God who forgives all our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross and victory over sin in his resurrection.  That means every sin I ever committed and every sin I will commit is forgiven.  So therefore, let’s live it up and sin, because it’s all forgiven!”  That’s how you turn God’s grace into a license to sin.  You remember Paul’s letter to his friend Titus?  Go back to Titus 2:11, and Paul directly counters this idea when he says, “The grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness and live holy and upright lives.” 

Jude is right.  The impostors are wrong.  True Christians, when they receive God’s grace, they are so sorrowful for their sin, so thankful for what God has done that their response is to pursue godly living.  A life like we read about the past few weeks, walking in love, and walking in truth.  But these impostors in the church, Jude says in verse 4, “They deny Jesus Christ.”  And there you have it.  They’re not Christians.  And they don’t want to be.  They are in outright denial of and disobedience to Jesus.

As we continue studying what Jude says about the impostors, you might consider asking yourself if there are impostors in your church? And in what ways might you be an impostor? If you think, “Well I’m not denying Jesus or changing grace into a license to sin,” are there other ways that you might be an impostor? Jude has a lot more to say about the impostors. Check back in to the next post to learn more.

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 495.

You are Called, Loved, Kept – Jude 1-16, Part 1

23 Sep
Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

Have you ever known someone who turns out to be very different from what you originally thought?  Sometimes we get that impression about a person as we get to know them.  Other times people change.  Then there are people who just fool you. 

Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Talking to Strangers tells the story of a woman, Ana Belen Montes, who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency for years, but during that time she was a spy for Cuba.  When word got out, it wrecked her colleagues.  They couldn’t believe it.  She had duped them.  She was an impostor. 

We’re used to hearing about stories like this coming from the world of intelligence.  But there can be impostors in many places.  Some people say that we are all impostors to one degree or another.  Who lives a truly consistent life?  In recent years, there is the trend of being a social media impostor.  That is the person who selectively curates their social feed to make it look like their life is a certain way, usually really good, when in fact those who know them in person know things are very different.  Christians can be impostors on social media, and in the church. 

All summer we’ve been reading other people’s mail.  Ancient letters in the Bible, like Titus, Philemon, 2nd John and 3rd John. This week we are reading a letter written by Jude, who is going to talk about impostors in the church.  So before continuing, go ahead and read Jude verses 1-16. 

In verse 1, the writer identifies himself as Jude, and he describes himself two ways: a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James.  When he says he is a “servant of Jesus,” that’s a fairly common description that writers of the New Testament letters used, but the second label Jude uses is rather uncommon, “brother of James.”  Who is James?  James was at the time a leader of the Jerusalem church.  Sometimes people refer to him as the Bishop of the Christian church in Jerusalem.  He’s the same one that wrote the New Testament epistle of James.  And here’s where it gets interesting: James was a brother of Jesus.  So that means Jude was also a brother of Jesus. 

Two brothers of Jesus each ended up becoming leaders in the church and writers of a book of the New Testament.  I love that kind of detail.  You might think, “Well, of course Jesus’ brothers would become famous. That happens all the time in famous families.”  That is a good point, and it may have happened in this case too.  But it didn’t start out that way.  In John’s Gospel, chapter 7 verses 1-5, there is a brief story where John describes some animosity between Jesus and his brothers.  It seems they weren’t too keen on the idea of their big brother’s sudden fame.  John 7:5 says, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.” 

But at some point, of his siblings, at least James and Jude changed their views and began to believe in him.  To the point where Jude doesn’t call himself a brother of Jesus, but a servant of Jesus. He had come so far in his thinking, when he could have taken advantage of the family connection and said, “You know I’m Jesus’ brother, right?”  But he didn’t.  We see some measure of humility in Jude.  That said, he does say he is the brother of James, so he still name drops a little. 

After identifying himself, he describes who the recipients are, and we see that it is a general letter, to those who have been:  Called, Loved and Kept.

That means Jude is writing to Christians.  Christians are called by God into his family, to a new life as a child of God, and Christians are loved by God the Father, and finally Christians are kept by Jesus. 

Do you hear the close family language in that phrase?  Called, loved, kept.  In this we observe the active role that God takes in being in relationship with us. 

I believe it best to understand God’s love as not forcing us against our will, whether before or after we choose to give our lives to him.  He’s not that kind of God.  Instead we need to see this phrase in connection with verse 21.  We’re going to study that more fully next week, but I at least want to point it out.  There Jude says, “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” which means that we have a responsibility too, we can and should live in such a way to keep ourselves in God’s love. 

Back in verse 1, though, Jude wants to remind the people that they are beloved and surrounded in care.  They are family.  As we’ll see, once he gets around to telling them his main purpose for writing, he has a reason saying they are called, loved and kept. I’ll give you a hint: they may need to be brave in what he is asking them to do, but they need not worry because they are called, loved and kept by God.

So may that be an encouragement to you. While you have the responsibility to keep yourself in God’s love, you’re not wholly on your own. God is at work, too, calling, loving, keeping you.

But why would the Christians need to be brave? And what about impostors? Check back in to the next post, as Jude will begin to reveal the reason for his writing, and why it is so important that the Christians ground themselves in God’s work of calling, loving and keeping them.

How to live a non-hypocritical life – 3rd John, Part 5

20 Sep

Remember the story I told about the difficult boss who was terrible to work for, but he was a kind and caring gentleman among his church family?  One way in one setting, totally different in another.  Now that we have studied 3rd John, and we have learned about walking in truth, we can conclude with some practical applications.

To summarize what we learned, Christians walk in truth, and that means a consistency of life no matter what setting we’re in.  To live a double life is to live a lie.  But to walk in truth is to live with consistency.

So in this letter to Gaius John has taught us what it means to walk in truth. 

He said very clearly what walking in truth is not.  For that we just need to look at Diotrophes.  Christians should not love to be first, should not be gossiping.  We should not be divisive, disagreeable, grumpy.  Do you in any way resemble Diotrophes?  At work, at school, at home, at church? 

If so, let’s remember what walking in the truth is.  For that we can look at Gaius.  We should be welcoming of fellow Christians, and we should be striving for unity in the church.  In other words, we are striving to have a way or a pattern of life that is modeled after Jesus.  Jesus is our teacher and we invest time and energy learning from Jesus how to live. 

That’s how we walk in the truth.

If you are living an inconsistent life, I would encourage you to make a choice to begin walking in truth, and that starts with devoting your life to Jesus. 

If you were the harsh boss reading 3rd John about walking in truth, I hope your response would start with repenting.  Admitting in front of your employees that you have been wrong.  Asking their forgiveness.  Listening to their hurts.  Seeking accountability to be different.  If you were Diotrophes, it would mean telling your church family that you are sorry for gossiping, for being grumpy, for being divisive.   

One of the best pictures of this is a man named Zacchaeus in the Bible. He was a tax collector who got wealthy by cheating people, and when he met Jesus his life was changed.  To start walking in the truth he began to make amends, giving money back.  He wanted to walk in the truth.  Christians, we are to be known for walking in the truth. How are you walking?

What’s more important: belief or action? – 3rd John, Part 4

19 Sep
Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

As we continue studying the ancient letter of 3rd John, we read at the end of verse 6 that John writes his friend Gaius encouraging him to send some fellow Christians on their way in a manner worthy of God.  In other words, he is saying to Gaius, “keep doing what you’re doing in supporting these guys.”  But who were they?

In verses 7-8 John says that they were people who went out for the sake of the Name, receiving no help from the pagans, and therefore Christians ought to be hospitable to them, showing that they are unified in the mission of God’s kingdom.

The people John is talking about were missionaries, essentially.  Traveling preachers who had gone on mission trips in the Name of Jesus, for the mission of God’s Kingdom.  Gaius had taken some of them in, supporting them, caring for them, probably providing food and shelter, while the missionaries proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom.  John describes what Gaius’ support of these missionaries as an example of “walking in the truth.”  So Gaius clearly has a gift of hospitality, and he used it to advance the mission of Jesus.  That is Gaius demonstrating how to walk in truth.

Then in verse 9, John introduces a problem.   He says that he wrote to the church, presumably to ask for them to also help the traveling missionaries, but there was a guy in the church named Diotrophes who blocked John’s attempt.  When you think about how John has already described Gaius as walking in the truth, now look at verses 9-10 and see how differently he describes Diotrophes.  Let’s just list out the words and phrases John uses:

Diotrophes loves to be first.  He will have nothing to do with John.  He is gossiping maliciously.  He refuses to welcome the brothers.  He even stops those who try to help, and he puts them out of the church.  

This is the exact opposite of walking in the truth!  Where Gaius was seeking to live like Jesus lived, Diotrophes is not.  Diotrophes is living an inconsistent life, in the church, but opposing the mission of the church.  Gaius, however, is walking in truth, and Diotrophes, even though he is part of a church, is walking in evil.

And that is why John says in verse 11, “Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.”  In other words, walk in truth, imitate the way of Jesus, follow Jesus, let him be your example.  Do not imitate Diotrophes.  Keep Jesus as your focus. 

John’s conclusion is that those people who do what is good are from God, and those who do what is evil have not seen God.  In other words, Diotrophes is not a true Christian, and he shows that clearly by his behavior.  We have seen this time and time again in these short letters.  True Christianity is shown by how you live.  By what comes out of your mouth, by how you spend your money, by how you behave.  You show what is truly inside you by the choices you make.  What was inside Diotrophes was not God.  But the truth, Jesus, was truly within Gaius, as that was flowing out.  Gaius walked in truth.  Diotrophes walked in evil.

In verse 12 John then introduces us to another person, Demetrius, and John says that Demetrius is a great guy.  John is vouching for him.  Some scholars believe that Demetrius was one of the traveling missionaries that Diotrophes put out of the church, and John is saying to Gaius, “Please care for Demetrius like you did for the others.” 

So this letter is basically a reference letter.  John is writing Gaius, with a reference for Demetrius.  It’s like an interview process when candidates list references, and you call them up, asking basically, “Tell me honestly about this girl.  Is she a good worker?  Can I trust her?”  John is saying to Gaius, “You can trust Demetrius.” 

It could be that Diotrophes was really calling Demetrius into question, and John is saying, “Don’t believe Diotrophes.  He is not walking in the truth.  Just look at how he lives.  Don’t trust the word of a guy who shows by his actions that he clearly doesn’t know God.” In other words, John is saying to Gaius, and to all of us: your personal life matters.  Just being part of a church, and saying that you believe in Jesus is not what it means to be a Christian.  What matters is how you live.  Because Jesus is truth, that means we strive to live like Jesus lived.  That, of course, is a truthful life.  A truthful life is a consistent life. How you act shows what you truly believe.

How to walk in truth (and find out if you aren’t) – 3rd John, Part 3

18 Sep
Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

If you created an anonymous online survey asking your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to describe your pattern of life, what would they say? What tendencies do you have? What comes to mind when they think about you? What impressions do the choices of your life make on the people around you? How do you come across?

In this series of posts, we’re studying an ancient letter a guy named John wrote to his friend Gaius, and in that letter John tells Gaius how he comes across. If you want, read the letter, called 3rd John in your Bible or Bible app, and catch up with these posts with Part 1 and Part 2. In Part 2 we learned that John prayed for Gaius, that it would be going well with his soul. As we continue in verses 3-4, John further describes what it means for things to be going well with Gaius’ body and soul when he expresses the great joy he had when he heard that Gaius was faithful to the truth and walking in the truth. So this “walking in the truth,” whatever it is, is really important to John!

In our previous series when we studied the letter called 2nd John, he also mentioned “walking in the truth” 2nd John verse 4.  In fact, while I think it is coincidental, compare the verse fours in both 2nd and 3rd John, and notice how similar they are!  The significance to this, I sense, is that “walking in the truth” was on John’s mind and clearly important to him, so let’s take time to try to understand it.

John calls it a “walk,” or “walking.”  Walking most obviously gives us the image of a person putting one foot in front of the other.  But John is not talking about the physical act moving yourself by the motion of walking.  John is using walking in a figurative way. 

Walking here is defined as “to live or behave in a customary manner, with possible focus upon continuity of action”[1]  You see what that means?  John is talking about a way of life.  In 2nd John, when we focused on “walking in love,” we learned that John wanted the people to have a way of life based on love.  Here in 3rd John, he is talking about a way of life based on truth.  Your walk is your way of life that refers to your behavior, your choices, your actions, and it is not a one-time event but the ongoing pattern of your life. It is habitual.  It is what characterizes you because you do it over and over and over again.  John says that is your walk.  And he says, it should be a walk in the truth. 

So, then, what is the truth?  This is the Greek word alethia which is used as a female name in English, and it means “truth.”  John is not talking about a concept or idea of truth, so much as he is talking about the fact that Jesus is the embodiment of truth.  I know that he doesn’t spell that out in verses 1-4, so how do we know this?  Because of what John has written in other places, the most famous of which is John 14:6, in John’s account of Jesus’ life, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  This was and still is a fairly surprising way to think of truth.  Truth is a person.  Jesus is truth.  Last week we read John saying that there is an amazing reality that this truth lives in us and is with us forever.  Now this week we are focusing on what it means to walk in that truth.  It means that our pattern of life should be based on Jesus’ pattern of life, in agreement with or consistent with Jesus’ way of life. 

Our guide, our example, for the way to live life, is Jesus, and how he lived.  He is the truth, and we walk in his way.   Walking truth is not just telling the truth.   It surely includes telling the truth, but it is much more than that.  Walking in the truth occurs when we strive to apply the ways and habits of Jesus to our lives. 

As we continue studying the letter, let’s be alert to learn if John has anything further to say about walking in truth.  In verse 5, for example, he encourages Gaius because Gaius has been faithful in what he has done for the brothers, even those who were strangers to him.  This is a somewhat vague sentence, so perhaps if we keep reading John will explain it for us.  In verse 6 these brothers have told the church about Gaius’ love.  So clearly there are Christian people who Gaius helped in some way, and those Christian people shared the news about Gaius’ generosity to John’s church. Sounds like John is describing that Gaius was walking in the truth!

Can it be said of you that you are walking in the truth? What does the pattern of your life tell about you? Do you want to know? How would the people around you describe your walk? Ask them. You might need to make it anonymous, so you get the truth.

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 504.

3 ways to pray for your friends – 3rd John, Part 2

17 Sep
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

How should you pray for your friends?

As we continuing studying the letter called 3rd John, after greeting his friend Gaius, instead of conveying a blessing from God, as so often happens in the biblical letters, John next describes how he prays for his friend.  It’s a great prayer, too, one that you can use a model for your prayers for your loved ones.  John says he prays for Gaius to enjoy good health, that all may go well with him, even as his soul is getting along well. 

That is an interesting prayer.  The good health part?  I get it.  Very normal.  We pray for good health frequently.  In fact, my guess is if you tallied up all the prayer requests mentioned in churches in each week the majority would be for health concerns.  It’s not wrong to pray for good health.  John does it right here.  But he has some other concerns too.  That means we should avoid getting fixated on praying for good health.  When we pray for ourselves and others, we should think holistically, meaning, thinking of the whole person, as John does.  John prays for health, but what else does he pray for?

The next prayer request is “that all may go well with you.”  I get that one too.  It’s a great thing to pray for your loved ones.  Whether it is their job, family, finances, relationships, you name it, pray that all will go well with them.  Of course in this life, we know that all will not always go well, right?

That’s where John’s third and final prayer request for Gaius is so interesting: “Even as your soul is getting along well.”  He prays for Gaius’ soul!  We should be praying for our loved ones’ souls.  Do you pray for that?

What is this soul, John is talking about?  Is he just praying that Gaius would accept Jesus as his savior so his soul would be saved?  In other words, is John thinking about eternal destiny? About life after death? Notice that John doesn’t say anything like that, does he?  He simply says he wants Gaius’ soul to be getting along well.  What does John mean by this? 

We sometimes think of our soul as the immaterial part of us.  Similar to heart, soul, spirit, mind.  But these terms can be confusing.  Are they real?  Do they refer to different parts of us? 

Christian philosopher JP Moreland, in his book Finding Quiet, explains the soul like this: think of a cup of water. The water represents an inanimate human body, like a corpse, with no life in it.  Then think of a cup of salt. The salt represents our soul.  When the salt is dissolved in the water, it now represents a body that is alive, with a soul.  Our soul, Moreland says, is completely intermingled with our body.  When we are alive, a human is a body with a soul.  It is who we truly are. This is why our evangelical forefathers had a question that they would ask on a regular basis when they got together: “How goes it with your soul?”  It is a deeper way to ask “How are you doing?”  John is approaching prayer holistically.  He doesn’t want his friends to be doing well only in their health, which is a body concern.  He wants all elements of who they are to be going well.  His is a concern for their spiritual, emotional and bodily health.  John is showing us, then, great way for us to think about how we are praying for the people in our lives.

This also relates to John’s idea of a walk, which we’ll look at more in the next post in this series.