Tag Archives: church

Mercy for those who doubt – Jude 17-25, Part 5

4 Oct
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“Be merciful to those who doubt.” 

Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  So often we conceive of doubt as a negative thing to be avoided, and the result can be that people who doubt are considered to be sinful or strange.  But is doubt wrong?

As we conclude our two-week study through the letter of Jude, we find that in verse 22, he writes that we should be merciful to people who doubt.  Why? Because doubt is not an indication of disbelief.  Doubt is normal.  Just about everyone doubts.  It doesn’t mean they have lost the faith.  They’re just questioning, investigating, wondering.  Their doubt is actually healthy, as doubt helps us go deeper in our beliefs, making them our own.  Let’s be merciful to those who doubt.  Instead of judging those who doubt, let’s listen to them share their concerns.

Someone recently said to me that where there is doubt there is hope.  In a society where there is growing doubt, this is instructive to us.  I’ve heard a stat reporting that only 30% of 18-30 year olds go to church.  We can choose to get upset about this, but Jude is wise to instruct us to be merciful to those who doubt.  Rather than dump on people for doubting, we should have an attitude of embracing them, even when they doubt.  Doubt means they are searching, and thus there is hope that they’ll find what they are looking for. 

Jude has more instructions for us in verse 23: “Snatch others from the fire and save them.”  Christians should be known as being active in outreach.  We can and should seek to help the ungodly impostors find God. But notice how Jude finishes verse 23, “To others show mercy mixed with fear, hating even the clothing stained with corrupted flesh.”  For people who are corrupted, meaning that they will not receive any help or guidance or word about Jesus, which seems to describe the ungodly impostors in Jude’s day, then it is time to part ways with them.  Remember our study in Titus when Paul said, “have nothing to do with them”?  That’s what Jude is getting at here.  

Jude then concludes his letter in verses 24-25 with an amazing flourish.  It is a prayer to God.  He starts his prayer, “To him who is able to keep you from falling.”  Falling is a word that refers to stumbling.  God is able to keep you from stumbling!  He doesn’t force us.  But we can depend on him, and rely on his strength and power through his Spirit within to help us remain faithful to him.

Next Jude says God is also able “to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Combine that with how he finishes the prayer: “To the only God, our savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore.”  When I think about that it strikes me how he focuses on giving glory to God.  He is placing God squarely in focus right in front of him, right in front of us, almost saying, “Look at God, he is real, he is alive, he is powerful, and we need to remember that.” 

These kinds of rich theological prayers are so important because they shake us out of a lull and help us focus on what is real, what is true, what is important about life. 

This, then, is what Jude is saying in his letter.  He is saying, “Wake up people, there are impostors in your church, and you are letting it happen.  You’ve let yourself fall asleep.  Wake up.  Focus on truth, on goodness; focus on God.  You’re probably going to need to repent of your lethargy and get down to the business of contending for the faith.  But remember that you are called, loved and kept. God is able to keep you from falling.  He is at work!  Focus on him.  Spend time with him.  Allow him to guide your life.” 

Keep yourself in God’s love – Jude 17-25, Part 4

3 Oct
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“Keep yourself in God’s love.” That really sounds like a religious or spiritual thing to say, right? What comes to your mind when you read that line? In this series of posts, we have been studying some phrases that Jude writes in an ancient letter to his Christian friends. It seems that Jude is writing them to give them guidance about how to ready themselves if Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Specifically, Jude’s friends had allowed ungodly impostors in their church, and he was very concerned that his friends were doing the opposite of getting ready for Jesus’ return. In verses 1-16 he pointed out who they impostors were, and now in verses 17-25 he is giving the church instructions for how to address the impostors, thus providing the church a foundation for being ready should Jesus return.

First, he talked about how to build one another up in the faith and, second, about praying in the Spirit. Now he says in verse 21 that Christians, to be ready for Jesus’ return, should keep themselves in God’s love.  Last week I referred to this verse because at the beginning of the letter, Jude says in verse 1 that he writing to those who are “called, loved and kept by God.”  So in verse 1 we see God at work doing the calling, loving and keeping, while here in verse 21 Jude says that the Christians need to do the work of keeping themselves in God’s love.  It is both God’s work and ours. So how do we keep ourselves in God’s love?

The way Jude wrote this, the phrase “keep yourself in God’s love” is the only command or imperative, and the other phrases support that command.  In the NIV the translators chose to feature each phrase individually. Some other English translations, however, help us see Jude’s focus when they translate it this way: “building yourselves up in the faith, praying in the Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, waiting for the mercy of God to bring yourselves to eternal life.”  See how each of the supporting phrases modify the central command to keep yourselves in God’s love?

That means we should be known for our love while we wait for God to return, or until that day we pass on.  The goal is to keep ourselves in God’s love.  In that we see how much God wants to be in relationship with us, how much he wants his love to remain in our lives, and thus how much he wants his love to be flowing out of our lives.

Think about other Scripture passages referring to love that we can apply to our lives.  “Love one another.” “Love your enemies.”  “We love because God first loved us.”  When we depend on God’s love, his power resides in us, so that his love flows through us.  This occurs through his Spirit within us, meaning that his love is within us. Here we have a connection to praying in the Spirit which Jude mentioned previously.

I was reading this week about the ancient Christians and how they lived through numerous awful plagues in the Roman Empire.  When most others, especially the wealthy fled the cities to avoid the plague, the Christians, filled with God’s love, stayed and ministered the hope of Jesus to people.  Interestingly, as the Christians shared the words of the Good News about Jesus, and as they provided clean water and food to people, many sick people actually recovered, and when they were back to health, you can imagine how they felt about Jesus.  Many gave their lives to him. Those Christians kept themselves in God’s love.

How about you? What will it look like for you to keep yourself in God’s love? Notice that it is a practice of relationship to God that results in his loving flowing out of you. Keeping yourself in God’s love is not just personal or private. Instead, when you are filled with God’s love, you will share that love with those around you, especially with those in need.

How to build others up in the faith – Jude 17-25, Part 2

1 Oct
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Are you building others up? What does it mean to build others up? In th previous post I mentioned that there are Christian phrases that we use but maybe don’t fully understand. Today we’re looking at the phrase “build each other up.” Are you building others up in the faith?

Yesterday we began our series on Jude 17-25, studying another Christian phrase Jude mentions: last times. As we continue in this post, Jude talks about what we will see in the end times. Take a look at what he says in verses 18-19.  There he briefly repeats a description of the ungodly impostors he talked about in verses 1-16, which we studied last week.

Jude describes them as scoffers who follow their own ungodly desires, divide the church, follow mere natural instincts, and who do not have the Spirit.  What Jude is saying is that the church should not be surprised by the presence of ungodly impostors among them because the apostles had predicted it would happen. 

When we discussed this in our sermon roundtable (a kind of weekly Bible study that discusses sermons 10 days before they are preached) a few weeks ago, one person asked an interesting question: “What might make a church vulnerable to people like this?”  Think about that.  You have a church filled with Christians, and those Christians allow ungodly scoffers to be a part of the church.  How can that be?

Last week I mentioned that perhaps we could question Jude by asking, “But shouldn’t we want ungodly people in the church so that they can learn about the Lord?”  On one hand I get that, and I would generally say, yes, we do want everyone to come to our fellowship to hear the good news about Jesus.  But there is more to the story. Look at the way Jude describes these ungodly impostors.  They divide the church.  They are malicious.  They are not genuinely interested in seeking truth.  Instead they are actively seeking to tear down the church.  So while the church should be a place where people can meet Jesus, there are some people who are simply malicious in their intent, and Jude is saying that the church needs to deal with them. 

With that said, are there aspects of a church that would make a church vulnerable to being infiltrated by people who are malicious?  At sermon roundtable we speculated that if church has spiritual boredom or apathy, or maybe poor teaching, it could be susceptible to this.  Thus that church would be showing that they are not ready for the last times, as Jesus taught us to be. And that is exactly where Jude goes next.  

In verse 20 we see how Jude begins to answer the question, how do we show we are ready for the end times?

First he says, build yourselves up in the faith.

Discipleship is all about building up yourself and others in the faith.  It requires regular immersion in Scripture, applying God’s word to your life.  Not just reading it or listening to sermons, but doing what it says, as Jude’s brother James writes in his letter (see James 1:22). 

We also build each other up through Christian fellowship and community, encouraging one another.  This is why it is so important that everyone in the church belong to a small group of some kind. In the old days of the evangelical church, they had weekly home gatherings called class meetings, and they would ask one another, “how goes it with your soul?”

Are you a part of a group like that? Here are some questions that a group could be asking one another:

  • What are you reading in your Bible?
  • How is your prayer life?
  • What is something you are thanking God for this week?
  • What is something God is convicting you of right now?
  • How are you choosing joy this week?
  • What can we pray about?

If this is totally foreign to your group, perhaps you could make it a goal to work towards, implemented slowly and gradually.  Additionally, group members could check in with each other at least once between meetings (text, call, email, face-to-face, etc.) to see how they are doing, again utilizing these questions as a follow-up to what was brought up at the face-to-face meetings.  Do you see how questions like these can encourage growth in discipleship to Jesus? Participation in a group like that is one of the best ways to build each other up in the faith. 

You might be an impostor and not even know it – Jude 1-16, Part 5

27 Sep

All week long in this series of posts on Jude 1-16, we’ve been reading this ancient letter in which Jude reveals to the Christians that they have ungodly impostors in their church. Are you an impostor? No? Are you sure? Is it possible that there might be some small way you are living an inconsistent life? Do you need to check your heart? Keep reading as Jude will talk about the many ways we can be impostors, some of which we might say aren’t that bad, or that everyone does that.

If you haven’t read the first four parts of this series, you can go back and start here to get caught up on what Jude has said so far about the impostors. He then goes on in verses 14-15 to claim that Enoch prophesied about the ungodly impostors.  This is the second quotation in Jude’s letter from a non-biblical source. The first was in verses 9-10, from The Assumption of Moses.  Like Moses, Enoch was a biblical character.  He is the son of Jared, as we read in Gen. 5:18, and he is a famous character in Genesis for two reasons.  One, Enoch is the father of Methuselah, who lived 969 years, the oldest in the list of ancient people.  Also, we learn something fascinating about Enoch in Genesis 5:24, and this one is much more important. There the writer of Genesis says that Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, because God took him away!

What Jude quotes is a non-biblical book called The Book of Enoch.  Though it is a non-biblical book, it was held in great respect by early Christians.  Obviously Jude was familiar with it, enough to quote it to support his point.  His quote from Enoch is a passage about God judging the ungodly. What we have seen, then, throughout verses 4-15, is Jude laying out a devastating case against the ungodly impostors.  There should be no cause for question here.  They are out of control, and the church needs to address this issue. 

But still Jude is not done.  After so many illustrations and quotations and analogies, he has a few more very specific issues that the godless impostors are guilty of.  Look at the list in verse 16.  They are grumblers, faultfinders, following their own evil desires, boasting about themselves, and they flatter others, for their own advantage.

Sound familiar?  In nearly every letter we’ve read this summer, we’ve heard about people in the churches who were impostors like this.  Because it is repeated so frequently in the letters, we ought to pay attention to it!

So let’s do that.  How can contemporary Christians learn from this?  Let us check our hearts. So that we are not impostors.

In the last month, I’ve started my devotional time praying David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

When you learn where you have been offensive and sinful, seek forgiveness with those you have wronged.  Come to your church family with a humble heart to serve.  Be willing to make hard changes in your life, changes that move you in God’s direction.  Seek truth.  We just studied that last week.  Walk in truthWalk in love.  As you interact with each other here and with your family and with your community.  Are you grumbling, complaining, being selfish, or gossiping?  Ask someone if they see these things in you and be willing to sit with a friend and Jesus and make the hard changes. 

Impostors don’t have to stay impostors. 

Thus far in Jude verses 1-16 we have heard a fairly harsh message from Jude.  He wanted his church to take to heart what he was saying, and we should take it seriously as well.  God wants our whole hearts.  And out of the outflow of our hearts comes words, attitudes and actions.  He wants our whole hearts because he loves us deeply.  He desires an abundant life for us.  He wants our good.  Remember how the letter started: we are called, loved and kept.  There is such good for us when we follow his ways.  It might not necessarily be easy or comfortable for us, but it will result in so much good, because we will be following the way of Jesus.

How to ruin a Love Feast, Jude 1-16, Part 4

26 Sep
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Have you ever heard of a love feast?

This is Part 4 in a series of posts on Jude 1-16, and we’re going to talk about people that ruin love feasts. Thus far in Parts 1, 2, and 3, we’ve been studying the ancient letter in the New Testament called Jude, and Jude has been telling a group of Christians about ungodly impostors that have infiltrated the church.

Jude says in verse 10 that these ungodly men speak abusively against what they don’t understand.   It reminds me of a student who is studying physics or algebra and struggling with it, and just says, “This is stupid, why will I ever need this?”  I might have said that a time or too… I might have even recently said something similar about books I’m reading for a doctoral program…

Or maybe you adults can admit to having spoken unkindly when seeing someone who has gotten themselves in a bad situation, perhaps a homeless man, with no understanding as to how he got there, who he is as a person and what his story is.  Like the ungodly impostors, have you ever spoken abusively about what you didn’t understand?

What is worse, these ungodly impostors indulge in their animal instincts, their lusts, their passions, which is all they understand, and Jude says it is destroying them.  They are unrestrained, lacking self-control.  It gives the image of people who get drunk, who get high, who spend money irresponsibly, who overeat, etc., and do it with a bit of a self-righteousness and a judgmental heart to others. 

Jude’s conclusion about them, his accusation, we see in verse 11 is, “Woe to them!”

A woe is a kind of prayer that speaks God’s judgement on people.  “Woe” describes hardship, distress, even horror.  Jude is saying that the ungodly impostors should be in horror because of what their end will be. 

Then he gives three rapid fire illustrations of their ungodliness, all three based on Old Testament stories, thus showing how the impostors deserved woe.

First they have taken the way of Cain, which was a life lived in the opposite direction of God.  Second, they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error, meaning they are willing to sell out for money.  And finally they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion, which is another story about how the people of Israel rebelled and God judged them.

Jude is saying, “Church, do you realize the severity of this situation?  Do you realize what you are allowing to go on in your church?” He then explains the situation further in verse 12.  He says these men were blemishes at the church’s love feasts.

Love feasts?  What is that?  Basically it was a time when the church family would gather for a meal, followed by the Lord’s Supper.  Grace Brethren and Moravian churches still do this, a wonderful expression of the unity of the church family. But in Jude’s day these impostors had come into the church, and though they were ungodly and even denying Jesus, for some reason they were still participating in the love feast. 

It is so absurd to Jude.  Those guys had no business being there!  The Lord’s Supper is only for Christians.  And the church was allowing the impostors to partake.  Those guys denied Jesus in their hearts, in their actions and yet they still participated in communion?  It was a mockery, and the church was allowing it to happen.

You can hear the righteous anger in Jude’s words as he launches into a bunch of illustrations to further describe these guys.  They are shepherds who feed only themselves, which depicts their selfishness.  And remember, they do this all while pretending to be a Christian.

Next he calls them clouds without rain. In an agricultural society that very much depended on rain, a cloud without rain was nearly useless.  He says the wind blows the clouds by, showing the clouds were a waste, that they had succumbed to the greater power of the wind, which is what will happen to the impostors when God judges them.

He says they are autumn trees without fruit, uprooted, twice dead.  Again, a total waste.

They are wild waves at seas, foaming up their shame.  They lives produce a lot of commotion and drama, but nothing substantial.  Nothing meaningful.  They fade away.

He says they are wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever, and image that reminds us of total separation from God.

In other words, Jude is saying that the ungodly impostors are in a very bad spot in life because of what they have coming to them.  They are doing no good within the church.  Contrast that with true Christians in the church, Christians who love Jesus and have hearts and minds in line with Jesus, who give their lives for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.  Their actions will be ones that strive for unity, for love, for obedience to the ways of Christ.  The fruit of the Spirit will be evident, flowing from them: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.

How’s your heart? – Jude 1-16, Part 3

25 Sep
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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.