Living God's Way - Jude 17
Well the word on everyones lips this week has been petrol and "How can I get some?" has probably been the most frequently asked question. But the thing that has amazed me most this week has been the ease with which a relatively small band of truck drivers and farmers have reduced the country to near chaos. And its not just car drivers who are suffering. Hospitals, schools, public transport, supermarkets, even sporting events, the last thing you would think could be affected by a fuel crisis, have been affected. And people have resorted to desperate measures. I read of one man who transformed his Ford Fiesta into a boat so he could sail across a river in Dorset to get some petrol. Fuel has been siphoned out of cars, prices have been spiralling up and some people have even resorted to going to France to buy petrol. And its all because of a few lorry drivers and farmers blockading the odd oil refinery. A simple solution for a big problem (tax) with massive effects.
Now weve seen over the last few weeks that Jude is writing to people facing a crisis of their own. But it is nothing to with petrol, its all about false teaching. Teachers have secretly slipped into the church in verse 4 and are peddling their own brand of Christianity. And says Jude it is having a devastating effect. Jude says that "they are changing the grace of God into a licence for immorality and they are denying Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." This crisis is even more serious than the petrol crisis and the reason is that it affects not just our journey times or mobility. It affects our eternal destiny. And so Jude writes to this church to tell his friends to contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints. And last week Jude taught us why we are to contend. It was not an easy lesson for us to learn but it was vital that we saw it. You may remember he taught us the nature of false teaching which was to ignore Gods Word and make him weightless, and he taught us the effects of false teaching. They are devastating and false teachers end up in hell taking many with them. And we discovered the uncomfortable lesson that we needed to take heed and listen to the warning. Jude was firing a warning shot across our bows to wake us up to the dangers of it and to examine ourselves and rid ourselves of the seeds of ignoring Gods word. Because the fruit of such seeds is full blown false teaching which paves the way to hell.
So, if you like, last week Jude was telling us why we need to contend. And this week he tells us how, and really these verses are the heart of the letter. He gives his readers practical advice on how to cope and fight against false teaching. Last week was the negative, this week the positive. And Judes solution to this huge crisis is very simple. But like those who are petitioning for less tax on fuel, the solution is very effective, because it stops us falling into false teaching and helps us to stay on track. A simple solution for a huge problem with massive effects. So what is his solution, how are we to contend positively for the faith? Well weve got to keep on doing three things:
1) Keep on Remembering (vv 17-19)
2) Keep on Growing (vv 20-21)
3) Keep on Showing Mercy (vv 22-23)
1) Keep on Remembering (vv 17-19)
So the first thing we need to keep on doing is remembering. And remembering what? Wells says Jude in verse 17: "Remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you: In that last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." So they are to remember what the apostles told them about the false teachers. And the NT is littered with examples of what the apostles said concerning the future. Jesus himself spend a good time warning his disciples about false teachers and people who claimed to be the Christ. He says in Mark 13, "Watch out that no-one deceives you." Paul was very clear what the future held in terms of false teaching in the early church. He tells the Ephesian church in Acts 20 that false shepherds will arise from their own number, exactly what happened to this church that Jude is writing to. And then as a final example there is John. We are studying his first letter in Homegroups this term and he warns the churches in his letter to beware of the antichrists, literally those who put themselves against Christ by their teaching. So there was no shortage of warnings for the early church about false teaching. Maybe these readers of Judes letter had read some of these writings weve referred to or they had heard the warnings in the flesh. However they have heard, Jude says they are to remember such warnings.
Now before we think that these things happened to them, and its irrelevant to us today, then think again. When does Jude say these things will happen? He says it is in the "last times". Now in the NT the last times is that period of time between Jesus first coming and his return. So we too are in the last times. So what the apostles said about false teachers to the first church still applies today. Thats why the letter of Jude is timelessly relevant, because the sorts of things Jude had to deal with then are still issues for us today. I hope youve seen that as weve studied it together. Jude is actually bang up to date. And what did the apostles say about these false teachers? Well in verse 19: "These are men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Sprit." False teaching always divides because it lures people into a different gospel. And what they are doing is following natural instincts. So often a new teaching or new morality is couched in the language of freedom. "Oh were only doing what is natural. Were doing nothing wrong". But of course often what is natural to us is sinful. Because we are natural sinners. It is unnatural to battle against sin. And says Jude this shows they dont have the Spirit. In other words, they are not Christians. Oh they may sound religious, they may be very nice people, but at the end of the day, they are not converted, because they follow a different gospel.
And all this was foretold says Jude and that is why we must remember. Often I read statistics about what clergymen believe or I read of another moral or doctrinal tragedy in the paper and Im tempted to think "How depressing! No-one believes the gospel and church leaders seems to falling, left right and centre. How can I possibly keep going?" Well Jude says the first thing you need to do in the battle is to remember. Remember that this is all foretold. In other words, its exactly as God said it would be. He said through his apostles that there would be false teachers and sure enough there. He said people would follow their natural instincts and reject the gospel and they are. He said churches would be split and they are. Now its terrible news, but at least I should not let it take me by surprise. Rather we should be encouraged that things are going as God said they would. And he has everything under his control. There is nothing that can take God by surprise.
A few years ago I flew to Kenya to see some friends. And as we were approaching Mombassa airport, the pilot said: "Ladies and gentleman, the runway at Mombassa airport has a few potholes in it, so pleased dont be surprised if the landing is a little bumpy." Well when it came to land, sure enough the landing was a little bumpy, but a number of people on the plane started screaming. And yet if theyd remembered the pilots warning they would have been prepared. He was in perfect control. What he said was going to happen did happen, but I knew he would get us down safely, and I was confident in his ability to do so. I remembered and so I was prepared. And that is the first rule in Judes battle preparations. We need not be surprised when false teachers come along. Rather we need to remember what the apostles said and take encouragement that God is in control. Michael Green in his commentary on Jude says that "forgetfulness of the teaching and warnings of God in scripture is a major cause of spiritual deterioration." So keep on remembering.
2) Keep on Growing (vv 20-21)
But secondly we are to keep on growing. And Jude mentions four ways that we are to do that. The first, in verse 20, is to build yourselves up in your most holy faith. The faith here is the gospel truth. Were to build ourselves up in it, and it is holy because it is Gods gospel. It comes from the holy God. So how does this happen? Well the key is the Faith. Were to grow in it and deepen our knowledge of it. That means getting to grips with Gods Word and making it our daily diet. The Chinese Christians have a saying which is "no Bible, no breakfast." In other words for the Christian, reading our Bibles is to be as natural as eating breakfast. And the word that Jude uses is a building word. Build on the right foundations and keep building. If you have shoddy foundations, then the building will collapse. And the Christian whose Bible diet is weak is heading for trouble. They wont able to discern between truth and falsehood, they wont know what God wants them to do, and they wont have the theological structures in place to cope when things go wrong. And Bible reading is never an end in itself. It is always a means to growth, so it must be obeyed. Maybe many of us do read the Bible regularly. Well are we applying it as ruthlessly as we ought? Thats the first key to growth. Build yourselves up in the faith he says.
Then there is praying in the Spirit. Jude doesnt mean some super spiritual prayer life which is above the normal humdrum prayer lives of standard Christians. No he simply means praying in line with God the Spirits will. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that it is by the Spirit that we are able to cry out Abba Father. And it is in the Spirit that we are to pray. And prayer is a vital weapon in the battle against the false teachers. We are involved in a spiritual battle and praying for one another and ourselves and the work of the church is crucial to the battle. An important meeting for us as a church every two weeks is the Central Prayer Meeting. And as we seek to grow and develop as a church then that meeting is vital. As we embark on a big building project then that prayer meeting will be vital. It would be a tragedy wouldnt it if we had the building in five years time but no spiritual life inside it. Well if we want ourselves to stand firm in the battle and to grow then we need to be praying in the Spirit, in line with Gods will, as a church and as individuals.
Thirdly, in verse 21 we are to keep ourselves in Gods love. Now Jude is very fond of the word keep. He has already told us that we are kept in verse 1 and well see next week in verse 24 that God is able to keep us. So how come we are to keep ourselves? Surely that is a contradiction? We cannot keep ourselves and be kept can we? Well the Bibles answer is yes. We can! You see on the one hand there is the greatly reassuring truth that God is able to keep us. He will not let us fall. But on the other hand there is the challenging truth that we need to press on. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves in Gods love, to keep obeying his commands and loving him. Its not that we need to twist Gods arm to make him love us. Its rather that we show we are truly his children by doing what pleases him. Children dont do things for their parents to earn their love. They do it because they love their parents- well at least most of the time! And those acts of love reveal their hearts. They truly love their parents. And the Christian, as one loved by God, longs to keep himself in that love, or to grow in that love. He delights to obey Gods commands and to read his Word. One illustration I can think of is rock climbing. I used to go rock climbing when I was a teenager and the great thing was that you had a rope tied to your harness round your waist, and there was someone at the top of the cliff who controlled the rope. And if you fell off the cliff, he would pull the rope tight and it meant you would not fall. But if I had said to the guy at the top, "Look Im a bit tired today, can you just pull me up?" Well I would have been given a fairly uncompromising reply. No, I wasnt going to fall, but I needed to put the effort in to climb to the top. Now God will never let us go. His love is secure, but we need to keep ourselves in that love, to press on and work out our salvation as Paul puts it in Philippians. So the person who is not doing that, who is not putting Gods Word into practice and obeying him is not keep themselves in the love of God. They are treating Gods love with contempt. And as we saw last week, that is the mark of the false teachers. So keep yourselves in Gods love.
And then fourthly he says wait for the mercy of Jesus. We need to have one eye on the future, to remember that our true home is heaven. One day we will be rescued in the fullest sense and brought to heaven. And that future goal must be at the forefront of our minds. So when others come and tempt us with having it all now, we know that that is an empty and false promise. And when we experience tough times, we have the reassurance of knowing that the best is yet to come. We will be with God forever. But for now we need to wait.
So Jude gives us four marks of the growing Christian: it is someone who is building themselves up the faith, someone who is praying in the Spirit, someone who is keeping themselves in the love of God and someone who is waiting for heaven. Well is that you? If not, why not? Maybe changes need to be made so we dont fall in the false teachers trap. And if it is you, then keep growing. For no Christian can ever say they have made it. That too was a mark of the false teachers. But before we move on, I want us to note a very important point. And that is that Jude expects them to do these things, not simply as individuals, but as a church body. You see building, praying, keeping and waiting are things that we are to do together. Build yourselves plural he says. Church isnt a bunch of individuals who happen to be in the same building once or twice a week. Church is a group of saved sinners on the road to heaven. And as such we need to help each other along that road. How do you see church on Sundays. A chance to get something out, or put something in? Even if you are not doing anything in particular, you still have a responsibility to your fellow brothers and sisters who you meet up with. Maybe get into the habit of praying that you would have a good conversation with someone at church each Sunday. Maybe aim to ask people a bit more than simply the price of petrol. Homegroups are a brilliant place to do that. But whether its on Sunday or Wednesday, or at any other time, being a Christian is a corporate affair, whether we like it or not. And wed do well to remember that as we contend for the faith. So thats the second course of action in the fight- Keep on growing, both individually and corporately.
3) Keep on showing mercy (vv 22-23)
Well lastly and briefly, Judes final call to action is keep on showing mercy. I guess our natural reaction might be to reject outright anyone who is gets involved in false teaching, and anyone who has even a whiff of a dodgy idea is to be categorically left alone. But Jude has other ideas. In this final section, Jude shows us how we are to contend for the faith in terms of our relationships with those involved in false teaching. And he takes it on three levels. First he says there are those who are on the fringes and may be beginning to think things through and wonder if the false teachers are right. We are to show mercy, he says, to those who doubt. These are the sorts of people who may be genuinely struggling on a particular issue, who are having trouble thinking things through. It would be very easy to condemn this poor soul as a heretic for even thinking such things. These sort of people need our mercy. They need a wiser Christian to lovingly come alongside them and help them to think the particular issue through. They can be brought back and helped through. The last thing they need is to be cast out as a heretic.
The second type of person is a bit deeper into the false teaching, and Jude says to us that we are to snatch these from the fire and save them. Its not that we cam save them in the way Jesus can, but we do have a responsibility to stop fellow Christians from going down the wrong track. There is still a chance they may be prevented from wrecking their faith. As I was preparing this talk I heard a story about a group of young Christian men who were being lured into following a Christian leader who taught that homosexual practice was a good thing. These young men were taken in, but were later saved from disaster by wise Christian leaders who managed to gently show them from the scriptures that where they were heading was wrong. Such brothers and sisters also need our mercy.
But then finally there are the false teachers themselves. These too need our mercy, but note that Jude says we are to show fear, and to hate their clothing stained by corrupted flesh. In other words Jude warns us that they ways are very dangerous. We should exercise extreme caution in dealing with them. He has already show us how devastating their teaching and practice is in vv 5-16. We need to have fear, that is fear of God and his judgement, but we need to show mercy. The least we could do is pray for them. But for many of us that mercy will be shown from a long way off. Only the wisest and most mature Christian should get involved, and even then exercise the greatest of care.
So thats Judes final point on contending. And in the context of a loving Christian church we should be looking out for one another to make sure none of us fall in the same way. Were to keep on showing mercy.
In a few weeks the petrol crisis will be old news, but false teaching will be with us until Jesus comes back. And that is why we need to be prepared to fight. And Jude has told us three ways to contend for the faith. Hes told us to keep on remembering the apostles warnings, to keep on growing together and as individuals and to keep on showing mercy, so that none of us fall into the same traps. Lets pray that God would enable us to contend in these ways for his most precious gospel.
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