Jude, another half-brother of Jesus writes to a church under his care. His intention is, like that of most pastors, to encourage and rebuke, teach and warn.
Why would there be enemies of Jesus infiltrating the church? This idea seems a little strange, like learning one of your colleagues intends to bring the whole company down, or someone on your sports team wants your arch-rivals to win. Why would they be in church in the first place, if they didn’t like Christianity? Aren’t we taking it all a bit too seriously, like crazy conspiracy theorists? Isn’t this letter itself divisive? Is it possible that the church leaders are propagating this idea in order to spread a little uncertainty in the ranks, and prevent anyone usurping their power?
It’s hard to think, looking around your congregation, that anyone sitting there might secretly be an agent of satan, plotting mischief. So is Jude’s alarming letter nothing more than alarmist?
A few reflections:
1. People who are false teachers don’t necessarily realise they are wrong (they can be blind guides).
2. Human beings are prone to self-deception.
3. Leaders with the wrong priorities, no matter how high their ideals, will end up shipwrecked.
4. The church is an attractive environment for people who are power-hungry and egotistical because the flock are (on the whole) humble, patient and accommodating. It is a ready-made tribe, and if a person’s deepest desire is to be worshipped, he will be excited by the prospect of becoming, at least partly, the object of worship in that environment. Think about how easy this is with fallen human beings!
5. There is a great deal at stake in the church. The church is central in God’s plan for self-disclosure to the world. Thus, the church is of eternal importance. Satan’s attention is focussed on making life difficult for God’s church, and he will do everything he can to disrupt and destroy it. We are not part of an unimportant social club of little consequence. If it feels like we are, then something is definitely wrong!
These ought to be disturbing thoughts.The good news is that Jude helps us to identify people who are acting in this way, that we might be wary of them, rebuke and resist them. He reminds us clearly of the judgement that is scheduled for those who do not repent from this kind of behaviour, to remind us of the enormity of the situation.
He also tells us how we are to avoid falling into the same errors.
“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
The solution involves returning to the gospel and depending on God, submitting ourselves to Him once more. The root of the problem is pride, and a desire to see ourselves exalted over others, and to deny God his rights over us. The solution is to remember who we are before God, and what Christ has done for us. Thus, we will learn who we are before others as well, and will have no cause for pride. We can only do this with the help of God’s spirit: so your prayers must ask God’s spirit to move you.
Our discernment is rooted in the gospel: the gospel is the mark against which we measure all teaching, all action, all motives. It is the very thing which satan cannot appropriate for his purposes, because he does not understand it.
Jude recognises that the Christians reading this letter would have been worried that they themselves would slip and shipwreck their own faith, or be led astray. He finishes with this encouraging doxology:
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…”
God is the one who is able to save us both eternally and from the worst consequences of our immediate predicaments. The gospel proves that God is willing and glad to do it, if we would only turn to him.