There are a few ironies in our society today. We spend, on average $30,000 each year for four years to get a college education and most college graduates (53% in 2012) are unemployed or underemployed.1 We spend four years in college and ten years paying off the college experience. We demand something that we call tolerance by not tolerating others’ intolerance of us. We want people to consider us, but we only want to do what is best for ourselves. As the Church, we believe that the Gospel is the greatest story ever told, but we don’t usually tell the story outside of the church walls. We judge others for their flaws, while we refuse to continue to make ourselves better.
Last time we were together we discovered how we ought to contend for the faith. We stand against sin and against false teaching by speaking truth and life, by loving and serving others, and by respecting the authority that God has reserved for Himself by not condemning others. This is not all, though. There is a second part to this. Not only do we speak truth in a loving and respectful way when it depends on us, but we must also examine ourselves.
This is one of the greatest ironies in our world today: We so often condemn someone else because of what they do and forget to deal with the imperfections in our own lives. Not only is this a great irony, but also a great danger as we strive to live lives that honor God on this earth. I want us, God’s people, to consider whether or not we have some sort of double standard as we contend for the faith. Is there any hypocrisy within us?
Jude 17-25 (HCSB)
But you, dear friends, remember what was predicted by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions and are unbelievers, not having the Spirit.
But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.
Do not be surprised
The apostles were the people who met Christ personally and followed Him. They taught that sin would permeate our world and that people would walk according to their own ungodly desires rather than according to God’s desire for them. These are people, according to Jude, who do not have the Spirit. They are unbelievers. They create divisions.
There are two things I discover as we read the first part of this passage in context. The first is that if I pursue my own preferences, I ought to question whether or not I have actually believed in Christ. Those who are ungodly pursue their own desires and not God’s desire for them. This causes those who are ungodly, even in the church, to bring about divisions and conflicts. This carries over to our homes and our communities. Our primary objective should be to follow Christ no matter what we feel or what we want.
One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was decide to be an early riser. We all have that moment when our alarm goes off in the morning and we wonder how long we can stay in bed and get away with it. We can either deny ourselves and get up early, or wait until the last possible minute. If we choose to get up early, we have denied ourselves so that we can be better. If we do not, then we cave-in to our own preferences. Sleeping in causes us to be more tired, have less energy, and run late. It ends up hurting us and causing us to be more tired the rest of the day. Forbes, the business magazine, even reported on several studies that found a correlation between early-rising and success, including advantages like: higher GPA’s, more proactivity, better problem solving, better organization, better rest during the night, better health, and a more optimistic outlook.2
Sin is much the same way. I can either give-in to my own preferences or deny myself and follow God’s direction. When I follow God’s direction, I am healthier spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes physically than I otherwise would be.
The second is this: We should not be surprised at the sinfulness in the world today. Even the apostles recognized that the world would continue to have a sin problem. God is not surprised when people deny Him. He is not surprised when people abuse the freedom that He has given them. He is not surprised when people use His creation to develop harmful substances. He is not surprised when people abuse the gift of intimacy. He is not surprised when people murder one another. He is not surprised when people blame Him for their own mistakes. He is not surprised when people ignore the church. We should not be surprised either. When we hear about or see sin the world, we should not be discouraged because of it. People will be sinful. This does not change the fact that we are called by God to perform the work of the Gospel. In fact, it is the reason we must resolve to love with mercy and grace.
Pursue holiness and show mercy
We learned last time that we speak truth and love to contend with sinfulness and false teachers in the world. Here, Jude expands his instruction on how we ought to contend for the faith. He writes, “…dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”
When we see sin in the world and even in our families and in our churches, Jude tells us that we contend for the faith by first building ourselves up. We strive everyday to be better followers of Christ, to love God better. We struggle against sin in our own lives so that we can keep ourselves in the love of God. We expect the mercy of the Lord, Jesus Christ, for eternal life. We fight against sin in the world by striving to extinguish it from our own lives. We pursue Christ no matter what we see in the world.
Secondly, we contend for the faith by having mercy on those who doubt. We save others by snatching them from the fire. We hate sin, but we show mercy and grace to the sinner. Last time we learned that we cannot condemn anyone because God has reserved that authority for Himself. Here, we learn that we are not only to keep ourselves from condemning others, but we are to have great mercy; just as Christ had great mercy toward us.
This means that we cannot ever tell anyone that they are not wanted, because God desires all people come to Him (1 Timothy 2:4). It means we cannot gossip about those who have wronged us in the past, because every word should build up and not tear down (Ephesians 4:29). It means we actually have to act with love toward the sinner, the Atheist, the Muslim, the homosexual, and the eccentric. It is not enough for us to just say we love all people. We must actually love people, even as we stand against sinfulness and false teaching, and even though some people have hurt us or wronged us.
All glory to God, now and forevermore
Jude concludes his letter by praising God because it is God who is able to keep us from stumbling. It is God and only God who is able to cause us to stand in His own presence. It is God alone who makes us blameless and gives us joy (we can’t accomplish this on our own). To God be all glory and honor and majesty and power, for all ages, now and forevermore! If God is the only one who is able to do these things, then we should be way more concerned with bringing people to Him so that He can do these things in them.
Jude began his letter by writing to his brothers and sisters in the faith because he felt like he needed to encourage them to contend against false teaching. He reminded us that sin exists in the world and in many of our churches. He made it plain that we do not have the authority to condemn anyone based on that sinfulness. God has reserve the authority of condemnation for Himself. We learned that we contend against sin and against false teaching by first speaking in defense of what honors Christ. Here, we learned that we strive not only to speak for what honors Christ, but also that we concern ourselves with building ourselves up in the things that honor Christ. Are we pursuing Christ daily by opening His word? Do we spend time praying? Are we working to overcome our own sin and our own imperfections? Instead of pointing fingers at others, Jude has instructed us to constantly be looking into our own hearts, figuring out what is there that does not honor Christ, and working as hard as we can to get rid of that so we can follow Christ better. There is a time for us to address others’ sin, but we ought to live lives of introspection: not as finger pointers, but as confessors.
Are we guilty of hypocrisy? Do we look with judgment on the world and on our brothers and sisters while we ignore the imperfections in our own lives? Do parents expect children to get better without first setting the example? Do we expect employees and coworkers to work hard without ourselves working hard? Do we just expect others to share the Gospel without our commitment to the same lifestyle? Do we say with our mouths that Christ is our King, and then try to fill the position that He has reserved for Himself as Judge? Do we fight to fulfill our own preferences? Do we believe Christ died to forgive all people, yet fail ourselves to forgive and have mercy? There was once a time when I stood as God’s enemy, and He made me a friend. If this is how God has chosen to deal with our sin, we should give the same opportunity to others, for God will judge all people in His time.