Posts Tagged 'False Teachers'



THE CHURCH’S CALL TO EXCELLENCE, Part 3

wolf in sheeps skin

Dealing With An Ever-Present Threat, Titus 1:10—16

With these seven verses, Paul gives the reason for the sense of urgency in appointing godly elders who were able to teach the truth.   Apparently the island of Crete was full of false teachers.  It seems that every generation produces its own brand of false teaching spread by false teachers.  False teaching is deadly to the Church of Jesus Christ because otherwise good and decent Christians can find themselves ensnared in it before they even realize what they are into is false teaching.  Surely one of the greatest needs of Christians today is the ability to discern false teaching from true.

1.  Description of these false teachers, Titus 1:10—13a

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision groupThey must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.

The word “for” shows us that elders have a lot of work to do.  The New English Bible translates this verse a little differently, with a much more pointed meaning—

There are all too many, especially among the Jewish converts, who are out of all control.

“These” people, “those of the circumcision group,” are not referring to Judaizers; Paul’s letter to the Galatians deals with them.  In the context of this letter, Paul is simply referring to Jews who had converted to Christianity.  These people, Paul says, are “many,” and they are dangerous.  What could be dangerous about a person becoming a Christian?   We would expect the Apostle to be happy that there were so many Jewish converts.  The problem with these converts was that they refused to accept the teachings of their new faith; instead they sought to attach aspects of their old Jewish faith onto their new Christian faith, producing a kind of hybrid religion.  And they were infiltrating the local churches on Crete, pushing their morphed out faith on others.

Paul describes these false teachers using three words:

  • Rebellious.  These men refused to subordinate themselves to any Christian authority, including the Word of God.
  • Mere talkers.  They were smooth talkers; what they taught sounded so good that they were able to fool many people.  Their words, however, were really meaningless and empty.
  • Deceivers.  Their empty words held a dangerous fascination to genuine believers who were led astray far too easily from the truth.

Paul, in referring to them as part of a “circumcision group,” suggests that they themselves used this moniker as way to show their superiority over other Christians, especially the Cretans.  If they were superior by virtue of their circumcision, then it followed that their teachings were superior to the teachings of others.  Little wonder these false teachers were so destructive!

Naturally, Paul could see right through these false teachers and in telling Titus what he should do with them—“they must be silenced”—he used a very rare Greek verb that means “to stop the mouth by means of a bridle, muzzle, or gag.”  The false teachers must not be tolerated but they must be silenced, and given the context of this letter, this must be done by Titus and the elders.

We are told exactly how Paul expected Titus and the elders to stop these false teachers.  Because these errorists were ostensibly Christians, in keeping with Paul’s other teachings they would have been quietly, gently admonished and shown the error of their teachings.  If they refused to listen, then the next step would have been to sternly reprimand them publicly and insist that they cease and desist in their false teaching.  At last, a person who persists in their evil ways needed to be shunned by the church and excommunicated in hope that these extreme measures would lead to their repentance.   As one commentator quipped:

In the church of God, there is no such thing as “freedom of misleading speech.”

Why were these false teachers to be dealt with so sternly?  Simply because their false teaching was so dangerous, it was ripping families apart.  Any teaching that confuses people or leaves people worse off for listening to it is false.   Truth, though, is like a mighty force of nature that grabs hold of a person’s mind forcing them, sometimes, to rethink some of their old ideas.  Barclay wrote:

Christianity does not run away from doubts and questions, but faces them fairly and squarely.  It is true that the truth often mentally takes a man by the scruff of the neck and shakes them; but it is also true that teaching which ends in nothing but doubts and questions is bad teaching.

Verse 12 is provocative.  The island of Crete had a large Jewish population, but they were largely secular Jews who had been heavily influenced by the pagan Cretans.  Paul quotes from Epimenides, a Cretan poet and prophet, whose judgment of the wayward Cretans was commonly held.  That judgment was—

“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”

By quoting from a well-known Cretan poet, Paul was effectively deflecting any criticism that he was being racist or anti-Cretan in any way.  However, his point should have hit home:  don’t allow these Cretan false teachers to tear the church apart!

2.  A measured response, 1:13—14

He has surely told the truth! Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.

Apparently Paul wholeheartedly agreed with Epimenides!  This situation demanded some immediate action on Titus’ part.  Like a skilled surgeon cutting away cancerous tissue, Titus must rebuke these false teachers sharply.  The word for “rebuke” can also mean “convict,” meaning Titus had to expose not only the false teachers but explain the error of their teachings.  What Paul did not want Titus to do was act with a heavy hand.  No, the way to handle this was with tact and firm resolve.  In other words, good reasons had to be given for publicly rebuking the errorists.

The goal of the stern rebuke was that the false teachers might see the error of the teachings and be restored to good spiritual health.  That should be the goal of all church discipline; we do not discipline in order to break a person’s heart, but rather in hopes of making the individual strong in the faith.  All discipline, including Titus’ discipline of the troublemaking Cretans needs to be done in grace and love.

With verse 14, we may be given a glimpse into what the false teachers were promoting.  Paul refers to “Jewish myths.”  Scholars are divided as to just what Paul meant.  He may have been referring to the general nature of the Jewish faith as it had evolved in Paul’s day.  Thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations had become more important than the words of the Law itself.  In some quarters, Judaism and Gnosticism had become mingled together, creating a strange version of Judaism that barely resembled the faith of the patriarchs.  While this could be what Paul was thinking of, it is more likely that Paul had in mind the wild Jewish myths found in some of the Apocryphal books.  The Cretan teachers latched on to these fanciful stories and were preaching them as fact.  It’s human nature to be attracted to the romantic, speculative notions of man while finding the Gospel dry and boring.

3.  Final words of condemnation, 1:15—16

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

These false teachers stand condemned by two things: (1)  the test of character, verse 15, and (2) the test of conduct, verse 16.

On the surface, verse 15 is bit confusing.  What is Paul trying to say?  Not only is this verse a bit hard to understand, it is very often abused.  Morrison wrote:

The commonest misuse of [verse 15] is this.  Something offensive has been spoken, something coarse or allusively indecent, and one of the company with a hot heart has protested against the evil utterance; whereupon immediately, sometimes with a smile, he is told that unto the pure all things are pure.

In other words, this verse is often used to excuse a dirty joke or some other questionable thing.   But Paul is restating a principle first put forth by Jesus Himself concerning Jewish food laws—

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth that is what defiles you.”  (Matthew 15:10)

The false teachers were preaching against the freedom that comes from having faith in Christ and were trying to get new converts into the habit of obeying the old Jewish dietary laws and observing all kinds of ceremonies and rites.  However, true devotion and purity is not found in what one eats or wears or in the style of worship.  Rather, true purity is found in the heart.   This is the positive aspect of this wonderful teaching, but here on Crete, it was the negative aspect that really troubled Paul.  Note what he wrote—

to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  (verse 15b)

What Paul is staying is actually very simple:  to people who are “defiled and unbelieving” (KJV), everything is bad, nothing is pure.  Again, Barclay’s comments are spot on:

Such a man can take the loveliest things and cover them with a smutted uncleanness.  He can see uncleanness where there is no uncleanness.  But the man whose mind is pure finds all things pure.  It is a terrible thing to have that film of uncleanness and impurity in the mind.

Those who tell others what kind of clothes to wear or what they should and should not drink or eat, or the kind of music they should listen to are the ones with the impure minds.  Real believers are people who have been cleansed from their guilt by the blood of Christ and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.  To these regenerated people, food and clothing (for example) do not determine one’s level of purity; that level has been established in their hearts and minds by the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

So, the character of the false teachers condemned them.  Then also their conduct condemned them.  They publicly confessed to knowing God, they obviously had some knowledge of God and of Christianity and given the order of the words in the Greek (“God” is emphatic), they truly did have a relationship with Him.  These false teachers were not pagans or practitioners of the occult; they were Christians.  However,  they were practitioners of a very dangerous form of Christianity:  the legalistic kind.   However, while they preached and taught what appeared on the surface to be a very moral and upright faith, their actions told another story.  Even they could not live up to the standards they foisted upon others.   In they way they lived, they denied God.  1 John 2:6 establishes a “golden rule” for all those who claim to be Christians—

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

J.B. Philips translates this verse in a much more cutting way—

The life of a man who professes to be living in God must bear the stamp of Christ.

This “stamp” was totally missing from the false teachers.  Paul describes them three ways:

  • Detestable.  The false teachers were loathsome,they  caused jaws to drop because of their obvious hypocrisy.  The Greek word comes from a noun that describes something causing “horror and disgust” to God.
  • Disobedient.  They put their own thoughts and ideas ahead of the Word of God.  They made up all kinds of rules and regulations and adhered to them in place of Scripture.
  • Unfit for doing any good.  This phrase is in stark contrast with what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:17 where he describes the people of God this way—

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

Only the Word of God can change a heart.  Rules and regulations can give a person the appearance of being holy, but, as in the case of these false teachers, eventually their true character will be revealed by their conduct.  But when a heart is changed, a person’s life will testify to that fact.  James wrote—

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:26)

But they must be the right deeds performed for the right reasons.  Calvin remarked:

Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Letters From an Old Man

A World Passing Away, 1 John 2:18—28

So far in John’s first letter, he had given his readers a number of “tests” to ensure that they themselves were truly “walking in the light.” He was also confronting his opponents—false teachers—by showing how they failed each of these “tests” of discipleship. In this section, gentle John puts the screws to the false teachers and pulls out all the stops and labels these false teachers for what they are: antichrists. These are despicable men who lie and deny the deity of Jesus Christ. But their treacherous teachings were threatening the church, so John gives some advice to his readers about how to hold tight to the faith.

1. A proper perspective, 2:18—19

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

John has already dealt with the transitoriness of the world in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

This is emphasized with the phrase “this is the last hour,” in verse 18. This is the only time we see this phrase in the New Testament, although similar phrases are seen many times throughout Biblical writings, where “last days” or “day of the Lord” may be considered counterparts. John is not meaning to say that he thought the world was coming to an end soon, but he has in mind this present dispensation in which we are living; the time between the first and second comings of our Lord. In fact, John Stott thinks John is indicating that we are in the “last hours of the last days.”

As proof that his readers—including we—are living in the “last hours of the last days,” John points to the appearance of the false teachers that he has been referring to, only this time he calls them “antichrists.” In the context of his letter, John is giving us a hint as to exactly who these false teachers were: they were not members of some other religious cult but former church members who had come to deny the deity of Christ! Notice how John describes their arrival—

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.

In John’s view, the fact that they left the fellowship of believers was an indication that their devotion to Christ was only external. In these verses, John is not describing the personal Antichrist of the Revelation. Early Christians believed that at some time in the future, the Antichrist would appear as a single person, described by Paul like this—

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:3—4)

The Thessalonians, like the readers of this letter, knew that this vile man would come. But here, John is making sure his readers knew that there are, in fact, many antichrists in the world, even now. The men who were causing so many problems for them once belonged to the Church, but had left. Those who he refers to as “antichrists” left the church—us— because they never really belonged to it in the first place. True believers, in other words, remain in the Church, but phony believers leave. Apparently these men were known to the readers of this letter; John simply says they “went out from us,” but offers no details. He uses the word “us” five times in this verse; so many times it seems awkward, but its frequency stresses John’s point: antichrists leave the Church, we stay. Could this be another “test?” Perhaps, for anybody can claim to be a Christian. The proof is in their obedience to God’s righteous commands, one of which is regular corporate worship.

For those of us who love the Lord, it seems impossible to conceive of people who would claim to be genuine Christians, then up and leave the Church, proving they never really belonged to the family of God. The writer to the Hebrews describes a similar situation—

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4—6)

Theologians, who love to use labels in describing simple Biblical doctrines, call this particular doctrine perseverance. These unbelievers, who denied Christ’s nature, were never part of the “universal” or “invisible” Church because they did not really belong to Christ. The fact that they were temporarily part of the visible church was meaningless, for they failed in their perseverance. They left.

2. Anointing and discernment, 2:20—21

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.

Kistemaker, in introducing these verses, notes a contrast. These antichrists denied that Jesus was the Christ, whose name means “Anointed One.” Christians believe in Christ, because they have received an anointing from Him!

Christians not only bear the name of Jesus Christ; they also share in his anointing. (Kistemaker)

Under the Mosaic law, anointing with oil symbolically showed the consecration and dedication to God of only three types of men: prophets, priests, and kings. Under Christ, though, the anointing of the Holy Spirit is the privilege of all believers. One result of this anointing is knowledge of the truth. This was important for John to say because his opponents the false teachers claimed a “superior” spiritual knowledge unavailable to normal men. John has already wrote about this anointing before, in his Gospel—

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

This must have been a tremendous encouragement to the Christians of John’s day, as it should be to us today. There is a tendency for modern believers almost “idolize” cultural icons, likes athletes and entertainers. In the Church, we do the same thing with preachers and teachers and especially authors. John makes it clear that no matter how impressive these Christian icons may be, their knowledge of God is not beyond the reach of other believers. While some may be gifted teachers or expositors, knowledge of the Holy One comes from the anointing, available to all. Darby comments—

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit as an unction and spiritual intelligence in them, and the truth which they had received at the beginning—the prefect revelation of Christ—these were the safeguards against seducers and seductions. Now this unction is the portion of even the youngest babes in Christ.

With this anointing comes not only knowledge of the truth, but also discernment. True believers know the truth, John writes, and true believers know that lies cannot come from God. The false teachers and their disciples were liars, and so there was no possibility they could have come from God. There was never a more timely message that that one. Whenever someone comes along with new teachings that add to the Scripture or take the place of Scripture, we need to beware! We should have nothing to do with doctrines that do not originate in the Word of God.

3. Denials and discipleship, 2:22—25

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

John asks a rhetorical question and then answers it by pointing to the antichrists who are determined to perpetuate the pernicious lie that Jesus is not the Christ. John is not looking his Jewish friends who denied that Jesus was the Messiah, but rather the Gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. These false teachers taught that Christ, the divine spirit, descended upon Jesus the man and then Jesus the man became divine at his baptism. When Jesus the man was on the cross dying, that divine Christ-spirit left him, and Jesus the man died. That kind of teaching sounds so good, and some who don’t know the Word would be tempted to believe it. But it was a lie, spread by antichrists. It strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith that says Jesus is perfect God and perfect man. Denying the Sonship of Christ denied the Fatherhood of God as well.

Of course such teaching originates in man’s imagination, not in the Word of God. John’s statement in verse 23, No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also, shows the dependence true believers have, or should have, on orthodox theology found in the Bible. The linchpin theological statement upon which all Christian theology hangs is simply this: Jesus is the Son of God. There can be no deviation, no leeway on this. Jesus did not become the Son of God. The Son of God did not come into existence when Jesus was born. The Son of God did not cease to exist on the Cross. The Son of God; the Second Person of the Trinity always was and always will be. And anybody who teachers otherwise, is an antichrist.

John’s admonitions to his readers would be well-directed towards the Church of today, filled with believers who all-too-often are a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of their knowledge of proper doctrine. John says to hold fast to the teachings you heard first; hold fast to the eternal truths found in the Bible. The Trinity is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not some other combination of words. God is the Father; He is not an elderly black woman. Antichrist’s come in all shapes and sizes and their words always sound better to our carnal ears than does God’s Word. But we must hold fast to what the Bible teaches, not to what any man teaches. That is true discipleship; following the Lord, not some teacher or preacher.

4. A warning and a promise, 2:26—29

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

Lest any of his readers think he is being mean-spirited, John makes it very clear that all he is doing is warning his readers. There is nothing more important than the state of a person’s soul, not even their feelings. Nobody likes to be told that what they believe is wrong, but John, like any good pastor, lays it on the line. In fact, John goes on to say something really stunning—

…you do not need anyone to teach you…

What does he mean by this? Does he mean that believers shouldn’t listen to their pastors? Or buy good Christian book? Of course not! Even Jesus Christ told His disciples as part of ‘the Great Commission” to “go and teach.” And He gave pastors/teachers to the Church to teach the saints. Kistemaker comments—

Effective preaching of the Word, faithful teaching in Sunday school or catechism class, and daily reading of the Scriptures—all this is necessary for the spiritual growth of Christians.

What believers do NOT need are false teachers and false teaching; believers have the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads them into all truth. John adds this about the indwelling anointing—

…his anointing teaches you about all things…

When I read this, I ask two questions: (1) How does He teach us? And (2) What are “all things?” The answer to both of these questions is found in Hebrews 10—

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:15—17)

The Holy Spirit, as evidenced in Hebrews 10:15—17, testifies to believers (speaks to our spirits) the Words of Scripture. The anointing kicks in—God communes to our spirits—when we study the Word of God. The Word of God is our best weapon against false teaching because in it are teachings about “all things” necessary for our faith. We do NOT need Christian self-help books, nor do we need to attend seminars on how to have a good Christian life. What we DO need is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit to illumine the Word of God to our spirits.

Not only does that anointing keep us safe from false teaching and false teachers, but according to John, that anointing enables a true Christian to determine if another is a true Christian. This is discerned by watching how they act, by observing whether their actions are righteous or not. The true Christian will be like Jesus; they will keep His commandments and walk as Jesus walked.

Through the ascended and glorified Christ, God has given to all Christians the Holy Spirit, but it is the believer’s responsibility to remain in Christ. God’s will has its counterpart in our responsibility. God provides His Spirit to lead and to teach believers everything necessary for salvation, but God expects the believer to remain in Christ.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Letters From an Old Man

Knowing the Father, 2:12—17

In the final years of the first century, Christians faced an insidious enemy: false teachers who invaded their churches preaching attractive Gnostic doctrines that sounded so good yet opposed the Gospel. It is no accident that throughout his letter, John advised his readers to “walk in the light” and to live by faith, obeying God’s commands. Like a good pastor who wants his congregation to spiritually healthy, John had given them some tests to determine if who they were listening to were genuine believers or false teachers.

This section of 1 John may be broken into two short segments. The first, verses 12—14, contrasts the position of the believer who walks in the light with the position of the false teachers who walk in the darkness. The second part, verses 14—17, he warns his readers not to fall into the seductive trap of worldliness as the false teachers had.

1. Children, fathers, young men, 2:12—14

I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

A/ All Readers, verse 12, 14a

John begins his thoughts to all the readers of his letter by saying, “I write to you.” That seems like a strange thing to write, since obviously John is writing to them! He means more than just that he is putting pen to paper; he means that he is writing words down that he wants them to remember; they are permanent. John could easily make the trip to visit them personally and tell them what he wants them to know, but writing them down serves the purpose of making his readers not only take notice of what he has written, but also to discuss it and learn it.

His initial thought is addressed to “dear children.” Teknia seems to be John’s pet name for believers in general, so this verse is for all believers—

Your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (verse 12)

Forgiveness from sins is not the whole plan of salvation, but it is the very entrance into the Christian life; it is the beginning step of “walking in the light.” Forgiveness of sins is one of the first things a believer experiences when they come to the Lord. Forgiveness of sins is not based on our asking for it or our desperate need for it. John indicates that our sins are forgiven “on account of his name,” that is, on account of Jesus’ name. In Hebrew thought, “The name” always stood for the character of an individual; so “on account of his name” is a way of saying that they were forgiven through the work and person of Christ. This is the best news a person could ever get! Everyone who believes in Jesus and repents receives remission of sin.

In verse 14, John goes further. Because their sins are forgiven, believers can now know the Father—

You know the Father.

John uses a different Greek word this time, but he is still addressing believers in general. As a result of God’s free forgiveness, all believers are able to “know the Father.” This is a privilege unbelievers can never experience; only believers may “know the Father.” Note that John does not say “know God.” Of course, the terms are synonymous, but by using the more personal “Father,” John is emphasizing the personal nature of the believer’s new relationship with God. No longer are we viewed by God as merely “followers,” because our sins have been forgiven through what Jesus did, God now views us as His children.

B/ Fathers, verse 13a, 14a

You know him who is from the beginning.

According to Jewish custom, this form of address would refer to those who had responsibility for authority. Sometimes, it was used to refer to leaders of Israel’s past, like the father’s of Israel, the patriarchs, and so on. Here, though, John likely has in view older and more mature members of the congregation. John appeals to these older men because the implication is that with age comes spiritual enlightenment—deeper knowledge of God and Jesus Christ through His Word.

We may take John’s words to “fathers” in two ways. All people like to be praised, and gaining spiritual knowledge and a closer walk with God are indeed desirable and even enviable traits in a Christian. But the implication that with maturity comes spiritual maturity may sound threatening to some. God cannot make a person grow. The Holy Spirit will not force anybody to learn the Word of God. These things are the responsibility of the believer. How many “fathers” are still spiritually immature in the Church of Jesus Christ today? How many so-called mature Christians are as ignorant of God and His Word today as the day of their new birth?

We grow grace as we learn and study and pray. Spiritual grown is not automatic; we make it happen. Mature believers are desperately needed within the Church today; to teach the younger believers, to care for their spiritual children. Mature believers are responsible to “hand the torch of the gospel light to the next generation, the young men of the church.” (Hendriksen)

C/ Young men, verse 13b, 14b

You have overcome the evil one. (verse 13b)

You are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one. (verse 14b)

The final group of believers addressed is “young men.” While some scholars think John is referring to the youth of the church, my sense is that John is actually thinking about young believers, that is, new converts or those who have not been in the Church for a lifetime. It is sad but true that the longer one is a Christian, the cooler their love grows for both God and His family; the exuberance they have for spiritual things dims. It seems as we grow in our faith we all too often become cynical about the Church, we become jaded about our spiritual leaders and the things of God become common place. But notice what characterizes exuberant Christians: they have overcome the evil one and they are strong. Their strength comes from a diet of the Word of God. Weak and anemic believers are those who starve theirs souls of the Word.

Those of us who have been Christians for years and years should take a lesson from young Christians. May we pray as David prayed—

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

2. The world and the will of God, 2:15—17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

As we read John’s warning not to love the world in verse 15, we are reminded of the words of James:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

John’s language is particularly strong in verse 15, “Do not love the world.” Those who aspire to the high standard of Christian living described by John so far in his letter must not “love” the world. The word he uses is the same word he used back in verse 10, where he writes about the person who loves his brother. That kind of love is the love that forms attachments, intimate fellowship, and loyal devotion. This is the kind of that should be reserved only for God and His Church. Christians have no business having those kinds of feelings for the things of the world. This is because the world is in darkness, but we are supposed to be people who walk in the light.

There is no contradiction between what John wrote here in verse 15—

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him

And what he wrote in his Gospel—

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Plummer comments:

[T]he world which the Father loves is the whole human race. The world which we are told not to love is all that is alienated from Him, all that prevents men from loving Him in return…The world which we are not to love is His rival.

This world is a system of life created, not by God, but by unregenerate man, therefore to give that world our affection is to commit spiritual adultery. This is something God will not tolerate in those who claim to love Him.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)

Not only is God described as jealous, look carefully at Exodus 34:14—

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Jealous” is also one of His names. It is part of His character, although not sinful, that describes how protective He is of His relationship with you. Are we that protective of our relationship with Him?

From not loving the world, John moves onto the positive admonition to do the will of God. In verse 16, John again seems to echo what James wrote in his epistle; that which is created in the world does not come from God but from the devil.

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:15)

What are the so-called things of the world? John spells them out in a memorable triad: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.”

  1. The cravings of sinful man. This literally means “the desires of the flesh” and an outlook on life that is oriented towards self. In other words, these cravings serve only yourself and demonstrate a self-sufficient independence from God. That, according to John, is what a sinful man is like.
  2. The lust of his eyes. Some commentators suggest John has in mind specifically sexual lust, but the phrase probably carries with it the thought “everything that entices the eyes” (Bultmann). It has been rightly observed that the eyes are are the windows to man’s soul. When one is enticed by lust, their eyes become instruments that cause them to sin.
  3. Boasting of what he has and does. This last tendency of a sinful man is not easily translated, which accounts for the numerous differences of translation among various translations of Scripture. The key word in the Greek is alazoneia, and it is used only one other time in the NT, James 4:16. A variation of the word is used in Romans 1:13 and 2 Timothy 3:2 to describe a “pretentious hypocrite who glories in himself or in his possessions” (Barker). F.F. Bruce wrote,

If my reputation, my public image, matters more to me than the glory of God or the well-being of my followers, the pretentiousness of life has become the object of my idol-worship.

The reason why true believers should not live like the alazon is summed up in verse 17—

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

How utterly foolish it is to be fixated on temporal things that pass away. It is beyond stupidity for an eternal being, created in God’s own image, to obsess over things that rot and disintegrate with the passing of time. The world and all it’s trinkets have already begun to putrefy. The world is corpse waiting to be buried. But those of us who endeavor to do the will of God will live forever.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Jude, Part 6

How To Survive With Your Faith Intact

Jude 17—23

With the exception of one more brief warning, Jude is finished with the issue of false teachers or apostates. The remaining verses of this brief and powerful letter contain a series of exhortations designed to encourage the believers to remain faithful and Jude even gives them some practical advice, which we would do well to take to heart.

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

1. Remember the Gospel, verses 17, 18

Like Ezekiel, Jude sees himself a watchman on the walls of Zion; times are dangerous for the House of God, and so he tells his readers to remember. The words “but” and “but you” in these verses are in the emphatic position, showing what Jude thought of his readers. He holds them in high esteem, especially in contrast to the false teachers. Jude expects much from them.

Jude again addresses his readers as agapetoi, “my beloved.” Because he loved his friends so much, Jude has spent considerable time on this issue. They face struggles, and in the face of what is to come, the first piece of advice given is to remember the teachings of the apostles. The Twelves, as they were known, and Paul, had a far reaching ministry, most of which we know nothing of. Edwin Blum makes a wonderful comment:

[T]heir preaching was part of the oral deposit of faith for the early churches.

The readers must be able to recall the message of the Gospel so that they can defend themselves against the pernicious attacks of the apostates. This is a powerful bit of advice for it places the emphasis of defense on the Word of God, not on the words of man. False teachers can be beaten, but not by clever arguments based on man’s doctrines, but on the plain teachings of the Word.

The teaching that Jude quotes is not found anywhere in the New Testament in those exact words; this has led most scholars to conclude that Jude paraphrased the overall teaching of the apostles. For example, Paul wrote this in Acts 20:29,

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.

The Greek suggests that the idea of this teaching, that there would be selfish scoffers in the last days, was something taught repeatedly by the apostles. Through their sermons, they drilled this into the hearts and heads of the congregations of the early church. The term “last days” as used throughout the New Testament refers to their present time and a time in the future. The apostles never relaxed their vigilance, even during relative good times they were conscious that the believer is an enemy to the world in which he lives. This is surely a message for today, as we see the Church compromising itself time and time again, making friends with the world instead of fighting against it.

And so, Jude advises his friends that the best defense against false teaching is to know the Word of God. Believers have been warned of perilous times, they should not be surprised when they come, but they should know how to defend and contend for the faith.

2. Avoid false teachers, verse 19

For just a moment, Jude returns to the subject of false teachers. He merely reminds them that they:

  • “divide you.” The Greek word is extremely rare and may be “they make distinctions” between believers. Rather than accepting a brother or sister as a brother or sister, these false teachers put people into classes.
  • “follow mere natural instincts.” The Greek is psychikoi, from which we get our word “psychic,” but really means “soulish” or “unspiritual.” The church today seems plagued by teachers and preachers who claim special knowledge or “revelation” based on some kind of mystical experience, yet their lives don’t stand up under scrutiny.
  • “do not have the Spirit.” Despite their grand words, they are void of the Holy Spirit.

These kind of people do not have a place in the Church. Believers are not even to associate with heretics like this. Jesus spoke of not casting our peals before swine; in other words, some people are best avoided because of the damage they can cause to the Body of Christ.

3. Persevere and pray, verses 20, 21

The repetition of agapetoi serves to personalize the remaining few verses and points back to Jude’s friends. He gives his readers a series of four admonitions dealing with faith, prayer, love, and hope.

  • Believers should “build themselves up” in their “most holy faith.” The Greek suggests this “building up” is a continuous process that never ends. The “most holy faith” refers to the objective faith that came through the apostles; it includes all their teachings and practices. Today, we would say that believers need to study the Word of God, apply its teachings to the practices of everyday life and in that way, we are built up, fortified. Christians are also built up by fellowshipping together and worshiping together.
  • Believers are to be praying in the Holy Spirit. Once again, the Greek indicates a continuous, never ending activity. Praying in the Holy Spirit is not “praying in tongues” as some teach. Since all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, all believers should pray according to His will. That will is made known through the Word of God, through inner promptings and through the preaching of the gospel. Paul wrote a similar things in Ephesians 6:8. The wonderful thing about being filled with the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit takes our feeble prayers and prefects and presents them to God the Father (Kistemaker). See also Romans 8:26. This is in sharp contrast to the apostates, who don’t have the Holy Spirit in them.
  • Believers are to keep themselves in the love of God. The Greek for “keep” is teresate, an aorist imperative, stressing urgency. Robert Shank succinctly observed, The burden of Jude is that his readers continue to fight the good fight of faith. Charles Spurgeon is known to have placed a plaque over the doorway to his London Pastor’s College that read: Holding I am held. What an amazing truth! Neither clause can stand alone, they are both necessary for together they summarize the essence of Christ’s words, “Remain in me, and I in you.”
  • Finally, believers are to be focused on the “mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” because that is what gives them “eternal life.” Literally, the last half of verse 20 reads, “As you are waiting with expectation.” Elsewhere in the NT, believers are live their lives in anticipation of: the resurrection (Acts 24:15); their eternal glory (Titus 2:13); and the return of Christ (Luke 12:36). We can see that the life of the believer should be lived in expectation of great and positive things! In the context of Jude, believers are to eagerly anticipate the day of judgment for they will be acquitted as all believers experience the fullness of the mercy of Christ, but the wicked will be punished.

4. Show mercy, verses 22, 23

These verses contain some minor textual problems, which serve only as distractions because they don’t add or take away from anything Jude is trying to say. Basically, Jude is telling believers that there are three groups of people who need to shown mercy: those who are hesitating in questioning their faith, those who need to be saved from the fire, and those who need pity because they have been contaminated by the false teachers.

In view of the mercy we have been shown in Christ, we ought to show as much to those who need it. Stephen Grellet is thought to have said:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to my fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

  1. The first command to show mercy to those who are doubting (hesitating). The NEB has a translated this phrase in a striking way: “There are some doubting souls who need your pity.” Perhaps these false teachers have caused some to question their faith, these folk need to be reassured, not criticized. They need to shown patience, love, and mercy.
  2. The second group to whom mercy must be shown involves those who have been scotched by the flames of sin. Jude likely has in mind Amos 4:11, where God says to Israel, “You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire.” Those who are so influenced by sin are in danger of losing their very souls and time is short for them. To these who are on the verse of perishing, we are the instruments of their salvation. Calvin comments, “The word ‘save’ is transferred to men, not that they are the authors, but they are the ministers of salvation.”
  3. The final group needing mercy is a group tainted or corrupted by sin. These have likely been involved in the immorality of the false teachers. But the imagery is powerful. The picture Jude paints is of undergarments soiled by discharges from the body. Jude wants his readers to feel intense repulsion at that thought. Those who are covered in such filth desperately need help. What a marvelous picture of the length and breadth of God’s mercy and grace: He is able to exchange the excrement-covered garments for festive garments of righteousness. There is not one sinner—even the most defiled sinner—who is beyond salvation through faith in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work.

5. Concluding words of praise, verses 24, 25

In a stunning ascription of adoration, Jude turns to God. Interestingly, he has come full circle. He opened his letter attributing love and protection to God the Father and Jesus Christ. He concludes it by praising God and His Son for their protection.

First, after reading about these false teachers, one gets the impression that just getting to heaven is almost impossible. In the face of the constant struggles to maintain our faith, how can we do it? The answer lies in the keeping power of God the Father. This doxology, the most powerful in the NT, reminds us of God’s ability to bring every one of His own safely to Himself. God is able to guard His own as “the apple of His eye” (Deut. 32:10), for we are His precious possession.

Second, not only does God protect us, He will present us to God His Father. We are utterly unable to enter into heaven on our own merit. But glory be to God, through the effort of His Son, we are protected from falling away and made able to enter Heaven’s gate. Not only that, we are presented to the Father without fault! That is a statement made even more stunning by the fact that the singular Greek word, amomos, is used here of believers and in 1 Peter 1:19 of Jesus Christ!

Finally, and I think most remarkably, the phrase “with great joy.” To whom does this apply? To believer most assuredly. The final completion of our great salvation will fill us with unbelievable joy. But imagine the joy that will fill heaven when believers stand complete before their heavenly Father will be shared with all the saints of glory and with the Father and the Son.

Jude 4

Exposing the False Teachers

Likewise also, these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil and disputing about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee!”
But these speak evil of those things which they know not; but what they come to know naturally as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain and have run greedily after the error of Balaam for their reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.

These are spots on your feasts of charity when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear. Clouds they are without water, carried about by winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. (Jude 8—13, 21st Century KJV)

After giving three examples of rebellion against the will of God and the subsequent descriptions of God’s judgment, Jude continues to describe the godless false teachers of his day. He has already given the reader a brief description of them in verse 4:

They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (NIV)

1. Perversions of the Apostates, verse 8

Now, Jude expands on this description using three powerful verbs: pollute, reject, and slander.

  • Pollute. By using the phrase “In the very same way,” Jude links the behavior of these false teachers to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. This sin of polluting matches the homosexual acts of verse 7. Whether Jude limits their sin to just that or other sexual sins is unknown, but we get the idea that these false teachers engaged in sexual excess.
  • Reject: Jude observes that these men reject authority. There is a difference of opinion as to what “authority” Jude has in mind. Calvin suggests Jude is referring to civil magistrates, while other expositors think he was referring to church leaders. Perhaps Jude had all kinds of authority in mind, especially their rejection of Christ’s authority over them.
  • Slander: Finally, these godless men “slander celestial beings.” Jude doesn’t say how or why they do this. Given when we know of them so far, perhaps in their materialistic and worldly lifestyle they deny the very existence of all spiritual beings, both good and evil.

2. Pattern of Michael, verse 9

Michael is one of only two angels named in all of Scripture. The other one is Gabriel. “Michael,” literally translated means “one who is like God” is portrayed by Daniel as the guardian angel of the Jews (Dan. 12:1). In Revelation, Michael is seen as a “warrior angel” who does battle against the devil (Rev. 12:7—9). This verse has caused some great debates in theological circles from the days of the early church. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus of Alexandria, early church fathers all, have written that Jude is quoting from something called “The Assumption of Moses,” an apocryphal book, of which only a few fragments remain.

The fact that Jude freely quotes from not one but two apocryphal books led some in the early church to question the inspiration of Jude. However, Jude merely quotes from the books, he doesn’t claim they are authoritative or inspired. His point in quoting from these sources seems pretty obvious; his readers would doubtless have been familiar with them, inspired, folklore or not, and the false teachers should have learned from the example of the archangel Michael. In the “Assumption of Moses,” the Devil claimed the right to the body of Moses because of Moses’ sin of murder. In spite of Michael’s high position, power and dignity, he refused to argue with or slander the Devil, but rather referred their dispute to God, the Highest Authority.

The point, as Barclay said is:

If the greatest of the good angels refused to speak evil of the greatest of the evil angels, even in circumstances like that, the surely no human may speak evil of any angel.

3. Practices of the Apostates, verse 10

“Yet these men” is statement of extreme contempt and shows how Jude felt about them. They, unlike Michael, presume to speak evil about things they don’t know anything about. These “dreamers” have some knowledge, but mock at things they know nothing of. As Jude says elsewhere, in verse 19,

These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

They may have some knowledge, but they are completely devoid of Divine knowledge. This reminds us of the words of Paul:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

From the Scottish Psalter Hymnal, we read this version of David’s psalm, 14:

The God who sits enthroned on high,
The foolish in the heart deny;
Not one does good: corrupt in thought,
Unrighteous works their hands have wrought.

Without God’s guidance and spiritual discernment, people are abysmally ignorant of reality and can rely only instinct; only on what they see. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes came to the same conclusion. He called it “folly” or “vanity.”

4. Past Judgments Upon the Apostates, verse 11

This verse begins with Jude imitating Jesus as He pronounced His series of “Woes” in the Gospels. No other New Testament writer did this. If we break this verse down, the trio of rebellious religious rebels looks like this:

  • Cain: the worshiper who gave too little;
  • Balaam: the prophet who prayed too often (about the same thing)
  • Korah: the minister who professed to much (claiming equal authority with Moses and Aaron)

Note the progression here, their sinful rebellion goes from the relatively minor (improper worship) to more serious (improper praying), finally to overestimating their own importance. Jude says there is no hope for people like this. Each verb, “have taken,” “have rushed,” and “have been destroyed” are all in the aorist tense, indicating a complete action. Arndt and Gingrich, masters of Greek, have said this indicates that Jude is saying because their sin is so certain, their punishment is so certain, that he regards it as having come upon them already. These false teacher, in Jude’s estimation, are the walking dead.

5. Predicted end of the Perverts, verses 12-13

With striking eloquence, Jude piles figure upon figure to describe the apostate teachers in detail, ending in their end.

  • Blemishes at your love feasts. There are two ways to translate spilas (blemishes, NIV). It can be rendered “rocks” or “hidden rock,” as the NASB reads, or “spots” or “blemishes,” as the NIV and KJV, among others, have translated it. Either translation puts the apostates in a bad light: if they are likened to “hidden rocks,” Jude has mind the “shipwreck of faith,” so they are dangerous to genuine believers. If “blemishes,” Jude indicates a “defilement.” The Love Feast” was a big meal that accompanied the Communion service in the early church. The idea Jude is putting forward is that merely fellowshipping with such persons can jeopardize the stability of genuine faith by corrupting all who come in contact with them.
  • Shepherds who feed only themselves. What a way to describe a person; selfish and self-centered, caring only for their own needs and wants. False shepherds who care nothing for the flock.
  • Clouds blown by wind without rain. Literally, these false teachers are “waterless clouds,” promising rain but delivering nothing.
  • Twice dead trees. Jude compares the apostate teachers fruitless trees, long past harvest. Not only have these trees not born fruit, they have been uprooted—twice dead.
  • Restless sea. For us today, the sea is a vision of beauty, but to ancient man, the sea was a place of terror and fear. The prophet Isaiah also compared the sinner to the sea: But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. (Isa. 57:20). The false teachers are restless, moving from place to place, leaving behind what the restless sea leaves behind on the seashore: foam and scum.
  • Wandering stars. This is the final metaphor to describe the apostate teachers. Stars can be helpful because the illuminate the darkness, All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, but in the case of the false teachers, they are so erratic, they illuminated nothing. The emphasis, however, is not on the word “stars,” but on the concept of “wandering.” It’s root is the same root for the word “error.” J.B. Moffatt calls these men “erratic comets or shooting meteors, who have deserted their proper orbit and broken away from the regulations of the Lord.”

These false teachers, because they are out of orbit, have to moral center, and are burning themselves out is sin, heading for a place of complete blackness forever.

Jude 3

A Warning From History

I want to remind you of something that you really know already: and although the Lord saved all the people from the land of Egypt, yet afterwards he brought to their downfall those who would not trust him. And the very angels who failed in their high duties and abandoned their proper sphere have been deprived by God of both light and liberty until the judgment of the great day. Sodom and Gomorrah and the adjacent cities who, in the same way as these men today, gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion, stand in their punishment as a permanent warning of the fire of judgment. (JBP)

As we read Jude, it’s wise to keep in mind to whom he was writing. The early Christian church was made up, in large part, of Jewish converts. These Jewish converts would know their history well and they would easily make the connection between these lessons from history and the modern false teacher.

In Jeremiah 13, we read this verse that can almost be called a proverb, because it is nugget of truth:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. (Jeremiah 13:23, NIV)

In general, people don’t change. The very same false teachings that plagued the Church in Jude’s day, are the same ones that the Church struggles with today. The names are different, and the faces are different, but the false teachings are the same, and the devastating results of those false teachings are the same: ruined lives and broken churches.

1. Judgment: God’s promise you can count on

Before Jude continues with his description of the false teachers and their ultimate condemnation, he turns to Jewish history, which he says readers already know, and he gives three examples of divine judgment. Here’s a good reason to know what is written in the Old Testament:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11, NIV)

Specifically, Paul is referring to Moses and the children of Israel, but there is an overriding principle in that verse. Knowledge of the Word of God will help you avoid the same pitfalls that people in the Old Testament fall into. That’s why Jude told his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith” earlier in his letter; because it contains the what they needed to identify and drive away the false teachers. What is true in Jude’s day, is true in our day. That’s why these 24 verses are so relevant.

Peter also relied on examples from history when he was warning against false teachers as well.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. (2 Peter 1:12, NIV)

So, as Peter did, Jude does. Jude will give three examples of the Lord’s judgments on those who knowingly rebelled against the Lord. The judgment of God is sure and certain, but in this dispensation of grace, man is apt to think God is out of the judging business.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Gal. 6:7, NIV)

And that’s the point of Jude’s argument. The false teachers were sowing disharmony and discord. They were the causing dissension and leading others astray. They were the vilest of sinners: they actually knew the truth yet mocked it by doing the exact opposite.

2. Example #1: Deliverance from Egypt

Israel was God’s chosen nation. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt by great and mighty wonders and miracles. The people experienced God’s grace as nobody else in history ever had. They saw the miracles. They heard and saw His revelation at Mount Sinai. They received His special care while they journeyed through the desert. And yet, despite being the recipients of all this, some of their number disbelieved and rebelled against the Moses and the Lord.

Jude reminds his readers that “the Lord later destroyed those who did not believe.” We note that these people who experienced God’s wrath “did not believe.” In other words, they were part of the company of believers, but they themselves were not believers. How many were there?

In Numbers 1:45-46, we read that there were over 600,000 men over the age of twenty. If we add in an equal number of women, then those who died in the desert on the way to Canaan totaled over 1,200,000 people. If we divide that number by the total number of days of the 38 year journey, we arrive an amazing 90 deaths per day; that’s almost 100 of Israel’s youngest and strongest who died each day under God’s judgment.

That sounds severe, but remember, the Israelites were physically delivered from bondage, not by their faith as a nation, but by God’s covenant love and mercy. By rejecting God’s guidance, they experienced God’s anger. By rebelling against His leadership, they were demonstrating their rebellious nature.

The warning in this example is clear: unbelief and rebellion are not tolerated by God. These people, while not believers, knew what the truth was, but they refused in the stubbornness of their hearts, to submit to God.

3. Example #2: Angles who fell

This is one of the verses that scholars love to debate. These angels left their “proper sphere” or “proper dwelling.” That was their sin.

Many Bible teachers associate Jude’s allusion with Genesis 6:1-4, where we read of angels (sons of God) coming down to earth and, cohabiting with women (daughters of men), producing a half-human, half-demonic race of freaks (giants). The apocryphal book of Enoch, from which Jude quotes later on, speaks of this piece of Jewish folklore in depth. The early church fathers believed this interpretation of Genesis 6. But is that what Jude had in mind? It seems inconceivable that angels, who do not have bodies, could procreate with a human being.

Without regard to exactly what Jude meant, the sin of the angles is very clear: they refused to stay within their divinely appointed sphere. They, like the rebellious Israelites, refused to obey God’s will in favor of their own.

What was their punishment? These sinful angels are kept in (or are reserved for) a place of darkness, in chains, awaiting their final judgment. Some commentators think this is a literal judgment; that there are some fallen angles bound and some lose, running over the earth. Others see Jude writing metaphorically: these angels are bound in a “spiritual darkness” as they await their final judgment. Again, it’s difficult to know with any certainty what Jude is alluding to, however, one thing we can know with absolute certainty is this: these fallen angels are living under condemnation because, in their rebellion, they usurped their desires over God’s will.

4. Example #3: Immoral cities

The third and final example of rebellion is the most vivid. Throughout the Old Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah are given as outstanding examples or symbols of gross immorality and serve as an eternal testament to God’s hatred for this kind of sin. What was the sin? The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were involved in gross homosexuality, that’s what is meant by the term “other flesh” (NIV).

The point of Jude using this example is not the homosexual act, which is vile enough, but rather he points to a much deeper sin. The activity of the Sodomites was a perversion of the normal order of God’s creation.

5. Jude’s purpose

What is Jude’s purpose in giving these examples? He is unfolding the fate of these false teachers in a progressive nature. Note:

  • The unbelieving Israelites were buried in the desert;
  • The unfaithful angles are bound in a hellish darkness;
  • The immoral cities were burned with fire, a type of eternal fire (verse 7).

God’s judgment is past, present, and future. It cannot be escaped. For those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, for those who refuse to seek God’s will and live in obedience to it, and for those who are determined to go their own way, doing their own thing, their fate is already sealed. Such is the fate of the false teachers.

Jude: A Message for Our Time, Part One

The Greeting

Just twenty-four short verses long, this brief letter, part of what we call The Catholic Epistles, is contains some of the pertinent warnings for our generation in all the Bible. Jude’s purpose in writing this letter was to warn his readers to be on guard against “innovators” who were smuggling false teachings into the church (Edwin Blum). This little book with the powerful message has been referred to as “the most neglected book in the New Testament” by Douglas Bowers.

Yet in our politically correct charged time, the message of Jude is more timely than ever. Our culture shuns and perverts the truth, while the culture of the modern Church is becoming more and more indifferent to the truth. So much so, that many Christians cannot distinguish between truth and error. Jude wasn’t the only writer of the Bible who fought against false teachers. Paul warned Timothy about them in their relationship to widows in his church:

From their number come those creatures who worm their way into people’s houses, and find easy prey in silly women with an exaggerated sense of sin and morbid cravings – who are always learning and yet never able to grasp the truth. These men are as much enemies to the truth as Jannes and Jambres were to Moses. Their minds are distorted, and they are traitors to the faith. (2 Timothy 3:6-8)

That phrase, “always learning and yet never able to grasp the truth,” perfectly describes, not only some of the widows and “silly women,” in Timothy’s church, but the average member of a church, who hears the truth taught and preached week after week, yet seems unable to function in that truth. The writer to Hebrews felt this common pastoral frustration and expressed it this way:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:12)

How many members of our churches could best be described as “spiritual midgets,” when they ought to be “spiritual giants?” Is it any wonder the once great and influential Church of Jesus Christ has, to a very large extent, become unimportant and irrelevant in the thinking of so many these days?

Delbert Rose wrote:

The Christian life depends upon grace expressing itself in godliness; basic to Jude’s theology is the inescapable relationship between belief and behavior, between error and evil, between sound faith and good works.

If one’s beliefs are wrong, their behavior will not bring glory to God. Donald Guthrie, in his excellent commentary on Jude marks the relevancy of this epistle by saying:

As long as men need stern rebukes for their practices, the Epistle of Jude will remain relevant. It ought to become the fiery cross to rouse the churches to vigorous action against today’s blatant apostasy.

1. Jude Who? 1:1a

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.

Jude was a very common name in New Testament times. It is actually the English variant of “Judas.” James was also a common name in New Testament times. Jude writes that he is the bother James, so who exactly was James? Generally, one identifies his father, not his brother, in an introduction. But here, Jude links himself to James. It is likely he did this because this James may have carried some weight in minds of the recipients. In the New Testament, there are no less than five prominent men named James:

James, the son of Zebedee, Matt. 10:2;
James, the son of Alpheus, Matt. 10:3
James the Younger, Mark 15:40
James, the father of Judas, Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13
James, the half brother of the Lord, Matt. 13:55

Of these five, it is probable that the last one, James the half brother of our Lord, is the most likely candidate. By linking himself to his brother, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, Jude also links himself to the Savior. We can learn a little about Jude’s character by the way he introduces himself. William Barclay noted:

Few things tell more about a man than the way in which he speaks of himself. Jude was willing to be remembered by his relationship to his far more famous brother.

But why not be remembered by his relationship to his half-brother, Jesus? A verse in John 7 is very telling:

For even his own brothers did not believe in him. (John 7:5)

In humility, Jude would rather be known as a “servant” or “slave” of the brother, now recognized as the Savior, he had once denied.

The Greek word for “servant” is doulos, which may be properly translated as “bondservant” or “slave.” But we would be incorrect to view a doulos as we would view a “slave” by today’s usage of the word. A doulos in Jude’s time was a person willingly subjected themselves to their master. They were a slave because that’s what they wanted to be. Again, Rose has noted that this lordship of Jesus Christ is a major theme in this letter, considering the people to whom it was written had been denying the Lordship of Jesus, preferring the lordship of the false teachers. So at the very beginning of this letter, then, Jude places himself at a contradistinction to his readers.

2. The Called, verse 1b

To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.

The recipients of this letter are simply called “the called.” No other destination is given. This suggests that Jude was not a pastor, or a spiritual father to any particular congregation. Perhaps he was just a very interested individual who was dismayed by the state of the church in general.

The phrase, “the called” is a designation that has become synonymous with “a Christian.” It comes from a single Greek word, kletois, which is a word packed with meaning. It stresses a sovereign act of God in summoning one to salvation. “Many are called,” but only the “few” accepting the terms of the call are “chosen,” Matthew 20:16; 22:14. It paints the picture of a God who goes in search of soul to save, calling out to that soul, wanting that soul to respond to His call.

Certain blessings belong only the kletois. They are:

Loved by God the Father. Some translations read “sanctified by God,” but this is likely a mistranslation of two Greek words which appear look very similar to each other. The best evidence, though, is that Jude wrote that “the called” are indeed “loved by God.” And this makes perfect sense, for God is love, 1 John 4:16, and He has set His love on His people. This was a concept that Jude’s readers would have understood immediately. Consider Deuteronomy 7:6-8–

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you.

Kept by Jesus Christ. These words echo the words of Jesus Himself concerning His disciples:

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. (John 17:12)

The word “kept” or “preserved” is teteremenois, which is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing activity. Christ’s preservation of His people has never stopped and will never stop. This is a wonderful promise: Christ will keep us! It reminds us of what Paul wrote,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:35)

But, later on his letter, Jude indicates that this keeping process will not go on automatically. He ends his letter saying,

Keep yourselves in the love of God (verse 21).

In the Greek, the word “by” is absent. Some translations have used the word “in,” as in “kept in Jesus Christ.” But, in keeping faithful with the context, we could read this part of the verse like this: “kept for Jesus Christ,” with the thought that God the Father preserves the kletois for His Son.

3. Amazing blessings, verse 2

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

The NIV, as well as most translations, give us a paraphrase of this verse, not an actual translation. The exact translation is:

May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. (NASB)

All three of these things: mercy, peace, and love, are things God does for us or gives to us.

  • “Mercy” is from the Greek eleos, which is translated “the unmerited goodness of God.” This is how God deals with us each and every day; He treats us better than we deserve.
  • “Peace” is eirene, and has reference to a “harmonious relationship.” What else could accompany the acceptance of God’s mercy but peace? God makes is possible for believers to be in a harmonious relationship with Him.
  • “Love” is from the awesome Greek word agape. Of all the New Testament writers, Jude is the only one who has used this word in this way.

All three of these are given to us by God, who causes them to grow in our lives. This multiplication of abstract things like mercy, peace, and love is difficult to understand. It not unlike memorizing the dreaded “times tables” in school. Kids learn their “times tables” through constant repetition and practice. This is the concept of Jude 2: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. Jude does not say they must be multiplied, but that they may be multiplied. God is the one who does the multiplication, not us.

These intangible qualities are multiplied as we approach God throne, seeking His mercy and forgiveness of our sins. The more we come to God, the more God grants us the gifts of mercy, peace and love. (Kistemaker)

Jude could have written, “May mercy, peace, and love be added to you.” But he used multiplied because God’s gifts are doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled. That’s an amazing thing. Addition is easy to understand:

2+2=4
4+4=8
8+8=16
16+16=32

But the times tables are a lot harder to remember:

2×2=4
4×4=16
16×16=256
256×256=65,536

Multiplication is really mind-boggling. But, this is how God gives us these gifts of mercy, peace, and love. We cannot comprehend what the results are in our lives. And God doesn’t expect us to. He wants us to pray, “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”


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