The letter of Jude is a fascinating document. At only 25 verses long and nestled just between the letters of John and Revelation, it’s very easy to overlook. Even when it does get read, the myriad of illusions to other texts make it hard going for modern readers to access Jude’s argument. Yet there is some interesting stuff going on here, especially with regards to Christian living, both in its individual and corporate forms.
The letter is written to various churches, probably to encourage the early believers to ‘contend for the faith’ (v. 3) in the face of ‘certain intruders’ who had come into their congregations and had started teaching ‘licentiousness’ (v. 4). The issue seems to be one of antinomianism – because we are saved by grace alone, goes the argument, then the moral demands of the gospel and invitation into holiness are unimportant. Jude sees this as an teaching that ‘denies our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ’ (v. 4).
I don’t want to dwell too much on this particular controversy, or its relationship to other questions in the church. That’s a question for another day. Instead, I find Jude’s advice (v. 20-23) to the believers in the churches fascinating and helpful to us in the 21st Century.
First, he advises them, as those who are ‘beloved’ by the Father, to build themselves up in your most holy faith. I think this is a useful reminder. All too often in controversy, our first instinct is fight or flight – either to become big to intimidate our opponents, or to run away from someone else who is making themselves big. Jude reminds us to look first to ourselves and our standing before the Lord – neither rushing into a fight, nor rushing away in despair.
This is an act of the Spirit – pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God – not something that comes from ourselves or our own super spiritual muscles, but through the gracious work of the Spirit, taking our own prayers and making them complete and perfect.
This is a work of hope. We are to always look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. In the midst of difficult situations, especially in the church, hopelessness can seem to be the operating outlook on life. Emotions are running high, angry emails and texts sometimes get exchanged, people are stressed and tend to react. Jude encourages us all to look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus, to keep our eyes fixed on the King and his promise.
One of the things that I find really encouraging about the book of Acts is the way in which it shows the early church being built out of normal people, with normal problems and conflicts. It reminds us that the church has always been imperfect – we’re not to look with hope to our own perfection, nor with hopelessness at the all to obvious signs of our imperfection, but we are to look with hope at Jesus, who loves the church and makes it holy and perfect.
Finally, verse 22-23 has a helpful warning to those in the church (often elders and pastors) who have the challenge of responding to conflict. It reminds us that different people come from different places and need to be treated as individuals. The disturbed need to be comforted, the weak need to be shown grace and love and friendship – and the comforted need sometimes to be disturbed. Pastoral care is a work of wisdom that needs to see individuals and react to them as people – woe betide the church that tries to extract this into a one-size fits all model. That way very quickly ends up in the realm of spiritual abuse.
Finally, having presented the call to gracious but determined obedience, Jude presents the hope. Verses 24-5 are a prayer and a blessing. It is ultimately God who is ‘able to keep you from falling’ – another reason why in v. 21 we are called to look to the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our security isn’t found in our obedience, in our faith, in our prayers or even in our hope. It is found in our Lord, in his obedience and in his ability to keep us from falling.
Not just that, but it is he who will make us stand without blemish in the presence of his glory, who will make us rejoice. Spotless, perfect, pure and forgiven – and rejoicing. The image here is one of a wedding feast, coming into the presence of God’s very being – Bauckham notes the Old Testament background of ‘the jubilation of God’s people in the attainment of his purpose’.
Troubles and conflicts come and go. Sometimes they belong to deliberate mischief making, sometimes they belong to the nature of being a community of human beings trying together to be faithful. Jude tells us to keep the main thing the main thing, to keep focussed on Jesus, to react with kindness and grace to the individuals before us, and to look forward to the hope of all things made new. In the midst of our problems, we remember that it is not our job to fix everything – there is one who has already done that, and one day we will celebrate that!