This morning I watched a sermon on the first four verses in Jude, a book I’ve read but not studied. “Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:1-4)
Jude, a half-brother of Jesus (brother of James), describes himself not as a relative of Jesus (he doesn’t brag about himself), but as the bondservant of Jesus. A bondservant is one who has been freed and yet continues to serve his master out of love, which should describe everyone who has come to Jesus’s saving grace by faith. He begins by asking that mercy, peace and love be multiplied to the believers.
While he intended to write an encouraging letter about a shared faith in Jesus Christ, “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:3b-4).
Jude instructs us to “contend” for the faith. The Greek word for “contend” (epagognizomai), is where we derive the English word “agony” or “agonize.” This is the effort we should expend as we undertake this counterattack. The Greek term is associated with strife and vigorous combat. It was used as a description of the struggle between wrestlers. The Greek is a “compound” word that gives us the phrase “earnestly contend”. This shows the intense force felt by Jude which compelled him to write this epistle. The verb is in the Greek present tense, which indicates a continuous action and compulsion on Jude’s part — and on ours!
The Word makes it clear that we fight not against flesh, but against the demons of Satan (Eph 6:12). This spiritual combat is both an individual and a corporate battle. The church must fight, but so, too, must each individual Christian, and Jude’s epistle is addressed to both groups. This is not a passive service to God — not just attending Church and responding in the positive if asked, “Are you a Christian?” Jude’s attitude is one of aggressively telling people about the faith of Jesus Christ.
The faith, here, is not the personal belief and experience which brings personal salvation. Instead, “the faith” represents the entire body of teachings which have been passed onto the Church. Paul calls this the “pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim 1:13) and the “truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:5).
These teachings come from Jesus and the Apostles who have received and heard it directly from Christ and have received it from the Holy Spirit. These teachings are the words of the New Testament of the Bible (1 Cor 15:3-8). “The faith” is complete. It has been given “once for all!” The Bible represents the sum total of God’s revelation to us about Jesus Christ, salvation, and how to live our lives as Christians. This is our “doctrine”, which is complete and final (Heb 1:1-4).
This “faith” was under attack by false teachers, just as it is today. Jude’s concept of contending involved opposing the false doctrines. But, the epistle writer goes farther. Contending for the faith involves leading a positive life which is conducted in faithfulness and obedience to the Gospel message. It is a life which brings the reward of victory — eternal life (1 Tim 6:12).
Scripture’s message is easily corrupted in an individual life by self-centeredness, unloving behavior, a sensual lifestyle, and distorted doctrine. Jude urges us to follow the true teachings of the Gospel in a form which will bring glory to God and which will preserve the true meaning of Scripture.
Jude would accept no alteration to the content of the faith message. When we contend for the faith in response to God’s Word, we should accept no lower standard than did Jude. We should warn, exhort, and save others from false error whenever and wherever possible, just as Jesus did to those puffed up with their religion who refused to believe in Jesus Christ’s saving grace.
I admit that several months ago I was given an opportunity to do just that, and I failed, which we will all do at times. I was asked point blank if I thought someone wasn’t a Christian because they support abortion. What came to me in that moment (and what I said) was that I wasn’t their Holy Spirit, and that they needed to take that question to the Lord. What I should have answered is that God’s Word says that murder is wrong, and if they wonder if they can agree to the murdering of babies then they should ask for the Holy Spirit to show them if they are wrong so that they can repent. None of what I said was wrong, but I wasn’t earnestly contending for the faith.
In this passage, the emphasis is not on contention but on “the faith”. We aren’t to be bullies or become obnoxious; the Gospel offends without our help. Those under conviction are often offended by the content of God’s Word, for it convicts the soul of its sin. I should have recognized that the Holy Spirit was convicting them of their error, and in lovingkindness I should have directed them to God.
It is the Gospel message which should be contentious, not the Gospel messenger. We deliver a message rooted on the unshakable foundations of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. As the proclaimers of this message, we need not be offending.
Jude sternly reminds us that there are those who will use God’s Word to turn people away from the Lord’s saving grace. “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4)
We must preserve the sacred deposit of God’s truth found in His Word. Charles Spurgeon put it bluntly, “The new views are not the old truth in a better dress, but deadly errors with which we can have no fellowship.” To earnestly contend for the faith, we can’t subscribe to the worldly view of supporting everyone to have their own truth, for it is not loving to support someone on the road to hell.