Sunday Evening Message: The Letter of Jude

7 Feb

This message is based on Jude, verses 20-25. The focus of these verses is on being a Faithful Church.

Jude
How to Be a Faithful Church

20  But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;  21  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  22  And have mercy on those who doubt;  23  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.  24  Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,  25  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

The letter to Jude is a warning to the church to remain faithful in the midst of apostasy.  Many had turned away from the truth and embraced false teaching.  Just as in our day, in the early days of the New Testament there were many false teachers.  So most of the book is a warning about these teachers.  But the end of the book gives three instructions to us about how to remain faithful to God.  If we hold to these teachings, we will be a faithful church.

If you want to be a member of a faithful church you must . . .
I.    Guard Your Own HEART    (vv. 20-21).
20  But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;  21  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

If each of us would guard our own heart, first and foremost, we would have the foundation of faithfulness we need to then bear  each others burdens.  We are a body of believers, but we are made up of individual parts.  Ephesians 4:15  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  16  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  This passage in Ephesians shows us that everything is grounded in Christ.  He is the head of the body, and he holds it all together.  But we also find here that the body is only at its best when every part is working properly.  We all know the reality of that truth in our own physical bodies.  If you have a pulled muscle in your lower back, it effects your ability and comfort in every way.  I remember as a child I used to often get sores inside my mouth.  Fever blisters is what the doctor called them.  I remember how bad they hurt and how even though it was such a small part of the body, it affected everything.  I don’t think this means that we must all be perfect people in order to function as a holy church.  The context of Jude is false teaching and cold-heartedness toward God.  Our goal then is not perfect actions but a life of love for God.  The best way to guard your heart from the schemes of the devil is to give him no room in your heart.  The best way to avoid sin is not to think about not sinning, it is to get on with living in righteousness by the power of Christ.   If we focus on what we should not do, we are sure to do it.  What God calls us to instead is to focus on doing what we know is right.  Build yourselves up in your most holy faith.  There is a race and a rest in the Christian life.  It is both.  It is not just a rest.  We are going to see at the end of the passage today that there is grace available to us for the doing of what God calls us to but there is also something for us to do, namely to lay hold of the things God has given us for life and godliness.  I believe the Bible is opposed to any view of faith that says faith is passive, a kind of mystical submission that causes me to stand still.  There is a place for being still and knowing God.  But there is also an active aspect to guarding our hearts.  This passage tells us three ways to guard our hearts.  We are to build ourselves up in faith.  There are several practical ways to do this.  Live in the Bible.  Start by turning of the TV for 10 minutes a night and substituting it with the Bible.  The go to 15 minutes, then to 20, then to 30.  It will not be as entertaining at first as that episode of your favorite show, but in time it will become a delight to your soul.  You may say, I am too old to change,  I am too set in my ways.  Well, I say if your old you’re the best candidate for change, because statistically speaking you are in line to meet the Lord soon.  Now’s the time to get ready.  We also guard our hearts through prayer.  Prayer in the Holy Spirit.  I think that means praying with an eye toward what pleases God and what will build up His kingdom.  There is a wonderful peace that comes from submitting our spirits to God.  We also build ourselves up in faith by keeping ourselves in the love of God.  We need to keep the cross central in our lives.  We need to think often of the great love God has shown to us in shedding His blood for our forgiveness.  We need to keep ourselves in the love of God by realizing that God is not out to get us but is profoundly on our side.  So we are called to avoid apostasy by guarding our hearts.

The second way to be a faithful church is to . . .
II.    Be Your Brother’s KEEPER    (vv. 22-23).
22  And have mercy on those who doubt;  23  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.  

We are sustained by the mercy of Christ and so Jude calls us to extend mercy to others.  I am always concerned for the salvation of people whose character and demeanor is unmerciful.  I am not the judge and our differences in personality and background can make for huge differences in our actions, but it always raises a red flag with me if I see someone in the church who demonstrates little mercy toward others.  The reason this raises a red flag for me is simple . . . If they can not show mercy to others, how could they have understood God’s mercy toward them?  The overriding way we act as our brother’s keeper in the body of Christ is to mercifully move our fellow believers toward fullness in Christ.  The most loving thing we can do for our fellow believers is to spur them on toward love and good deeds.  We need to encourage each other in several ways.  This passage tells us three ways.  One way we can encourage each other is to be gentle with people who doubt.  This ought to be a place where questions about God are not discounted or dismissed.  If our faith is not one which can withstand penetrating questions we have to wonder whether it is a faith worth having.  If we can not answer tough questions adequately, we are little better than those who claim spiritual power from crystals or claim to have been visited by UFO’s.  Now there are some tough questions we can’t answer and that’s OK.  We have to live with some sense of mystery, but it is not an either-or proposition.  Life is not all mystery and it is not all certainty.  To live by faith means to unwaveringly trust God about those things which are clearly revealed and humbly depend on God for wisdom in those things which are not as clear to our finite and sin-scarred minds.  So when people have doubts, let’s allow them to express them and then let’s work together toward biblical solutions.  If we push people into believing a certain way about something, then there is always doubt about the reality of a person’s faith.

The second way we can build others up in faith is to warn them.  This is the idea of snatching them from the flames.  We may need to warn unbelievers that they are destined for separation from God unless they trust him.  To those who are walking in false doctrine we may need to stand against false doctrine and for the truth.  Warning people is not often fun, but it is necessary.   We not only need to stand against false belief, but we also need to stand against false behavior.  But again we are told to mix fear with mercy.  And we are told to hate sin.  Even the garment stained by sin.  We should build up fellow believers by living a lifestyle of purity and holiness.

The final way we can be a faithful church is to . . .
III.    Entrust All to the GRACE and POWER of God        (vv.24-25).
24  Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,  25  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

The bottom line is that it is only the grace and power of God that can keep us from falling and present us blameless before God with great joy.  So as we work as hard as we can to know God, to make God known and to build up His church, we do all with the power of God that works so graciously within us. The Bible  points to this idea in several places . . .

Ephesians 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We have been saved by grace apart from works in order that we may have power to live a life of good works, which was God’s plan all along.  Why should we care about good works?  Not as a way to be saved, but because good works in the power of Christ glorify God.  Because good works are good for others as we are an example and encouragement before them.  Because good works are good for us, as walking according to God’s design is better than walking away from God’s design.

Philippians 2:12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This verse sums up the truth about what walking with God is really like . . .  We work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to accomplish His will.  This verse brings to mind my favorite verse which captures the interplay between the power of God and my laying hold of the power of God by faith.

Colossians 1:29  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

I work with the power that works within me.  I work.  But it is the grace and power of God that gives me strength to work.  No one can come to Christ apart from the grace and power of God and no one can remain in Christ and grow in Christ apart from the grace and power of God.  Grace is always first and foremost and my only work in a human sense is to lay hold of what God has given me.

In reality, Christianity is not a race or a rest, it is a restful race.  It is rooted in what Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to me and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls.”  The yoke is an instrument of labor.  Life is work.  The Christian life is work.  But the Christian life lived properly is the work of a soul at rest.   The greatest athletes make what is strenuous look graceful.  Joe Dimaggio was a great outfielder but was said to almost never dive for a ball.  He was such a good athlete and such a student of the game that he was almost always in position to make the catch.  Have you ever noticed great pro golfers on TV?  It looks like they are taking a practice swing and they just belt it 300 yards.  So as we seek to be a faithful church, let us run the restful race, carefree in the care of God.

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