During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his brothers were not his biggest fans. On occasion, they thought him quite mad (Mark 3:21). But Jesus never gave up hope that they would change their mind. After his resurrection he sent Mary Magdalene to tell them to meet him in Galilee. We know he made a special appearance to his brother James, and we presume the rest as well. James became known as a “pillar” of the church in Jerusalem and wrote the New Testament book which bears his name. Another brother, much lesser known, was Jude – author of the Bible letter of the same name.
Jude tells us that he started to write a treatise about ‘salvation.’ It would not have been a document about how to be saved, because his readers, he says, had already experienced salvation. We anticipate it would have been about the meaning of salvation for the lives of Christians. Instead, given the circumstances of his readers at the time, he felt rather that something else was more critical. The very fabric of the Christian religion was under attack and Jude urges his readers to “contend for the faith” that has been “for all time” given to the saints.
Under attack was the lordship of Jesus – the authority of Jesus to rule in our lives.
I am willing to believe that some Christians were actually saying “Jesus is not our master,” but I have a tough time believing such a doctrine would make much headway in the Christian church. I am more inclined to think that the challenge was to the seriousness of the call to discipleship; an insistence that God’s grace through Jesus would excuse even the most vile behavior. Jude described it as changing “the grace of God into a license for immorality.” While such a teaching would not specifically deny that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ it would implicitly undermine his lordship by saying you don’t have to take obedience seriously because grace will excuse disobedience.
Those who promoted such a view were present not only in the Christian church of Jude’s readers, but even among her leadership (vs. 12), and Jude minces no words about the dangers of following them. Historically, he writes, God has not been shy about punishing the disobedient – whether they be angels, or whole cities. When Jesus comes, with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones, he will “convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (vs. 15). Remember: he is talking about Christians.
Until Jesus comes, how should Christians deal with this problem and those who promote it? That is the issue of Jude.
Jude says we must build ourselves “up in the most Holy Faith.” We must pray. We must ‘keep ourselves in God’s love’ – not becoming something God hates because we have become hateful or ungodly in any other way. We must show mercy to those who are struggling with this faith, doing all we can to help them – ‘snatching them from the fire’ (vss. 20-23). Barnabas never gave up on Mark. Jesus never gave up on his brothers. We must not give up on each other.
Ultimately, we must entrust our lives to God, making him the “authority” of our life. We must not excuse our failures with grace, but turn from failure, and make grace the refuge of the penitent. That is the message of Jude.
[The preceding was taken from my forthcoming book Reading the Bible Without Getting Lost to be published by Leafwood Press in January, 2013]