You have all heard the term Jihad before. The phrase has been made all too common in today’s culture because of radical Islamic terrorists. In Islam the word literally means holy war (In all fairness to Muslims who are not terrorists this term can refer to the inner war the Muslims fight with temptation.). Terrorists are engaging in what is called lesser jihad or a physical war with non-Muslims. They are seeking to spread Islam by the sword. There are few things in this world that people dislike more than someone forcing their belief system on someone else, and on of those few things are people who will start a war over religion. War is definitely a hot topic in today’s world. Whether you blame the terrorist or the President no one likes war. In fact, most people don’t even like conflict at all. Most people think that strong convictions about anything are judgmental, arrogant, and foolish because everyone is entitled to their own truth. This is the culture that we live in. It is a culture tells us that it is ok that a man has an intimate relationship with another man because it feels right to them. And anyone who disagrees with that must be full of hate.Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this same attitude has crept into the church. Brian McLaren, a very popular writer and church leader, exhibited this very attitude with this statement:
I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.”
It is within this context, up against these kind of ideas that we come to Jude 3-4.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jude makes it very clear that we must stand up and fight for the truth of the gospel. This is the purpose of this entire letter. No matter what our culture looks like we must be willing to stand up and fight for the faith. But how do we do stand up and fight? Are we to participate in our own version of a holy war? These are questions that we will deal with as we study this passage.
I. The purpose of Jude’s Letter (v. 3)
a. Jude’s decision on a topic.
In verse 3 Jude’s readers are offered interesting insight into how this letter came about. Jude writes, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed to saints.” What makes this so interesting is that Jude sat down with intention of writing a positive letter on the subject of salvation. However, because the Holy Spirit had a different plan, Jude could not write what he originally had intended to write.
Can you imagine how all of this happened? Jude grabbed a pad of papyrus paper and began preparing to write out a letter on just how wonderful God’s salvation is. But at some point, probably even while he was sitting down to write, he realized that he had to write about something else. Who knows, maybe while he was preparing to write someone came in and gave him report on how the church was doing. Or maybe he began to recollect the situation of his readers. Quite frankly it would be impossible for us to know the details of this situation- except for one of course. We know that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jude to write what he did. The Spirit stopped Jude from writing on his original topic, and inspired Jude to write the words which we have today. Jude turned his focus from the topic of salvation, and instead appealed to his readers to join him and to contend earnestly for the faith.
I can’t blame Jude for wanting to write on a positive subject like salvation. In fact, Jude deserves to be commended for being sensitive to the Spirit and writing on the difficult subject that he did. As we will see in this text (and as we will no doubt experience in our lives) it is not easy to stand up and fight for the truth, but we must be willing to follow the Spirits guidance and stand up for the truth when it is necessary.
b. Jude’s appeal to fight for the faith.
Jude’s appeal was to contend earnest for the faith, but how are we to contend earnestly? And what is the faith? First let’s look at how we are to contend earnestly. This word that Jude uses (ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι) is probably a little bit stronger than the English phrase “contend earnestly” portrays. It could be translated “struggle for,” or to “make strenuous effort for,” or even to “fight for.” It is word that could be used to refer to war or it to an athletic event. The picture that I have in my head is two heavy weight Olympic wrestlers struggling to pin one another. The point is that we are to make a serious contention, to struggle, and even to fight for the faith. This brings me back to my previous questions, are we to participate in our own version of a holy war? Absolutely not! Scripture is clear that physical force and violence is not a legitimate way to contend for the faith. The apostle Peter got confused on this very issue in Matthew 26:52 before the Lord Jesus reproved him,
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.
Jesus again makes this point clear in John 18:36,
Jesus [speaking to Pilate] answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
Obviously we are not to use the tactics of the Islamic terrorists and seek to contend for our faith through a holy war. So how are we to contend for the faith?
We are to fight for the truth. Our fight is not a conflict between personalities. It does not include acts of hatred toward other people (actually we are to fight in love). This fight is about ideas, and the way people think. It is a fight against godless worldviews, false doctrines, and idolatrous thinking. The goal is not to rid the world of everyone who disagrees with us, which is what the terrorists are doing. The goal is to protect the truth within our church communities, and proclaim the truth to the world around. If we do not protect the purity of the Christian faith here in the church then how are we going to proclaim that saving faith to the world around us? In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 the apostle Paul summarized this fight well when he said,
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…
Our goal in fighting for the faith is to take every thought captive to Christ. There are thoughts, and worldviews pouring into our churches that are not captive to Christ. All around us are fortresses of lies and we must fight against these lies.
Do not think that this fight is only for your pastors. You need to be preparing for this fight because your generation is going to have to stand up and fight against these lies. There are two lies in particular that we are beginning to see now, and I think you will one day have to face head on. The first is relativism. As I mentioned earlier there are already prominent church leaders claiming that you can be a disciple of Jesus and a Buddhist. People, including many professing Christian, do not believe in absolute truth. The second lie that you will have to face is the lie that homosexuality is ok. This is a lie that our culture is trying to shove down our throat. It is on TV, in movies, and prevalent in pop-culture. The scary thing is that it is also starting to come into the church. I recently spoke with a college aged student who goes to a church in the area, and she told me that she thought a relationship like this was ok for others as long as it felt right to them. If this is the attitude of the church then the gospel can never go out to these people. For, how can people living in sin receive the gospel unless they are told about their sin?
You are going to have to stand up to these lies by fighting “for the faith.” But what does Jude mean by “the faith?” What are we to fight for? The faith here is referring to the Christian faith in general. It is those important doctrines like justification by faith, scripture alone, and others that Jude is talking about. The faith is the objective truth of God’s word. We must be clear that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and that the Bible is how Jesus has revealed Himself to the world. In other words, we must fight against damnable heresy.
Jude gives us further description of what he is talking about when describes this faith at that “which was once for all handed down to the saints.” I want to make several observations about this statement. First, we see that the faith has been handed down by God from generation to generation. A wonderful example of this can be found in Galatians 5:9 where Paul referred to James and Peter and John as “pillars” of the church. The idea is that God’s truth was revealed to them and then they passed along this same truth. This is exactly what we saw earlier when Jude described how he wrote this letter. And when churches teach this same truth found in Scripture they are passing down “the faith” to the next generation.
The second observation that I would like to make from this text is that this faith has been once and for all delivered. Thus as it is passed down throughout the generations of the Church it never changes. “The Faith” is always the same for all times and all peoples. The truth about “the faith” is not determined by our own personal opinions and interpretations of reality. The truth about “the faith” is determined by the character and revelation of God, thus this truth will never change.
The third observation that I would like to make from this text is that God’s truth has been entrusted to God’s people. Jude says that this faith has been handed down to the saints. This term “saints” is not talking about really good people who have their picture on a stained glass window in a church, and it is not talking about a football team. When the bible talks about saints it is talking about those whose sins have been forgiven through Jesus; it is talking about Christians. So when Jude says that the faith has been handed down to the saints he is saying that it has been handed down to the church. We have been entrusted with God’s unchanging truth and we must be aware of the responsibility that goes along with that. If we, as the church, are not fighting to preserve this truth who is going to do it? This is one reason why the church must defend the objective truth of God. We cannot let people claim to represent the Church and say things like you can be a disciple of Jesus and a Buddhist at the same time. We must stand up for the truth and compassionately tell the world around us that apart from Christ all will perish. People will not want to hear this, but this is the truth that we have been entrusted with. This is why Jude wrote this letter to appeal to Christians to fight for the truth of the Christian faith. But the question still remains why did Jude change his focus from a description of the Christian faith to a charge to defend the Christian faith?