Harry Whittaker

3. Why and How (v3-4)

Apparently Jude was going to work on the compilation of an epistle to these, his beloved brethren in the churches of Judea, when an emergency arose.

"Beloved ones, I, making every diligent effort to spend time writing unto you concerning our common salvation, had compulsion to write to you forthwith and exhort you (or, warn you)...."

The verbs imply that at a time when the apostle was already dedicating his time to the composition of an epistle, he was constrained to abandon that task in order to dash off this brief but much more urgent letter.

How was he constrained? There is no clear indication. Perhaps by circumstances -- the seriousness of the spiritual emergency facing the flock. Or (and this seems more likely), there was the imperative of a divine inspiration; like Jeremiah he "could not stay" himself from the work of the Lord (Jer. 20:9). So, as Peter had exhorted the brethren to give diligence to make their calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10), Jude now himself gave diligence to the same end.

Why does he call it "our common salvation": Paul's phrase "the common faith" (Tit. 1:4)? Not common like daisies on a neglected lawn, or berries in a hawthorn hedge, but common in the sense of belonging to all. It was the salvation which saved apostle and convert alike. Or it may be that, with a slightly differing emphasis, it was cherished as the saving message for both Jew and Gentile. This seems to be the idea behind Peter's phrase: "them that have obtained like precious faith with us" (2 Pet. 1:1).

It is a faith "once for all delivered to the saints". Here is an emphatic declaration that the Truth in Christ is essentially the same in all ages -- necessarily so, for God is unchangeable, and human nature is always the same. So a basic doctrine in one generation must also be basic in the next.

But here were certain in the Faith who were set on change, "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness". Such perversions must be withstood. Therefore, says Jude, "I exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith". Nehemiah's builders" had every one his sword girded by his side, and so builded" (4:18). And so always. Jude urges his readers to build (v. 20) as well as to fight. But such contention must be against those who "creep in unawares", not against one's true brethren in Christ who build the same wall and use the same materials, but maybe lay the stones according to a different pattern, or labour according to a different system -- not against such, but against those who have as their deliberate aim the perversion of the Faith already received.

At that time there were such. Paul refers to them in blunt ruthless fashion: "false brethren, unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). This is terrible language, to be matched in a score of other places in the New Testament (see "The Jewish Plot", by H.A.W.). It is an apostolic theme which has gone seriously neglected, that men of orthodox Jewry diligently mounted a counter-reformation in their campaign against the preaching of the gospel. One of their most dastardly methods was the infiltration of the ecclesias by "false brethren" so that the Faith might be corrupted from within -- the classic way of bringing down any hated movement. And it very largely succeeded. Here is an explanation of a phenomenon which has long called for an explanation -- the decay of Christianity, not in the time of Constantine, but long before that, even before the apostles themselves had passed off the scene.

Jude evidently became suddenly aware of the nefarious activities of "certain men (the Greek phrase probably implies "you know whom I mean!') crept in unawares", and forthwith this epistle becomes his contribution to the good warfare to maintain the sound faith and holy living of his brethren free from corruption.

Some of the subverters sought to turn the converts to a Judaised Christianity in which the keeping of the Law of Moses was every bit as important as faith in Christ (thus it was in Galatia). Others (denounced in Jude and 2 Peter) set an example of evil living, and naturally had little difficulty in coaxing others to let go their early idealism. "The grace (forgiveness) of God turned into lasciviousness". Is it not true, argued these evil mentors plausibly, that "all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men" (Mark 3:28), except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Then why do we have to be careful about what is licit and what is not?

Rolling a stone uphill is a difficult task, but anyone can roll a stone downhill. And these utterly unscrupulous men did just that. No wonder, then, that Jude and Peter were mightily concerned. No wonder the churches were warned against those who taught and seduced the Lord's servants "to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed unto idols" (Rev. 2:14,20). This is called "the doctrine of Balaam", with allusion to the cynical advice of that true but mercenary prophet who earned his retaining fee from the enemy of Israel by recommending the moral and spiritual corruption of the chosen people as the best way of bringing about their downfall (Num. 31:16). Now exactly the same policy was being pushed with sinister cleverness in the midst of the New Israel, and it needed more than Jude to fulfil the role of zealous Phinehas.

"They deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ", declares Jude scathingly, in words which epitomize Peter's more sweeping warning and condemnation: "There were false prophets (as Balaam) also among the people (of Israel), even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (2 Pet. 2:1).

The most remarkable thing here is that last phrase: "the Lord that bought them". This can only mean that their knowledge of the Truth in Christ and their baptism into his Name had brought them within the orbit of his salvation, no matter how cynical their attitude. They were present at the betrothal feast of the King's Son, but without a wedding garment. Therefore, on the day of reckoning, their fate shall be "outer darkness....weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 22:13). "They bring upon themselves swift destruction", says Peter. And so also says Jude through the medium of three telling allusions to past judgements of God (vv. 5-7).

It was probably because the writer had these Biblical examples in his mind that he wrote of these "certain men" as "of old written beforehand unto this condemnation".

It is a grim theme.

Next Next Next