Harry Whittaker

10. Care of the Flock (v20-23)

Warning and denunciation are now concluded. For a brief but valuable space Jude moves over to positive exhortation regarding the welfare of the brethren -- elders and rank-and-file alike. But it does seem fairly evident that these verses are addressed primarily to the leaders of the ecclesia(s) receiving this epistle. As will be seen, several of the phrases suggest this idea. And it is appropriate that Jude should end his letter with special words of advice to the elders.

"But ye, beloved" -- here is pointed contrast with the preceding verse denouncing the unspiritual. The first and plainest recommendations bids them hold firmly to the basic tenets of the Statement of Faith. Your creed is vitally important: "Build up yourselves in your most holy faith." But the implication here is a serious one. The foundations of Christian belief are only foundations. The Lord intends them to be built on. The follower of Christ who is content to spend the rest of his days with the ABC of his Faithl, without forging ahead in his spiritual appreciation of the higher levels of the gospel, or in his efforts to fashion himself into a finer stone for the Lord's spiritual House, is not really a followers, for he is standing still.

One plain sign of growth in Christ is one's attitude to prayer. But what is this "praying in the Holy Spirit" which Jude urges? Here is a phenomenon of life in the early church calling for careful attention:

The picture that emerges from this catena of passages (and there are others similar in character but perhaps not so pointed) is one of special prayer meetings held by the elders of the ecclesias on behalf of members of their community in need of spiritual support. But the problem so often is: What to pray for? All too often human wisdom is not equal to the occasion.But in first century days the Holy Spirit was. Here was a divine gift reinforcing and directing the prayers of the brethren, making good the inadequacy they were only too conscious of. Whether there is any counterpart to this situation today is problematical, but certainly in Jude's time that uncertainty need not arise. The brethren were not to neglect their spiritual aids and duties: they must "pray in the Holy Spirit".
The third item in this luminous triad lacks the precision of the others -- or so it seems at first reading: "Keep yourselves in the love of God". Here is one of the many examples in the New Testament where there is confusion between agape, the virtue of Christian love, and agape, the Love Feast (see on vv. 1-4). Here the meaning is: "Keep yourselves by means of the divine Agape". The Greek verb is most commonly used of keeping commandments; and the preposition frequently has this instrumental meaning: "by means of". And here theos without the article has a weaker meaning that with it, e.g. "The Word was with God (article) and the Word was divine (no article)" (John 1:1).

The next phrase chimes in with this reading: "Looking for ('welcoming' would be better) the mercy (forgiveness) of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life". The Breaking of Bread service brings present assurance of sins forgiven (Matt. 26:28), and holds out a blessed prospect of future blessedness -- "I will drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom".
Thus, in this passage there is, first, emphasis on the Creed of the Christian -- "I believe"; next, the duty of elders in leading prayer and worship; and then the supreme importance of the Breaking of Bread service. In fact there are here two triads in one:

The Holy Spirit
The Lord Jesus Christ

Next follows another triad, all three items of which are concerning those with insecure faith. The understanding of some of the phrases is much complicated by ambiguity regarding some of the Greek words and by a variety of manuscript readings, all of them fairly well attested. So, since it is hardly possible here to discuss the various nuances of translation and the rather technical problems of textual criticism, it is proposed to cut a collection of Gordian knots by outlining what is the most likely reading and coherent meaning. The note in the R.V. margin is a splendid understatement: 'The Greek text in this passage is somewhat uncertain.'

"Some (you must) reprove, who argue the point with you." In other words, when there is contumacy and self-assertiveness, let such pride and wilfulness be rebuked (for the individual's own sake) and exposed (for the warning and benefit of the rest).

"And others (you must) save with fear, snatching them out of the fire." Here is another allusion to the Zechariah passage about Joshua the high priest: "Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" (3:2). The figure of speech is appropriate enough to the case of Joshua in filthy garments, for a firebrand is scorched and damaged but is saved without being burned up. So the right attitude towards those soiled by worldly and defiling associations is to use swift and energetic effort to save them before they are past saving. It is the "Operation Lost Sheep" which Jesus himself counselled in an eloquent parable to which so often emotional assent is given but with little practical action.

"And on some (you must) have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." It is right to shrink from the very idea of "filthy garments", and when others are in disreputable spiritual attire, censure of such is natural enough. But how much better it is if there be an understanding forgiveness. Again the allusion is to Zechariah 3. Joshua doubtless cringed to think that his high priestly garments, "for glory and for beauty", were defiled and utterly unworthy of his high office, but the mercy of the Lord vindicated him. The allusion goes beyond this post-captivity situation back to Moses' Law of Leprosy. If rigorous washing removed the sign of the plague, then all was well -- the garment (here the Greek chiton is derived directly from the Hebrew ch'toneth, the coat worn by a priest) could be worn again. But otherwise it must be destroyed by fire. Which things are a parable for the reclaiming of those whose life in Christ has suffered defilement.

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