Church planting is a team sport, not a solo effort. Effective church planting relies on healthy leaders serving alongside grace-filled men and women who follow Christ with determination, focus, perseverance, courage and hope. These gospel ministers are those who contend for the faith on a daily basis, because it is the responsibility of all those who have been transformed by the gospel to defend it. This is more than and different from merely proclaiming the gospel, as important as that is. Sometimes, it’s contention and defence, and it requires “blood, sweat and tears”.
Church planting is a team sport, not a solo effort.
Jude’s short letter is written to urge the church to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people’ (Jude 3). Whatever was happening, it was dire and dangerous. Jude was alert and wanted the church to be focused. Notice that this letter is not written specifically to the leaders, There is no mention of pastors, elders, bishops or deacons. This a letter to all those who are “called, loved and kept” (Jude 1). This is a letter to the people of God, making clear that the role of contending for the faith is the responsibility of the entire “team”.
We know, don’t we, that the Gospel is always under threat and constant vigilance is always required? However, there are times when the situation is particularly acute and the threat is particularly real. That is the situation Jude is addressing. I am suggesting that is the situation the global church currently faces, and particularly the church in the western world. For those of us who inhabit this piece of territory, this short but compelling letter is strangely and compellingly pertinent.
The problem dealt with in Jude is coming from teachers, those with the ability and opportunity to influence the church. It’s not clear how they were appointed or recognised, but they are leading professing believers away from the faith. The church had been infiltrated by people who had a different understanding of the gospel and a different lifestyle to go with it (Jude 4). Interestingly, the church is the last line of defence. The “once for all delivered” faith was under threat, and the church had to face the threat and take responsibility. Jude was writing because the danger of the situation was not appreciated by the church and so the threat was not dealt with. Jude assumes that his readers know the gospel and that they are able to step up and take action.
Whatever role we play or place we occupy in the church, none of us can be passive.
Whatever role we play or place we occupy in the church, none of us can be passive. If you are a leader, it is your task to teach the gospel. If you are “just” a member, it is your responsibility to make sure that is what your leaders are doing! Contending for the faith is a corporate responsibility and a community project. Indifference and apathy are the means of gospel work being undermined and irreparably damaged. Church planting means Christians involved in strenuous, determined, sustained and relentless contending.
The nature of the specific false teaching may not be revealed, but the overall picture that emerges is a familiar one.
These false teachers are ungodly, they promote an attitude of doing what you please, with whom you please, when you please and how you please (Jude 4). The primary test of our doctrine is our lifestyle, and our doctrine adapts to accommodate our desires. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.3, the most basic Christian confession is ‘Jesus is Lord’. Submitting to Jesus’ rule and obeying his word is integral to being a Christian. Grace does not mean that lifestyle is irrelevant, and our actions reveal when our distorted desires rule us rather than our Saviour.
Jude 5-7 show that this is not to be taken lightly. In each of these examples the Lord judged decisively. The false teachers refused to believe the word, accept their place as servants and honour God’s design. In each example, they were not only wilfully and persistently disobedient, but they revelled and delighted in their sin.
These false teachers are dreamers. They made much of immediate revelation, and their authority came from their visions. With this as their rationale they ‘defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.’ (Jude 8) They do not care about authority, have no respect, and know better than the apostles, the scriptures and experienced leaders. These are pseudo-spiritual egotists, deluding others because they themselves are deluded.
Jude dismisses them with force. They are those ‘for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.’ (Jude 7, 13) They are exposed, not only at the level of their actions and teaching but also in terms of their motives. It is who they are as well as what they say that threatens the gospel (Jude 16). The call to the church is not only to combat false teaching, but also to confront false teachers.
Church leaders, do you equip and encourage those you serve to be active and confident to contend for Christ?
This is often where we are at our most uncomfortable. Church leaders, do you equip and encourage those you serve to be active and confident to contend for Christ? Disciple, are you prepared and willing to oppose untruth, even when it “gets personal”? There is a great deal happening in the wider church, and building pressure for Christians to alter their stance on a number of issues.
Disciple, are you prepared and willing to oppose untruth, even when it “gets personal”?
What makes this letter so relevant is that sexuality is dominant. The reference to angels in Jude 6 refers to an Old Testament event in Genesis 6.1-2 where angels lusted after women, the Sodom and Gomorrah incident (Jude 7) concerned the men of the town demanding that Lot hand over his guests to have sex with them, and the phrase ‘defile the flesh’ (Jude 8) is a phrase that covers sexual sin of various kinds, including homosexuality.
This pressure is being applied in our time. Though Christians have always held a different sexual ethic to the surrounding culture, a number of high profile leaders have conceded the argument. Sexuality is the defining issue of western culture, and is becoming so for the church. But Jude calls us to remain resolute and steadfast. We cannot overturn thousands of years of history or haggle over a handful of texts when the whole sweep of Biblical narrative is emphatic.
This is the point at which we must contend.
CH Spurgeon said this:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point… It is not enough for the preacher to address issues of the past, though we must know that, but he must apply the Bible to today’s issues. “If the gospel is not relevant to the issues of the day, it is not the gospel at all,” as Martin Luther said. To not address the issues of the day, but hurdle ourselves back into the past or into positive speaking, is a betrayal of our stewardship. I don’t live then, but I live today by God’s sovereignty to fight for him, occupying in this and my generation until He comes!
The gospel is under threat, it is being attacked and we must all be alert and willing to contend.
But Jude wants the church to know that they not only have a responsibility to contend, they also have a responsibility to care and pursue (Jude 23). In our contending, we are not to become cantankerous, but to assume a position of responsibility for each other. “The faith” is not just that for which we contend, it is the means of our encouragement and growth.
And so we are to stay in the love of God, in his three-person majesty (Jude 20-21). We belong to him, exist for him and live by him. The care within the Trinity is to characterize the church. As those who received mercy, we are to be merciful. As those who have been rescued, we are to rescue. Even as contenders, we are not called to be theological thugs.
Even when the world is against us and danger is present, Christ is able to keep us from stumbling.
And so once Jude has done his job in exposing false teachers and calling every believer to action, he is able to end with beautiful prose of deep and sublime gospel confidence. He can sign off with confidence and calm assurance.
Even when the world is against us and danger is present, Christ is able to keep us from stumbling. Even when false teaching threatens and false teachers seduce, Christ is able to present us to his Father without fault and with great joy.
With that confidence, we enter the fray, and with grace and courage, we engage the enemies of Christ, even if they were once our friends.