“Although I value this book,” wrote Martin Luther in introducing his translation of Jude’s brief letter, “it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith.” To this day, many Christians join the Protestant reformer in wanting to skip a book that is both short and controversial, if not as derivative as Luther thought it.
But since I try to use the lectionary to remind myself to read beyond what Luther called “the canon within the canon” — to encounter texts I’d as easily overlook — I thought I’d start my week with today’s assigned verses in Jude. They begin here:
But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. (vv 17-19)
Jude warns early Christians against false teachers. It’s not entirely clear what these “certain intruders” were teaching, but Jude says that they “pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v 4 — and Jude may have been a member of Jesus’ own family). Perhaps they were antinomians, using God’s forgiveness in Christ as an excuse to discard any moral law and “defile the flesh” (v 8).
In any case, it’s their corrosive effect on Christian community that Jude finds especially galling. It’s all too easy to imagine how “grumblers and malcontents” whose speech is both “bombastic” and manipulative (v 16) could “[cause] divisions” among Christians who — as Paul, Peter, and James also warn — were already prone to unhealthy conflict.
I suspect you all instantly called to mind your own contemporary example of Jude’s concern. There’s no shortage of bombast, manipulation, and false teaching in 2020. I’ve certainly got some examples I’d like to describe with Jude’s metaphors: “waterless clouds” and “wandering stars” (vv 12-13) who are dividing the church against itself for the sake of worldly power.
But that’s not how I want to usher in a new week. Instead, I find myself thinking about the pastoral advice that Jude offers:
But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (vv 20-21)
There’s no healing of Christian disunity that doesn’t start from the character of the Trinity: the love of God, the mercy of Christ, and the fellowship of a Spirit who “intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). There’s no rebuke of false teaching that can be effective apart from the foundation of a solid personal faith. So maybe I should spend less time doomscrolling certain sectors of Christian Twitter and more time praying — and reading the many scriptures that I skip over.
Perhaps most importantly, those looking forward to mercy should live mercifully. At a time when it’s so easy to return bombast for bombast, it’s hard to “have mercy on some who are wavering” or “still others with fear” (vv 22-23). But who knows better the need for such grace than those who know that it is God alone who is “able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing” (v 24)?