Scripture: But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Jude 20-23 ESV
Observation: Most of us know very little about this brief letter from Jesus’ half-brother, Jude. Sandwiched between John’s epistles and Revelation, Jude provides a couple of intriguing exhortations. The bulk of his message addresses pending judgment against false teachers who not only blaspheme God with their words but with their perverse, self-indulgent actions (verses 3-16). Such deceivers “devoid of the Spirit” cause division within the body of Christ (verse 19).
Appealing to the apostles, who predicted such turmoil in the “last time,” which refers to Jesus’ imminent return (verses 17-18), Jude urges believers to strengthen their faith. How so? Through Spirit-guided prayer, the assurance of the love of God, and the exercise of patience in suffering as we wait for Christ’s mercy “that leads to eternal life” here and now (verse 20-21 above). And he then urges maturing Christians to show mercy to fellow believers who struggle—even those who have stained their garments (verses 22-23 above). As most commentators contend, the latter group likely refers to false teachers.
Lastly, Jude closes his letter with a beautiful doxology that assures his readers that our Savior will keep us from stumbling and present us blameless to him, who is eternally glorious and Lord over all his creation (verses 24-25).
Takeaway: There are two overarching elements to Jude’s action plan for defending against false teachings. The first focuses on us: cooperating with the Holy Spirit to grow in our faith through a deepening awareness of God’s love for us fostered by a vital prayer life that bears the fruit of patience in seeking Christ’s mercy. The second focuses on others: pursuing God’s mercy for those who struggle to walk out their faith, even false teachers who unwittingly lead believers astray.
It’s a comprehensive defense. We who fear God trust his mercy in Christ and extend it to others utilizing the power of prayer. We not only pray for others but ourselves because we are keenly aware of how easily we might stumble in the flesh. Indeed, the Greek word translated garment (verse 23) refers to the undergarment against the skin—implying carnal sins. Thus, Jude wants those of us who are maturing in our faith to show godly mercy to all who claim to be followers of Christ—even false teachers who stain their garments—with a healthy fear of God’s holiness that leads to humble prayer for ourselves and others. Only then do we take action, showing the Lord’s mercy each step of the way.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who extended mercy toward us when he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Would you please help us follow his example of extending mercy guided by humble prayer when we reach out to others who struggle to live out their faith? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling