|Volume 21 Number 1 January 2019||
T. Pierce Brown
After reading the Bible for almost 65 years, I continue to be amazed and thrilled with the unsearchable riches one may find in one verse or even one word. In Jude 3, there are at least seven different words or expressions that deserve extended comments, although our limited ability and limited space prevent us from doing justice to them.
Even the expression, “beloved” with all its implications needs emphasis. We may be so callused as to feel that it would seem effeminate or a mark of affectation to use it. Or, we may use it lightly, disregarding its real significance. I heard a clerk say to a foreign customer, “Y’all come back, honey.” He immediately drew back because he did not understand why she used what he understood as a term of endearment. There is little doubt that when Jude, Peter or Paul said, “beloved,” they were expressing a kind of loving concern that is sadly lacking in much of our communication to and about our brethren. Even when we feel the need to rebuke a brother, it should be done in the gentlest, kindest terms possible, and not in a sarcastic, bitter, harsh and unloving manner. One does not need to be soft and “mealy mouthed” or indifferent to false doctrine and ungodly living in order to write and speak in a kind manner.
When Jude said, “it was needful for me to write” the ASV says, “I was constrained.” The words “diligence” and “constrained” in the same context suggest urgency, carefulness and a haste to get a thing done that was important. The sense of urgency and importance is made even more emphatic by the words “earnestly” and “contend.”
The reason for the urgent need to so strongly exhort them to contend earnestly is that there were false and ungodly teachers that had crept in and were attempting to lead persons astray. Paul had said in Acts 20:29, “I know that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” It has been happening with regularity ever since, and the same admonition that Jude made is still valid. There are a few things about this earnest contention that we should notice.
First, it is for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” It is not for our opinions, feelings or suppositions. It is the system of salvation that involves our proper acceptance of the grace of God by an obedient faith. That system is today, and will be throughout all time, just what it was then. It was delivered once for all. The curse of God rests upon those who would change it. Some were turning the grace of God into a permissiveness that would even allow lasciviousness. Sadly, some that claim to be preachers of the Gospel are teaching that since we are under grace, we have no law. Thus, one may continue in some sin, such as adultery, and God’s grace will automatically cover it.
Second, this earnest contention is from a Greek word used only here in the New Testament, “epagonizomai,” and should be distinguished from much of the contention we may hear or do. It is composed of the preposition “epi” and “agonizomai,” which is about the strongest form of a word that means to work very hard to get the job done. Our word “agonize” comes from this verb. It is translated by such words as “strive” and “fight,” but we need to understand that the contention and striving and fighting are not the same words that are condemned in such passages as 2 Timothy 2:24 when Paul says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” The kind of contentions Paul condemned in 1 Corinthians 1:11 and the kind of fighting James rebuked in James 4:1 are from different words and relate to a different kind of thing. We can perhaps understand the difference if we consider our normal use of the word “strive.” If a farmer is out plowing his field or working hard doing legitimate tasks to make a living, he is striving in the proper sense. If he were striving with his neighbor about where the property line should be, a different word would be used. When Paul reports that there was fighting within and fears without, he uses a different word than when he says, “Fight the good fight of faith.”
So, we must contend earnestly for the faith without being contentious. We must fight the good fight of the faith without having the warfare within which the Bible condemns. We must strive to uphold the Gospel without having the strife and wrangling in which we sometimes engage. Not only does Jude 3 provide some valuable truths for us today, but there are many other places in the Bible where an intensive study of the original word would reveal a different meaning than what we may assume it means. For example, to abstain from the appearance of evil does not mean to abstain from everything that seems (appears to be) evil. It means that when evil appears (is there), abstain from it.
As another year has closed, we need to look back and evaluate the previous year. In addition, we also need to make the year ahead a better one to the glory of God. We certainly should not linger on things past but to concentrate on the future. A good example of looking back to one’s own detriment is Lot’s wife. God had commanded that Lot’s family not look back upon the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah “But Lot’s wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). When we disobey today, we will not become pillars of salt for looking back, but we will be punished for looking back to the enjoyment of past sins and continuing therein. Only repentance followed by righteous, faithful living can save us from punishment.
Jesus dealt with looking back as He said, “No man having put his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Once you make the change to become a Christian, you and your life belong to the Lord. If not, your Christianity is a farce. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (that is riches, wealth and evil). You or I will serve one or the other.
We must always learn from our mistakes and change our ways where necessary to please God. We must look ahead because there is no future in looking back. Isaiah told the people of his time to cease to do evil and learn to do good (Isaiah 1:16-17). From this, we understand that looking back can bring us to the point of repeating our past mistakes, and we see that doing good is a learned behavior, not one that comes to us automatically. We must develop the traits of doing good.
In teaching the brethren at Thessalonica what a Christian must do, Paul instructed, “see that none render evil for evil to any man but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Follow that which is good. How do we determine what is “good”? Paul taught the Roman brethren this way. “…Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). In other words, “good” is what occurs when the actions and words of a faithful Christian give glory to God. All people understand the difference between good and evil behavior and can understand that good glorifies God and evil pleases Satan.
As we look forward to a new year, determine that you will live your life to the glory of God and not to please Satan. We all know that sin is evil behavior and understand that it destroys the souls of men. Paul instructed, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). To make sure you understand what God expects of His people, study His Word more and determine that you will dedicate your years in service to Him. Remember that it’s what we cannot see (eternity) that is important.
In this new year ahead, don’t be guilty of doing what the people of Jeremiah’s day did. God had commanded, “…Obey My voice and I will be your God and you will be My people; walk in all the ways that I have commanded you that it may be well with you. But they hearkened not nor inclined their ear but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their own heart and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:23-24). Don’t go backward into sin, but look forward toward Heaven!