In just the past week, we have seen evil rear its ugly head – with suicide bombings in Beirut that killed 43 people, and at a funeral in a Baghdad mosque that killed 19, followed by the shootings and bombings that left 129 people dead in Paris.
That is evil on a grand scale. But we also witnessed it this past week on a much smaller scale – when someone burned down a playground in Bellaire. Certainly, it’s not on the same level – but it strikes us in our hearts, because it is still a sign of evil in our world.
In the face of such evil, people are tempted to despair. Nothing seems sacred anymore. Nothing seems safe. We feel powerless. But Jude tells us we are not.
Jude was likely the brother of James, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, making him the half-brother of Jesus. He wrote this letter to several churches or the Church as a whole to counter the same kind of Gnosticism that John dealt with in his three letters – false teaching that was creeping into the early Church.
Jude describes teachers of this new way of believing as “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord.”
That is a stinging indictment. These people are a threat to the life of the Church of Jesus Christ. Not like ISIS and al-Qaeda, which threaten the lives of individual Christians – these false teachers threaten the spiritual health of the Church, hurting people’s relationship with Jesus and each other.
John and Jude could easily have been tempted to despair. Instead, they came out swinging – with scrolls and pens and the Word of God.
Jude shares his strategy early in his letter – even before he identifies the problem. In verse 3 he writes, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
The King James and several other versions refer to it as, “the faith once delivered to the saints.”
“The faith once delivered.” What does that mean and how does that help us as we wrestle with a world turned upside-down?
Jude is not writing about the minute details of doctrine that have been hung like ornaments on the Tree of Life – but the Tree of Life itself. The faith that saves us – which was delivered or entrusted to the saints.
I haven’t read Jeff’s sermon from All Saints Day, but I’m sure at some point he explained that the saints are all those who have been called by God to faith in Jesus Christ.
So the faith that the Holy Spirit gives us – the faith that saves us – consists of the most basic truths of Christianity: that Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh, whose sacrifice covers our sin.
That truth was given to the first followers of Jesus – once and for all –
and it cannot be changed. Anything that strays from that truth is not Christian faith.
So Jude urges the faithful in the early Church to struggle or for that basic faith. The word he uses comes from the sport of wrestling – very popular in Greek and Roman culture. That intense effort needed to flip your opponent on his back and pin him down.
In Junior High School, I was the ultimate wimp: six feet tall, 120 pounds soaking wet, and no athletic ability.
I was truly the 120-pound weakling who got sand kicked in his face at the beach.
Then our gym teacher decided that we should spend six weeks wrestling. You can imagine how badly that went for me. Every kid I was paired with pinned me within seconds – several of them needed just one flip and it was over.
Thank God for Danny Maris. He and I were perfectly matched: same height, same weight, same ability.
That match seemed to last forever. We looked like two cats fighting – constantly flipping each other over, but not being able to keep the advantage. Neither of us could pin the other, so the winner could only be determined by points – and I heard the gym teacher say, “I’m going to need a calculator to keep track of this!”
I don’t know who actually won the match – but the point is that, for one time in my wrestling career, I was a contender. So I know what Jude is asking the faithful to do: resist challenges to your faith with all you have in you – and never give up. Never roll over and play dead. Never let those challenges pin you down. You may not have a lot to offer, but be a contender for what you believe.
And Jude is telling the early Christians that they already know what they believe. Christian theology had not yet developed to the point where John Calvin could write twelve-hundred pages on it. They knew the basic faith, and they were to defend it from challenges without giving up.
This is not to say that we can stop Islamic extremism with the essentials of our faith. Instead, this is a call to refuse to let the evil around us pry us away from the essentials of our faith. As Satan wreaks havoc, we are to cling even more tightly to the core of our faith.
And that phrase means just what it says – cling to the core of our faith.
In the battle again evil, we should be contending for our most basic faith, and not our favorite doctrines. I say that as a die-hard Calvinist – but the Church of Jesus Christ cannot afford to be divided into multiple camps when the hosts of evil are trying to shake our faith.
That means linking arms with our sisters and brothers who are called Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Nazarene, Non-Denominational. Jude is clear – we are to contend for the earliest and simplest faith. When we are with other believers, we should talk about our common faith – the faith that unites us. The rest of the doctrinal issues should be discussed over coffee and donuts.
And then there are those whose faith is not where it should be. Instead of taking the approach of “kill the infidels” – as was often the case during the Reformation – Jude describes contending for the faith as a very gentle process in verses 22 and 23:
“Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupt flesh.”
For Jude, those would be the ones who had already started to waver and got into the new and dangerous teachings. Contending for the faith once delivered would be lovingly trying to lead them back to their original faith.
So what are we to do in the face of indescribable evil? Cling to your most basic faith, cling to all your sisters and brothers in Christ, and cling to those who are starting to lose their grip. That is what it means to contend for “the faith once delivered to the saints.”