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Last week Jude gave us an odd mandate to anxiously wait. It seems a contradiction, but we must eagerly anticipate Jesus’ coming and look forward to the mercy He will extend to us on that day. We don’t quit or give up. We persevere in the faith. This morning, we see our involvement in the church and in the community.
Jude 22-23 says, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
Jude offers up an assumption. We all know it can be dangerous to assume things. Jude assumes that his readers are actively engaged in following Christ. He believes them to be authentic believers. He warned them of the dangers of false teachers and hypocrites and those that would teach things contrary to the foundation laid by the Apostles. This letter is their wake up call and it should be ours too. That’s why I have encouraged you to read this letter every day.
There are three groups of people Jude refers to in these two verses and we’ll look at them one at a time. This is yet another example of Jude’s love for things in three. Before we look at each group, remember the Apostles predicted that the creepers would come. It wasn’t surprising and ultimately does not pose a threat to THE faith that was handed down to the saints. The Christian faith is not preserved because we refute those that contradict, although that’s necessary and appropriate. Our faith is preserved because God is on the throne, because Jesus is alive and well! The Christian faith is preserved because God is revealed in His Son. The faith is preserved because we continue to build ourselves up, we pray in the Holy Spirit, and we anxiously await His return. In addition to the waiting in v. 21, he tells them in v. 22, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting.” Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction. Remember Thomas was gently rebuked by Jesus because he doubted. Some seem to be plagued by doubt more than others. I admit it can be frustrating to deal with people that are doubters. There are some instances that doubting is justified. I doubt that the Bears will make it to the Super Bowl next year. That lack of conviction comes because they have a lousy quarterback and an even worse defense. But that’s not the kind of doubt Jude is talking about. He’s talking about people that doubt as a result of the creepers. When you are taught something over and over and then discover something to the contrary, you will tend to doubt. Maybe you doubt your own understanding, maybe you doubt the teacher. With that in mind, I have found that it is much more difficult to persuade me away from the things I have discovered for myself.
Remember the purpose of this letter from v. 4. When someone in church or Christian leadership tells you something contrary to what you know, what you’ve learned, or something contrary to what is accepted by most people, you may question their motives. Remember Rob Bell and his book Love Wins? There was uproar because Bell’s teaching was so contrary to orthodox Christianity. In this case, Jude is saying cut the doubters some slack. Of the three groups, theses people were the least affected by the teaching of the creepers. The word doubt here can also be translated wavering and gives us the idea that there was some disputing going on. Perhaps these folks argued with the creepers when they denied Jesus as master and turned the grace of God into licentiousness. At the very least, there was enough in what the creepers said to cause this group to waver in their understanding.
The next group is a bit more serious. They are in more danger from the teaching of the creepers. It looks like they have fallen under the false teaching of the creepers so we are to, “Save others, snatching them out of the fire.” These people are in danger of the fire perhaps because they have embraced the notion of turning grace into license. This refers to the judgment that is coming. Fire is a common aspect of judgment. It’s used in numerous places in Scripture referring to hell. We are to snatch them out of the fire. Snatch comes from the word that means seize suddenly. We take such quick action, they don’t even realize it. I wish it were as easy as tackling someone, but the meaning Jude is conveying is deeper than that. If you see someone in danger, you quickly act to save their life because there is still hope.
For our final group Jude says, “And on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” This group of people are those in the most danger of eternal punishment. Even though these people are engaged in sin, Jude says have mercy. No matter what, we demonstrate the mercies of God that are renewed each and every day in our lives. We exercise mercy to those that are deeply entrenched in sin, but we do it with fear. We are not invincible, not bullet proof. We tread carefully, “hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Now that’s a strange image. Some think this is an illusion to Zech. 3:3 referring to Joshua, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.” The word “filthy” here refers to excrement. Joshua was not wearing dirty clothing. Jude is thinking of the ceremonial cleanliness requirements of the high priests. The idea is that if you are ceremonially clean and you touch something unclean, you then become unclean. You cannot transfer cleanliness. Jude is saying when you show mercy to that one in sin, be careful that they do not contaminate you. The flesh Jude mentions refers to sin. Be careful that the mercy you demonstrate is not twisted into acceptance of sin.
Jude’s letter is a nice balance between showing love and mercy while maintaining standards of purity and righteousness. Demonstrating love for the sinner doesn’t mean you agree with all they do. At the same time, just because you voice your conviction about what is right and pure and true doesn’t mean you’re a bigot, racist, homophobe, or all around mean person. If your best friend is lost, there is something spiritually wrong with that. I have seen too many people that have the idea that they’re going to save someone only to be dragged down to a place they said they’d never go. Yes we must and should love people regardless of where they are, but we must be cautious. With God’s help, you can strike the balance needed to influence people for Christ.