Responsibility Towards Others In God’s House

Sermon Preached By Isaac Ampong

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This morning I will be sharing with us from the epistle of Jude. Jude is a very short letter, but one that is often neglected by many Christians. It has only one chapter. In v. 3, Jude tells his addressees that his initial plan was to write to them to about their common salvation, he was compelled to write to urge them to contend for the faith. This faith has been delivered once for all to all believers. Why Such a strong word: Contend.

Because some ungodly have wormed themselves into their community (v.4). These ungodly people, were spreading false and dangerous doctrines. verse 5 is worth quoting: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” You see, by beginning his words “I want to remind you,” Jude is rhetorically making them to think about this again. That there were some people, who were “saved” but they were also destroyed later on. Consistently, whenever believers encounter false teachers who pose threats of falling away from the faith, the Scriptures typically does not offer assurance or security. It offers a warning. Watch out! Be on your guard! Some people have been destroyed before. Don’t be among those who forsake God’s way into destruction. I don’t think this negates or even contradicts the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. WATCH OUT!

Jude warns his readers, and us too, that these false teachers are going to face serious judgement. If they follow these false teachers, they are also going to land where these false teachers will land (6–16). As a matter of fact, the judgement that awaits them had been prophesied long ago. From v. 17, Jude starts addressing how to handle this threat they are experiencing. In vv. 20–21, Jude tells them and us that we have a responsibility towards ourselves. We are to keep ourselves in the love of God and build ourselves in our most holy faith. vv. 22–23, we are not only responsible for ourselves, but we are responsible for others. V. 24 states God is able to keep you from falling. Thus, it seems that there are three layers of ensuring perseverance: yourself, others keeping an eye on you, and then God. That is what I used to think: that there are 3 parallel means of ensuring our perseverance. But not anymore! Sincerely, I think God is the one who makes us persevere. One of the ways he ensures we persevere is granting us the grace to keep us going. One other means is providing a godly community who ministers to us. The other means is through his Spirit’s guidance. All of these are his ways (means of Grace) of ensuring that we persevere.

This morning, I am going to focus only on vv. 22–23.

Have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear– hating even the garment stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 1:22-23 NIV).

Way back in Ghana as a teacher of about 8-9 year old kids, we would practice what we called differentiated teaching. What that basically meant was that we distinguish between the kids so that each person receives instruction according to his learning style or ability. Though the kids would be in the same class, we would prepare different lessons and assignments for different groups of kids. As an example, if 10+5 would be challenging for one kid, it would be way too easy for other kids. So for tests and others, one group would have 10+5 and other group would have 35+17. The goal is to make sure each kid has something challenging according to his or her ability. It seems here that Jude is doing a similar thing: making a differentiation.

As we seek to care for others, and watch out for them, we must make a distinction. We must differentiate. We must be merciful to some, we must save others, and we must show mercy to others. This is a good reminder to us that we are all not at the same level in the church. We can’t help everybody the same way. We need to identify everyone’s needs and offer help and support particular to those needs.

The Doubters
The first group that Jude wants his readers to support are the doubters. If there is something we know about false teachers, it is that they know how to talk and communicate, and sound so convincing. I vividly remember listening to Sam Harris, who is a strong and avouch atheist some time ago, and left almost convinced. He had this charisma and rhetoric that made everything he said believable. After watching the one and half hour video, I left questioning the goodness of God. That’s what false teachers do. Nobody just leaves the faith. It always comes after a long period of doubting: doubting whether God even exists, doubting how God can be good in the midst of all these suffering, doubting if the scriptures is trustworthy, doubting that the church is a safe place.

The unfortunate thing is that Christians can be very hard on those who doubt. We forget that those doubting are struggling people. They are struggling because they don’t want to follow the false teachings, but they also feel like the orthodox beliefs are wrong. The very fact that they are doubting means that they have not given up the faith yet. The opposite of “BELIEVE” is not “DOUBT” but “DISBELIEVE.” Os Guinness has said “To believe is to be “in one mind” about accepting something as true; to disbelieve is to be “in one mind” about rejecting it. To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and doubt at once, and so to be “in two minds.”

Doubt is not the opposite of faith, nor is it the same as unbelief. Doubt is a state of mind in suspension between faith and unbelief so that it is neither of them wholly and it is each only partly. If nothing at all, we know of Jesus that “He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle” Mat 12:20 NLT. Being hard on doubters is not in the Spirit of Christ. He will protect and guard a candle which is out of flame and only has smoke. When we think of doubting, we think of Thomas. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” he said. Jesus’ response to him is not rebuking him for not having the same level of faith as the others (differentiation taking place here). He comes into their midst, straight to Thomas and assures him that it is really his Lord. But he doesn’t leave him there, he invites him to move beyond the two-mindedness: “Stop doubting and Believe” Thomas follows and calls Jesus “My Lord and my God!” If you are here and have some doubts, it’s okay. You can come to Christ’s feet with your doubts. But you will soon realize that is not his good purpose for you. He wants you to move beyond it to belief and trust. And we the church, your family, is ready to walk with you through it.

The second group of people Jude talks about demands more urgency. Jude talks about saving them by snatching them from fire. Throughout the Bible, fire is a symbol for God’s judgement on people who are unrepentant. This symbol can also be seen in Jude especially in v. 7 where Jude talks of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In vv. 14-15, Jude talks about the judgement of the Lord which will convict all the ungodly of their ungodly acts done in an ungodly way. God’s judgement is certain and therefore it is imperative upon us that we snatch them out of it. The image being painted here is to grab them and prevent them from continuing their course of action. Jude knows so well, I am pretty sure, that we cannot force Christianity on anyone. We cannot on our own snatch people who are poised on doing what they want to do. Just this past August, we had an intensive one week class on the book of Hebrews. And as many of us would know, the book of Hebrews contains some of the harshest statement about God’s judgement. This was an open class where people who were not students could come in and study with us. One older woman, raised her hand to ask question about God’s judgement.

I don’t think she was able to complete the sentence until she started crying. She was crying because some of her loved ones (friends, children, family members) had turned their backs on Jesus. The class dropped into silence. What answer or response can you give? I am pretty sure if this woman could compulsorily snatch them from their course, she would do it. However, that is beyond her control. I also know of a Ghanaian family whose children have threatened not to come to the parents’ house again if they bring back religion conversations again. The question is how can you snatch people from hell when you can’t share the gospel with them. I believe the answer is in praying. We can snatch them on our knees and with our intercessions. May I suggest that it is certainly one of the ways we can snatch people out of the fire.

During my college days, when the year came to a close, the students union would organize SICE, which means Students in Church Evangelism. We would go to rural areas and share the gospel with them. One of the leaders shared something with us which has stayed with me till now. He said “You should not talk to people about God, when you have not talked to God about them.” Many of us have heard of Augustine and his autobiography, Confessions. Perhaps, some have even read the whole book. In the book, Augustine eloquently describes his stubbornness which made his mother cry a lot. He was so bent on following a heretical sect. His mother, Monica, who could not bear to watch his son heading towards the fire, prayed and kept crying to God to save him. One day, his mother went to Bishop Ambrose to entreat him to talk to Augustine to change his ways. But Ambrose told Monica, “It is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.” Monica took this answer as if it had sounded from heaven. Remember we are not just to watch out for our own. We are not to be praying for and snatching our members only. That actually goes against the spirit of the text. We must pray with the same intensity for others as we would for our kids.

The next group of Jude’s differentiation here refers to those who are already in the false teacher’s camps, ie. Those who have already committed to them. Jude says that for these group, we must have mercy with fear. It is so difficult to understand having mercy on these folks. Martin Luther, preferred to translate it as “pity.” The word can mean that though. However, Jude is stressing the Christian community to be a compassionate community and not pitying. Being compassionate does not mean losing your guard. Here, Jude is thinking of something which is always true. There is danger to the sinner; but there is also danger to the rescuer. Anyone who aims to cure an infectious disease runs the risk of infection. As such Jude says to mix “mercy with fear.” The fear element is the CAUTION element. The Fear/Caution element is to admonish us not to associate ourselves with them to the extent that we contaminate ourselves. Being compassionate does not mean we tolerate and even indulge in their sins. one must also be cautious that what seduced them does not seduce you. It is quite possible to remain in positive contact and accept a person without at the same time condoning or accepting the person’s sin.

Jude expands on the mercy-fear mixture solution, with a graphic portrayal: “hating the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” This seems to be alluding to Zech 3. The word for clothing in Jude refers to the undergarment which was closest to the skin. The stain perhaps is alluding to Zech’s word for filth. This word in Zech could also mean human excrement or vomit. You see where this is going? The imagery of Jude for false teaching and their practices is an undergarment stained with feces. I am certainly not going to continue with describing this imagery. The false teaching is nasty, dirty, and disgusting. And therefore we must hate them. Lets look at the words again: mercy (towards the people), fear (on our part less we are seduced by the same thing that seduced them) and hate (their teaching and practices). The old saying is true: that we should love the sinner and hate the sin.

Even though these people have walked out, turned their backs on the faith, there is still a possibility that they will come back. With God, all things are possible. And it is this belief that fuels our compassion.

Putting it all Together
In our Christian walk, there is nothing like “Look after yourself and others will have to look after themselves.” It is both looking after ourselves and looking after one another. Both go hand in hand and both are essential. This church is your family. We must learn and continue to watch one another’s back. We must continue to pray for one another, encourage one another, and if someone starts to stray away, we must lovingly warn them. I know some of these things are not going to be easy and comfortable. And I don’t know a better way to do it. What we can do is to pray for wisdom from God that we will be able to commit to each other and love one another. For a lot of people who are outside the church,

David Helm notes,

• We are better known for contending with might, not mercy.
• We are bent on condemning the world’s faults and failings.
• We leave very little room for God to be their judge.
• We spend astounding amounts of time, money, and energy in causes solely given to pronouncing condemnation.
• We spew forth judgment and then go home to bed looking for some holy sleep as the just reward for having contended well.

A better way is to show mercy and compassion. I will end everything with a hymn.

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

Down in the human heart,
Crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful,
Jesus will save.

Amen

 

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