The letter he didn’t plan to write

“Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3 NET).

Jude (or Judas, as his name really was in Greek) wanted to write a letter to Christians about the salvation we have in Jesus. But that was a letter he couldn’t at that time write because of what was happening to the Christians.

Jude could not write the letter he intended because “certain men have secretly slipped in among you – men who long ago were marked out for the condemnation I am about to describe – ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into a license for evil and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

The description he gives is very similar to the description that Peter gave of false prophets in 2 Peter 2. He identifies these men with those of Israel who did not believe God when God led them out of Egypt, angels who did not stay within their own place, and even those of Sodom and Gomorrah. You very quickly get the idea that these are men you needed to stay away from and not listen to.

As he proceeded to describe them, he identified them with some of the infamous characters of the Old Testament: “Woe to them! For they have traveled down Cain’s path, and because of greed have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error; hence, they will certainly perish in Korah’s rebellion” (Jude 11). He calls them “dangerous reefs” (Jude 12) – a reef is hidden underwater, just below the surface, and even though the sea looks safe, if a boat sails in that direction the reef will put a hole in the bottom, causing the ship to sink. That is what these men were like.

He also calls them “waterless clouds” and “autumn trees without fruit” (Jude 12). They promised so much but delivered nothing, like clouds we might see when we are desperately needing rain: the clouds might darken the horizon but it blows past without dropping any needed water. Can you imagine going up to an apple tree in the autumn to gather apples but discovering that there were none? This is what these men were providing for the Christians – absolutely nothing that would help them!

If left unchecked, these men would cause havoc among God’s people. “These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). This is why Jude had to write this letter and not the one he wanted to write. These men could not be allowed to harm the body of Christ.

So what were they to do? At the end of the letter, Jude tells them to build themselves up in their faith, continue in prayer, maintain themselves in God’s love, and show mercy to those who might get caught up in the false teaching (Jude 20-22). If they remained faithful, God would keep them from falling (Jude 24).

And isn’t this the solution today to those who would distort God’s word? Sometimes we have to correct what they are teaching, as Jude did. We must continue to study God’s word and be strong in our faith so that we can recognize what is true and not be led astray. But notice also the mercy we must show to others, remembering that Jesus will show that mercy to us, as well. Mercy does not mean ignoring false teaching, but it does remind us of the type of Christians we must always be.

Readings for next week:
4 July – Luke 1:1-38
5 July – Luke 1:39-80
6 July – Luke 2:1-20
7 July – Luke 2:21-52
8 July – Luke 3

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