October 19, 2009

Merciful, Fearful Fire-Snatchers
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I don’t know that I’ve ever preached from the Biblical Book of Jude. It’s a tiny letter, only two pages long, tucked away just before the Book of Revelation. It was written during a time when the young church was going through very severe persecution. Threatened because of their Christian faith, many were turning away from the church, and some false teachers were emerging who confused the remaining faithful. To complicate things, the majority of church members were “second-generation” believers who tended to have one foot in the church and one foot in the world.

Jude gives his advice to serious committed followers of Christ on how to live positive and fruitful lives in such an environment. They have a mission and a ministry to influence others toward the Lord’s way, but at the same time they have to protect themselves from the evil influences around them.

Here how Jude’s advice is expressed in Today’s English Version:

“But you, my friends, keep on building yourselves up on your most sacred faith. Pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep yourselves in the love of God, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life.

“Show mercy toward those who have doubts; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and to others show mercy mixed with fear, but hate their very clothes, stained by their sinful lusts.” (Jude 22-23)

Jude makes a distinction regarding how we should reach out to people in various degrees of involvement with worldly thinking and activities. Some people “have doubts”; the New Revised Standard Version describes them as “wavering.” Such people should be embraced boldly, in a spirit of “mercy.” Others are in danger of being pulled into more sinful associations and behaviors. All efforts should be made to be aggressive in “snatching them out of the fire,” for they are in great danger. In still more severe cases, the wayward person should be approached with “mercy mixed with fear,” since their sinful infection can easily spread.

These are good strategies in any age for believers trying to win their family and friends to the Lord. Part of our calling is to do our best to bring them to the point of faith and surrender. But different approaches may be called for with different people and situations. We need to be sensitive to their readiness and their worldly entanglements. Our approach may be more gentle with some, more urgent with some, more confronting with others.

And we should always be careful of pride in ourselves that convinces us we are immune from the sin around us. Jude warns us, “keep building yourselves up,” “pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,” and “keep yourselves in the love of God.” In his final doxology, Jude adds the reminder that God is able

“. . . to keep you from falling and to bring you faultless and joyful before his glorious presence.” (verse 24)

May he use us to influence many others who have been slipping and sliding into lostness toward this same destiny!