One Chapter Books in the Bible

Three Essentials for a Healthy Church

Jude 1-25

Teaching t23001

Introduction

Last week, we began a series on the one-chapter letters of the New Testament: Philemon, Jude, 2 John, and 3 John. Because of their brevity, these letters are seldom read or pondered. But they are a wealth of spiritual insight.

This morning we look at Jude. Read 1:1,2. Jude is probably the half-brother of Jesus (converted by the resurrected Jesus) and brother of James (a key leader in the Jerusalem church). He is writing to an unnamed church or group of churches of which he is a shepherd/leader. As a shepherd, he is concerned with the health of the sheep—and his letter addresses three essentials for a healthy church. Like the three legs of a STOOL, each of these is absolutely critical. Like the three essential aspects of physical health (defeat disease; proper nutrition; exercise), so is the spiritual health of Christ’s Body.

So if you are looking for a church, this is what you should be looking for. So if you are part of our church (in home groups), this is what you should be engaged in. So if you help lead a home group, this is what you should be emphasizing.

ESSENTIAL #1: Resist false teachers (DEFEAT DISEASE)

One essential in a healthy church is vigilant resistance to false teachers. Read 1:3,4. You can feel Jude’s urgency. He was going to write a letter that expounded and applied the salvation all Christian believers have (like Ephesians or Romans)—but news of his audience’s great peril reached him, so he changed his letter’s emphasis to this (17 of 25 verses; 68% of the letter).

What is that peril? The peril of false teachers—people who have infiltrated their church, claiming to be followers of Jesus, but who actually oppose Him and want to destroy His church. We don’t like this whole premise because we live in a culture that is profoundly relativistic toward truth and morality. Yet 1:3,4 presume that integral to Christianity is a normative body of truth (“the faith once for all entrusted”), and that a real enemy (Satan) works through people to undermine this truth. Since this is the case, every Christian church must be super-vigilant (epagonizomai) in order to be healthy!

In a post-9/11 America, it would be dangerous to presume there are no terrorist infiltrators! The fact that we have had only one or two successful terrorist acts since 9/11 is a testimony to the vigilance of many people: Homeland Security, airport workers, general populace. Or imagine going to a doctor that presumed you were healthy and/or did not believe that disease was a serious threat!

Jesus Himself warned us that the entire time between His two comings would be characterized by false teachers (read Matt.24:4,5,24,25). This is why virtually every New Testament letter contains sections that warn against and expose false teachers. This is why we should not be surprised that church history is characterized by wave after wave of cults and false teachers, to the extent that whole movements and denominations are usually eventually infiltrated and corrupted (EXAMPLES).

When I became a Christian in the early 1970’s, one of the first things I realized was that the mainline Protestant church in which I had been raised was led by pastors who were false teachers. As a young Christian worker in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I saw cult after cult arise to pick off undiscerning Christians. And in the last ten years, I have witnessed the outbreak of false teachers within evangelical Christianity (EMERGENT MOVEMENT) – including our own church.

So Jude does two things for his audience: he assures them that God will ultimately judge these false teachers (1:4 >>1:13,15), and he exposes them so that this church will discern and repel them. While some of their external characteristics are unique, most of their root characteristics are common to false teachers of all ages.

They deny that Jesus is the only Lord (1:4) – one of many ways, only teacher, angel, prophet, etc.

They pervert Jesus’ grace into licentiousness (1:4) – sin doesn’t matter, moral relativism, no final judgment, etc.

They claim an invalid/insufficient source of authority (1:8) – dreams, visions, seminary degree, official title, charismatic personality, speaking gifts, etc.

They are motivated by financial greed (1:11) and/or sexual lust (1:7,8)

They undermine legitimate church leaders (1:16,19) – through flattery, slander, subtle insinuation of their ignorance or narrow-mindedness, etc.

Do you compare a leaders’ teaching and lifestyle to what the Bible commends—or do you naively trust that anyone who calls himself a Christian and has a seminary degree and/or writes books and/or is charismatic (including me) is legitimate? Do you appreciate Christians (leaders and discerners as “EARLY WARNING SYSTEM”) who expose and refute false teachers/false teaching—or do you naively criticize them as negative or judgmental? Do you support appropriate discipline of false teachers—or do you naively view this as unloving rejection?

ESSENTIAL #2: Focus on & grow in God’s love (PROPER NUTRITION)

So one essential aspect of church health is reactive and negative—defending the faith against false teachers when (not if) they arise. But Jude emphasizes two other essential for church health that are positive and proactive. He explains the first of these positive, proactive essentials in 1:20,21 (read)—“keep yourselves in the love of God.” What does this mean?

It doesn’t mean to earn God’s love, or to hang onto God’s love lest He take it away from you. 1:2 assures us that all true Christians are already “beloved” by God and “kept” (same word) for Jesus Christ. See also 1Jn.4:10.

Rather, it means that we are to focus on and grow in the love that God already has for us—or, as Peter puts it in a similar letter, to keep growing in God’s grace (2Pet.3:18). Or as Hebrews 13:9 says, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened (nourished) by grace.” Jude is exhorting us to keep growing in our understanding and appreciation and application of God’s grace (vs. stagnating &/or taking this amazing gift for granted)!

What does it look like to do this? Jude explains by providing three plural participles (NAME THEM). The participles explain how to keep yourselves in the love of God, how to keep growing in God’s grace. The fact that they are plural implies that we are to do this together—in Christian community (rather than primarily in isolation, like most American Christians).

“Building yourselves up in your most holy faith” means staying nourished by the Bible as God’s love-letter—especially focusing on God’s provisions and promises. Alone, this means lots of Bible reading and meditation. In community, this means lots of group Bible study (Acts2:42 – “the apostles’ teaching;” e.g., CT; home group; cell group; classes; one-on-one mentoring; etc.).

“Praying in the Holy Spirit” means talking frequently and personally with God as your loving Father (thanking, confessing sins & fears, petitioning for your needs, interceding for others), asking for His Spirit to help you pray this way (vs. formalism). In community, this means lots of group “conversational” prayer (Acts2:42 – “the prayers;” e.g., home group & cell group prayer; home group prayer meetings; prayer concerts; spontaneous and planned one-on-one prayer together; etc.) versus the common American Christian aversion to praying with one another.

“Waiting for the mercy of Jesus to eternal life” means cultivating anticipation of Jesus’ return and eternal life in God’s kingdom (VACATION STUDY)—learning about what it will be like, looking forward to it, and viewing this life—both the adversities (LABOR PAINS) and the blessings (APPETIZERS) in light of it. In community, this means that we talk lots about heaven (LIKE THE APOSTLES’ LETTERS)—reminding one another, encouraging one another, etc.

Are you growing in your focus on and appreciation of God’s love—or is God’s love a stagnant concept that you take for granted? Are you cultivating a lifestyle around these three ways of nurturing your love-relationship with God—or are these perfunctory observances?

ESSENTIAL #3: Reach out to people far from Jesus (EXERCISE)

A healthy church not resists false teachers and helps one another to focus on God’s love. It also actively reaches out to people far from Jesus. This is why Jude says 1:22,23 (read).

Notice that Jude calls the church to both an attitude and an action toward outsiders.

The attitude is “have mercy” (eleao) – to have pity or compassion for someone’s plight, even though they may be responsible for it (EXAMPLE; Matt.9:36). A healthy church looks at people who are far from Christ with realism (their sin is deceiving and damaging them and others) and with compassion (contra self-righteous disgust), because we remember being in this same place.

The action is “save” (sozo) – to do all we can to rescue or deliver someone from their plight. A healthy church’s compassion is not passive; our compassion drives us to reach out—to move toward them, to do good to them, to express genuine interest in them, to share Christ with them, and to urge them to be saved.

Notice also that Jude calls the church to do this with all kinds of people outside the church:

“Some who are doubting” – probably believers whose faith has been undermined by the false teachers or by some other form of deception. A healthy church reaches out to wavering believers and helps them back on their feet (Jas.5:19,20).

“Others... snatching them out of the fire” – probably refers to non-Christians who are headed for God’s judgment. A healthy church reaches out to people who don’t believe in Christ (neighbors; work associates; relatives; friends; etc.) and loves them, tells them how Christ has changed their lives, answers their questions, etc.

“Some... hating even the garment polluted by their flesh” – probably refers to the false teachers or to non-Christians who are involved in overtly destructive lifestyles (e.g., prostitutes; addicts; criminal prisoners; etc.). A healthy church respects the destructive power of sin, but still finds ways to show and share Christ’s love to them. And it knows that it is often these people who are most aware of their need for rescue (Matt.9:12).

Is your Christian life and home group actually involved in this mission? Do you have a proper sense of privilege and urgency about this mission, and joy when people are rescued (Lk.15:7,10)?

GOSPEL: Are you willing to admit your need to be rescued by Jesus? Does it offend you to be described as “headed for the fire” or as having a “polluted lifestyle?” Does it bother you that Jesus is the Savior (Lk.19:10)—from the lostness caused by your sins, from the damage resulting from your sins, from the terrible deceptive power of your sins, and from God’s righteous judgment on your sins? Please understand that your problem is not your sins—Jesus took care of all of them on the cross. The biggest problem is your pride. Become like a child (Matt.18:3) and humbly ask Him to save you—and He will!

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE three essentials. This is the kind of church we want to be! No church is perfectly this way—but this is the health we strive toward. And we don’t have to will ourselves toward this. God promises to supply us with everything we need to move in this direction (read 1:24), and we simply cooperate with Him on this basis!