Pressing Toward the Prize in Christ Jesus
Pressing Toward the Prize in Christ Jesus
Contending or Contentious?
Beloved, I was eager to preach to you today regarding our common salvation; however I find it necessary to appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Now, you might rightly ask, why? Why is it necessary to appeal to me to contend for the faith? Am I not a child of God? Haven’t I faith? What is to be contended for? What is this contention that you would encourage me to participate in? Can’t we all just be friends?
You might even be so clever as to quote 1 Corinthians 11:16 to me, wherein Paul states, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Aha! Now you have problem preacher – Scripture clearly says don’t be contentious, so you need to back off on this idea of telling me to contend for something.
On the surface, that sounds like a case. Certainly the vast majority of Chri-Easters (Christmas and Easter Christians), nominal Christians, and non-Christians in our culture would argue this way. They would claim that “real Christians” do not contend and would rest squarely on this proof-text.
You have heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again – a text without context is a pretext for a proof-text. For in verses 17-24, Paul immediately dives into contending with the Corinthians regarding their practices around the observations of the Lords Supper.
It will do us well to take a look at the definitions of the words we use. To contend means to struggle in opposition, to strive in debate, or to dispute earnestly – while to be contentious means to tend toward argument and strife, to be quarrelsome, characterized by controversy.
So then, it is possible to contend (or dispute earnestly) which is something we see the apostle Paul doing throughout the new testament, while not being found contentious. We are going to look at how that works out today as we find encouragement to press on toward the prize.
Our text is the book of Jude, second to last book in the Bible, twenty five verses in length. Jude, a half-brother of Jesus Christ and a brother of James probably wrote this around A.D. 69. This letter of Jude warns against those who, having gained admission to the church, are perverting the grace of God. He uses a number of Old Testament examples, denounces these individuals, and in contrast urges us to continue in Godliness and love toward them, convincing some, and “snatching them out of the fire”. The book ends with my own personal favorite doxology.
As a church who lays claim to being historically orthodox, and having a singular love of the Doctrines of Grace, we find that this letter particularly speaks volumes to us. So then, let’s see exactly how Jude will encourage us to follow Paul’s command to keep our eye on the goal, and press forward for the prize.
1:1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
We find the typical greeting of the times, the author introduces himself and states his intended audience, and offers a short prayer for them. Notice that Jude in the same vein as James, does not presume to introduce himself as “Jude, the brother of Jesus”! Rather, he introduces himself in the context of being a servant of Jesus Christ.
It does my heart good to take notice of the audience, and I pray you will take great pleasure in this as well. This book is written to those who are called! Christian, that is you and I! The people of God are rightly described as those who are called (see Romans 1:6, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Hebrews 3:1) , the Chosen, and Elect. What a wonderful thing, to be so related to our God – Elected, Choosen, and Called.
Further clarification is made, not satisfied with simply stating that this message is to those who have been called – it is to those who have been called, and are beloved by God the Father! The King James interprets this as “sanctified by” rather than “beloved”, and to further drill it in, we see that the audience is only those who are kept for Jesus Christ! Christian, you have been Called and are currently beloved by God and kept for Jesus Christ! It that isn’t cause to shout hallelujah I don’t know what is!
So, while those who are not Christians, might very well read this and find some benefit, we see that Jude’s purpose is not to address the non-Christian, but rather that the Christian might profit from his work.
Thirdly, what a beautiful prayer! How often have we found ourselves praying that Mercy, Peace, and Love be multiplied to others? Oh, certainly one can be found praying that these be multiplied to themselves, I regularly cry out to God that He would shower me with these things. However, we find a fantastic example here of how we should be holding each other up in prayer. Let me challenge you to commit yourselves this week to praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ in specifically this manner. Whatever your daily practices for prayer, during that time, pray in this manner for some specific individuals you know. If you’re lacking in people to pray for, I always appreciate more prayer.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Occasion – Our Spiritual Welfare
Notice that his audience is beloved. In the English language, this word beloved is so vague; however, in the Greek the root is specifically agape, that unique love – spiritual in nature, which believers share with each other.
Then we see his self professed passion for writing, it is as if this is of the utmost importance, this desire to see after our spiritual well-being and how he might assist our growth in the faith.
Next, we see that he found it necessary to write. So, beyond his self professed love and desire to be of help, he perceives a specific circumstance which needs to be addressed.
The Theme – Contend for the Faith
This circumstance is the need to contend for the faith. The word faith could mean the Word that we believe, or that Faith by which we believe the word. Here, Jude is clearly referring to “sound teaching that is to be absorbed and believed for salvation, which Jude insists they must contend for, so that they may preserve it safe and sound for future generations (Manton, 1999)”.
Why is this sound teaching of such importance? We talked about this direct relationship to the Great Commission a few Wednesday nights past. Matthew 28:19-20 “19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” commands us to teach – twice! We are required to teach sound doctrine – whatsoever Christ has commanded.
I should like to take another opportunity to challenge you. Christian maturity is directly proportional to the soundness of that Christians Doctrine, and sound doctrine can only be obtained through sincere study of the Scripture. Many Christians read a Psalm or Proverb a day, many more daily read some other devotional book that quotes some small portion of scripture and then expounds upon it, some few read through one of the Bible in a Year programs.
Please be careful to hear what I am saying. Those are good and needful things for any Christian walk – but woefully inadequate on their own. A variety of medicines are prescribed for the Christian, devotional meditation on the Word, Prayer, Giving, regular fellowship with other believers, etc; and over compensation in one area does not negate the need for development in all of them.
Particularly, your need to actually study scripture as opposed to simply a daily devotional reading; I mean here that you must apply your mind to the acquisition of knowledge of God. I would encourage you to study the book of 2 Timothy. I would particularly encourage you to do so through an inductive method. If you aren’t familiar with this method, simply catch up with me and ask about it.
We have an occasion and a theme, but why this theme? What circumstance would require it? False Teachers! They have crept in! Cleverly disguising themselves as Christians, they are teaching falsehoods! Leading people astray!
Notice that these individuals “crept in”, which demonstrates that they have and will spread their heresies by degree. They do not blow the doors down and proclaim that Christ is not divine, or that God and Satan are really the same being. They slowly, by slight degrees, begin changing the doctrine. A little semi-pelagianism here, a wee bit of denial of authority there, a mere touch of human assertion over yonder – nothing uncommon to young, immature Christians. Merely affirm that they are correct where they are wrong, and encourage them to go further where they should be encouraged to stop.
Soon, the foundation of the local church becomes rotten and Satan can move in full force. The Grace of God is perverted and our only Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, is denied.
Also notice that they were “designated for this condemnation long ago”. God is not surprised by this! Some would claim that reprobation is not taught in Scripture. I’ll not argue for it here, but I would be amiss if I did not take the opportunity to point out to you that these false teachers have in no way ambushed God – He saw it coming a mile away, and He designated them for this condemnation long ago. Do with that what you will.
Encouragements to Persevere
5 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. 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Three examples that prove the dangers of defection from the faith.
It would perhaps be compelling to delve into the details of each example here, and there is certainly a wealth of information that we can mine from these.
However, we will apply ourselves to the most rudimentary elements at this point. Jesus destroyed those who did not believe after delivering His people out of Egypt. Do not presume upon Him by continuing in known sin, this would be a clear example of unbelief. The angels, those magnificent beings who stand before the throne of God, didn’t get any benefit from their station when they sinned. Don’t rely for a second that your station will be of such as to warrant some benefit for you before a Holy and Just God. Finally, Sodom and Gomorrah continue to stand continue to stand as an example of what happens to those who indulge in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.
Let’s not mince words here – Christ said if you look at a member of the opposite sex and merely consider within your own “private thoughts” the prospect of having sexual relations with them, you have committed adultery, i.e. sexual immorality.
If God was strict in the Old and New Testaments, He continues to be holy and just now. The same God who struck Ananias and Sapphira dead because they lied, made Zechariah dumb for his unbelief, kept Moses out of the promised land because of a few unadvised words, turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back … is still the same God today.
Do not be seduced by these heretics. I urge you to apply yourself to an orthodox, or rightly understood, knowledge of Christ and His commands. Study, seek hard after Christ, and come to increasingly recognize the heresies that surround you. Contend for the Faith! Do not be found like a soldier sleeping at his post, you may wake up to discover the enemy holds you as a prisoner.
Recognizing a Heretic
8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
Notice how they rely on their own dreams – as opposed to the Scripture; the reject the authority of God and substitute their own authority; ultimately – they blaspheme the glorious ones. Many here associate “the glorious ones” with angelic beings, powers and principalities in heaven; a reasonable thought, particularly given the following verse.
However, I do not believe that “the glorious ones” particularly mean angelic or heavenly beings. Let me set my case before you. Direct your attention to The Golden Chain of God’s Grace found in Romans 8:28-39 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This means that we, the true Christians, are glorious ones! We are God’s Servants, made Holy and Sacred through the blood of Jesus Christ. These false teachers then speak evil of true Christians, impiously or irreverently bashing those Christians for the Sound Doctrine evidenced in their lives, which will be found to be in opposition of the false doctrines the heretics teach and believe.
Thomas Manton (a noted Puritan nonconformist and author of the best commentary I have found to date on Jude) contends that phrase specifically implies their “scorn, curse, and reproach toward the officers of the church, who are the Glory of Christ.”
Verse nine can then be seen as an example from the greater to the lesser. Michael, being greater than we are – didn’t “presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment” upon Satan himself – being for more evil than anyone whom we might contend with.
Christian, does this not speak to you? Oh, my heart breaks when I consider how often I have spoken irreverently of certain men. I can but throw myself upon the mercy of Christ and purpose to order my life such that I do not repeat this mistake.
Here is the heart of contention without being contentious! While passionately defending sound doctrine, one might give over to temptation to blaspheme ones opponent – further stirring up dissent and division, rather than working towards a right understanding. Humility married to Graciousness while striving to correct.
I would challenge you as well, rise to this example of Christian behavior. Do not be found to be one who blasphemes others.
We see in verse ten that they blaspheme what they do not understand and are destroyed by what they understand instinctively. Have you never shared sound doctrine with someone and had them tell you that if you believe that you are a heretic? If not, I would encourage you to share your beliefs with more people – it will happen.
The unregenerate mind does not grasp the things of God, can find no pleasure in Christ, does not heed the direction of the Spirit. Unbelievers will certainly respond with blasphemy. However, here we will see so called Teachers and Preachers in the church blaspheming others – they verbally slander and murder the true worshipers of God in the same way Cain murdered Able! When you see this occurring, there should be warning bells, alarms, and klaxons going off in your head – beware! Certainly any man might stumble upon this; however, the false teacher will be found to consistently and unrepentantly follow this pattern. Keep a sharp watch for this!
You will also notice that they seek after gain, sacrificing their conscience to make more coin – like Balaam. They will be found to be seeking un-ordained leadership positions in the church like Korah. They will consistently place themselves and their concerns first and foremost when you come to fellowship, ensuring that their wants and desires are meet – regardless of the needs of others.
In the words of James “their faith is dead”, you will find no works of faith among them – waterless clouds, fruitless trees, waves in the sea. Notice these things, look out for them, and do not be seduced by slick talk, large numbers, promises of fame and fortune. Blab it and grab it is not sound doctrine, it is a pop culture self help program. Their fate awaits them, and our hearts should cry out for their souls, as it is a fate that we have narrowly escaped ourselves.
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
These three verses serve as a dire warning, a lighthouse in the worst of storms by which we find caution to avoid these rocks. Particularly as we teach, which we see from the Great Commission that we are all called to do, then we should be desperate to teach aright. Look here at what awaits those who fail to teach correctly!
Even more for those who seek out teaching positions within the church, James said, “not all of you should seek to be teachers, as you know teachers will be judged more harshly”. While we are all commanded to teach those who are lost, and will find reason to teach in our homes amongst families and friends, some are called to teach within the church – these are the ones that James specifically refers to.
Yet regardless or your call to teaching, whether the general call of all Christians or the specific call of Preachers, Teachers, Elders, Deacons within the church – take heed of the warnings set forth here.
The Perseverance of the Saints
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And 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 the flesh.
We can take great comfort in the fact that the apostles “told us so”. We see again that God simply isn’t surprised by this at all – it is all part of His ultimate plan to Glorify Himself! God revealed this to the apostles and they revealed it to us long before it occurred, in my case approximately 2,000 years before it happened!
This is of massive benefit to us as we run the good race! We recognize that we aren’t God, we don’t know everything, and we get so caught up in the here and now that we sub-consciously attribute our frailties to God. How easy it is to suppose that God doesn’t know that this is happening, or to throw ourselves into pondering that never ended question “why?” Bring to your remembrance regularly that our Sovereign God is so utterly in control of every minute detail, such that when we begin to feel that life is spiraling out of our control, we may rest assured in the promises of the Golden Chain of God’s Grace – all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose! Is that word all not a sweet and precious thing in this context?
So God has ordained that they come, cause divisions, propagate worldliness, and lack the Spirit. This only gives us cause to look at how we are ordained to react, because we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them! (Ephesians 2:10)
Isn’t that phenomenal, God new all about them, no surprises – and He knows all about us! He has prepared good works for us to walk in! Let us see how Jude encourages us to persevere here!
The Greek word translated “building yourselves up” signifies continuing to build a structure that has already been started – we refer to this as sanctification, or the steady increase in personal holiness over time after conversion. We also take the term “yourselves” to require us to build each other up. Each one should look first to their own salvation and then immediately care for one another.
This is done in the context of the local church. There we find the fellowship with other believers that provide them the opportunity to assist in building ourselves up, and vice versa. If you are not currently in a body of believers where this can take place, I urge you to find one. If possible, I encourage you to worship locally with us.
We again understand “most holy faith” here, as before, to mean Sound Doctrine. We must be building on that foundation which is Jesus Christ, as delivered to us through Paul and the other Apostles – and if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one they delivered, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:9).
I urge you again to mine deep into the bedrock of Scripture – Study! As with the treasures of the earth, some few treasures of Scripture may be found raking the surface – but the most significant treasures require hard work and perseverance to dig deep.
Notice your prayer life is of importance to Jude here, as it must be to you. I have already challenged you to pray as Jude did, and here I will add to that challenge to Pray in the Spirit. Do not pray like a spiritual adulterer, asking for that which you would spend on your own lusts and passions. But pray like the priest you are called to be. It is noteworthy that you will find it exceedingly difficult to pray in the Spirit if you are not anchored in the Word. The two are tied at the hip – pray that the Spirit will grant you a greater desire to study and ability to understand the Word of God so that you might know how better to pray.
Now use these means of Grace (Sound Doctrine and Prayer) to keep yourselves in the love of God. There are two possible ways to understand “the love of God” here. The most common might be rephrased as “God’s love for us” – however, I find this repugnant. It indicates that there is some work or effort that I might do to either keep myself in God’s love or remove myself from God’s love.
We are Christians, God loves us for no other reason than His Sovereign Choice to love us, see Romans 9 if you need more convincing. On the other hand, the greatest commandment is what? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and strength! Brothers and sisters, I urge you, as Jude urges you, to keep yourselves in this love of God!
Sound Doctrine – “the most holy faith” – will reveal to you more and more of the God you love! Prayer in the Spirit will take that revelation and expand it into a dynamic relationship with the object of our love!
This, indeed, is how we press on toward the prize – the mercy of our Lord. This mercy was bought by Jesus Christ and will be dispensed by Jesus Christ – and those of us to whom he dispenses it may be found in that blessed state referred to as eternal life.
All the while keeping in mind our mission to share the Gospel with others, we are to teach them through our lives, actions, and words what Sound Doctrine is. Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us; however we do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) as we saw previously.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Sweeter than honey straight from the comb! I am unable to keep myself from stumbling, and I will never present myself blameless before God’s presence, much less with great joy! But I do not have to – it is all of God! God is able to keep me from stumbling! God will present me blameless before his presence with great joy! Oh how my soul profits from this verse – what I could never do, God will do for me. Nectar for the thirsting soul!
Followed on by the succinct Sovereignty of our God! Before all time, now, and forever – Glory, Majesty, Dominion, and Authority! Take heed of this God that we serve! There are no surprises for Him! How utterly mind blowing to be chosen and loved by God!
The story is told that Andrew Jackson’s boyhood friends just couldn’t understand how he became a famous general and then the President of the United States. They knew of other men who had greater talent but who never succeeded. One of Jackson’s friends said, “Why, Jim Brown, who lived right down the pike from Jackson, was not only smarter but he could throw Andy three times out of four in a wrestling match. But look where Andy is now.” Another friend responded, “How did there happen to be a fourth time? Didn’t they usually say three times and out?” “Sure, they were supposed to, but not Andy. He would never admit he was beat — he would never stay ‘throwed.’ Jim Brown would get tired, and on the fourth try Andrew Jackson would throw him and be the winner.” Picking up on that idea, someone has said, “The thing that counts is not how many times you are ‘throwed,’ but whether you are willing to stay ‘throwed’.”
Beloved, press on towards the prize – contend earnestly for sound doctrine! You may very well find yourself, much like I often find myself, laying flat on your back and wondering which artillery division of Satan’s God allowed to hit you, and why.
Yet herein lies the power of Sound Doctrine for the Christian. When the pretenders get knocked down by that incoming round, they “roll with the flow”, try to take as little damage, and by all means keep their heads down in a vain effort to preserve themselves. Doctrinally – they holler throwed.
Our God is the Sovereign I AM. We wake to the angelic trumpets calling the charge. We roll out of the bunk each morning and if we aren’t facing Satan we get that way quick. Our brothers and sisters in the faith man the lines around us, and when that round comes in, and we get knocked down …….
What better perspective for looking up to the cross of Jesus Christ, wherein our victory is assured – and God Himself fills us with His Spirit, imparting the strength necessary to shake it off and stand back up. We are never willing to say “throwed” – because we are pressing toward the prize in Christ Jesus.
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