Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Enemy Within

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.                                 Jude 1:3-4, 8  NKJV

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but one of the more interesting things that has happened to me quite often in the past few years is that after I post on Sunday I find that many others have written about the exact same subject as I have.  Now as often as this has happened, I have come to the conclusion that this is not a coincidence but rather the working of the Holy Spirit who is communicating what concerns Him to all who will listen.  This week the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me about the state of the church, and, for lack of a better expression, the “dumbing down” of the gospel as more and more believers choose to compromise on the laws God has clearly laid out for us to obey.

Something I have often wondered when studying scripture, especially the New Testament, is the possibility that the closer we get to the book of Revelation, we are getting specific advice addressed to those who live in the time closest to the fulfillment of those prophecies. Now understand, I fully believe that as the Bible says; all scripture is “profitable”, but I can't help but wonder as I read the book of Jude, which we find right before the book of Revelation, is that Jude speaking about the time which immediately precedes the tribulation? Are we being told something we really need to hear and understand? Is Jude describing what life will be like immediately before Christ returns for His church?
In his book, Jude warns us specifically that the time will come where the greatest danger to the church will come not from the outside, where the danger has historically been, but rather from the inside by way of those who profess to believe but reject the authority of scripture.  I think Jude describes them well in verse eight where his description of them shows they have a blatant, arrogant irreverence to the Word of God.  As difficult as this might seem to many of us, you don’t need to look very far at all to see this very thing happening all around us today.  I wrote about this a couple of years ago and want to revisit that post with a few additions in the hope that you will not only find something of use to grow in your faith, but also have the courage to examine yourselves in light of the message from Jude.

When my children were small, I can remember times when I especially wanted to make a point I would say something like “you really, really, really, need to listen to me now!” Have you ever used that type of language to get someone's attention? This is exactly what I thought of when I first read this verse from Jude. So as always, the first thing I did was do a word search trying to understand exactly what point Jude was trying to make here. The words that stood out to me were “exhort” and “earnestly contend”.

Exhort: parakaleō... to beg, entreat, beseech

Earnestly contend: epagōnizomai...two words, epi and agōnizomai which used together means to take a deep breath, to endeavour with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something.

Now I don't know about you, but when I had to “exhort” my children to do something, it was because whatever I asked them to do in a normal tone of voice wasn't getting done. So the result was resorting to other methods of persuasion in order to convince them of the necessity of performing the task given to them. The subject in this passage is obviously sharing the gospel message with an unbelieving world, and apparently we are being told that first of all, Jude had to resort to “exhorting” believers to do this. What a sad commentary of the times when believers for whatever reason need to be “begged” to share the gospel!

I think most of us understand that the natural reaction of the body before attempting to perform a strenuous task is to take a deep breath. Unfortunately for me, as I get older I notice myself taking deep breaths before doing just about anything! But I think you understand what Jude is trying to say here. The time has apparently come where sharing the gospel is a difficult, strenuous undertaking, and believers are obviously becoming hesitant to share their faith with an unbelieving world! So a situation has appeared where Jude must resort to begging believers to perform their responsibility to share the gospel because it has become a difficult, if not discouraging thing to try and do.

Last week God used a situation in my life to illustrate this passage to me in a way that even I could understand. I have mentioned before that I like to fish, and although not very good at it, fishing is the sort of sport where you don't necessarily have to be successful to enjoy it. Fortunately for me I have a good friend who is very good at it, and likes to take me along with him in his boat and show me the right way to do it. ( I actually think he takes me along so he can laugh but that's another story. ) So there we were trying to catch bass during spawning season and while he was pounding them I was getting skunked.

After awhile he asked me exactly how was I retrieving my lure? I thought that was a funny question because don't you just throw it out there and pull it back? His answer was that during the spawn, the fish are on the bottom guarding their nests, and in order to get a strike I needed to let the lure go to the bottom and drag it along so the bass considered it a threat. Now my answer was that was a good way to snag and lose a good lure, but his answer was if I fished where the fish weren't, I wasn't going to catch anything anyway.

So admitting to myself he knew what he was talking about, I tossed my lure out and began to drag it across the bottom, and wouldn't you know it, first cast and bang! In fact, guess who caught the most fish? That's right, he did, but I was a close second. The point God made to me was this; how often do we continue to try and share the gospel in a way that seems “safe” to us? If it becomes difficult do we take a deep breath and do what needs to be done, or do we retreat and put ourselves in a position where God must “exhort” us to do what He needs us to do?

Now more than ever, we see the world becoming hostile towards the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rejection, scorn, and even persecution are the orders of the day when trying to spread the good news. Many are becoming discouraged with all that life is throwing at us right now, and how easy it is in circumstances like these that we tend to retreat rather than press on. Jude gives all believers what I would call an “attitude check” in this passage. What exactly is your mindset right now as the world approaches the return of Christ for His church? Are the difficulties causing you to back off, or become more aggressive? God, through His servant Jude, gives us the direction and advice we need as believers living in these troubled times.  I think it is no coincidence that in the book of Revelation, the church at Laodicea, which is a description of the church which will exist just before the tribulation begins, is described as "lukewarm".  What a perfect description of a church that believes you can compromise on the authority of scripture.

I believe we as a body need to look in the mirror and examine our own faith by asking three questions based on this message from Jude.  One, do I submit to the Word of God?  Two, do I respect the authority of Scripture?  Three, am I humble and teachable?  Our goal is to take a deep breath and press on with the knowledge that very, very soon we will have our reward. The easy path when confronted by those who would challenge the authority of God’s Word is to compromise in order to avoid conflict and escape persecution.  The hardest part of the race comes just before the finish line.  As we approach our deliverance from this world may we “contend earnestly” in sharing the Word of God in love with those who would challenge the authority of His Word.

Keep watching.

 PS.  Like I said, write about a subject and the next thing you know you find someone else doing the same thing.  I just found this article concerning the subject of the greatest challenge facing the Church today written by Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.