Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Contending for the Faith: Introduction to Jude

Like 2nd and 3rd John, Jude is a short book of just 25 verses. The author is Jude or Judas, a very common name for Jewish men at that time. He introduces himself by first describing his relationship to Jesus Christ as a doulos, a slave. English translations do not like to use “slave” to translate doulos, but rather servant (the ESV translates slave only 18 out of 126 references). A slave is one who has no rights and belongs solely to another to be used at his master’s whim. Jude understands what many “believers” don’t seem to realize, that is, a true believer dies to himself in order to follow Jesus, submitting to His interests and will.

There are three ways in which doulos is used in Scripture. (1) It is used of those who serve God’s will as instruments in the execution of God’s decrees. Even pagans, such as Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28–45:1) and Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:6), are God’s servants to accomplish His will, often without knowing that they did so. (2) Doulos is used of true saints whose love for the Lord prompts them to give up their lives to serve God and His kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:22). (3) Those who serve in public offices, whether secular or sacred, are said to be God’s servants (Romans 13:4; Psalm 133:21). This includes priests (Psalm 134:1), prophets (Amos 3:7), and those who serve Christ’s assembly (2 Timothy 2:24). Even Jesus was regarded as God’s servant (Isaiah 49:3; 53:11).

A slave has no position of honor in any culture, yet, Jude gives his position an honorable title. Apparently, Jude was not concerned about how that might appear to the world. The simple truth is that all are in the service of a master, whether Satan or self (Ephesians 2:2, 3; Romans 1:25; 16:18) or Christ (John 12:26; Romans 14:18). To serve Christ, we must serve others (John 13:12–17, 20).

Also, observe that this first identifying statement linked him to brother-servants: Jude is a slave of Christ and a brother of James. It is probably true that James was his actual brother in the flesh (Matthew 13:55), however, it would be best to understand Jude as referring to a brotherhood enjoined by service to Jesus Christ. This is the true and eternal brotherhood, fellow-servants of the gospel, belonging to Jesus Christ by creation and redemption. Those whom Christ has purchased by His redemption are not their own (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). If a believer lives for himself, he defrauds Christ of His rights by purchase. When our own lust or interests are contrary to His will, then we must acknowledge that we are susceptible to the verdict of whether we are indeed His servants at all (Matthew 7:21–23).

This identifying statement also implies a duty for which all will give a full accounting to Christ, the Master (Matthew 25:19). This understanding should, then, motivate us to faithful service (Galatians 1:10), which requires His servants to wait on Him in earnest seeking after His direction (Psalm 119:125). Jude, himself, illustrates this service to Christ’s will in the very writing of his book (v. 3).

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Winning a Full Reward (2 John)

John's second epistle was written to the “elect lady,” which was probably one of the local house churches that this elder (John?*) was overseeing (v. 1). An elder (presbuteros, overseer or ruler) originally designated an older person. Respect for the elderly made it easy to look to them for wisdom and guidance, thus it became a term for rank and office. This pattern was used for the Jewish Sanhedrin who chose their rulers from older and more mature men. The early church also chose elders as their leaders (1 Tim. 3:1–7; 5:1, 17–25; Titus 1:5–9).
John’s concern for this assembly was very similar to that of I John, warning of false “brethren”—deceivers, who did not confess that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh (v. 7). The best defense against such error is truth“the truth that abides” (v. 2). The one new focus, carried into III John also, was to caution the saints about their hospitality because loving others necessarily involves that. Welcoming and providing for the needs of strangers was a clear expression of Christ’s “new” commandment (v. 5; John 13:34). Feel-good religious acts appeal to the flesh, but it is not obedience if discernment is absent. Satan banks on those who would rather let their feelings rather than truth dictate their behavior. Such people enable false teachers to bring in destructive heresies. Therefore, John cautions these saints to ascertain first whether these “brethren” hold to right doctrine before extending their welcome (vv. 10, 11). If those extending hospitality are not careful and discerning, they are complicit.
However, before this caution, John warns them, “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward” (v. 8). Read that verse again very carefully because it sounds so foreign to many. We strongly defend the doctrines of grace—that no one can earn his way to salvation, which is by grace alone. We believe that we get to heaven only by Christ’s righteousness and not by anything that we do. Obviously, works are important, so, what role do they play? What do the Scriptures say (Phil. 1:6 cf. 1:9–11; see also 2:12–18)?
What was John saying to these saints in verse 8? Our redeemed but imperfect life is to be filled with means (obedience) toward God-planned ends (Eph. 2:10). John assumes that these saints have worked for something for which they hope to win a reward (Matt. 10:41, 42; 1 Cor. 3:14; Col. 3:24; Heb. 10:35). However, their careless inattention to false brethren placed that reward in jeopardy. So, how does one reconcile grace alone with the expectation that saints “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12)? John Piper rightly concludes, “God is just as sovereign over means as He is over ends.” The doctrine of perseverance assumes that the grace that saves you will also sanctify you and take you to your reward and to glory (Phil. 2:13).

*It is the consensus of scholarship that John is the author, although John is not named.