How to Read the Bible Book by Book: 3 John
Jude 3: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”
One of the issues that is very prominent in our culture right now is the debate about various kinds of sexuality. It is often true that what effects the world soon becomes an issue in the church. That has certainly been true in the last number of years in regard to various forms of sexuality. It is tempting to think that this a recent development and that we are facing a new challenge. But when a person reads scripture carefully, you find that there really is nothing new under the sun. The challenges we face today are no different from the challenges the church have always faced. They may take on new faces and develop with different senses of urgency, but the temptation always remains the same. Some want to take the grace of God and turn it into a license for immorality. But this is an abuse of grace. While it is true that we are no longer under law, we are under the influence of the Spirit who teaches us to live according to the principles of God’s character. While we do not live in such ways to earn our salvation, we do live in such ways as evidence that God has changed our heart, and out of gratitude for what God has done in saving us. When people advocate against such living, it is always a sign that they do not have the Spirit of Christ.
That, in large measure, is why the book of Jude was written. For those who have been following along with these articles, you will notice that Jude is very similar in content to Second Peter 2. Some of the very same language is being used, which may be evidence that Jude worked closely with Peter, or may have copied some of his teaching to pass on to others. Jude identifies himself as a brother of James. He is speaking of the James who was a leader in the early church. James was the brother of Jesus, which makes Jude himself a brother of Jesus. However, he does not use his family relationship to Christ as a means of authority. What he teaches is not based on his brotherly relation. What he teaches is based on apostolic teaching, and he wants his readers to be aware of that.
The letter of Jude is short and fits nicely into four distinct parts. There is an introduction and explanation of the letter’s purpose in verses 2 through 4. Then, in the body of the letter in verses 5-16, there are two sets of Old Testament stories that serve as examples of his main point. And then finally, in verses 17-23, there is a wrap up of the letter with clear teaching on how they are to apply what Jude has presented to them. The letter then ends with a benediction in verses 24 and 25. Let’s look at each section one at a time.
First, in verses 3 through 5, Jude gives an explanation of his writing. He had originally planned to write to them to celebrate the common salvation that they share together in Christ. However, something has happened that changed his purpose. Jude has heard the rumor about false teachers who have come in among them. These were likely itinerate preachers, like we learned about in Third John, but who were carrying a false message. In this instance, their message doesn’t seem to be anything unorthodox about Christ himself but involves an abuse of grace. The false teachers are giving people permission for various kinds of immorality. It is not stated up front what this immorality is, but as we read on in the letter it becomes obvious that it has something to do with sexuality, rebellion, and perhaps greed. This should not come as a surprise to us. This is usually the forms that immorality take. Jude says about such people that they are ungodly and they pervert the grace by turning it into a license for sin. This license to sin amounts to a denial of Christ himself. Jude says that the condemnation about such people was written about long ago.
What does he mean by that? Well, he is going to go on to explain in verses 5 through 16, which itself splits up into two different parts. There are two sets of Old Testament stories given, which are made up of three different events apiece. In the first set of stories (vv. 5-7) Jude speaks about the rebellious Israelites who left Egypt, the angels who did not keep their positions of authority, and finally of Sodom and Gomorrah. You can see here how the theme of rebellion and sexual sin is prominent. When the Israelites left Egypt and came into the wilderness, they built a golden calf and participated in all kinds of revelry. In a similar way, the angels of Genesis 6 took on human form and gave themselves to sexual perversion. Sodom and Gomorrah is an obvious example of sexual immorality, especially in the form of same sex relationships.
A second set of stories are given in verses 8-11. Here you have the stories of Cain, Balaam, and Korah’s rebellion. Once again, rebellion against divine leadership is the theme. In each of these examples, people stubbornly chose their own way rather than following God. Each of them paid a dear price for their rebellion.
In verse 14 an interesting example is brought out. Referring to the apocryphal work called “The Book of Enoch,” Jude refers to Enoch’s prophecy of how the Lord will come with thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone and to convict them of their sin and ungodliness. The book of Enoch tells the story of the angel’s rebellion from Genesis chapter 6 in much more detail. The book was never included in scripture, and thus does not have prophetic authority, but it is an interesting example of judgment promised on those who rebel against God and his ways. That is why Jude refers to it.
As the book nears its end in verse 17, Jude reminds his readers that the apostles had foretold that such things would happen. Much like Paul in the letters to Timothy, they had all warned that in these last days many would follow their own ungodly desires, rather than remaining faithful to Christ. Jude says these are people who are driven by natural instincts, rather than by the Spirit of God.
So, what should his readers do in light of this? They should build themselves up in the faith; they should pray in the Holy Spirit; they should keep themselves from God’s love, and they should try to reach out to those who are being deceived. Jude says that some will need to be shown mercy, while others we will need to be approached in more aggressive way, combining mercy and fear of judgment, thus rescuing people from corruption.
In our more genteel time, Jude hits us very aggressively. We are not used to people being so bold about the threat of judgment. But it is clear the brother of our Lord does not think these are things about which we should be subtle. God’s grace is the most wonderful thing any of us have ever heard or received, but to twist it as an excuse for immorality and rebellion is a dangerous thing.