Dr. John Powell, professor at a Christian University, writes about a student in his Theology class named Tommy:
“Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology. That was the day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both blinked. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders. It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then I know in my mind that it isn’t what’s on your head but what’s in it that counts; but on that day I was unprepared and my emotions flipped. I immediately filed Tommy under “S” for strange…very strange. Tommy turned out to be the “atheist in residence” in my course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father / God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew. When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?” I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. “No!” I said very emphatically. “Why not,” he responded, “I thought that was the product you were pushing.” I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then called out, “Tommy! I don’t think you’ll ever find Him, but I am absolutely certain that He will find you!” He shrugged a little and left my class and my life. …Later I heard that Tommy had graduated, and I was duly grateful. Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could search him out, he came to see me. When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe. “Tommy, I’ve thought about you so often; I hear you are sick,” I blurted out. “Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It’s a matter of weeks.” “Can you talk about it, Tom?” I asked. “Sure, what would you like to know?” he replied. “What’s it like to be only twenty-four and dying?” “Well, it could be worse.” “Like what?” “Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life. “I began to look through my mental file cabinet under “S” where I had filed Tommy as strange…”But what I really came to see you about,” Tom said, “is something you said to me on the last day of class.” (He remembered!) He continued, “I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, ’No!’ which surprised me. Then you said, ’But He will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time… “But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that’s when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit “Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit. I decided that I didn’t really care about God, about an after life, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you had said: ’The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.’” “So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him. “Dad.” “Yes, what?” he asked without lowering the newspaper. “Dad, I would like to talk with you.” “Well, talk.” “I mean … It’s really important.” The newspaper came down three slow inches. “What is it?” “Dad, I love you, I just wanted you to know that.” Tom smiled at me and said it with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him. “The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me.” [In that night, my father shared with me how he had become angry with me because of my life choices, in spite of the fact that he raised me in a Christian home. He shared his faith with me in a way I never heard before.] “It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years. “I was only sorry about one thing — that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to. “Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn’t come to me when I pleaded with Him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop, ’C’mon, jump through. C’mon, I’ll give you three days, three weeks.’” “Apparently God does things in His own way and at His own hour. But the important thing is that He was there. He found me! You were right He found me even after I stopped looking for Him” “Tommy,” I practically gasped, “I think you are saying something very important and much more universal than you realize! To me, at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle John said that. He said: ’God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him.’ Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now. Would you come into my present “Theology of Faith” course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn’t be half as effective as if you were to tell it” “Oooh… I was ready for you, but I don’t know if I’m ready for your class.” “Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call.” In a few days Tom called, said he was ready for the class, that he wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a date. However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more important than the one with me and my class. Of course, his life was not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever heard or the mind of man has ever imagined. Before he died, we talked one last time. “I’m not going to make it to your class,” he said. “I know, Tom.” “Will you tell them for me? Will you … tell the whole world for me?” I will, Tom. I’ll tell them. I’ll do my best.” So, to all of you who have been kind enough to read this simple story about God’s love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy, somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven — I told them, Tommy, as best I could.
I mention this story because it sets up well the problem we have. People we love act badly sometimes, and sometimes we are called to oppose what they are saying or doing – but it is never comfortable if we truly love them. Add to that the fact that at other times we are called to overtly show love to them in a way that seems opposite of opposing them. The battle is confusing, and we don’t always get it right even when we have a right motive. There is a lot of pain involved in the process of defending truth that cannot be simply taught through… it is cried through. How can I fight the right battles and still love in a way that brings a ringing testimony? Fortunately, God didn’t leave us stuck…there is a book in the Scriptures that helps us sort this out – the short epistle written by Jude, the half-brother of James, Pastor at Jerusalem in the first century.
What did he say? In two sentences he said…
Key Principle: Believers must prayerfully identify the proper lines in defense of truth, but also seek practical ways to show love to opponents. Those two actions in balance will keep the church on track in both love and purity.
In his opening introduction, he recalled five gifts of God that helped believers to stand in grace and truth:
1:1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.
First, from the outset of his writing, he made clear:
• Believers have a Divine call on their life. They were not a mistake or surprise to God – and you and I are not a mistake either. You were CALLED. God knows who you are and how you got in the family. The Spirit was there when conviction fell upon you to choose Jesus. The Spirit indwelt you when you surrendered to Christ. God’s call came with God’s gifts, seal and much more…
• Believers have a Divine love in our life. They were BELOVED, and so are you! We can do heroic things for love. We can tolerate the intolerable, deny ourselves in areas of our most basic needs – if we know we are loved. Parents go without for their children – because of love. We have God’s love securely wrapped around us all them time. We do not simply hold His hand as we cross the streets of danger in our lives – He holds OUR HAND. In Biblical terms, I am ever gripped by His holy grasp.
• Believers have a Divine guard over our life. They were KEPT, and so are we. The enemy may wish to have a shot at my life, but it must pass through my Father’s approval to hit me. He will not allow me to suffer temptation without an escape hatch, and He knows what I can withstand when walking with Him.
• Believers have a Divine mercy multiplying in our life. Nothing about God’s rich blessings are deserved in my life! He overflows with mercy (eleos: undeserved compassion, usually in reference to a miserable situation). The more I understand myself, the more I see the deep and abiding mercy involved in saving me!
• Believers have a Divine peace surrounding our life. Another result of my walk with God is the peace (eiréné: to enter in an undisturbed flow) that grows as I trust Him, and openly rely on Him (usually seen as a result of prayer – Philippians 4).
Don’t skip by these simple words of introduction, because they are key to standing strong. We must know WHO we are in Christ, in order to be able to DO what God has called us to accomplish.
Second, believers need to model the character of godly leaders that helped them gain insight into a walk with God.
1:3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jude told them: “I wanted to write about the incredible salvation God has given us, but I cannot. There is a pressing problem… ungodliness has crept into God’s church.” He didn’t speak it with the voice of a master… he appealed to them in love. He was:
• Humble before the Lord: Jude appealed to them as a bond-servant, not a Lord (1:1).
• Open to Help: Jude called on them for assistance (appealing is from the word para-kaleo: one called beside to help) – not commanded them “from the top down” (1:3).
• Honest about mistakes: Jude made them aware that when the troublers arrived, they slipped in past the observing eyes of leaders (1:4).
• Forthright about problems: Jude didn’t mince words about the nature of the troublers:
1. They were “planted” by the enemy (though they themselves may not have been aware of it – 1:4).
2. They were not people of God – but ungodly in heart and action (1:4).
3. They used the grace of God to license wrongdoing (1:4).
4. Their actions (and perhaps their overt teaching) were a denial of Jesus’s Lordship over all of the life of a believer (1:4).
Step back for a moment and you can see the delicate balance. Jude didn’t come harshly, but he didn’t back down on the truth, either. This is the sound of balance and Godly commitment.
Third, he called believers to realize that ignoring ungodly behavior imperils all the people of God.
Look at the three perils Jude mentioned to them:
First, there was an imperiled testimony:
1:5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.
God may withdraw His use of a believer if we refuse to take Him seriously! Even those who began with a testimony of freedom may find God unable to continue using them as a testimony to Him. YOU MAY SAVE THE LIVES OF THOSE YOU CORRECT!
Second, there was an imperiled judgment:
1:6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.
God may step in and cut off our work because it did not stay within the parameters He set for us. He may cut our life short so that we don’t continue to damage the work He is doing. He did it in Corinth when people improperly handled each other in the body. He made some sick and took others home.
The Bible argues that people caught in lifestyle choices that are not acceptable to God are people caught in blinding sin that need rescue – not people that need to be accommodated into churches that love in spite of their behaviors. Churches that do that are imperiling their people and mottling the message of the Lordship of Jesus. The teaching that such are not clean spiritually may be politically untenable, but Scripture makes clear that it IS a part of the Biblical world view.
Third, there is an imperiled temporal safety:
1:8 Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. 9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.
Failure to recognize their place will cause them to be destroyed by powers that are stronger than they realize. Allowing deception to remain in the lives of people is a dangerous thing. Satan himself is the father of lies and deception, and he is well cloaked and appears harmless to many. When he is courted, he remains and grows stronger in our hearts. He is not an animal that can be truly tamed, but a lion that awaits the right time for maximum effect, to destroy us. Playing with lions is a dangerous way of living.
Fourth, Believers must wisely recognize the marks of these messengers of trouble – to mark and avoid them.
Note that Jude doesn’t simply tell Pastors to watch for people who are bringing error and ungodliness into the work – ALL believers are to spot people who are doing so – and their works imperil all!
He continued: 1:11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
How do we spot them? Their error mimics people God exposed already in His Word – so we should be able to spot them. Here are three examples:
The first is Cain and his unbridled bitterness. (He had a wrong heart, and that led him to wrong actions). Some who dwell among the believers are actually deeply bitter and jealous that God hasn’t given them what He has given others. They will not master their anger and blame others for a hurt they feel originated with God!
Gen. 4:2 Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Look closely at Cain’s sin: disappointment about how God dealt with him became jealousy over how God dealt with his brother. God spoke conviction into Cain, but he ignored HIS responsibility and made his problem about some advantage his brother had. He made himself a VICTIM instead of taking responsibility for his choices. Deceived, his rebellion showed in an act of premeditated murder. Failure to yield his heart became open rebellion, which led to an innocent life taken.
The second example is Balaam and a hardened and greedy heart (He had a wrong heart, but had the right words), that was manifested in greed. God spoke to and through Balaam, but Balaam wasn’t truly seeking God through the process. In Numbers 22-24 the story is revealed of how Balak sent for Balaam, and God using Balaam’s donkey to see what he did not see – the angel of the Lord was preparing to strike him down for his hard and unyielding heart – ended in Balaam’s sharing the right words about Israel in spite of himself.
The third example is Korah during his rebellion against God’s chosen leaders (He had the wrong heart, and chose the wrong actions). Korah and his sons openly abetted a rebellion in Number 26 against Moses. They felt that he was taking power, and didn’t realize that GOD PUT HIM IN CHARGE. Standing opposed to God’s power structure meant that God destroyed them.
Jude continued with words that the people should recognize these things anew: 1:12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. 14 It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” 16 These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. 17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.
Look closely at their distinguishing marks so they can be recognized:
1. They are insiders to the church (1:12).
2. They are self-oriented and self-concerned (“caring for themselves”) – 1:12.
3. They promise much but deliver little (“clouds without water”) – 1:12.
4. They are inconsistent (“carried about by winds”) – 1:12.
5. They are not producing anything useful (“trees without fruit”) – 1:12.
6. They are not spiritually alive (“doubly dead, uprooted”) – 1:12.
7. They are unrestrained (“wild waves”) – 1:13.
8. They are unashamed of the trouble they cause (“casting up shame”) – 1:13.
9. They are unaccountable (“wandering stars”) – 1:13.
10. They mock God by living in lust (“ungodly lusts”) – 1:18.
11. They create divisions – 1:19.
12. Their minds are flesh and world focused – 1:19.
You will not oppose what you cannot identify. Keep your eyes open to these signs, and prayerfully and lovingly stand guard over one another.
Fifth and finally, believers must offer a positive, life-changing opportunity to those who truly desire to grow.
Some time ago, I read about a comedy movie called “Police Academy” that came out in 1982. Apparently one of the recruits, who loved his weapons, was walking down a residential street. A sweet little old lady is standing by the walk and as he approaches she says, “Officer, would you get my kitty out of the tree?” He looked up, said “Sure, ma’am”, draws his gun and shoots the cat. Sometimes that is the way we fix things in the church – but it isn’t the RIGHT way!
Jude offered seven positive words concerning what we must be prepared to do for people to whom we minister:
• 1:20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith…We must adopt a Biblical world view. We must see the world through the Biblical eyes of God. That view is a view of faith. It is not spooky, but studied. It is consistent and can be measured against the book!
• 1:20…praying in the Holy Spirit… We must apply the power of the Spirit in constant prayer about the issues of our life – ever yielding and sensitive to His leading.
• 1:21 …keep yourselves in the love of God, We must walk in our lives in a way that acts deliberately to meet the needs of those around us, calling on God to supply for that need. We must not dilute ourselves into being the source of giving, but steward and be a vessel for what God chooses to do.
• 1:21…waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. We must not strive to build permanent comforts here, but seek the good work of God that lasts forever!
• 1:22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; Though unbending to those who desire to take the work away from the Spirit’s work, we must also that some walk in error but will follow truth. To the weak we must be gentle and firm, patient and true.
• 1:23 …save others, snatching them out of the fire; We cannot leave behind the work of an evangelist!
• 1:23…and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Uncompromised reverence for God and walking in truth without a shady motive must characterize our life!
At the end of his letter, Jude closed with a prayer! 1:24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless 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.
There is a great article that illustrates the concept of grace written by Charles Stanley: “One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, “You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.” Wow? We sat there stunned. “Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?” Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally. One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A. This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin.
Believers must prayerfully identify the proper lines in defense of truth, but also seek practical ways to show love to opponents. Those two actions in balance will keep the church on track in both love and purity.