Jude, in his letter, has given us two of the most inspiring passages of scripture. At the beginning of his letter Jude wrote “I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” And at the end he wrote “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.”
In these two sentences, Jude sums up his whole letter and the gospel he proclaims.
Even before Jude wrote his letter the people of the church were discussing what it means to be a Christian and what exactly the Christian faith is. St Paul, in his letters, is horrified to discover that there are dissensions among the Corinthian Christians. The book of Acts describes a conflict between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. So it was in Paul’s day, so it was for Jude and so it is for us today. Jude asks all Christians to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
First of all, that word which we have as “contend” is actually a much stronger word. The Greek word is epagonizomai, which is related to our word agonise. It means to struggle vigorously, like a wrestler against a strong opponent or like a swimmer in rough seas. It is a dangerous word because it can so easily be used to encourage violence. People have been burned at the stake in the struggle for the faith. I prefer to think of Christ’s struggle in the garden of Gethsemane – which we call the “agony in the garden”.
So the faithful Christians in Jude’s day, 1900 years ago, were being urged to struggle against distortions of the true faith. Jude is thinking about the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. Let’s try and work out what he means. The word “faith” is a word which can mean the faith and trust we have in Jesus Christ and it can also mean the whole of the Christian Faith, which includes the way in which we live out that faith.
Jude says that this faith, the Christian faith, has been once for all entrusted to the saints. Some of the books I have consulted say that this means that the true Christian faith has been given to, or delivered to or entrusted to the Apostles, those whom Jesus chose to be apostles. And, we do, after all, believe in one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. The teaching of the apostles is one of the foundations of the Christian faith. Jesus himself sent them out to baptise and teach.
And, what is more, says Jude, the faith was given to the Apostles once for all. Jude wants us to understand that the faith of the Apostles is the true faith, utterly reliable and totally complete. It is not to be changed in any way, shape or form.
He says this because, and here I quote from verse 4 which was left out of our reading, Jude says, “For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
These intruders, whom Jude describes in detail in verses 5 to 16, have taken the free pardon won for us by Christ on the cross, as permission to do all sorts of appalling things. Their attitude is, “It doesn’t matter what I do, God will forgive me, so let’s party!” That’s how they pervert the Gospel.
And they deny their Master and Lord by denying that Christ has a claim on them. Christ gave his life for them and in return they must give their lives to Christ. They belong to Christ now and must do as Christ inspires them. St Paul put it a different way. He told the Colossians, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
To put it in its simplest form, “Christ has died for you, so now you must live for Christ.”
Now we know that the church today is like the church in Jude’s day. There are always intruders who want to twist the Gospel and deny the Christ. Sometimes they want to make the faith too easy, making grace cheap and the faith permissive. Sometimes they want to demand and enforce obedience to human rules and regulations. Sometimes those intruders are priests and bishops as well as false evangelists. Sometimes the intruders get into own our hearts and minds and try to destroy us and our Christian faith.
Jude warns us that life as a Christian or as a Christian community is always going to be a struggle. Our task is to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints. To believe in Jesus the Christ and to follow him truly is to be alive; the Lord is our health and our salvation.
Jesus Christ gives us the strength through his Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the church, which is his body to hold back from evil and to take hold of all that is good.
Hear how Jude ends his letter. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.”