A few years ago we went on vacation. We crammed everything into our little car and traveled to a cabin in upstate New York. We had a great time until one particularly bad day. First, someone stole our dog. Second, we visited a gorge, and I looked over and saw my son walking on the wall that’s supposed to separate us from the gorge. He didn’t fall, but it was too close for comfort. That was not a pleasant day.
We went on vacation with four people and a dog. We came home with four people and no dog. I was sad to lose a dog – we did get him back in the end. But there’s no question that we came home with what mattered most. You could give me a million dogs and it wouldn’t make up for my son. There are some things that simply matter more than others. Some things are really worth fighting for.
This morning we’re beginning a brief look at a book in the Bible. It’s one of the shortest and most overlooked books in all of the New Testament. It’s actually an important book, because it tells us two things. First, it tells us what matters most. You can lose some things, it’s going to say, but you had better not lose the central thing. You can lose a dog, so to speak, but you’d better not lose a son. Second, it tells us what we have to do to keep what matters most.
Today what I want to do is to introduce this book to you, and then I want to look at the first four verses. The first four verses are going to tell us to delight in, and contend for, the gospel. Then I want to think for a few minutes about how this applies to us today.
So first, let me tell you about Jude. It’s one of the shortest books in the Bible. It’s tucked away right between the epistles of John and the book of Revelation. Somebody’s said that it’s a book that’s been treated with “benign neglect.” “Rarely the text for a sermon, even in the university or seminary classroom it is often given only brief treatment at the end of a course on the General Epistles, perhaps as part of the last lecture on the final day of the course” (P.H. Davids). But it’s a very important book for us to consider, not the least because it tells us what matters most and what’s worth fighting for.
So look at the first two verses with me to get an idea of the book:
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
At first glance, this looks like any of the hundreds of letters that would have been passed around back in that day. Except you’ll notice a couple of things that are significant. First: the author is Jude, a servant of Christ and the brother of James. He identifies himself with someone who must have been well known to the recipients of this letter, probably James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. James was not only a leader in the church, but the apostle Paul refers to him as “James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). We read in Mark 6:3 that Jesus had brothers named James and Jude. So it’s possible – some would say probable – that this book was written by Jude, the younger brother of Jesus Christ. If so, he doesn’t begin by bragging about his blood relation to Jesus. He begins by identifying himself as everyone else – as a servant of Jesus Christ.
He’s writing to a particular audience: “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” In other words, he’s writing to a group of people who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ, who have been called by God into a relationship with him, and who are being preserved for Jesus. They’re being kept spiritually intact for Christ.
So this is an important book. It’s important because it’s written by a leader in the early church, the blood brother of Jesus. It’s important because it’s written to the church, to those who have experienced salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s been recognized throughout history as the authoritative Word of God to his people. And it’s also important for what it doesn’t say. Letters usually identify the author and the recipients, and then move into a thanksgiving and prayer. But Jude skips this. It’s like he’s in a rush to get to the heart of the matter.
Specifically, in verses 3 and 4, he’s going to tell us two things: what matters most, and why it’s worth fighting for.
Delight in the Gospel
Jude writes in verse 3:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Do you ever hang around people who always talk about the same things? You know before you start talking to them that it’s only a matter of time before the conversation gets to the same topic. Why? Because you know that the topic has gripped their heart. Because it’s gripped their heart it comes out in their speech. You can’t have a conversation with them without talking about their favorite topic.
In verse 3 you get a sense of what Jude would love to talk about if he could. “I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation.” As someone’s said, this is the letter that Jude wanted to write, rather than the letter he actually wrote, which we have before us. In verse 3 he also refers to this as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” So what we see here are three things:
He delights in the gospel. He is eager to talk about it. Jude has got a favorite topic, and it’s what Jesus Christ has done to save us. If Jude could talk about anything, then this is what he would choose to discuss. It’s like Jude has a one-track mind, and if you let him talk for any length of time he would quickly come to his favorite topic, which is what Jesus Christ has done for us.
He delights in the gospel that is once and for all delivered. It’s not this nebulous thing that nobody can pin down. It’s not a message that’s evolving and that could mean anything. There is a completeness and finality to the gospel. It is the good news of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, the announcement that God has reconciled sinners to himself through the saving work of Jesus Christ.
He delights in the gospel that has once and for all been entrusted to us. He says that it’s been delivered to the saints. A few years ago we stopped at Webers on Highway 11 in Orillia. We got our food and ate at a picnic table. Josiah needed to go to the bathroom near the end of the meal, so he entrusted his french fries to our care. We got a little distracted, and when Josiah got back he discovered that some seagulls had taken an interest in his french fries. To this day he reminds us that he entrusted something to us, and that we failed to guard it carefully for him.
Jude says that the gospel has been entrusted to us. It’s much more valuable than anything else that’s been entrusted to us. We’d better guard it. Paul writes to Timothy, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14). It’s something that has been given to us for protection, for cherishing, and we are called to hold it and guard it and treasure it. Jude delights in the gospel. It’s what matters most. He shows us what it means to delight in the gospel.
Contend for the Gospel
Delight in the gospel; but he also calls us to contend for the gospel. He says:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)
Jude is saying that he would love nothing better than to share his delight in the gospel with us. But there’s a problem. He instead needs to write to appeal to his readers to contend for the gospel. The word contend was used back then of athletes who, in an effort to win, put all of their effort, struggling and fighting for the desired result toward the desired end. It’s a strong word. We don’t just delight in the gospel. We don’t even delight in the gospel and sort of put up with it getting a little muddled and confused here and there. We are called to put all of our energies into fighting for, struggling for, contending for the gospel.
I was in a hospital the other day. You know that in a hospital they always have announcements running through the loudspeaker. I heard doctors being paged and patients being called. After a while you’re only half listening to what’s being said. All of a sudden I heard a “white alert” and then a location for the incident. I don’t know what a white alert is, and that’s the whole point. I don’t think they want me to know. But I could tell by the way that it was said that it was something important.
Here, in Jude, we’re asked to contend.
…Our mind is forced to go on red alert. We are being asked to read standing in readiness. Jude is finished with pleasantries; some required action is at hand. Urgency and immediacy move him. He wants contenders, and he wants them now. And with this letter he means to raise them up. (David Helm)
I’ll put it this way. When we lost our dog, we didn’t really content. We looked around. I came home and sent a bunch of flyers to vets all over the area. We put in a reasonable effort to get him back. But we never really contended. We drove back and thought that we had probably seen the last of Buddy.
If we had lost one of our children instead of our dog, we would have contended. We would have not come home until we returned with that child. We would have stopped at nothing. We would have struggled, put in all of our effort, and fought until we had the desired result we were looking for. That’s what Jude is telling us. Don’t treat the loss of the gospel like you would a lost dog. Don’t sort of try to get it back. Put all your energy into it. Delight in the gospel, but also contend for the gospel.
The reason we need to do this is because there’s a danger. The reason for the danger is found in the end of verse 3: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” We’re going to look more at who these people were next week, and what they were teaching. But I want you to notice the danger. These people were within the church. They weren’t out there teaching false doctrines. There were people within the church who were perverting the grace of God, and somehow denying Christ through what they were teaching. It reminds me of what Paul said to the Ephesian elders in the book of Acts:
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)
All throughout the New Testament we’re told that there will be people who distort the gospel. So the need is serious. We need to contend for the gospel because it is what we delight in. We need to contend for the gospel because it is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. And we need to contend for the gospel because we continually face the danger of losing the gospel. The gospel, Jude says, is worth fighting for.
John Piper summarizes the message that Jude is communicating:
- There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints.
- This faith is worth contending for.
- This faith is repeatedly threatened from within the church.
- Every genuine believer should contend for the faith.
Jude tells us to delight in the gospel, but he also tells us to contend for the gospel. If we lose the gospel, we’ve lost everything.
So let me close here this morning by applying this sermon in three ways.
First: do you know the gospel? I realize this morning that we’ve been talking about the gospel as if it’s clear that everyone knows what we’re talking about. We can never assume this. Actually, I think that pastors have to take some responsibility here. My preaching professor, Haddon Robinson, says that a lot of pastors talk about the gospel, but they’re never very clear what they’re talking about. So let me be clear what I’m saying. 1 Corinthians 15 gives us the core of the gospel:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
From this passage we see three things about the gospel:
- It’s what saves us. The gospel is what we’ve received; it’s the thing by which we’re being saved. The gospel saves.
- The gospel is about Jesus: his death, burial, and resurrection. The gospel centers on the cross and the empty tomb.
- Christ died for our sins. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18)
That’s it. “The gospel has been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore. Indeed, even angels never tire of looking into it” (Tim Keller). That’s not all there is to the gospel, but it’s the essence. We need the gospel.
Second: do you delight in the gospel? I had a conversation with someone on Thursday who reminded me that our actions communicate what we’re excited about. It’s possible to believe the gospel but not to delight in it. I’ll never forget what I heard Don Carson say:
If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.
If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.
Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.
I want people to know that I’m excited about the gospel. As the hymn says, “Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.”
Finally: are you ready to contend for the gospel? Here’s how easy it is to lose the gospel: “The first generation has the gospel, the second generation assumes the gospel, and the third generation loses the Gospel” (Carson). We need to contend for the gospel. This means that we delight in the gospel, but it also means that we ‘re clear what we’re not about. A pastor (Justin Buzzard) talked about his struggle in this area:
While I think it is important to be known more for what you are for than what you are against, just a cursory reading of the Bible shows that it also calls us to deal with false teaching. Why? Because false teaching is dangerous and destructive; it hurts people.
About ten years ago I heard Ben Patterson say something that I will never forget. Ben told the story of a retired pastor who began noticing that his former congregation was sliding away from orthodoxy. The pastor saw this as his fault, noting the one thing he thought he did most poorly as a pastor. The pastor stated, in two sentences, his great failure as a pastor: “I always told people what to believe. My great mistake is that I never clearly taught my people what NOT to believe.”
We need to be positive about the gospel. We also need to contend for the gospel when the gospel is being lost.
That’s what Jude is about. Delight in the gospel and contend for the gospel. If you have this, you have everything. If you lose this, you lose everything.