Have you ever seen firsthand the damage that internal strife can cause to a church? It’s not pretty. Churches have been torn apart when false doctrine, immoral behavior, and selfishness are given a foothold in the congregation.
This is not a new phenomenon—the early Christian church was just as threatened by these dangers are we are today. The geographically scattered ancient church was particularly at risk from false and divisive teachings. So what counsel does the New Testament offer to a church facing these threats?
The very short New Testament book of Jude is one place we find some practical advice.
Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness….
These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.
But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.
But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. — Jude 1 (NLT)
Questions to Ponder
- Have you seen firsthand the damage that “grumblers and complainers” cause to a church? Have you ever been guilty of causing trouble in this way?
- According to this passage, how can you recognize “ungodly people” in the church? What distinguishes this sort of person from somebody who has simply fallen into temporary error?
- What does it mean to “show mercy to those whose faith is wavering”? Have you ever experienced this mercy?
- What concrete responses does this passage tell you to take if your church is in danger from this type of threat?