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 (Jude 1:3).
Contending for the faith has become a major theme in my prayer life and a burden on my heart in my ministry to our church. Initially, this surprised me. I expected evangelism and other spiritual growth topics to captivate my heart for our congregation.
But over time, I noticed a discouraging pattern of issues that were draining the life out of those more thrilling ministry plans. We had a congregational need to learn how to “contend for the faith” together before we could step out into new spiritual territory.
When you read the New Testament, you see that in each book the notion of contending for the faith and the purity of the church is a consistent concern for the early church fathers.
What Does it Mean to Contend?
“Contending” for the faith is different than “defending” the faith. Defending the faith (1 Peter 3:15) comes from a Greek word that means “vindicate.”
While the word Jude used here comes from a Greek word that means “agonize.” It is often translated as “fight.” Yet in the New Testament, it is a very personal type of battle.
As Jude writes, contending for the faith doesn’t just pertain to lofty theological matters or apologetics, it also pertains to the practical purity of God’s people. How we live our everyday lives is part of this “contending for the faith.”
If we are grumblers or fault-finders, we are not contenders for the faith — in fact, we are damagers of the faith! If we turn God’s grace into permission to willfully make our own path contrary to the Lord’s Word, we are not contenders for the faith, we are damagers of Christ’s testimony.
If we speak arrogantly or flatteringly, we are again out of alignment with the spirit of the gospel and smear the name of God and of His people.
And with each step we take on our own paths, the more we degrade the efficacy of our walk with God as individuals and the efficacy of our churches as a body of believers.
Jude warns us to look out for those who turn grace into permission to sin, grumblers, fault-finders, and people who speak arrogantly or with flattery. The reason we are to watch for people like this is that they are looking to gain an advantage for themselves.
Paul uses similar language when describing one of the ways the enemy works in the local congregation:
But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:10-1).
The two words for advantage are different in the original Greek text. However, the warning that we ought to be on the lookout for those who seek their own “advantage” in the body of Christ is consistent in the two texts. And certainly, isn’t a quality that reflects Jesus.
Advantage seekers are about power. God doesn’t seek power. He is the definition of strength and ability, so He isn’t looking for a second-class substitute to fill some need He has. The enemy does that. We can always rest assured that seeking power is not a hallmark of the Holy Spirit.
When we see people who are critical or combative in our congregations, Jude would warn us to not give their words “air.”
Not that long ago, someone spoke out, very much reflecting the kind of words Jude warns about, and another member of the church gently, but firmly, corrected the one who spoke out.
Over time, a gentle “taking thoughts captive” dynamic has replaced the dynamic, which allowed more, as Jude puts it, “wild waves of the sea” (v. 13) to rule the spirit of our fellowship. And that kind of “contending for the faith” has been a long-standing prayer of mine for our church.
What Does the Bible Say about Faith?
Paul shares a personal example illustrating healthy “fighting” in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
Paul’s take on the best place to pour that contentious energy was on the battleground of self. The root word in the Jude passage for contend is the same root word when he says that everyone who “competes” in the games exercises self-control.
Some translations say “struggles” in the games. Regardless of the English translation, the Greek word in this passage echoes our English word for “agonize.”
Paul uses the same root word twice when discussing with Timothy “fighting the good fight” in regard to having kept the faith through all the personal trials and temptations of his ministry.
This is not to say that we only battle ourselves in life. God does indeed call us to speak up for injustice. However, there is a difference between those who seek to heal turmoil and those who seek to use it, as Jude describes, for their own advantage.
When people watch our lives unfold, do they see us battle our own baggage more than we fight with others? That’s the heart of this matter. Contending for the faith has a very inner personal quality that has to do with our own sanctification.
It has to do with running our own race and fighting our temptations faithfully. And as that sanctification works out of us, it will also reveal itself in the relationships we nourish. We won’t feed relationships with people who smear the Lord’s name by treating His grace as a cheap pass to sin.
We won’t tend relationships with people who grumble, fault find, or flatter. Basically, we won’t give oxygen to false or hurtful words. Jude warns the church that the fruit of not battling these issues will be divisions, worldly-mindedness, and a lack of the Spirit in our gatherings.
To sum it up, from Jude, we are all called to fight against our own:
1. Misuse of grace (Jude 1:4).
2. Rejection of healthy and holy church authority in favor of spiritual experiences/false authority that is not from God (Jude 1:6-11).
3. Attitudes that foster caring only for personal interests (do you come to church for you or for God and others?) (Jude 1:12).
4. Harmful words: grumbling, fault-finding, arrogant words, flattery.
5. Attitudes that elevate following your own way of doing life instead of following Christ (Jude 1:8 and 18 mention following dreams and lusts instead of following truth).
There is a very real tension in the idea of contending for the faith. A tension that runs all through every one of our relationships. Jude warns us to be on the lookout for those who have “crept in unnoticed” yet one of the red flags that announce the presence of these people is fault-finding.
Any of us could easily swing to one extreme of this passage and start wagging our own fault-finding fingers at others and become the very degraders of the faith we are trying to protect others from. I’ve seen this happen. I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of this too.
If we focus all of our energy on the battle we are called to, we can miss the building we are also called to.
I love the image of God’s people in the account of Nehemiah that says those rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem kept a sword in one hand (to defend the work against the enemies that were trying to tear down their work) with building tools in the other (Nehemiah 4:17).
Why Does This Matter?
While we keep a spiritual sword in one hand, we are called to build these five attitudes in our hearts and in our church relationships:
1. Building up of faith — go to Bible studies, hear one another’s testimonies, and share the journey of faith day by day with other people (Jude 1:20).
2. Pray in the Holy Spirit — praying as the Lord brings things to mind but also prayer that uses Scripture because the Spirit makes God’s word living and active (Jude 1:20).
3. Keep yourselves in the love of God — don’t grumble or fault find! Discover ways you can serve others in your congregation.
Ask yourself who you know in your congregation enough to genuinely say “I love so-and-so” and then ask yourself how they know you love them! If you aren’t there with your church relationships yet, ask God to show you baby steps to get there! (Jude 1:21).
4. Wait anxiously for the Lord. The word anxiously can also be translated as cherishing/looking.
Ask yourself if you are cherishing the Lord’s presence, looking for His provision, all wrapped up in the hope of His second coming? Are these fueling your Christian relationships and how can you foster that heart in them to grow more? (Jude 1:21).
5. Have mercy on everyone! (Jude 1:22).
May your life brightly shine with the battle and building God has uniquely called you to fulfill in the life of His church!
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April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.