Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Book of Jude: Standing up for Truth & Speaking against False Teachers

The year was 320 AD when an elite regiment of Roman soldiers marched across the frozen tundra of Armenia. This was the elite thundering regiment that had formed a line of defense protecting the Roman empire from the invading Persian army.

But a new threat came against the roman empire, and this threat was Christianity. The emperor, fearing this threat decreed that all soldiers of Rome must sacrifice to pagan gods. The order came to the thundering regiment, and all obeyed, aside from 40 men who refused.

Their superiors cried out, how dare you refuse, you bring shame upon this elite unit. But they replied, it would be worse still if we were to bring shame to Jesus Christ.

These men were taken and beaten with whips, and hooks. Still they refused. The forty men were then stripped naked and sent out onto a frozen lake. Tubs of hot water were placed on the edges to tempt them to recant. None of them would give up. Then suddenly one of them ran naked to one of the tubs and jumped in. The shock to his system meant he died instantly.

So there were only 39. But one of the legionnaires, moved by their courage, stripped off his armor and ran naked onto the lake to join them. Again, there were 40. They were left on the ice overnight, and the next day the commander ordered their frozen bodies to be burned.

They were shocked to find one man still alive, but he still refused to recant. So they burned the last man alive, with the rest who were frozen.

The witness of the 39 brought one to salvation. The story of this courageous event spread across the empire. And four years later Constantine I, disgusted by the barbaric treatment of these men, ordered the emperor who did this be executed. Later, moved by these events, Constantine became a Christian, and Christianity became the favored religion of Rome.

A single act of bravery can change the course of history. We as Christians are called to be humble, bold, and able to contend for the faith. Today in our world we as Christians must be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves. There is so much chaos and struggle in our world. Yet there is also great reason for hope.

Open your bibles please to the book of Jude. Long ago there was a man named Jude, the brother of Jesus and James. And he writes this short letter to the early church about two thousand years ago, and it’s just amazing how it speaks to us today. The word of God is timeless like that.

Jude writes to Christians around the ancient world, and indeed to Christians today, and he refers to us as called, loved, and kept. Jude had been planning on writing this letter to talk about all the gifts and wonders of salvation in Christ. But instead he saw a grave threat to the early church and decided to address that concern instead. He perceived the threat of false teachers, who had slipped in stealthily into the church, using the church as a vehicle to promote their own ungodly ways. They had slipped in among the believers, and then moved to take charge, and change the church to serve themselves.

Jude first speaks to accountability. He warns the church to not be led astray by these false teachers, by referencing several Old Testament examples of divine judgment. God will not only hold false teachers accountable, but he will hold all people accountable.

Jude first references how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. A great miraculous deliverance, but he also tells how the people turned away from God in the wilderness, and lost their blessing. Jude then references how the angelic beings who joined Lucifer’s rebellion were sentenced to chains in darkness, after having failed in their rebellion. 3rdly he mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that were destroyed by God, for their acts of sexual immorality and perversion. And Jude writes that these three examples remind us that we serve a God of justice, a God who will hold us accountable.

So today we’re going to consider what is a false teacher, how they manifest themselves in modern times, and how we should respond.

So how do you identify a false teacher? Very simply, they are teaching things that are contrary to the word of God.

In verse eight of Jude we get a picture of four ways in which they conduct themselves. Jude refers to them as “dreamers.” These false teachers will often proclaim that they’ve had a new revelation from God. They will proclaim that the Bible isn’t actually correct about some issue, but they know better. Secondly it says they defile their flesh. So false teachers will tend toward sexual immorality. We’ve often seen in recent times, megachurch pastors exposed in the media, due to some scandal or affair. 3rdly Jude indicates that they reject authority. They have no regard for scriptural authority, or church leaders over them, or the witness of church history. And fourthly, it says they blaspheme God. Their actions and words, though they may claim to be following God, actually are outright rebellion against God, and mockery of God.

False teaching came in many forms in the times of the early church. Certain leaders would teach that you had to be circumcised to be a Christian. Others taught that you had to live by the Old Testament law of Moses to be saved. Others taught that it was good to engage in sexual immorality & idol worship. Others still, taught that the physical body was bad and only the spirit was good.

And how little things have changed over the last two thousand years. Today we see many within the churches of the west who teach unbiblical theology and false doctrines. We see it all around us, just as it’s been a constant problem for the church over history. We see many leaders today who teach a false gospel of prosperity and wealth; That God exists to simply give you everything you want. We see some who teach that Jesus wasn’t really God, that he was just a man. Others teach that Jesus is just one of many ways to God, that Buddha, Muhammad and other gods are acceptable alternatives. You see others who change the Bible to fit post-modern ideology. We see others that emphasize social justice above anything else. We see others that celebrate sin openly, and teach that sin is good, and that God is changing to fit the times.

And sadly many of us in the pulpits today, though we don’t preach outright false doctrine, instead we preach a watered down gospel where all we talk about is love and grace, which are good things, but we fail to mention sin, and repentance, and heaven and hell. But without those things, what need is there for Jesus, who died to deliver us from sin and death?

The theological and spiritual battles we face are fierce today. We live in a time where many churches are polarized, divided. Church denominational splits are taking place. We see growing divides between those who teach biblical doctrine and those who teach worldly ideologies.

So how do we respond to all this? What is the proper response when dealing with false teachers and dangerous false doctrines? Well we see that time and again in the New Testament Christian leaders spoke out against false teachers. They spoke up, whether it was Paul or Peter or John or Jude, they all had this in common: They spoke out against false teachers. But today too many sound, biblical Christian leaders are silent. They are afraid to offend anyone. They don’t want to seem mean. They want to appear to be loving.

But is it loving to not speak when someone is lost in sin? Of course not. It’s not loving at all to sit there silently. We have to speak up, even if it means risking our relationship with that person to do so. It may seem “nicer” to be silent and just let them drift off into sin. But it’s not. Love warns those who are lost in false teachings and sin. Just as much as I would warn someone if they were jogging toward a cliff.

Sometimes it seems like the evils in our world are so big, so expansive, and so strong that they can’t possibly be defeated. We see false ideologies mass marketed, through the news & media, through academia, and through powerful corporations with deep pockets. And we think, what can we poor lowly Christians do against such giant megaphones?

This reminds me of the story of a man named Telemachus. He was a monk who resided in Rome during the reign of Emperor Honorius. As you know during these times there was the barbaric sport of gladiator fighting in the Colosseum. It was an extremely popular sport, with many arenas around the Roman empire. Hundreds of thousands gathered to watch people forced to fight to the death. But one day this monk named Telemachus came into the colosseum and saw what was happening, slaves forced to fight each other to the death. And he cried out, “Stop this madness, stop this madness, and he ran down into the arena, and came between the two slaves with their swords and shields ready to fight, separating them, demanding, “Stop this madness, stop this!” The crowd went crazy at this boisterous divisive monk trying to ruin their good time. How intolerant of him! How impolite of him to disrupt the event! This was politically incorrect. The crowd jeered angrily and began throwing rocks at him. He was pelted by hundreds of rocks and bricks, until he was dead.

Did he fail? No. You might think he did. But word of what he had done spread. And people were horrified at what had happened. Pretty soon thousands and thousands of people were talking about this lowly monk named Telemachus who dared to speak up. Word eventually reached the ears of Emperor Honorius, who was so moved by the story of the monk’s cries for justice, that he abolished the practice of gladiator fighting forever.

You may think that it’s hopeless, that you can’t possibly make a difference, I assure you, you are wrong. Speak up, and God will bless you, and send out your call, and bring about great change in the world. Speak. Up.

Soldiers, adherents, and friends of The Salvation Army, please be aware that we also in our denomination struggle against false teachers. They are out there, pushing their destructive ideologies. Pray for them. Love them. But also speak the truth, boldly. It will not do for you to be silent. Too much is at stake.

Of false teachers Jude wrote, “Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion.”

If you recall Cain murdered his brother, because he was jealous of him. Balaam encouraged Israel’s leaders toward sexual immorality and idol worship. Korah’s rebellion was a group that rebelled against the leadership of Moses during the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness. And they were destroyed as a result. We see that false teachers throughout the centuries are ones who habitually walk in this path of Cain, Balaam, and Korah, the path of rebellion and destruction. In verse 13 Jude refers to them as “wandering stars for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved, forever.” In other words, they have spots reserved for them in hell.

Then we see in verses 14 and 15 this quotation from Enoch about the last days when Christ will return. It says, “Look! The Lord comes, with thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict them, of all their ungodly acts that they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things ungodly sinners have said against Him.”

Jude points us directly to the last day, the day of the Lord, judgment day. For those of us who believed in Jesus, and lived for Christ, we will be rewarded on that day. But for those who rejected Christ, and for those false teachers who spread evil, there will be accountability. There will be judgment, without mercy. Brothers and sisters may we tremble at this, and live in reverent fear of God, loving Him with our whole hearts and serving him with our whole lives.

In conclusion, Jude writes how loyal Christians should live: verses 20-25: “20 But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. 22 Have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”

It says keep yourselves in the love of God. Remain with Jesus. Expect the mercy of Jesus that is coming. Have mercy on those who doubt, how important that is, we don’t want to become arrogant pharisees condemning people who disagree with us. Have mercy on them, showing them the way to freedom. And it concludes this way, “Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time now and forever. Amen.”

In the end, we as believers in Jesus are destined for this day, when we will be presented blameless in the presence of God the Father, by Jesus Christ our savior, who is our King forever. He is able it says, to protect us from stumbling, and to present us before God’s glorious presence on the last day, blameless. Hallelujah. Glory to God. False teachers ought to tremble at what awaits them, but for us, we know that we have great hope for eternal life in heaven.