I grew up going to church, but I never heard much about the book of Jude. It sits in the very back of the Bible next to Revelation – somewhat dwarfed in contrast – and there isn’t generally a whole lot of attention paid to it compared to some of the other epistles and gospel accounts. If we would dive into it, however, we’d find that it contains truths that are incredibly relevant to where we find the church today.
The book of Jude really opens up in verse 3 with its main point: “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.” Jude affirms in the first two verses that he wishes his fellow believers well, and then indicates he was initially “eager” to write to them in confirmation and celebration of the salvation they share. He has since then changed his mind on what he should write about; and he considers it more important to exhort them “to contend for the faith” instead (v. 3).
What Does It Mean to Contend?
The word used here for “contend” is the Greek epagōnizomai, which indicates the role of a combatant who is striving earnestly for, toward, or against something. Jude writes that believers should contend “for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Not only does he specify here that we aren’t merely contending for a faith, or faith in general on a personal level; rather, he stresses that we are to contend for “the faith.” The editors of the Reformation Study Bible note: “Here ‘faith’ indicates the doctrinal content of the message taught by the apostles and held in common by all Christians (note the preceding ‘our common salvation’), rather than the personal exercise of trust by a believer.”
The term and sentiment here is reminiscent of Ephesians 4:5, which speaks of there being “one Lord” and “one faith.” Jude specifies further by identifying the faith in question as being the one that was “once for all delivered to the saints.” This is a significant distinction. The faith that the saints are to strive and fight for is not one whose foundational doctrines, interpretations, and worldviews shift like sand on a dry beach. It is a stable and reliable faith that was revealed through the apostles and Scripture by the work of the Holy Spirit – once for all.
To help us understand what exactly Jude intends for believers to do for the faith, we can look at other uses for the word “contend” throughout the rest of Scripture. It is chosen for passages referring to battle in Deuteronomy 2 (verses 9 and 24). It is also chosen for passages referring to the way God wrestles with disobedient individuals and groups in Isaiah 49:25, 50:8, and 57:16. English dictionaries equate the verb “to contend” with “to strive; to fight; to defend; to struggle.” Contending for the faith is striving for it and defending it against attack – not only from the outside, but from the inside (at least, what appears to be the inside) as well.
Why Is Contending Necessary?
Jude doesn’t say that he changed his original intent for writing his epistle because he just happened to feel like it. He says, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith . . .” (v. 3). It was necessary. It was important. Why? We find the answer to that in verse 4: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed . . . who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These people are further described in verses 8 and 10: “These people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. . . But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.”
Not much has changed when it comes to false teaching and false prophecy. People such as this still creep into the church unnoticed (even further, they are celebrated and amass large followings). And we are encouraged over and over in Scripture – both explicitly and implicitly – to contend for the faith by testing the claims of popular teachers within the church (see 1 Thessalonians 5:21) and exposing them as false and dangerous if it is found that they’re preaching what is contrary to the Gospel. Notice that I said the Gospel – as Jude said “the faith” – because this is not any Gospel we’re defending, but the Gospel of Christ as it was given to us once for all in Scripture.
The lie of humanity’s innate goodness has led many in the church to forget that good intentions and hollow hopes are not enough to preserve, practice, and promote the Gospel of Christ. People are prone even in their good intentions to distort the truth. I daresay that even atheists, Buddhists, and New Age spiritualists have some good intentions, but they certainly haven’t found truth, and neither have people who follow the kind of god they find (or create, more often than not) in unsound and unorthodox “Christianity.”
Contending Without and Within
There is most certainly a place for defending the faith from those on the outside; the entire book of Acts is one among many examples of this. It’s often overlooked, and even outright denied, that it’s honorable to use discernment and caution when it comes to the teaching within the visible church. Yet, this is exactly the kind of contending that Jude is referencing.
In verse 18, Jude cites an apostolic warning about false teachers: “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” Not only do these false teachers scoff at authority, rebuke, and the boundaries for right doctrine and practice within Scripture, but their followers are often guilty of scoffing when they object to inquiries made in loving discernment. Their cry rings out: “Who do you think you are to criticize the Lord’s anointed? You’re just being jealous and divisive! The devil loves when we tear the church apart from the inside out!” On the contrary, Jude 1:19 indicates that the fault of division in these matters rests on the head of the false teachers – not on those who contend for the faith, as it is so often portrayed in the contemporary church.
But we should not be too quick to think ourselves in the clear. We must constantly check our hearts for pride and hatred in the midst of contending and we pull the log from our own eye before we attempt to help our neighbor with the speck in theirs (Matthew 7:3). Even if we are concerned with preserving and defending the true Gospel from the lies that pervade our culture and the contemporary church, we are still vulnerable to believing those same lies.
I may rant about the false prosperity gospel for the rest of its existence, but still find myself angry with God when my life doesn’t run as smoothly as I planned. I may rebuke those who promote the goodness and spiritual ability of mankind until I’m blue in the face, but still believe, deep down, that I can work to make myself acceptable to God. I may blush in anger when someone implies that the Scriptures aren’t sufficient, but still treat my Bible as another dry book to check off my daily reading list.
This tendency to be hypocritical does not mean we are wrong to criticize the lies all around us that masquerade as truth. It does not mean that we can disregard and distort Jude’s exhortation to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” What it does mean is that the call is heavier than we tend to interpret it. It should be heeded in humble and loving obedience rather than in a spirit of calloused self-righteousness. We do not only contend for the faith within the secular world, and we do not only contend within the visible church. We must contend for truth within our own lives as well.