Jude continues to stress the dangers of false teachers within the Christian community. He combines both Old Testament references with some non-scriptural sources to outline their sinfulness. These false teachers are sensual, self-appointed authorities who do not rely on God’s word but proclaim pseudo spiritual teachings based on their own dreams and ideas. They exalt themselves by claiming secret knowledge as well as a superior spirituality that allows them to indulge in sexual immorality without sin. They are misleading the real Christians and causing them to sin. This must not be allowed to corrupt the fellowship of believers.
Jude is urging his readers to resist and counter all teachings that claim to be Christian yet which deny the essential truths of our faith. He does exhort us to show mercy to those who are in doubt, to seek to win them back to the truth of the gospel. But Jude pulls no punches as he denounces false teachers as ungodly, a rather strong term that many Christians today avoid in the interest of ecumenism and interfaith tolerance. Yet today many false teachers hold forth in Christian churches about the benefits of compromise with the world. Many so-called Christians reinterpret the Word of God to conform to social and cultural norms and changing standards. Then there are those preachers who proclaim a gospel of prosperity and health. They are just a different form of heretical teaching.
All these false preachers are liars, as Jude points out, who seek to promote themselves, their ideas, their agenda and not the Lords. They seek to wield power and influence and attain glory, praise and honor. Those who seek glory for themselves will reap the Lord’s condemnation and judgment. As Jude tells us in the doxology that ends this letter, all glory and authority is the Lord’s. We humans are but His servants.
This short epistle is addressed to the early Christian churches by a man named Jude who claims to be the brother of James the brother of Jesus. Yet, out of humility, he does not claim such a relation with Jesus. He states he is only a servant of the Lord. He does not want to exalt himself or be the object of any special veneration. Perhaps our modern day Christian “celebrity” preachers and musicians should take note of such humility rather than lay claim to any special status in the church. We believers are all equal in God’s eyes. He alone is worthy of exaltation and we are but His servants.
Perhaps this humility is what is foremost in Jude’s mind as he writes this letter to encourage his brethren in the Lord to contend for the faith, that is, to uphold it and preach what they originally learned in the face of false teachers. The reason is that many claiming Christian authority and Godly wisdom were engaged in teaching and encouraging sensuality. This took the form of sexual immorality as we gather from Jude’s reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. This reference reminds us that many in the contemporary church are also in the habit of preaching and practicing such immorality. They do not call sexual perversion sin, but a lifestyle choice. The unfortunate result is that those who encourage such practices and/or encourage others to do so will wind up facing God’s judgment just as He condemned those Israelites redeemed from Egypt as well as the fallen angels and the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude’s references tell us that God’s word does not change. Therefore the Christian must stand up for the faith in face of ridicule and persecution rather than conform to the pressure of society’s fluctuating mores.
In the previous epistle John warned of the dangers of extending hospitality toward false preachers, here he urged his audience to extend hospitality toward fellow believers. The letter was addressed to Gaius who appears to have been a well-respected and godly leader in the church. John commended him for his hospitality towards visiting missionaries. Yet it seemed that another leader in the church, Diotrephes was not extending the same kind of welcome. In fact he rejected the godly disciples John had sent and dis-fellowshipped those who opposed him. In this way he rejected John’s authority and status in favor of his own. He was the “church boss” probably by virtue of a high social standing and wealth.
Almost every church has a Diotrephes who arrogantly throws his/her weight around because of social status, wealth, cultural background or family ties. Such people feel that their authority is of the highest order. They also maintain that their way of doing things is the only right way. They maintain that their opinion of what is true Christian behavior or true Christian theology is the only right way, and they will harass and ridicule those who disagree with them as well as spread gossip that distorts the truth. Thank God that there are people like Gaius, Demetrius and John who will stand up to them. Those who oppose the Lord’s messengers in such a high handed fashion will find that they stand in opposition to the Lord Himself.
The elect lady that John wrote to was not an individual but a church. He imparted instruction consistent with what he wrote in his first letter. He exhorted his audience to love and obedience and warned against false teachers. Love is to be extended to all, and hospitality to visiting missionaries and teachers. However, believers must be wary of extending hospitality towards false preachers. The false teachers John is concerned about where those who preached that Jesus was not incarnate, that is, was not a physical being but merely a spirit. One result of such teaching is licentious behavior that indulges the pleasures of the flesh. This is because they maintained that bodily sins would not corrupt a person for the body is unimportant. Only the spirit, meaning the mind, is of value. Obedience and love of the brethren or even of enemies does not matter. What is most important is the discovery of the inner secrets of God for that will perfect a person.
Thus it is no wonder John warns us to avoid such preachers, not to greet them or allow them to teach in our fellowships. Indeed we cannot have fellowship with them because they do not share the fellowship true believers have with the Father.
Today the false preaching is much more subtle. Many so-called Christians claim that Jesus is the Christ and maintain that He was sent by God. Yet what they mean by this is a variation of the heresy John was speaking about. Some deny that Jesus ever existed. Some say that he did but He was just a human being, enlightened but not God. And many more claim that He was a divine being but only one among many. To many so-called Christians Jesus is but one among many paths to God, not the only one and not the most superior. Those Christian preachers who teach the importance of interfaith tolerance and ecumenical cooperation among faiths actually deny the exclusivity of the Christian faith. Such are not to be welcomed as preachers in the Body of Christ.
2 Peter 2
Peter warns that false teachers have arisen and will continue to arise from within the people of God. In Old Testament times they sought to lead God’s people away from the revelations of God’s chosen leaders and true prophets. In the early church and today they distort or replace the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. They claim to be brethren but teach myths, immorality, legalism, rituals and asceticism as the means to attain deeper spirituality. They teach a salvation by works that denies the grace given to us by Jesus in His atoning sacrifice on the cross. What is so insidious about them is that that introduce their ideas covertly. They use Christian terms and concepts, and claim the Lord’s authority. Yet they seek to exalt themselves at the expense of others and do not even fear the Lord.
Peter reminds his audience that the Lord has no love for any of these men who can help no one not even themselves. They are empty of any value and truth. As we read Peter’s words, drawn primarily from the Old Testament, we are swept up in the powerful emotional concern he demonstrates. He does not speak kindly of false teachers. He uses words, images and expressions that our contemporary society would label as religious intolerance.
Christ Jesus has no equal. Yet in the enlightened 21st Century, our culture proclaims that everyone is entitled to believe what they want, to do pretty much whatever they want. All faiths lead to God or to the “divine”. Yet Peter is quite concerned about these false teachers and we should be as well: they are teaching the devil’s lies as truth and are causing many to be swept away into damnation along with themselves. We cannot tolerate such lies and liars because we care and love those who are dying without Jesus. If we study the Word of God and trust in God He will surely deliver us from these lying teachers.
2 Peter 1
Peter knows that the time of his death is approaching. Therefore he desires to impart some final words of exhortation and teaching so that those believers he leaves behind will continue to grow in Christ and hold fast to the truth of the gospel. Peter reminds his audience that they already possess in Christ Jesus by the Spirit and by the word everything they need to discern, expose and respond to false teachings. They are to be wary of false teachers, a problem that plagued the Church from almost the very beginning. The words of the message proclaimed by false teachers arose not from the heart and mind of God, but out of the false prophet’s mind or imagination. However, believers can be sure of the divine origin and authority of the gospel which he and the other apostles preached to them because they received from Jesus Himself. Jesus is not only Savior, He is the Son of God, God incarnate. His word is to be accepted as divine and as long as the church preaches that word it teaches the very words of God.
As long as believers know the truth of the gospel and hold fast to it they are safe from error. But this knowledge does not come automatically nor does spiritual growth to maturity. Although believers possess all the necessary resources they need to live and grow in Christ, growth requires the active and energetic participation of the believer. The qualities Peter mentions are all traits that Christians must actively pursue to resist sin, remain pure, and live a life that is glorifying to the Lord. As Christians we must actively study the word of God and put the Lord’s words into action through deeds of love and compassion. That way we will not fall prey to the lies of false teachers even those who come in the Lord’s name. In addition, we must practice self-discipline so that when temptations come, we will not fall.
1 Peter 5
Since godly behavior begins with the household of faith, those in authority should be the ones who manifest and model it. The most important item on Peter’s list is humility. Elders should be those who have been broken by God, with no inflated sense of pride or position as His spokesmen. They are to be unselfish, serving with willing hearts, deliberately, voluntarily and lovingly. They are not to derive material or financial gain or prestige from the flock. Christian shepherds must exceed their duty; they must do more than what is required of them. They are not to dominate others or use them to satisfy personal desires. They are not to expect or demand rewards for their labor in this life, although they may come.
Elders must never forget that Christ is the chief Shepherd; they are under His authority, and are accountable to Him. He has entrusted them with lives and expects them to work for Him to guide, protect and nourish the flock. They are to be examples of moral and Godly living, of Christ Himself. They must lead by personal example not by coercion or threats.
The flock, the congregation must be humbly submissive to their elders, to yield to their admonition or advice, to voluntarily obey. If that angers us then we must be careful. Peter says that God is opposed to the proud. He comes against them as their adversary. Peter says that we must let ourselves be humbled under God’s chosen elders. Otherwise God will do the humbling in a way that will not be so easy.