“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Jude 20-23
The peculiarity of the verses above from the book of Jude drew my attention this morning. As I read them I really could not make sense of what they were saying, but I felt these were not verses I could just leave today without understanding what they really meant. As I look back now at what a treasure I have uncovered in this text, I am glad I did not just breeze past this difficult text and I hope you too will find as much pleasure in what I have unearthed and want to share with you this morning.
The just of what these verses above cover is the steps the author of Jude prescribes we take in order to keep ourselves in a “saved” state before the Lord and also the steps we are to take to help others come to that same point. The first verses are pretty straight forward, we are to build up or fortify our salvation by doing three things: praying in the Spirit, keeping ourselves in a love relationship with God (that means working at that relationship and maintaining it as we maintain our stance in His will), and by seeking God’s mercy at every turn in our lives so we do not lose sight of our eternal home with Jesus in the New Jerusalem (how easy it is to get pulled off the path when we start to believe the condemning lies of the evil one that we are not worthy of the love Jesus extends to us).
In contrast to the first two verses, the last two verses are not as easy to understand especially since the translation is a bit misleading. But as I have come to find out, the overall encompassing message these verses convey is what we are to do to help those around us come into the same “saved” state that we ourselves are trying to maintain. For me the word group that really confused me in trying to make sense of the message being expressed was: “making a distinction”. The translation of those words in Hebrew means the following: “a continuous command to keep separate, oppose, or discriminate against”. In context, this command it to be directed towards those which you are called to have compassion on.
I still felt a bit baffled by this translation and its context, maybe the same way you are feeling also at this point in reading what I have written. But in looking at a few bible commentaries and trying to get a grasp on what the author of Jude was trying to communicate, I now understand the greater implications of those particular words. In essence, the meaning of this text is that we are to first maintain our own salvation, as we talked about above. And in maintaining our own salvation we are to help others come to a place of salvation also, bestowing compassion on those in need just as Jesus did. Yet, for some of those who we offer compassion towards in this manner, they will choose not change their ways. And, in those situations we are tempted in our pity to turn a blind eye towards their ungodly ways and still try with all of the efforts of man to win them over to the faith, leaving behind the greater need we are to administer into their life which is the truth of the gospel.
Now, I want to stop at this revelation because I believe the issue I just touched upon is an issue we in the modern church find difficult to find peace in living out. Instead of putting truth alongside compassion, we have accepted the worldly lie that compassion is the solitary way to love someone toward salvation. We get caught in a trap when we try to extend acceptance toward a person and their choices no matter what they do or what choices they make when they are confronted by truth. This type of compassion is not godly and it will only pull you into the wayward ways of the person you are trying to help.
As we move onto the last verse, the final bit of advice given is that we are to pull those out of the fire who are still available to save and who see truth and fear where they are headed (verse 23), but the accompanying warning given reminds us to protect your own salvation by: “hating even the garment defiled by the flesh”. In helping others it is of utmost importance that we do not even let the clothing or any other material things which have been defiled by the behavior of the one we are seeking to save to come near us. Keeping our salvation maintained is the greatest goal for our lives – the rest of the things we do are to fall in line behind that goal. And I guess that message is what the author of Jude was really wanting his readers to understand.