What is your focus for 2013? I think God has revealed mine over the last few weeks and crystallized it through the study of the small, often-neglected letter of Jude. I taught Jude in my Sunday morning Bible study just before Christmas. (We finished a 13 week study of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude.) Here is the part that has stayed with me:
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. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4 NASB (emphasis mine)
I work with a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Mormon, a neo-pagan sympathizer, an agnostic, a young Christian, and some nominal Christians — coming from 5 different countries. That is just on my team! You should hear us discuss religion, philosophy, politics, or sports. There is a great diversity of opinions. How should a Christian approach such an opportunity? Sadly, I think many Christians are ill-equipped and frankly afraid to stand out.
But Jude was compelled to write and challenge Christians to “contend” for their faith against false teachers even in the church. What does it mean to contend? Type “contend” in the Google image search, and most of what you will see are pictures of athletic events (including lots of boxing gloves). Sometimes Google gets it right. The Greek word used in Jude 3 (epagonizesthai) was mostly used in reference to sporting contests in the stadium. It is the root of our word “agonize.” As Michael Green states, its use here emphasizes that defense of our faith will be “continuous, costly, and agonizing.” (172)
For what do we contend?
And for what do we contend? “The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” There is objective truth. There is a historical basis for the facts of Christianity. The apostles (and others) were eyewitnesses of his death and Resurrection. We can’t water down the New Testament as some good ideas or interesting teachings or the life of a good man (Jesus). No! It is a testimony to the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus, the God-man. And it is His invitation to us to join Him in everlasting relationship.
Do we have false teachers today? Of course. There are all kinds of lists of false teachers on the internet. My goal isn’t really to create a list of them. However, there are some whose influence must be countered. As Jude says later, their presence in the church is like a “hidden reef” (v 12). They promise much but don’t deliver (“clouds without rain,” “autumn trees without fruit”).
What does contention look like?
For me, I think God is challenging me to use the blog as a platform for contending for the faith. The Bible is under attack. It doesn’t need my defense. It will stand as God’s Word forever, no matter what I say. However, we must contend for this faith revealed through the Scriptures in order to “have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire;” (v 22-23) It is for people, whom God loves, that we must contend.
So, when New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman from UNC declares that most of the New Testament is a forgery and becomes an agnostic, it is time to step up and call him a false teacher, a wandering star, who reviles angelic majesties and rejects authority (v8, 13). Choosing the way of Balaam, his destiny is that of Korah if he will not repent (v 11). The New Testament documents are trustworthy and reliable. No matter what he says, scholars haven’t suddenly debunked the Bible. And there is reasonable evidence to back it up (much more on this later, I suspect).
But contention is not just a scholars’ battle with words. Just before Christmas, one of my coworkers asked to borrow a Bible. He is feeling the need to read it and seek greater understanding. I didn’t just let him borrow a Bible; I bought him one! And now we are set to discuss its truths and challenges as the days go on. I will argue for the truth, but I will also reach out to those who need to understand it. It will be costly and agonizing, but it is worth it!
How will you contend for the faith in 2013?
Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. vol 18 in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Intervarsity Press, 1987.