Jude 1:17-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Warnings and Exhortations
17 But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” 19 It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. 20 But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21 keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
If there is a book of the Bible that is read less than Jude, I don’t know it. It sits in the canon as the next to last book of the Bible, right before the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. It is fraught with difficulty. For one, we aren’t sure who this “Jude” is. He could be a half-brother of Jesus, he could be an early church leader, but there is no way to say for certain who he is.
Secondly, the book is so short! It’s only one chapter, and only 25 verses at that. It was likely a “letter” that was circulated among several early congregations of believers, written in the last part of that first century A.D. As the New Testament canon was coming together, there was some debate as to whether this was to be included. However, many church leaders included it in their canon and it became widely accepted and ultimately included in our “Bible.”
Maybe most importantly, though, is the difficulties with the letter itself. Jude, who could possibly be numbered among the Apostles, appeals to the tradition and teaching of the Apostles, to make a bold claim. Jude seems certain that the return of Jesus is imminent. He asserts that there are people who live among them that are causing problems, living into their own lustful desires and causing others to stray. As we see elsewhere in scripture, the issue seems to be that if grace abounds, then we can sin more! As with Paul, Jude rejects this assertion and calls upon the readers to live holy lives, to dedicate themselves to the highest ideals of the faith, through prayer, loving God, and serving each other.
The controversy for me is, what to do with those who resist? The letter says, “snatch some out of the fire.” Others, “hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies!” These strong words strike me as odd with their passion and call for separation from the community.
How do we deal with those who won’t listen? How do we call others to holiness, when we ourselves may be experiencing that struggle to maintain holiness? The answer is in the “benediction”, the concluding paragraph: 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.