Mercy Ministry in Jude

“Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Jude 23

COVID has entered the building. 

This weekend my wife and oldest son both tested positive for COVID. We’ve seen others in the church and community deal with this, and we know we need to take it seriously, so we’ve taken drastic measures to help bring them back to good health, and to keep the rest of the family safe.  

This of course means a period fo quarantine for the entire family, and enforced isolation for those who are sick. We are trying to be dutiful and responsible; masking when we have to be in the same room, wiping everything down with Clorox wipes, spraying rooms  with disinfectant, working and schooling from home so as not to run the risk of spreading the virus to others.

The virus is serious, and needs to be treated seriously. We’ve taken these steps to help the sick get better, and to keep the healthy well.  In this there is a connection here to Jude’s final instruction to the faithful in the church.  Jude wrote to the church because many had been led astray by false teaching; a teaching which twisted the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ into a license for sensuality, even denying Jesus as  Lord and Master.

After exposing the character and motives of the false teachers, Jude instructs the faithful of the church in how they are to respond.  In verse 22 he says that we are to “show mercy to those who doubt,” and here in verse 23 he identifies two other groups of people and how we are to relate to them.

“Saving others by snatching them from the fire.” Like the angels rescuing Lot from the coming destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah, the Church is called to pluck those who have strayed from the truth out the fire.  The work of discipline within the Church ends with the elders, but has always rested upon its members. When you see a brother or sister wandering from the truth, being led astray into sin and destructive behavior, out of love and mercy we must call them to repentance and restore them to the path of righteousness.  The faithful must take drastic measures to rescue those who have fallen away, as James 5:19-20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

“To others show mercy with fear…”. Unlike the first two categories (those who doubt, and those who are in the fire), this third category seems to describe those who have completely turned from the faith and are given over to sin. Like those first two cases, however, we are to show those who are lost mercy; only here there is a caveat, mercy is combined with fear and hatred of the sin that stains.

In the OT there was a such a fear of the spread of leprosy that even the clothing of a leper was considered unclean. The risk of contamination was great, and so, while showing mercy and compassion toward the sick, the priest was careful not to contract the disease himself.  Warren Wiersbe comments on this passage, writing, “We certainly must love God’s people, but we must also hate sin. Wherever there is sin, Satan has a foothold and can go to work. Defilement spreads rapidly and secretly, and it must be dealt with drastically.”

We must watch ourselves when we are ministering to the lost and those who have wandered from the faith. It is often the case that we approach those caught in sin with good intentions, only to get caught up in sin ourselves.  We confront those who are filled with arrogance, and take pride in our own orthodoxy. We give warning to those caught up in immorality, only to comfort ourselves with our own self-righteousness. In our mercy and love for those who are lost in false teaching and bound up in sin, we must be careful that we don’t get caught up in the sin as well.

The call to ministry that Jude is giving here is a call to mercy; mercy for those who doubt, mercy in rescuing the perishing, mercy to those lost in sin. Mercy, the loving-kindness and patience with others, is tempered with a healthy respect, a fear, of the very sin and corruption which has led so many astray.

In closing, I found this note from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary very helpful: “All our efforts for the reformation of others must be begun and continued with self-reformation; and therefore St. Jude insists on the necessity for spiritual progress and prayer, before advising as to the treatment of the fallen. It is while we are earnestly detesting and contending against a particular sin in ourselves that we can most safely and effectually deal with that sin in others.”

Be merciful, be careful, be faithful!

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