3 Warnings and a Funeral

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error
and perished in Korah’s rebellion.”
Jude 11

There are certain stories in the Scriptures that you would like to have represent your life. My name being a Biblical name, I have always hoped to be characterized like the Ethans of the OT, one was a singer in David’s assembly as they brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:19), another was one of the wise men in Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31), one Ethan composed Psalm 89. Go Ethan!

Of course who wouldn’t want to be counted as one of the of the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents, hearing from our Lord, “Well done good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21). Apart from the grace of God, however, we’d all end up like the other servant who hid the master’s talent, “You wicked and slothful servant…” (Matthew 25:26).

Isn’t interesting, then, so see which Biblical narratives Jude uses to describe the false teachers who have crept into the church, twisting the grace of God into sensuality and rejecting our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Already Jude has compared them to the unfaithful Hebrews who died in the wilderness, the angels who fell from glory, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in their immorality and unnatural desires.

In our reading from Jude today, the Biblical analogies continue. Each warning is taken from key stories from Israel’s history, each ending in death (thus the title).

  • They have walked in the way of Cain.  It was Cain who killed his brother Abel in jealousy over the fact that God honored Abels overing over his own. Keep in mind, it was Abel who brought the firstborn of is flock, while Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Many speculate that the difference in the offering was that Abel brought the firstborn while Cain brought something lesser, but that misses the point. The bigger issue here is the heart of the worshipper. As Romans 14:23 teaches, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” As Abel’s offering was accepted, we must understand that he gave his offering in faith in the Lord. Cain offering was rejected, so we may surmise that he did not bring it in faith, but merely out of duty or religious custom. His heart, as we see in Gen 4, was filled with hatred for his brother, and he walked in darkness (1 John 2:11).
    This is the hypocrisy of the false teachers. They came to the Lord through religious customs, but they had not part or lot in the Lord.  Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of religion without faith, righteousness based on character and good works. The ‘way of Cain’ is the way of pride, a man establishing his own righteousness and rejecting the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ.” They said they worshiped the Lord, but they did not come in faith, but their teachings would lead to the destruction (murder) of many. In this way they were walking in the way of Cain.
  • They abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error. Balaam’s story is a cautionary tale. He was hired by Balak to proclaim curses on Israel as they were in the wilderness. Now anyone claiming to be a prophet could do this, and get paid well for it. But something unexpected happened.  God actually spoke to Balaam. God warned him not to say anything that God didn’t tell him to say. So 4 times Balaam set out to curse Israel and get his reward, but God prevented him, turning the curse into a blessing.
    But that didn’t stop Balaam. If he couldn’t curse Israel directly, he could work indirectly to bring a curse upon them. He set up altars to Baal, and brought the women of Moab to Israel. In Numbers 25, we read that “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal at Peor.” This incident at Peor is said to have been the device of Balaam (Num 31:16), he was paid well for it, and many thousands of Israelites died from the plague from the Lord.
    This is the corruption of the false teachers. While some are brazen enough to proclaim heresy in the name of Christ and profit from it, others are more subtle. They will nuance the message of the Gospel in the name of inclusivity, re-interpreting Scripture according to cultural demands, and soften the radiance of the glory of God to make Him more approachable. They do this for their own profit (financial, social, etc), all at the expense of the lives of those who follow their teaching.
  • They perished in Korah’s rebellion. Korah was a Levite who raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. This was their claim, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord” (Num 16:3).
    This didn’t happen overnight. You can imagine this had been brewing for a while, with quiet whispers, secret meetings, and outright plotting to oust Moses and Aaron. In rejecting Moses and Aaron as God’s appointed leaders, Korah was rejecting God’s authority, and was rejecting God himself. All involved were swallowed up when the ground opened beneath them – the teachers, and those that followed them.
    This is the attitude of the false teachers. They come as their own authority, ignoring the authority of the elders, flaunting the authority of called pastors, and ultimately, despising the authority of God and His Word over their lives. They reject our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

As we consider our own lives in the light of God’s Word, let us ask ourselves, could these stories be applied to our own lives? Jude’s letter helps us to identify the false teachers who would lead us astray, but it also serves as a mirror to help us to see how we have already been compromised, so that we may repent and turn to the Lord Jesus and contend for the faith.

We walk in the way of Cain anytime we come to God through the self-righteous works empty religion. We fall into Balaam’s error anytime we say I know what God says, but I choose to do this instead. We perish with Korah when we grumble and gossip against those whom God has given in our lives as spiritual authorities.

So let us “walk in the light, as He is in the light, having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).


Genuine Love

“Let love be genuine…”
(Rom 12:9)

The song “Elijah” by Rich Mullins has been coming up frequently as of late on my Running Playlist, and this particular line has stuck in my head:

There’s people been friendly, but they’d never be your friends
Sometimes this has bent me to the ground

Sadly, I think we all know too well what this verse means.  There are those who will be nice to your face, but would never be your friend. You’ve got hundreds of “Friends” on Facebook, but not one person who calls to check in, or stops by for a visit. There is no pain quite like that of a betrayal of someone once considered a friend.  The more “connected” we try to get with Social-Media, or throwing ourselves into our kid’s school and extracurricular activities, the more isolated and alone we feel.  We hear “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24), and we ask, “Where is that brother for me?” We long for genuine friendship, for connection, for belonging.

When Paul addressed the Church in Rome about their life together as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1), he began with this notion of genuine love.  The word “genuine” here is “anypokritos” in the Greek, literally meaning, “without hypocrisy.” Historically, the word “hypocrite” is a theatrical term, referring to those who wore a mask in order to assume or pretend to be someone or something which they are not. So Paul is saying, “Don’t be a false friend, don’t be a poser!”  Donald Barnhouse once wrote, “True love must leave the stage and walk the paths of real life.”  There is no room in the Christian life for pretend love, because that is an empty love, it isn’t really love at all.

This is demonstrated throughout the New Testament:

  • When Peter was forgiven and restored, the question was not, “Do you believe in me?” but “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-19).
  • The parable of the Good Samaritan was told as an illustration of what loving your neighbor looks like (Luke 10:27-37).
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another, even as he has love us, in laying down our lives for one another (John 13:34).
  • There is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
  • Love for Christ is demonstrated in obedience to His commands (John 14:23-24).
  • And perhaps hitting the nail directly on its head: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18).

The love that is characteristic of the Christian life and community is not an empty sentimentality; it is not a mere profession of love without an affection to support it. No, it is a genuine love that is modeled on the sacrificial love of Christ Jesus our Lord. You cannot say you love God and the church unless you are willing to back it up with genuine love. Get real, because the world doesn’t need another pretender, another false friend and empty demonstration of love.

  • The love that marks the Christian’s life is a love that is slow to anger and quick to forgive the offenses of others, even before they seek forgiveness.
  • The love that marks the Christian’s life is a love that puts other’s needs before your own, and cares for and visits those in need.
  • The love that marks the Christian’s life is a love that bears the burdens of others and earnestly prays for each other.
  • The love that marks the Christian’s life is a love that puts in overtime at work in order to help pay your neighbor’s electric bill.
  • The love that marks the Christian’s life is a love that turns from sin and wickedness and cherishes godliness in the practice of righteousness.

This love is not a façade or an act. There are no “5 Easy Steps” to having Genuine Christian Love. No, this love is born from a new heart, a heart that is filled with and by the love of God for us in Jesus Christ – “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  This love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working righteousness in us. It is the outward demonstration of the inward working of God’s love for us.

The greatest commandment, the highest calling, is to love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).  So let your love be genuine and sincere.