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).

SDG

Don’t Ignore the Warning

“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6)

There’s a game that I think every guy out there plays, but we just don’t talk about it too often. I don’t know if there’s a name for the game, but maybe we should call it: “How far can I go?” The way you play the game is simple, when the gas light comes on in your car, you ask yourself, “How far can I go before I REALLY have to put in gas?” 

Usually, you can play this game in your head, estimating your mpg, the distance to home or the closest gas station, and work out your chances of making the destination. Nowadays, your car will probably tell you your “miles to empty” estimate, taking all the fun out of the game.

Still, we all play it, and every now and then, we lose. I lost once. I was working as an admissions counselor for Sterling College, and was coming home late at night from a High School play in far western Kansas. I left Dodge City heading east, thought I could make it home. When the light came on 30 minutes later, I knew I was in trouble. It was after 10:00, there were few stations between there and Sterling, KS, and this was long before cell phones and 24/hr pumps. The light was steady at first, but then started flashing, and finally, heading uphill into Stafford around 11:30, the car sputtered and died. I had ignored the warning lights too long, I lost the game.

In our passage above, Jude continues to warn the church of the dangers of false teachings that would twist the Gospel into a license for immorality.  In the previous verse, Jude used the illustration of how many of the Israelites, having been delivered out of Egypt by the mighty hand of God, persisted in unbelief and refused to obey the Lord. Because of this, they died in the wilderness, and never knew the promised rest of the Lord.

As a second warning light, Jude now turns to the angels. Maybe its best to clear up some common misconceptions. When people die and go to heaven, they don’t become angels. Angels are beings that were created to serve in the presence of God. They don’t earn wings when bells ring, nor do they waft on fluffy clouds strumming harps. Angels are ministering spirits (Heb 1:14) who are often tasked with communicating God’s word to His people (Matt 1:20), or executing God’s will (see Revelation). Angels were given positions of authority, serving for the glory of God.

And yet some of these angelic beings abandoned their position, their proper dwelling place, and have rebelled from God’s reign and rule. There is a lot of speculation about these fallen angels. Is Jude referring to the original downfall of Satan and his league of angels, alluded to in Isaiah 14:12-15, and referenced symbolically in Revelation 12:7-12.  This is often referred to as the great “civil war” of heaven, in which proud Lucifer sought the glory of God for himself, and with his angels, was cast out of heaven.

Others speculate that Jude is referring to the passage Genesis 6:1-4 which speaks of the “sons of God” who lusted after the daughters of man. As we read in Genesis, these “sons of God” (a title for angels also used in Job 1) took wives for themselves from the daughters of men, and they became, or their children were, the Nephilim. Whereas Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, these angels fell in their lust.

What’s most telling here, whether the cause of the angel’s downfall was pride or lust, is that these heavenly beings, who once beheld the light of God’s glory, were now bound to utter darkness and reserved for judgment. There is a clear play on words that the ESV lets slide: the angels did not keep their position, so God has kept them in chains. 

The warning is clear, “the pride that knows better than God and the desire for forbidden things are the way to ruin in time and eternity” (William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude). If God did not spare the unfaithful in the wilderness who saw first hand His mighty power but refused to believe; if God did not spare His angels who abandoned their position of authority because of their pride and lust; what hope is there for those who, having tasted the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, then abandon him for immorality and disobedience (Hebrews 6:4-8)?

Christians, the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has borne the wrath of God’s judgment for all those who believe and trust in Him.  The punishment for sin has been taken away, the stain of sin blotted out, and the mercy of forgiveness is freely offered. We may, we will, continue to experience the discipline of God hone we stumble in sin (Hebrews 12:3-11), but this discipline is ultimately meant to correct and sanctify God’s people, that we may learn to die to sin and live for Christ.

But the warning remains. Those who do not trust in the grace of God in Jesus Christ are still in their sin, and will stand before the judgment seat of God, right there with the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, and the angels who left their post. Those who claim to believe in Jesus, but twist His grace into a pass for immorality, those who deny Him as master and Lord through their disobedience, they too are bound for destruction.

Jude once again sounds the warning. The lights are flashing. It’s time to repent and believe.