Monthly Archives: November 2019

Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 

e.v.goldsmith@ntlworld.com

Website: martingoldsmith.wordpress.com

 

Dear friends,

Looking back on another year of our heavenly Father’s amazing grace and generous goodness, Christmas reminds us that only praise, thanksgiving and renewed commitment suit our situation and prepare us for the coming year. So may we all enjoy a Happy Christmas and God’s rich blessings in 2020!

 

In our last year’s Christmas letter we shared how Elizabeth was still suffering from her sub-dural haematoma.    Happily that is now all in the past and she is doing well. But both of us have now reached the advanced age of 85, and so appreciate a rest in the afternoon and a considerably reduced programme. But we are still very grateful for some speaking and teaching engagements, appreciating the stimulus and encouragement of a ministry beyond our little village church.

 

Wider Ministry

 

This year’s fixtures have only included one overseas trip. In January I was asked to teach and preach in the church we had served as new missionaries back in 1960. Then it was just a small church of some 80 young people, but now it has about a thousand adults in their normal Sunday worship. They also have a wonderful new and modern church building. It was a joy to stay with a lovely couple; the wife had been in my Bible class in 1960! Thank you, Frances and Pui Ying (and old friends Julie Kuah and David) for all your friendship, generous hospitality and kindness in taking me round the fantastic progressive city, while feeding me also with superb Chinese dishes. They are now also going to do the same for our daughter Margaret who is currently there for work, but will also have a few days to see some of the places where she lived as a small girl. Exciting for her and a dream come true!

 

While I was in Singapore, the church we have related to more recently (6,000 adults on an average Sunday) invited me to go with them to Sarawak and Java to teach on mission among Muslims. It was particularly heart-warming in Sarawak to meet up with various people I had met in the revival there in 1974 – revival fellowship is something different!

 

Our diary this year has been much lighter than in previous years, but we have appreciated preaching and teaching in a couple of Anglican churches and two Baptist churches. Jubilee Centre in Cambridge invited me to teach at their conference on Relationships in the Bible. My subject was “Relationships in the Gospels”, while other people gave interesting teaching on Relationships in other parts of the Bible. Towards the end of November I am invited by our St. Alban’s diocese to teach on a course for clergy and other church leaders. They have given me the topic “Preaching on Matthew’s Gospel”. I hope my book “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish Eyes” may also encourage them.

 

Studying in preparation for my weekly blogs (see our website) keeps me on my toes and hopefully enlivens what remains of my brain. It also refreshes my knowledge of New Testament Greek. Having now completed both John’s Gospel and his three letters, it is a challenge to get to grips with Jude. Hopefully we can then go on to Peter’s two letters. It is exciting to know that people from various countries and backgrounds are ‘following’ these blogs regularly and many more just ‘access’ them. Modern media has its advantages!

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All Nations Christian College

It is a great joy and privilege still to have close relations with All Nations. Each term I much enjoy doing two mornings teaching for their excellent 10-week En Route course (might this course be something for you or for others you relate to?). One morning is given over to “Dealing with evil spirits”, the other morning races through two thousand years of Christian mission with up-to-date lessons concerning mission today both here in Britain and overseas.

 

We also so enjoy it when students come down to our home for a coffee and chat. We specially value visits from the Chinese students. This year the college has ten Chinese students, of which four come from China itself. We have been particularly fascinated to discover that one of them lives within easy reach of where Elizabeth was in Japanese prison camp during the war. In fact, this student’s youth group have an annual outing to the site of the camp! A memorial garden has been built there to honour all the missionaries who worked in that area, especially Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) who died there.

 

All Nations is always an encouragement and stimulus to us and we realise increasingly how relevant their cross-cultural training is for multi-cultural Britain as well as for service overseas. It is also a beautiful and restful place for those needing a sabbatical. Do come!

 

St. Andrew’s, Stanstead Abbotts

 

For some years our village church has been steadily losing numbers. Now after almost 20 years our vicar has retired, and we very much hope that we can begin to grow again in the new era of having a Vacancy. Of course the church has begun the important process of looking for a new vicar – do pray for the right person who can relate well with us all and lead us into growth.

 

As a Lay Minister, Elizabeth is more active in the church than I am. She preaches and leads Services regularly (I just preach once a quarter) as well as being a member of the PCC and Worship committee. Every fortnight Elizabeth leads a Home Bible study. Preparation of families wanting their child to be welcomed or baptised is also her responsibility and opens the door for a clear explanation of the good news of Jesus. In the Vacancy she also gives home Communion to one family. We much appreciate a totally informal coffee morning each Thursday at the local garden centre. We feel the selling point of the church is our loving fellowship together. As I John 1.3 declares, our witness to Jesus has as its aim “that you may have fellowship with us”, so that your/our joy may be complete. “And our fellowship is with the Father and his Son”. So we believe firmly that coffees together play a vital role in the life of the church!

 

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Family

Each of our three children seems to have inherited the travel bug! Andrew has for some years wanted to trek in Nepal. He has just returned from two weeks with Bel and Ellie trekking quite high up in the Himalayas with beautiful scenery. As I write, Margaret is fulfilling her Singapore dreams by visiting her childhood home and experiencing the warm hospitality of good friends of ours there. Ruth in her role as a Tear Fund director has cut back on her overseas travels for ecological reasons. She has the honour of being asked to write the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2020. Rachel, Andrew’s oldest, has been looking at possible universities as far afield as Edinburgh and Durham, while Ruth’s Mali has started her first year at Exeter University’s Cornwall campus. Chloe has been with her parents to different places too, including a very special holiday on a friend’s catamaran in the Caribbean. She is coping well with working three days a week.

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In October we had a special day with Ruth. She invited us to be her official guests when she was awarded an honorary doctorate – her third doctorate, one earned and two honorary ones! The ceremony was held in the splendid majesty of Winchester Cathedral. I had not been there since 1955 when I was the interpreter for a Soviet naval visit to Portsmouth and we took coach-loads of Russian sailors on day outings to Winchester and other places. It was lovely to see Ruth being so honoured and dressed up in her doctoral gown and cap.

As we get older, our loving family become even more precious than before. We are so thankful for them all and it is a real joy too to see how they not only love us, but also love and enjoy each other. Now we look forward to the Christmas days together.

 

With our love and best wishes,

 

Martin and Elizabeth

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Strangers (1 Peter 1.1, 2)

Strangers (1 Peter 1.1, 2)

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How different the various New Testament writers were! And yet they are all centred on the glorious good news of Jesus and new life in him. John’s Greek was so clear and simple; Jude’s was very direct and rough; Peter’s has been described as “polished and rather elegant”. But some have objected that as a fisherman, Peter could not have written such beautiful Greek. However, being a fisherman would not have precluded him speaking good Greek. And after all, he was brought up in ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4.15).

Because of the letter’s excellent Greek some have felt that Silvanus actually wrote the letter and just conveyed the thoughts of Peter. But it is more likely that 5.12 refers to Silvanus being the one who carried the letter to the churches in the Roman provinces listed in 1.1.

Who to?

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At a recent men’s breakfast the leader asked us where we feel really at home. Are we truly at home where we live or do we feel more so somewhere else? Perhaps where we grew up as a child or somewhere where we have lived previously for many years? If we belong to an ethnic minority do we feel more at home in the country of our origin?

Peter was writing to “strangers of the diaspora” (1.1). Dispersed in various Roman provinces of what we now call ‘Turkey’, his readers were scattered beyond the borders of Israel and therefore may not have felt that they truly belonged. As followers of Jesus Christ they were also rejected in society and suffering badly (e.g. 4.12).   So Peter reminds them that they can now find their identity and comfort in being “God’s elect”. Even before the creation of the world God had chosen them to be his much loved children. Such election is beyond our understanding. Why has God chosen us? I confess that I often wonder why God chose someone like me. I am not particularly good or clever. And sometimes we may look at other Christians and wonder why in heaven God chose them! We can only bow before the Lord and praise him for the wonderful truth that he has chosen us all and loves us as his elect people. Wherever we are, we can have a deep sense of belonging because we are his chosen people.

Being of the diaspora, Peter’s readers were evidently Jewish. But it would seem that those churches also had Gentile members (2.10), so they were ethnically mixed. In our modern globalized world too, multi-ethnic churches would seem the inevitable way ahead. Martin

When?

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On the assumption that this letter was indeed written by Peter (1.1) and from Rome (5.13: ‘Babylon’ was a common Christian code word for Rome), intriguingly we note that Peter makes no mention of Paul in the greetings at the end of his letter. Likewise Paul in his long lists of greetings (e.g. Romans 16) never mentions Peter. Evidently they were not in Rome at the same time. Paul’s letters lead us to believe that Paul was in Rome from AD 60-62. Peter’s relatively positive approach to political leaders (2.13-17) indicates that he was writing before the outbreak of Nero’s fearful persecution of Christians in AD 64. It would seem therefore that this letter was written between AD 62-64. Some people from the provinces of Pontus, Cappadocia and Asia had even been present at the first Pentecost (Acts 2.9). So they will have been some of the very first Christians!

 Why?

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Peter carefully outlines the working of each of the three persons of the Trinity on behalf of his readers (1.2). His use of prepositions also develops the working of God in the past (Greek kata/according to), in the present (Greek en/in) and in the future (Greek eis/into or unto). Of course ‘in’ and ‘into’ belong inseparably together, the present going hand in hand with the future. It is always true that the present glides inexorably into the future, while the future is rooted and pre-determined by the present.

a)Kata/ “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”  

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As we have already noted, Peter stresses that God the Father has known and chosen his people long before we were born. Our election as his children stems from God’s decision before all time, “according to/kata the foreknowledge of God the Father”. It has matured for centuries in the heart and mind of God. And as God’s elect children God has purposes for us which fit perfectly into his overall plans as the Lord of history. Although Peter’s readers may be foreigners and strangers in those Roman provinces and as Christians may be denigrated in society, nevertheless they can feel in God’s sight they are a special people and in the right place at the right time.

This foreknowledge is in the mind of our heavenly Father. The Jewish people have always rejoiced in our calling as God’s children. Now Peter assumes that his Gentile readers are also included in the people of God (2.10) and can therefore also know God as their Father. Having never known a human father myself because he died a few months before I was born, I have come very specially to appreciate the glorious truth that Almighty God is our Father. Human fathers may sometimes be far from perfect, inadequate and sinful. But our heavenly Father is entirely perfect in every possible way. How wonderfully he loves us and cares for us! His grace surrounds us with his constant love. As our loving Father he provides for us so that we can trust him in our everyday life and activity. And as we walk through life with all its dangers he protects us, keeping us safe like a mother hen with her chicks. In addition he disciplines and challenges us so that we may develop in our likeness to him. What a Father Peter’s readers had – and he is our Father too!

b)En/ “in the sanctifying of the Spirit”

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If indeed some of Peter’s readers had been present at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), they will have gained a particular personal experience of the working of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament generally it is frequently assumed that our experience of the Spirit and his working in and through us marks and gives assurance of the fact that we are God’s elect children. We now have his gift of new and eternal life. Indeed the very purpose of our election “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” is that his Spirit might make us holy. God’s Spirit is fundamentally known as the Holy Spirit and his primary goal is to indwell us and impart his holiness to us from within. In our contemporary society how important it is that God’s people demonstrate true purity, truth and moral holiness with genuine social justice!  This holiness consists not only of moral righteousness and justice, but also of being set apart as members of his covenant people.

Let us ask the Father to pour out his sanctifying Holy Spirit on us and widely on his people, the church of God!

c) Eis/ “into obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”

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The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit leads naturally into a consequent life of obedience to Jesus Christ. The New Testament uses various words which are commonly translated as ‘obedience’. But none of them actually convey the idea of blind subservience which our English word ‘obey’ implies. The word used here for ‘obedience’ in 1.2 signifies listening from a lower position. How vital it is as Christians that we hear and listen to the Lord! Sometimes in our prayer and worship we do all the talking! We need carefully to let God speak to us through his Word in Scripture and by the Holy Spirit. And we are to do so humbly before the Lord who is so much higher and greater than us.

As we experience the sanctifying of the Holy Spirit and as we listen to God’s Word to us, inevitably we become deeply aware of our sinful weakness and failures. We therefore learn our need of cleansing through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. As Christians we commonly emphasize salvation through the death of Jesus Christ as the starting point of becoming and being a Christian. But Peter is not here thinking of our initial new birth through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, but of our on-going need of forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus’ shed blood.

The Greeting: Grace to you and Peace.

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‘Grace and peace to you’ was a very standard greeting at the outset of a letter in those days. It was so easy therefore to let these words flow from one’s pen without thinking of their rich meaning. What more could one wish for anyone than ‘grace’ and ‘peace’? As sinners we depend entirely on God’s gracious, undeserved love for us. Without his grace we should only deserve to perish under the righteous anger and judgment of the all-holy God, but in his grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus he lovingly accepts us. And by his grace despite our chaotic and disturbed world we can have a wonderful sense of peace with God. Whatever our backgrounds and situations we can also enjoy his peace within ourselves and also peace with other people in the church and more widely too.

To show that he really does mean what this standard greeting is saying, Peter adds one Greek word whose sound relates to the concept of ‘filling’ and which means to abound or to be multiplied. Just as John emphasized ‘abundant life’ (John 10.10), so now Peter greets his readers with the prayerful wish that they might enjoy abundant grace and peace.

So let me greet all of you: May God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you too in abundance! Hallelujah!

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Blemishes in the Church (Jude 11-16)

Blemishes in the Church (Jude 11-16)

coca cola kosher.jpgA biblical theology of food? And of eating together? A smile comes over our faces as we think of such an idea! But actually in the Bible food and eating play a major part in God’s revelation and Jude 12 assumes the central part our ‘love feasts’ play. As we read our Bibles, let’s note its emphasis on eating and food. In Jewish culture, as also in most Asian cultures, eating together carries very considerable significance. Although the Greek in verse 12 does not include the word ‘feasts’, the translation ‘love feasts’ (12) conveys the right sense – perhaps a better term than ‘Holy Communion’, ‘Eucharist’, ‘Lord’s Supper’ or ‘Breaking of Bread’? As we eat together, we should be rejoicing in close-knit love and fellowship as sisters and brothers, children of our Heavenly Father. And we should be tucking into a real feast, not just a meagre crumb of bread and a sip of wine (or, worse still, some insipid red cordial!). The Jewish Seder, the foundation of the Christian Love Feast, sets an example as the best meal possible and a significant time of family love.
With this background in mind, we note what Jude says in verse 12 as he warns his readers with vivid imagery. We are reminded that certain ungodly men were ‘slipping in’ among the Christians Jude is writing to (4). Now he complains that these men are blemishes, corrupting the fellowship of the ‘Love Feasts’. And what a contrast with Jesus who lovingly feeds us with his own self-sacrifice! These self-styled leaders “feed only themselves”. Boasting about themselves and seeking their own status in the church (16), they are like clouds which fail to deliver the longed-for rain and autumn fruit trees which produce no harvest (12). Like dead ‘wandering stars’ they give no light and are destined for eternal darkness (12). Verse 13 then likens these ungodly men to “wild waves of the sea”.
Israel always feared the sea, for invading armies came across the water. Indeed the Hebrew word (chamah) for a breaking wave denotes  agonizing pain. Chamah is also used for the writhing of a slaughtered chicken about to die and fluttering around in the dust. It is used with poignant significance in Jeremiah 31.20 of the pain in God’s heart as he sees the sin of his much loved Ephraim. In his total holiness God judges the people he loves so much, but in this verse with tragic pathos God confesses, “my heart yearns/chamah for him”. We cannot but smile at the old KJV translation “my bowels are troubled”! Heaven seems to be afflicted with ‘Delhi belly’! But our humour is deadly serious as we consider the fearful judgement of God.
Clouds without rain, trees without fruit, stars wandering in darkness, waves breaking with foaming chaos – what a catalogue of descriptions from nature to demonstrate how the ministry of these ungodly men is all self-centred show with no fruit resulting from it. No wonder Jude declares “Woe to them!” (11). You can’t play about with God in his holiness. For them only “blackest darkness has been reserved for ever” (13) – the exact opposite of the glorious eternal life (21) which God promises to all who trust and follow Jesus.
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Woe to them – followers of Cain, Balaam and Korah (11)
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Such a disappointment! With the promise of Genesis 3.15 in her mind and heart, Eve presumed that her new-born baby would be the one to ‘strike Satan’s head’ and reverse their sin. So in Genesis 4.1 she exclaims, “I have brought forth the man, the Lord”. Calvin in his commentary on Genesis says that the actual sense of the Hebrew is impossible, so adds “with the help of” which is not in the text and changes the whole meaning of Eve’s expectation. Cain certainly didn’t turn out to be the longed-for messianic saviour! In fact, following Cain (Genesis 4) means that Jude’s readers are fostering bitter division between brothers and sisters.
Balaam (Numbers 22-24).
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Although Balak, king of Moab, offered Balaam a handsome reward if he would put a curse on Israel, God’s own people (Numbers 22.17, 37; 24.11), Balaam consistently insisted that even a palace-full of gold and silver could not deter him from following only the Lord’s commands (22.18; 24.13). But nevertheless, against the specific will of God, Balaam ‘went with the princes of Moab’ (22.21). Cruelly too he beat his donkey and the Lord’s angel asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?”  But Jude denounces these ungodly men, accusing them of ‘rushing for profit’ into the errors Balaam faced (Jude 11). Balaam had gained a bad reputation not only for disobedience to God and for animal cruelty, but also for giving bad advice and in defending the women who caused the people of Israel to turn away from the Lord at Peor (Numbers 31.16). Although Balaam commonly saw visions of the Lord and heard the words of God (Numbers 24.4), he was also known for his practice of sorcery (Numbers 24.1). Table fellowship with Balaam-like men in a Love Feast faces us with a problem!
Korah  (Numbers 16.1-35, 26.9-11)
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After all the excitement of their liberation from slavery in Egypt, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the giving of the Law at Sinai, patient trust in Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership faced severe testing. As one day followed another, year after year for 40 years in the wilderness, the divine menu of manna lost its appeal too. Korah and his friends Dathan and Abiram began to rebel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, although they had been clearly chosen and appointed by God himself. Moses discerned the reality that by their rebellion they were ‘treating the Lord with contempt’ (Numbers 16.30). He therefore foresaw that ‘the earth would open its mouth and swallow them’ (Numbers 16.30). What a precedent to those in Jude’s day who were “grumblers and fault-finders” (Jude 16), the typical sins of Israel in those wilderness years!

Judgment (Jude 14-16)  
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Following his use of the description ‘ungodly’ in verse 4, Jude now in verse 15 underlines it by repeating the word four times in rapid succession. Matching this, Jude also repeats the word ‘all’  four times. God’s judgment will not only fall on these ungodly men themselves, but also on all who are associated with them. Jude follows Enoch in prophesying of God’s impending judgment. With his opening command “See!” Jude urges his readers to keep their eyes open, so that they are well prepared for what is coming. The Lord is coming to judge and convict. Such judgment lies in the hands of “thousands upon thousands of his holy ones” – a host of angels? Or of God’s redeemed people in glory? In either case the Lord himself is coming “in” (not “with” as in the NIV translation) this multitude of his servants. By his Spirit God indwells his people and uses them in the ministry of judgment. This divine judgment starts now in church discipline, but continues into the final day of judgment.

Happily we are reminded by the story of Korah that God’s judgment is not the final word. Grace and mercy in God’s loving kindness continue beyond even Korah’s sad end. Numbers 26.11 wonderfully declares that “The line of Korah, however, did not die out”. Let us remind ourselves of our dependence on God’s totally unmerited grace! Hallelujah!
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Jude – an introduction

Jude – an introduction

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Having got something of the feel of this Epistle through our study of Jude 1-10, let us now look more generally at his letter.
What an Epistle! Having been immersed in John’s Gospel and letters for so long, Jude comes as quite a shock! Even the style of language differs markedly from John’s beautifully simple Greek. Jude’s use of Greek has been described with adjectives like ‘rugged’, ‘forceful’, ‘vivid’ and ‘pictorial’. And his range of vocabulary stretches more widely than John’s. But we must not overlook the fact that his subject matter demands strong language.

Ever since the first centuries and still today controversy has raged concerning the identity of the author and of those to whom the letter is addressed. Likewise the early church remained uncertain whether this little letter should be included in the canon of Scripture. Although it was included in the Muratorian Canon (about AD 170), doubt remained even as late as Jerome (AD 347-420). Jude’s description of the Christian message as “the faith once delivered to the saints” (3) seems to indicate a later date, for this expression was probably not used in the first century. On the other hand a close parallel exists between Jude and 2 Peter chapter 2. It seems likely that 2 Peter used Jude’s letter. If that is so, clearly Jude must have been written before 2 Peter and therefore in the first century.

It is noteworthy that both Peter and Jude encountered something of the same problem. Does this indicate that false teachers with their unholy life-styles were commonly infiltrating into the churches and spreading their ungodly influence? How true is this of our churches today? And is it a problem too in our particular congregation? If so, what can we learn from Jude in dealing with this situation?

Like John’s first letter, Jude’s Epistle is headed with the title “The general/catholic letter of Jude”. This means that Jude is not writing to any one particular church or person, so this letter is for all churches more generally. But it would seem that Jude had some particular church in mind when he describes how certain men had “slipped in among you” (4). And verse 3 also appears to indicate some particular church. Jude’s use of “Beloved” sounds very personal, as does also his longing to write about “the salvation we share”. Perhaps we need to bear in mind that the title ‘general’/catholic  is itself a later addition (as also the division of the text into chapters and verses). The title is not part of the God-breathed (2 Timothy 3.16) revelation of God’s Word.

The Author: “A slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (1)

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In his letter Jude assumes that his readers know the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah (7), Cain and Abel, Balaam and Korah (11). He also refers without explanation to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and their consequent unbelief in the wilderness (5).  On the assumption that his readers would even know some of the inter-testamental stories in the Apocrypha, he unhesitatingly uses The Assumption of Moses (9) and The Book of Enoch (14). So we see that he was evidently writing for churches that were strongly Jewish. This conservatively Jewish feel leads us to deduce  that this letter’s recipients were located in Jerusalem and the land of Israel. No wonder he starts his letter by introducing himself as James’ brother. As leader of the church in Jerusalem James had a special influence and respect. So Jude was writing to churches which will have looked up to James quite particularly. Being James’ brother also therefore gives Jude considerable authority. How wise Jude was to start his letter in this way! Does this verse give us too biblical warrant for name-dropping and pulling strings?!

It is generally accepted that James was Jesus’ brother (Galatians 1.19), so Jude must also have been Jesus’ younger brother. This makes his references to Jesus all the more remarkable. Thus he starts his letter by stating that he is “a slave of Jesus Christ”. Fancy calling ourselves our older brother’s slave! He even declares that Jesus Christ is uniquely “our only Sovereign and Lord” (4). And he not only calls his brother by name; in fact he always adds his title as Christ/Messiah (1, 4, 17, 21, 25). And he concludes the letter with the affirmation that his brother is “our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore” (25). In addition he declares that God our Saviour sends his glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ (25). Even taking the resurrection into account, what faith Jude had to be able to see all this in his own brother – and believe it with all his heart!

Jude’s Purpose
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Jude would have loved to walk in John’s shoes. John dedicates his whole Gospel to sharing the good news of abundant life now and eternal life for ever, love, truth and joyful relationships of unity to all who believe in Jesus as the one who has been sent by the Father into the world. In Jude 3 we read that Jude “was very keen to write to you about the salvation we share”. He would have been glad to share this positive message, but sadly he was faced with churches in desperate danger and so felt compelled rather to deal with that situation. He addresses these churches as “Beloved” (3), not just “Dear friends” as in the NIV  translation. He observes that they “have been called” (1); they are specially chosen by God to be his beloved children. So Jude tells them that they are “loved by God the Father”. I find it amazing and so heart-warming that my wife Elizabeth, our children and grandchildren love me so wonderfully – and it is even more amazingly comforting and life-giving that Almighty God the Father loves me and wants me as his child. What ‘good news’ the Gospel is! In spite of the terrible danger they face, they are also “kept by Jesus Christ”. We all need that assurance that Jesus Christ will keep us and not allow us to fall from grace when we face the temptation to wander from our faith and commitment to the Lord.

So what is the problem? Those churches had allowed certain “ungodly” men (note the emphasis through the repetition of this description four times in verse 15) to infiltrate into the church. Does the expression “shepherds who feed only themselves” (12) show that they had even become leaders (shepherds of the flock) in the church with an open door to teach and preach? In his deep distress Jude piles up words of strong invective against these people. They are indeed ungodly, changing God’s grace into “a licence for immorality” and they “deny Jesus Christ” (4). They even use “harsh words” against the Lord (15) and like Israel in the wilderness they ‘grumble and find fault’ (16). Like so many in our society today, they follow whatever they desire for their own pleasure (16). With unchecked pride they also “boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (16). As a preacher and conference speaker, I commonly receive requests for a self-introductory bio and listen to flattering introductions in meetings – how easily pride can enter in!

Jude also calls these men ‘fleshly’ (Greek psuchikoi) and accuses them of ‘dividing’ people (19). The Gnostic heresy seems to have been forming in those days. It taught that the ‘spiritual’ was radically different from the material or ‘fleshly’. Thus they considered the creator God of the Old Testament to be merely ‘fleshly’ because he had created the material world. The New Testament ‘spiritual’ God, they believed, would not create anything material, so he placed various emanations or aeons between himself and the creation of the material world. So they taught that Jesus was one of those evil emanations, unspiritually fleshly. No wonder Jude sounds so angry in his denunciation of these men! No wonder he follows the pattern of most of the Old Testament prophets and warns of fearful judgment unless they repent! And he also warns his readers that “these are the men who divide you” (19). They teach that some of the Christians are more ‘spiritual’ while others are more ‘fleshly’, a hierarchy of spirituality in the church of God. Jude declares that they themselves don’t have the true Spirit. Let us also be careful not to build such hierarchies in our churches today!

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly Jude’s letter remains little known in our European churches except the final two verses which are often used as a final benediction at the end of a meeting. The overall tone of the letter stands out as alien to the more polite and conciliatory approach particularly of British Christians. Such a direct confrontational approach is hardly acceptable in Britain even where sin and heretical teaching threaten to corrupt God’s church! Is this a right adaptation to the contemporary British cultural background, or does it stem from a lack of passionate concern for the Lord’s glory and therefore for truth and holiness in his church? Let us ask God for an honest answer to this question!
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