Earnestly Contend for the Faith
A too often prevailing attitude seen in the religious world and even in the Lord's church is that of doctrinal indifference. "So what if they teach thus and so, what does it really matter?" is the statement often made to express this doctrinal tolerance. The real question should be, "how would God have us view the matter of doctrine and does the truth really matter?" To answer this question and to establish what our thinking should be relative to matters doctrine, I introduce Jude verse 3:
"3: Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
It is evident that the inspired Jude had intended to write a treatise unto these brethren about the "Common Salvation" but because of the presence of false teachers, he wrote this short epistle exhorting them to contend for the faith (see also verse four). No doubt, had Jude written on the common salvation, he would have pointed out that salvation is common to all in that salvation is available to all, both Jew and Gentile, male and female, Jn. 3: 16; Eph. 2: 16, 17; Gal. 3: 28). Doctrinal corruption can cause one to forfeit one's salvation (Gal. 5: 1-4, Col. 2: 7-9). Hence, the necessity for contending for the faith. Let us now examine more carefully the language used by Jude to determine the exact meaning and the intended lessons.
" the faith." Let us begin our study of Jude 3 by noticing "the faith" for which Christians are to contend. The term "faith" is used in essentially two senses, the personal, subjective faith of individuals and the gospel system (Rom. 14: 22, 23; Acts 13: 8). "The faith" (te pistei) very appropriately stands for the gospel system in view of the fact that the faith has the design and goal of producing personal faith in the individual (Rom. 10: 17, Jn. 20: 30, 31). Jude 3 is tantamount to Paul's language, " I am set for the defense of the gospel" (Phili. 1: 17). The gospel is more than just the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (these are the facts of the gospel, I Cor. 15: 1-4). The terms "the gospel" and "the faith" are used comprehensively to involve belief and consequent manner of life (cp. Gal. 2: 14).
Jude wrote, "earnestly contend for the faith." These words describe and teach what the Christian is to do for the faith and how he is to do it. The Greek word rendered "earnestly contend" is epagonizomai. This compound word is very descriptive. Consider W. E. Vine's comments concerning "earnestly contend:"
"Epagonizomai: signifies 'to contend about a thing, as a combatant' (epi, 'upon or about,' intensive, agon, 'a contest'), 'to contend earnestly,' Jude 1:3. The word 'earnestly' is added to convey the intensive force of the preposition" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Some linguists point out that the primary physical action of "earnestly contend" was often applied to the skilled wrestler. His object was both defensive and offensive: to avoid being thrown and attempting to succeed in throwing his opponent. Involved in Jude's spiritual use, there is definitely much energy and aggression in epagonizomai.
Such spiritual militancy is often witnessed on the part of the apostles. When it came to matters of truth, the apostles were very protective. Early Christians were not indifferent in doctrinal matters, they expressed great concern for the truth and disdain relative to error. Consider the following example of what Paul and Barnabas did when error was introduced at Antioch:
"1: And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2: When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question" (Acts 15).
Not only did Paul and Barnabas debate the teaching of these errorists, but also they traveled to Jerusalem in an effort to determine the origin of the false doctrine and to learn the extent of its acceptance in the church at Jerusalem. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they continued to discuss and debate the doctrine some of the brethren who had come from Jerusalem had taught (Acts 15: 4-12). Paul and Barnabas were determined that the matter be exhausted and that resolve be reached as to the truth regarding the spurious teaching (vs. 13-30). Paul and Barnabas were doing precisely what Jude commanded, they were "contending for the faith."
Why "earnestly contend for the faith?" We have briefly explored the language used by Jude in the command (it is a command) to earnestly contend for the faith. We have seen the fervor and intensity involved. We have noticed two out of the many biblical examples of Christians who defended the truth and offensively attacked error. The question is why all the concern over truth and error?
Beloved, contrary to popular thinking the truth can be determined and is imperative (Jn. 8: 32). The Christian must abide in the "doctrine of Christ" in order to maintain a saved relationship with God (2 Jn. 9-11). Man is sanctified or set apart by the truth of God's word (Jn. 17: 17). In order for man's worship to be accepted by God, it must be rendered in "spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4: 24). The truth must not be distorted or perverted and to do so incurs the severe wrath of God (Rev. 22: 18, 19, Gal. 1: 6-9). Man must love and obey the truth in order to be saved (2 Thes. 2: 10-12, Rom. 2: 6-9). Without the pristine gospel system, man can not enjoy faith (Rom. 10: 17).
We have noticed the apostle Paul's defense of the truth. Let us now allow Paul himself to tell us why he was so protective of the gospel:
"4: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2).
As a result of dedicated men such as Paul who was willing to defend, debate, and stand for the truth against all error, we continue to have the truth in God's word available to us today. Paul's very style of preaching was dialectic, examining, and challenging. The writer of Acts frequently used a word to describe Paul's manner in his preaching. It is the word "reasoned" (Acts 17: 2, 17, 18: 4, 19, 19: 8, 9, 20: 7, 24: 12). The Greek word is dialegomai. Dialegomai means to think different things with oneself then, with other persons, to converse." Involved in dialegomai (what Paul did when he preached) is to form propositions or positions, often a false premise in contrast with the true, established premise. Hence, dialegomai is often translated "disputed" in the King James (a good rendering). Paul used the scriptures to form the truth, compared the truth as taught and established in God's word with the view of the errorists, and then refuted their flawed teachings (see Acts 17: 1-3).
Notice what Jude said next, "which was once delivered unto the saints." The advocates of latter day revelation maintain that all Jude is saying is that the faith was simply delivered. This deliverance was done on an occasion, but certainly there were to be additional deliveries," they reason. Many modern day religions are founded on the belief of additional revelation, following the completion of the New Testament. They must believe such because their religion in name and practice is not found in the Scriptures. For instance, how could Mormonism exist if it depended on the New Testament? Mormonism must have the Book of Mormon. The same is true regarding the so called Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Islam, and Roman Catholicism (the list goes on and on).
Beloved, "once delivered" in Jude three does not mean simply something that was done one time. The word rendered once is the Greek hapax. Notice W. E. Vine's definition of hapax:
"Hapax: denotes (a) 'once, one time,' 2 Cor. 11: 25; Heb. 9: 7, 26, 27; 12: 26, 27; in the phrase 'once and again,' lit., 'once and twice,' Phil. 4: 16; 1 Thess. 2: 18; (b) 'once for all,' of what is of perpetual validity, not requiring repetition, Heb. 6: 4; 9: 28; 10: 2; 1 Pet. 3: 18; Jude 1: 3, RV, 'once for all' (AV, 'once'); Jude 1: 5 (ditto); in some mss. 1 Pet. 3: 20 (so the AV)" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Observe the meaning Vine attaches to hapax (once) as used in Jude 3, "'once for all,' of what is of perpetual validity, not requiring repetition." The idea involved in hapax is not simply repetition, but the lack of all future occurrences because the first delivery was so complete that no additional deliverances are required. Hence, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many " ("once" is again hapax, Heb. 9: 28).
Man urgently needs to cultivate an appreciation for the truth and then stand for that truth. The thinking that there are no absolutes but only shades of gray is diametrically opposed to scripture. The truth of God's word has been compromised, politicized, and twisted in every imaginable way (see 2 Pet. 3: 16, Eph. 4: 14, 15). We must return to the aggressive gospel concerning which we read in the New Testament, the gospel that has the power to save (Rom. 1: 16).