THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED
T. PIERCE BROWN
After reading the Bible for almost 65 years, I continue to be amazed and thrilled with the unsearchable riches one may find in one verse, or even one word. In Jude 3 there are at least seven different words or expressions that deserve extended comments, although our limited ability and limited space prevent us from doing justice to them.
Even the expression, “beloved” with all its implications needs emphasis. We may be so callused as to feel that it would seem effeminate, or a mark of affectation to use it. Or we may use it lightly, disregarding its real significance. I heard a clerk say to a foreign customer, “Y’all come back, honey.” He immediately went back, but did not understand why she used what he understood as a term of endearment. There is little doubt that when Jude, Peter or Paul said, “beloved,” they were expressing a kind of loving concern that is sadly lacking in much of our communication to and about our brethren. Even when we feel the need to rebuke a brother, it should be done in the gentlest, kindest terms possible, and not in a sarcastic, bitter, harsh and unloving manner. One does not need to be soft and “mealy mouthed” or indifferent to false doctrine and ungodly living in order to write and speak in a kind manner.
When he says, “it was needful for me to write” the ASV says, “I was constrained.” The words “diligence” and “constrained” in the same context suggest urgency, carefulness and a haste to get a thing done which was important. The sense of urgency and importance is made even more emphatic by the words “earnestly” and “contend.”
The reason for the urgent need to so strongly exhort them to contend earnestly is that there were false and ungodly teachers that had crept in and were attempting to lead persons astray. Paul had said in Acts 20:29, “I know that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” It has been happening with regularity ever since and the same admonition that Jude makes still is valid. There are a few things about this earnest contention that we should notice.
First, it is for “the faith which was once (for all) delivered to the saints.” It is not for our opinion, feelings or suppositions. It is the system of salvation that involved our proper acceptance of the grace of God by an obedient faith. That system is today, and will be throughout all time, just what it was then. It was delivered once for all. The curse of God rests upon those who would change it. Some were turning the grace of God into a permissiveness that would even allow lasciviousness. Sadly, some that claim to be preachers of the gospel are teaching that since we are under grace, we have no law. Thus, one may continue in some sin, such as adultery, and God’s grace will automatically cover it.
Second, this earnest contention is from a Greek word used only here in the New Testament, “epagonizomai,” and should be distinguished from much of the contention we may hear or do. It is composed of the preposition “epi” and “agonizomai” which is about the strongest form of a word which means to work very hard to get the job done. Our word “agonize” comes from this verb. It is translated by such words as “strive” and “fight,” but we need to understand that the contention and striving and fighting are not the same words that are condemned in such passages as 2 Timothy 2:24 when Paul says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” The kind of contentions Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians1:11and the kind of fighting James rebukes in James 4:1 are from different words and relate to a different kind of thing. We can perhaps understand the difference if we consider our normal use of the word “strive.” If a farmer is out plowing his field or working hard doing legitimate tasks to make a living, he is striving in the proper sense. If he were striving with his neighbor about where the property line should be, a different word would be used. When Paul reports that there was fighting within and fears without, he uses a different word than when he says, “Fight the good fight of faith.”
So we must contend earnestly for the faith without being contentious. We must fight the good fight of the faith without having the warfare within which the Bible condemns. We must strive to uphold the gospel without having the strife and wrangling in which we sometimes engage. Not only does Jude 3 provide some valuable truths for us today; there are many other places in the Bible where an intensive study of the original word would reveal a different meaning than that which we may assume it means. For example, to abstain from the appearance of evil does not mean to abstain from everything that seems (appears to be) evil. It means that when evil appears (is there) abstain from it.