Things Worth Striving For
By Paul Robison

John Wooden’s UCLA teams won ten NCAA championships. At the time he played for him, Bill Walton thought Wooden was somewhat crazy, but later he admitted that all he had taught them about principles for living turned out to be true. Walton said Wooden wanted his athletes to be good human beings first, and then they could become good players, and he never deviated from that philosophy of training. Walton said that Wooden was never his pal, but a teacher who handled everyone with extreme patience. Walton then added this comment: “When you’re touched by someone that special, it changes your life. You spend your life chasing it down, trying to recreate it” (Larson-Elshof). Were Walton's sometime turbulent years under Coach Wooden worth it? Walton's praise to Wooden's wisdom and influence says that it was.  

You've probably asked yourself the question at times: “Is the goal for which I'm striving really worth the struggle?” The Italians have an expression: “Non valle la pena” which means: “It is not worth the effort!” In our sermon today, we're going to learn from the brief letter of Jude about three things that are worth that are worth the effort, three things worth striving for. 

Before we look at those three things, let's get just a little background on this letter. Jude is the brother of Jesus , and he's writing most likely to a Jewish congregation since there are many references to the Old Testament and Jewish writings. If you'll read Jude and then immediately read 2 Peter, you will find many similarities in these two letters. But here is an important difference. In 2 Peter 2:1, we read: “But there were false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, ...” Notice that Peter is speaking in the future tense—there will be false teacher who will be teaching heresies. Now look over at Jude verses 4 and 12: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, which long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ ... [verse 12] These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.” It looks like in Jude that the ungodly false teachers have arrived and are trying to sway Jude's audience to embrace their perverted doctrine! Peter was warning his readers that this wicked group of heretics would soon be coming, but Jude is letting his readers know that this group is already working among them! According to tradition, Peter dies in about 68 A.D., so it would not be unreasonable to see Jude writing around 70-75 A.D. Unfortunately, the letter does not state the location of Jude's audience. Let's note two other statements that will help us to see Jude's purpose for writing. The first statement is found in verse 3: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was one for all delivered to the saints.” This verse tells that Jude was planning to write a letter about their common salvation (perhaps something similar to 1 Peter), but somehow he had learned the news of the false teachers' arrival at this congregation. So, like a faithful watchman on a wall, he now felt compelled to write this short letter of warning and encouragement. As one commentator put it: “His object was, therefore, to stir his readers to immediate resistance; to impel them to reject these teachers, [to] repudiate [or refuse to have anything to do with] their teaching, and to defend with all their might the faith which had been delivered to them” (Woods). Now the second statement is found in verses 14-15 and 18: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” Did you get the ideas that these false teachers were very ungodly characters as well? Verse 18 also adds that they have ungodly lusts. These false teachers were ungodly men who rejoiced in wickedness and deception. 

So, in this crucial situation, let's now see three things that Jude believes is worth striving for. First of all, we saw in verse 3 how they were to strive for the faith. How can they do this? First of all, they can do this by denouncing the ungodly false teachers. Jude was very politically incorrect and intolerant because he exposes and denounces these false teachers. He tells his readers that: God will punish them, that they are men who defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries, that they are in the company of those who are rebellious. Now listen to his strong denunciation in verse 12-13: “They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever!” Jude rounds out his description of these impostors with a realistic assessment in verse 19: “They are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” When working in Italy, many Italians would say something like: “Well, Paul, all religions are like roads on a mountain. Each has its own route, but they are all leading us to the top.” Jude would respond, “No, stop, that's not right! Some religions aren't leading you to the top of mountain; they're just designed to lead you into a heretic's earthly pleasures and eventually slavery. These men's roads aren't even near the mountain; they're constructed on quicksand and will soon go under!” Jude had the boldness to call these heretics ungodly sinners (v. 15)! Do we have the same courage today to expose such heretics and their cults that contradict the Gospel? Our faith is worth striving for by denouncing ungodly false teachers! 

Secondly, Jude's audience was to strive for the faith by remembering what they had been taught. And what was it that they had been taught? There were two things Jude mentions. First of all, in verse 3, he says that they had been taught “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” That's a very interesting expression. “The faith” is not just any faith; it's “the sum of all which Christians were to believe and obey” (Woods). This would include everything regarding Jesus' life, the church's directives, and the Christian's way of living—His incarnation , His resurrection, His ascension, the plan of salvation to believe, repent, confess, and be baptized, the pattern for the church—its organization, worship, and mission, and all the ethical commands for Christian behavior. This was “the faith” they had been taught. The expression “once for all” shows that this faith was a permanent deposit, a truth delivered for all history which would never need to be superseded, amended, or modified. The expression “delivered to all the saints” has a verb which was used to describe the passing down of the authorized teachings and traditions of the Old Testament. And who had done this passing down of the authorized teachings of the New Testament? Jude says in verse 17 that it was the apostles who had delivered the teachings of the faith. Jude's audience was not to go beyond the apostolic teaching. Secondly, Jude tells them that they had been warned that mockers would come into their midst (v. 18), and this prophecy was now being fulfilled. We must also strive for the faith by remembering what we have been taught. We know that the New Testament contains the apostles' teachings, and those teachings alone, are what compose “the faith” to which nothing more needs to be added—no modern creeds, no synod's confessions, no pontifical traditions. Let's strive for the faith by remembering what we have been taught! 

Next, we hear Jude tell his audience that they are to strive for the church. He gives five ways that they can do this. And notice, the word “they” refers to all members, and not just church leaders! All members should work together to strive for the church in these five ways. First of all, they should edify one another. Verse 20 exhorts: “Building yourselves up on your most holy faith.” In this time of crises with false teachers among them, it is interesting that Jude encourages these saints to work together to strengthen one another by clinging to the most holy faith that they had been taught. The expression “most holy” means that these apostolic teachings are “utterly different, entirely set apart by God from all other teachings, [and] unique in the message it teaches and in the moral transformation it produces” (Green). They will edify or strengthen each other as they study this teaching together, as they meditate upon it, and as they mutually exhort one another to obey it. We too should be devoted to strengthening one another through the reading and sharing of the apostles' teachings. Someone sent me this story by e-mail: “A church-goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. 'I've gone for 30 years now,' he wrote, 'and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can't remember a single one of them. So, I think I'm wasting my time and the preachers are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.' This started a real controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column which went on for weeks until someone wrote this reply: 'I've been married for 30 years now. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this. They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!'” Let's strive for the church by edifying one another with the truth! 

Then, they should strive for the church by praying together. Verse 20 admonishes: “Praying in the Holy Spirit.” When a congregation is being attacked by heretics, God's help is certainly needed, and Christians can band together and petition God for His help and His guidance in or through the help of the Holy Spirit. Overcoming the false teachers will probably take more than argumentation alone. It's like what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” Someone has said, “Spread out your petition before God, and then say, 'Thy will, not mine, be done.' The sweetest lesson [people can learn] in God's school is to let the Lord choose for [them]” (Moody in Rowell). Let's strive for the church by praying together! 

Next, they should strive for the church by keeping close to God. Verse 21 exhorts us: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Instead of being drawn into heresy by the ungodly false teachers, these believers were to keep close to God and to remember His steadfast love. They were to fulfill their side of the new covenant toward God. One commentator correctly noted: “[Jude's] implied point is that as Christians his readers are the objects of God's love, but through backsliding or infidelity, they can lose their awareness of it and erect barriers between themselves and it. They can only 'abide in His love' if they keep His commandments (John 15:9-10)” (Kelly). In the 1994 Winter Olympics, 23 year old Tommy Moe won the gold on the men's downhill. After his victory, he explained his strategy: “I kept it simple, focusing on skiing, not winning, not on where I'd place. I remembered to breathe—sometimes I don't do that.” The winner of the gold medal had to remember the most basic of basics—breathing! In the same way, spiritual strength depends on the basics—we need to make sure that we are always breathing God's love” (Larson)! Let's strive to help everyone in the church keep close to God!  

Fourthly, they should strive for the church by focusing on Christ's mercy. Verse 21 admonishes: “Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” One commentator states: “The verb used [here] well portrays the confident expectation with which the believer awaits the last day, a confidence which springs ... from [his loyalty to Christ] ... He is confident because Christ Himself will be the Judge ..., and while He will condemn the impious, He will show mercy to the true believers” (Kelly). Jude's audience must keep their hope on their future eternal life, and not on the sensuous life offered them by the heretics. “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34)--what a merciful reward awaits the holy and righteous! 

Lastly, they should strive for the church by helping erring brethren. Let's read vv. 22-23: “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garments defiled by flesh.” One brother who comments correctly on the passage says: “Jude now turns to exhort his readers concerning their responsibility toward those who are victimized by the false teachers. He gives emphasis to the fact that Christians are not to be concerned solely with their own salvation; they are also aware of the needs of others. They are to deal with erring brothers in a manner called for by the condition of those in error” (Kelcy). Some versions have two groups of people here, and some have three. Whatever the case, our response to each group depends on the severity to which each group has been swayed into heresy. This shows that our approach to each group must be based on discernment and sensitivity. The worst thing we can so is to ignore them totally and pretend nothing is happening. Again, this is not just the task of the elders, but the whole church needs to work together and be involved as they try to win back those who may be courting or going steady with error. Let's strive for the church by helping erring brethren!

Strive for the faith, strive for the church, and lastly strive for heaven. Jude admonishes his audience to do this in four ways. First of all, they are to remember God's protection. Verse 24 encourages: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling ...” The word for “keep” here is literally “guard”, so Jude is reassuring his audience. If Christians will strive for the faith and for the church, God will protect them. If they will persevere in the battle with the false teachers, they will be victorious! Let's strive for heaven by remembering God's protection! 

Then, they should strive for heaven by imagining God's glory. Verse 24 exhorts: “And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” And then God can present them at the Judgment Day as a sacrifice without any blemishes as they stand before His glory! God's glory stands for His radiance. God told Moses that he could only see a part of glory (Exodus 33:22), but one day we will be able to see God fully in all His majesty! Isn't this a wonderful vision to which Christians can aspire? Let's strive for heaven by imagining God's glory! 

Next, they should strive for heaven by longing for God's exceeding joy. Note verse 24 again: “And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” Notice those last three words: “with exceeding joy”. Some say this is God's joy, and some say this is the saints' joy. Why couldn't it be both? Some say that we will be joyful because we get to see God in all His glory, and some say that we will be joyful because of God's marvelous future heavenly blessings. In either case, Jude says there will be an exceeding joy! Let's strive for heaven by longing for God's exceeding joy! 

Finally, they should strive for heaven by praising God's greatness. Jude continues his praise in verse 25: “To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” “Glory” refers to Gods' radiance, “majesty” refers to God's transcendence, “dominion” refers to God's power that assures victory, and “power” refers to God's unlimited freedom. God has had all these attributes for all time. Jude had scathingly denounced the false teachers, but now with tenderness and faith, Jude commits his readers to the Source of all good! Let's strive for heaven by continually giving our praise to God for all His greatness!

Our two word summary of Jude is “Be striving!” That word has a very picturesque history because literally it means “to wrestle,” and it can refer to an athlete who strenuously trains, a runner who diligently exercises, or to a solider who energetically fights in combat. Of course, our warfare is not really physical but spiritual. The image does show us, however, that Christianity is not passive. It is active, it is aggressive, and it is on the offensive in its attack against evil and falsehood! Jude challenges us to have “a vibrant, vital, personal relationship with Christ which inflames, invigorates, and permeates [every aspect of our lives]” (Green)! What's important to Jesus becomes important to us. Strive for the faith, strive for the church, strive for heaven! “Yes,” says Jude, “our struggles, our training, and our battles will certainly be worth it all!”

Christianity is not for the fainthearted! Jesus, like Wooden did with Walton, will challenge you every day to give your best! Don't sit on the sidelines any longer? Won't you struggle against evil? Won't you train to overcome sin? Won't you fight against falsehoods? Join Jesus' spiritually forces today! Our eternal gain will definitely be worth the our temporal pain! Won't you strive together with us here so that we can see together Gods' glory with exceeding joy as we stand before Him? Enlist right now!