Opening First John (1 John #1)

2020-02-08T03:09:53-04:00 February 10th, 2020|

The consensus among commentators is that the Apostle John wrote what we call 1 John late in the first century, perhaps around 90 A.D. The Epistle carries the language and phraseology of the Gospel and thus appears to be written by John (Wescott, 1966, p. xxx). The witness of the early church seems to confirm this point (Nicoll, 1961, p. 151-2). Therefore, we call it John’s First Epistle, although it does not have the usual salutation of a letter, nor does John directly identify himself. Instead, he stands among those who are eye-witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (1 John 1:1-4).

Stephen Smalley (2008) calls 1 John a “paper” (p. xxv). Alternately, “It is probably best to regard it as a tract written to deal with a specific problem; it is a written sermon or pastoral address” (Marshall, 1978, p. 14). John probably wrote this piece in Ephesus for circulation among the churches he planted in Asia Minor.

The common perception among readers and commentators is that 1 John weighs in against heresy, particularly Gnosticism, within the Christian community of Asia Minor. Brooke (1964) puts it succinctly, “The connection of the Epistle with Gnosticism is quite apparent” (p. xliii). Robertson agrees, “The Epistle is not a polemic primarily … Yet the errors of the Gnostics are constantly before John’s mind” (p. 200). Marshall (1978) takes exception, “It remains, however, doubtful whether Gnosticism in the full-blown sense of the term existed in the first century” (p. 52). Gnostics, it should be noted, “believed in salvation by enlightenment” (Stott, 1981, p. 46).

Smalley believes that tension developed between two strains of heretical belief, Ebionite and Docetic (2008, p. xxi). Wescott (1966) adds, “The main questions of the debate are gathered around the Person and Work of the Lord. On the one side, He was represented as a mere man (Ebionism): on the other side he was represented as a mere phantom (Docetism)” (xxxiv). Yes, the Ebionites saw Jesus as a mere man; “Both the divinity of Christ and His virgin birth were denied” (Berkhof, 1975, p. 44). Also, the Ebionites gave “an exalted place to the Jewish law” (Smalley, 2008, xxi). “This sect really constituted the continuation of the Judaistic opponents of the Apostle Paul and was of the Pharisaic type” (Berkhof, 1975, p. 44). They tended toward legalism as a part of their outlook. Marshall states further “that what John condemns is a Docetic or similar christology and a lowering of Christian ethical standards rather than a full-blown Gnostic system of teaching” (p. 52). In other words, the Docetic position, in part, manifested antinomianism.

Well, it may be fine to explore the false teachings that are behind the exhortations of 1 John. Such explorations tickle the ears and excite the intellect. However, it is perhaps more useful to take the text at face value rather than seeking to explore what may or may not be in the background. Are there modern counterparts to the Docetic and Ebionite heresies? The problems of both legalism and antinomianism are close at hand. But we can address these aberrations directly in the application of specific texts within this little book. Taking a detour into the thicket of particular heresies places emphasis upon them. It then seems that John’s primary purpose is to correct particular false doctrines and practices when he actually has a more profound purpose in mind.

A review of Calvin’s commentary on The First Epistle of John (1961) reveals that the great expositor does not mention Gnosticism, Gnostics, Docetism, or the Ebionites. He speaks of heretics once in his dedication, once concerning 1 John 2:22-23, and twice regarding 1 John 4:1-3. The latter text reads as follows,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

Calvin (1961) says in part, “But he only repeats here what we have heard before; that, just as Christ is the object at which true faith aims, so He is the stumbling-block on which all heretics stumble” (p. 286). Continuing to comment on verse 2, Calvin goes on to say, “Therefore, the ancient heretics departed from this faith, partly by denying Christ’s divine nature, partly his human … ” (p. 286). The Ebionites denied Christ’s divine nature. Docetism dismissed Christ’s human nature. But Calvin does not pursue these avenues of discussion. Instead, he is anxious to move to contemporary application and points directly at the Papists. “Therefore, the ancient heretics departed from this faith, partly by denying Christ’s divine nature, partly his human, so the Papists today” (p. 286). Calvin refers to the Papists nine times in his commentary on 1 John.

And so, Calvin sticks close to the text. He does not diverge from the main point of the Epistle. Consider 1 John 4:4, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” As Calvin says, “The apostle’s aim was to encourage believers to resist imposters bravely and undauntedly” (p. 287). Calvin adds this word of assurance, “As to the general tenor of this passage, it is a great comfort that, with whatever tricks Satan may attack us, we shall stand in the truth of God” (p. 287).

In my exposition of 1 John, I do not seek to unravel the supposed thoughts of those to whom John writes. Instead, I aim to follow the example of Calvin. I pupose to stick close to the text and apply it to contemporary life. In doing so, I anchor my exposition in the primary purpose of this book: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). This emphasis is pro-assurance instead of anti-heresy.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

References
Calvin, J. The Gospel According to St. John 11-21 and the First Epistle of John (T. H. L. Parker, Trans.). D. W. and T. F. Torrance (Eds.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Berkhof, L. (1975). The History of Christian Doctrines. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth.
Brooke, A. E. (1964). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John, Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1960). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Wescott, B. F. (1966). The Epistles of St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

The Purpose of John’s Purpose (1 John #2)

2020-02-06T14:11:10-04:00 February 3rd, 2020|

While serving as a seminary Professor of Homiletics, I assigned sermons to students based upon texts from various books of the Bible. We always took class time to discuss the assigned book. In particular, we zeroed in on the purpose of the book. If the writer gives a specific purpose statement, we took a hard look at it. If the writer does not state a purpose, we undertook a study to determine the purpose and formulate such a statement. In doing so, we recognized that an author might have many reasons for writing. However, what we sought was the primary purpose of a given book.

Why is identifying the primary purpose of a book of the Bible so important? A book’s purpose acts as a lens through which to view each section of the book. This lens offers the proper perspective on individual pieces of the book. Using the comparison of a well-cut diamond, the various parts of a biblical book present different facets of the book’s content. A diamond has many facets or faces. Each facet shows a different face of the beauty of the stone. Similarly, each piece of a well-written letter, paper, or story, adds substance and depth to the central theme or purpose of the story. As a result, knowing the meaning of individual parts of a letter, paper, or story, depends upon understanding its primary purpose as a whole.

First John was one of the books I used in my preaching classes. Some thought that the concepts 1 John raises are difficult and often confusing. I don’t see it this way. If we take the primary purpose of 1 John seriously, the difficulties melt away. If we look at the various sections of 1 John through the lens of its primary purpose, clarity emerges. Problems arise when we fail to use John’s purpose as a primary guidepost. So, what is the purpose of this little book?

As is true for the Gospel of John, 1 John gives us its purpose. The Apostle John wrote his gospel for evangelistic purposes. “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). He wrote 1 John, his tract or paper, to foster assurance. He wrote to believers to encourage them in the experimental knowledge of their eternal life in Christ. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

That this statement sets forth John’s principal purpose seems clear. To be sure, I review the statements of several commentators speaking to 1 John 5:13. First, consider John Calvin (1551), “There should be daily progress in faith; and so he says that he is writing to those who already believed, so that they might believe more firmly and certainly, and thus enjoy a full confidence of eternal life” (p. 307). B. F. Wescott (1883) says, “The Apostle looks back upon his work, and records the aim which he set before himself” (p. 188). The Expositor’s Greek Testament (1961) records this comment, “The purpose for which St. John wrote his gospel was that we might believe in the Incarnation, and so have eternal life (xx. 31); the purpose of the Epistle is not merely that we may have Eternal Life by believing but that we may know that we have it” (p. 5:197, italics original). John R. W. Stott (1960) adds,

The Epistle was written … that ye may know that ye have eternal life … The Gospel was written for unbelievers, that they might read the testimony of God to His Son, believe in the Son to whom the testimony pointed, and thus receive life through faith. The Epistle, on the other hand, was written for believers. John’s desire for them is not that they may believe and receive, but having believed, they may know that they have received … (p. 184, italics Stott’s).

I Howard Marshall (1978) comments on John 5:13 as follows, “We are fortunate that John has given us in his gospel a statement of purpose in writing it (Jn. 20:31). In the same way, he here summarizes his purpose in the composition of this epistle” (p. 243). A few sentences later, Marshall adds, “John now sums up by saying that the effect of what he has written should be to give assurance to believers that they do possess eternal life” (p. 243). Finally, in the Word Biblical Commentary, Stephen S. Smalley (2008) indicates that 1 John 5:13 “states one of the aims lying behind 1 John as a whole” (p. 276). Although this may be the case, Smalley states that “the primary intention of 1 John can still be delineated as the instruction and encouragement of the faithful” (xxix). In his comments under 5:13, Smalley adds, “In favor of this view is the close parallel existing between v. 13 and John 20:31 where the writer sets out the purpose of the Fourth Gospel” (p. 277).

Again, the purpose statement of 1 John is a lens through which to examine and properly apply sections of the book. Here is an example. First John 1:3-4 relates a secondary purpose. “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” Fellowship is an essential aspect of our jointly held Christian faith, as is our fellowship with the Father through and with Jesus Christ, the Son. This fellowship precipitates joy, a fruit of the Spirit. But this fellowship and the consequent joy are not ends in themselves. Experiencing this fellowship in Christ and an experimental acquaintance with this joy testify to our participation in eternal life (1 John 5:13). They provide evidence undergirding our assurance of salvation. Seeing 1 John 1:3-4 in the light of 1 John 5:13 illuminates its real significance within 1 John.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2020

References
Calvin, J. The Gospel According to St. John 11-21 and the First Epistle of John (T. H. L. Parker, Trans.). D. W. and T. F. Torrance (Eds.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Nicoll, W. R. (Ed.). (1961) The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Smalley, S. S. 1, 2, and 3 John, Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1960). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Wescott, B. F. (1966). The Epistles of St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Using “You” in Teaching and Preaching

2020-01-23T16:18:18-04:00 January 27th, 2020|

Students, pastors, and teachers are reluctant to use the second person. As a result, the first person use of we dominates. There is also frequent use of the third person he and they. But this is not the biblical pattern. “It is not arrogant for God’s appointed servant to proclaim God’s word directly, even pointedly, to those to whom he addresses it” (Jay Adams, Truth Applied, 25).

Listen to Moses as he reiterates the covenant in Moab. Moses pointedly lays out the negative, “Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear” (Deuteronomy 29:4, italics added). He similarly sets forth the promise of God, “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6, italics added). Listen to Joshua challenge Israel. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15, italics added).

Consider the early preaching of Peter. The emphasis is mine. “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross” (Acts 2:23, italics added). “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36, italics added). “[You (implied)] Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, italics added). “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and [you] disowned in the presence of Pilate … But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:13–14, italics added). “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified … ” (Acts 4:10, italics added).

Then there is Stephen. “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51–53, italics added). And there is Paul. “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10, italics aded). We could multiply these by many biblical illustrations. For example, in the New American Standard Bible, you or your appear one hundred and ninety-eight times in the one hundred and nine verses of the Sermon on the Mount.

But there is a biblical argument for the use of we coming from Hebrews. This epistle is very likely a typical sermon delivered in the synagogue of the day. It is a “word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22) like the “word of exhortation” Paul delivers in the Synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:15).

The preacher to the Hebrews was not one of those preachers who points his finger at his people and refers to them exclusively as “you.” Instead, he identified with his congregation by employing the pronoun “we.” The author uses “we” fifty-three times in this epistle. He includes himself in both the applications and encouragements of his sermon … The preacher treated his congregation as “we” not “you” (Anthony T. Selvaggio, “Preaching Advice from the ‘Sermon’ to the Hebrews,” Themilios Journal 32–2 (2009): 33.

However, Hebrews uses both we and you. The second-person plural pronoun you appears forty-eight times. This count comes from the NASB Update. If you reduce the count where the version uses you in translating participles and increase the count where you is implied in Greek imperatives, total usage is fifty. The possessive your appears twenty-seven times. The total is seventy-five times. Hebrews also uses let us twelve times and us alone twenty times. Including the fifty-three uses of we, the total for the first-person plural is then eighty-five. The use of we and you are comparable.

Here are four examples of the use of the second-person plural in exhortations. The emphasis is again mine. “[You] Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). “But [you] encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). “But [you] remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings” (Hebrews 10:32). “[You] Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you” (Hebrews 13:7).

And so, to follow the example of Scripture, you should use you in your preaching and teaching. Use we, but not exclusively. Use you a large percentage of the time. J. C. Ryle maintains this point.

[I]f you wish to preach simply, use a direct style. What do I mean by this? I mean the practice and custom of saying “I” and “you.” When a man takes up this style of preaching, he is often told that he is conceited and egotistical. The result is that many preachers are never direct—and always think it very humble and modest and becoming to say “we.” But I remember good Bishop Villiers saying that “we” was a word kings and corporations should use, and they alone—but that parish clergymen should always talk of “I” and “you.” I endorse that saying with all my heart” [John Charles Ryle, Simplicity in Preaching (London: William Hunt, 1882), 29–30].

Therefore, “I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly” (Hebrews 13:22, italics added).

Denny Prutow
Revised from So Pastor, What’s Your Point? 

The Power of Parables

2020-01-11T09:16:24-04:00 January 13th, 2020|

“The biblical parable is a very specific literary form. As it was developed in the biblical tradition, a parable was a device used by preachers to epitomize a sermon. A whole sermon could be packed up into a parable and put away in the memory and then later brought out again when the occasion arose and unpacked by a process of explanation and elaboration” (Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 1:145).

Parables are pithy, to the point, and forcefully expressive. Their power lies in their being compact. “As it was developed in the biblical tradition, a parable was a device used by preachers [and teachers] to epitomize a sermon [or teaching]. A whole sermon [or teaching] could be packed up into a parable and put away in the memory and then later brought out again when the occasion arose and unpacked by a process of explanation and elaboration” (Ibid.).

But parables pack power for a more fundamental reason. “It is the parabolic nature of life which points to the parabolic nature of preaching [and teaching]. Meaning is conveyed by similitude, by analogy, by example” (Ibid., 146). The seeds for these similitudes, analogies, and examples are woven into creation.

The sowing of seed, its growth, fruition, and harvest is one of those signs, as is the beauty of a pearl. The sharing of a meal is a powerful sign. The relation of sheep to a shepherd, the relation between mother and child, the marriage relationship, and by all means the marriage feast—all are signs of the fundamental realities of existence. They are not only fundamental but ultimate realities (Ibid., 145).

What this truth means is that parables are not invented but found, if we have eyes to see and hearts to understand. As Hughes Oliphant Old aptly puts it,

[O]ne of the tasks of the Christian preacher [or teacher] is to interpret these fundamental similitudes of life. We must interpret them as Jesus interpreted them, to be sure. It is not our job to discover new similitudes or invent new parables any more than it is our job to invent new sacraments. The parables are there, built into life. They are discovered, not invented, but it takes the gospel to recognize them (Ibid., 146).

If we have eyes to see and hearts to understand powerful, parables are all around us.

Denny Prutow

God’s Gift in the Ten Commandments

2019-12-23T21:41:09-04:00 December 30th, 2019|

We were stopped at a traffic light while driving through Colorado Springs, Colorado. The bumper sticker on the back of the car in front of us asked a simple question. “What would happen if everyone told the truth?” With a laugh, I repeated the question, “What would happen if everyone told the truth?” I turned to my wife and said, “The whole political establishment in Washington, D.C. would collapse instantly!” Our nation and the nations of the world need a huge infusion of basic biblical morality. The standards of this morality come to us in God’s moral law.

But even in Christian circles, we fail to have a proper perspective on the Ten Commandments. The law smacks of legalism. And the Bible tells us that we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). In this article and those that follow, it is my plan to review the Ten Commandments and offer some needed perspective.

Let’s begin with the preface to the Ten Commandments. “Then God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20:1-2). It is clear that God gives the Ten Commandments to the people He redeems. The answer to question 44 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism affirms that this is the case. “The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.” Because the Lord God redeems us, we ought to keep His commandments.

This answers the criticism raised by way of Romans 6:14. Paul does not contradict the words of Moses in Exodus 20:1-2. There is not a bifurcation between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the assessments of the moral law. There is harmony. Romans 6:14 means that we are not under the law as a means of gaining right-standing with God. Salvation is not by works. Salvation is by grace. Paul actually has a high view of the law. “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).

But what of the motive to follow God’s moral law. The motive is love. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3). The apostle John defines love in terms of the law. We express love for God and for those around us by means of the law. Jesus tells us essentially the same thing. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). In other words, God is gracious to us in giving us the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments provide you and me the means for showing love to God and toward others.

Think of it in terms of athletics. Football has a rule book and officials. You play the game on a properly marked field with prescribed measurements and goal posts of exact dimensions. To play the game, you must wear prescribed equipment in a given position with explicit duties. You follow all the rules and procedures in order to participate in the game. Without these rules and procedures, there is no game.

The same is true with the Christian life. God’s Ten Commandments amount to the rules of the game. When you follow them from the heart, you reach the goal. You express love.

Denny Prutow

Doxology (Jude 24-25)

2019-12-04T10:51:26-04:00 December 23rd, 2019|

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:24-25).

Jude rehearses the great difficulties that arise in the church by hearkening back to early Scriptures and the experience of Israel (Jude 3-16). Paul had already warned the elders at Ephesus of such dangers. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Jude sees this reality now setting in among those whom he loves. At the same time, he urges his readers to rest in the gospel. Jude reminds them that they are “beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). He exhorts them to realize that the challenges they face are neither unusual nor unforeseen (Jude 17-19). Having already prayed for them: “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 2), Jude beseeches the church, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). Since all these activities “were long beforehand marked out” by God (Jude 4) for his glory, he ends his letter with a doxology, words of praise to God (Jude 24-25).

Such doxologies are common; they divert our attention away from ourselves and back to the Triune God of the Bible. After detailing the crisis of fallen humanity, God’s salvation of the Gentiles, and the question of the future of the Jews, Paul breaks out into doxology

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has given to him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

Such doxologies are also a common feature of “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). See Romans 6:27, Ephesians 3:21, Philippians 4:20, 1 Timothy 1:17, 2 Timothy 4:18, 1 Peter 4:11 and 5:11, and Revelation 1:6, 5:13 and 7:12. The common thread in all these doxologies is the glory of God. Also, each of the five books of the Book of the Psalms ends with a doxology: Psalm 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48, and 150:1-6. Psalm 150 is a doxology completing the Psalter. The first definition in the range of meanings for the Hebrew word glory is weight or burden. The idea is that God should carry weight, ultimate weight, in your life. If He does, you will do His bidding.

In Jude’s doxology, note that the only God is our Savior through Jesus Christ, our Lord (Jude 25). There is only one God. “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5). It pleases God to act in this world and to communicate with you and me, His creatures, through Jesus Christ. For example, Christ was with the children of Israel in the wilderness. A spiritual rock followed them, “and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). God acted through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring about the salvation of His people. Jude adds that Jesus Christ is our Lord. He is Jehovah in the flesh. It is to him we bow. It is Him we confess. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

The doxology begins with this affirmation, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24). Remember, Jesus Christ is “a living stone which has been rejected by men” (1 Peter 2:4). When unbelievers reject the Savior, “they stumble because they are disobedient to the word” (1 Peter 2:8). As believers, what has God done to keep you and me from stumbling? He has “has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). God uses His Word, written and proclaimed, as the primary means of bringing about this new birth. “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Having been made alive (Ephesians 2:4), you received the gift of faith you trust in Jesus. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Jude now skips over the inter-advent period he has thoroughly described (Jude 17-19). He notes that having saved you by His grace, God Himself will “make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). After the resurrection of the dead, you will stand acquitted, blameless, before the face of God. And you will not be alone. With great joy, you will join the assembly in heaven described in Revelation 5:11. “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” Then there is doxology. “And every created thing which is in heaven … I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’” (Revelation 5:13).

You and I will experience more fully and completely the “glory, majesty, dominion and authority” of our great God and Savior. Yes, this praise pertains to the all-glorious God “before all time and now and forever” (Jude 25). Before time was, He is worthy. Even now, our praise prepares us for the life to come. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). Then, we will delight in the splendor of His beauty. We will gasp in wonder at His dignity and grace. We will be astonished at the broad extent of His sovereignty and His directive power over all the intimate details of His creation. Then, we will sing praise in doxology “to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 25). And with the heavenly choir of thousands upon thousands, we will add with great joy a hearty affirmation, “Amen!”

Denny Prutow

Snatched Out of the Fire (Jude 22-23)

2019-12-01T18:06:11-04:00 December 16th, 2019|

Jude continues his positive approach toward his readers. After urging them to keep themselves in the love of God and to look with anticipation for the revealed mercy of Christ (Jude 20-21), he encourages his readers to extend mercy to others. “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). The foundation for this outreach is the teaching of Christ, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). If you are the blessed recipient of mercy, your response is to extend mercy to others.

Jude 22-23 presents two questions. First, should we follow the two-clause Greek text or the three-clause text? Second, what is the proper rendering of the word the New American Standard translates as “doubting”? The KJV follows the two-clause text: (1) And of some have compassion, making a difference: (2) And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Not surprising, Calvin and Matthew Henry follow this shorter reading as do the modern commentators J. B. Mayor, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, and Richard Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary.

The NASB and ESV follow the three-clause text. (1) And have mercy on some, who are doubting; (2) save others, snatching them out of the fire; (3) and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). This position is in keeping with Jude’s liking of triads. Jude 11: (1) For they have gone the way of Cain, (2) and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, (3) and perished in the rebellion of Korah. See also Jude 1, 2, 6, and 19.

The KJV translates the participle διακρινομένους as “making a difference.” NASB translates the same word as “doubting.” In the middle/passive voice, this verb translates to wavering, hesitating, or doubting. James 1:6 uses this participle twice, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting (διακρινόμενος), for the one who doubts (διακρινόμενος) is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” Part of the difficulty goes back to Jude 9. “But when the archangel Michael, contending (διακρινόμενος) with the devil … ” (ESV). Michael was weighing his position before the devil and before God. We might even say that he doubted his capacity to pass judgment upon the devil. He rightly hesitated to pronounce judgment in God’s stead.

Turning to the three clauses, Jude first exhorts, “have mercy on some, who are doubting.” The imperative, “have mercy” is second person plural. The translation could be, “You have mercy.” Again, Jude has in mind a corporate activity. Members of the congregation ought to feed and guide those who have misgivings about the content of the faith. If we know the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 21), we readily extend mercy to those who are struggling. We have compassion for them, desiring to lift them and encourage them. They may struggle with the assurance of faith or assurance of salvation. They may struggle with the sovereignty of God and the biblical teachings on divine election and reprobation.

Then too, some doubt certain ethical standards and requirements of the faith. They may have doubts concerning end-of-life issues, God’s command, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), and the recommendations of a doctor. The young soldier who fires his rifle and for the first time kills another human being is in torment. He wonders, “Have I committed murder.” Finally, how we carry out our responsibilities in Christ is essential. Remember, the ungodly commit ungodly deeds in an ungodly way (Jude 15). The opposite must be true for believers. You and I must keep the Ninth Commandment; we must tell the truth. But Scripture also requires us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). In dealing with our children or our co-workers, we ought not to speak the truth in anger. Some may doubt the propriety of these things. Your response and my response ought to be to show mercy.

Second, Jude urges, “Save others, snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Here, the situation is more urgent and pressing. The salvation about which Jude speaks is redemption in Christ. To partake of this salvation, you must trust in the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9-10). However, this faith is not something you conjure up. It is a gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). Scripture also testifies that faith comes by way of hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Such hearing may take place in the private reading of Scripture. This hearing may occur during one-on-one encounters. We must also remember God’s commitment to graciously meet with us in worship to apply His covenant Word to us (2 Corinthians 6:16-18).

Of course, you do not save others. God saves them using you and using preaching in the context of corporate worship as instruments of His grace. By grace, through Jesus Christ, God snatches men and women from the grip of the eternal fire of hell. John 12:10 uses the same word to describe a wolf snatching sheep. When Satan accused Joshua, the high priest, the Lord saw him as “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). If the gospel plucks men and women from the burnings of hellfire, it must be direct. When I walked into a chaplain’s office in South Korea, the chaplain asked me immediately and directly, “Have you ever accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” At that moment, the Lord snatched me from a dismal future leading to well-deserved hellfire.

Finally, “on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). Yes, others live in the dark world of the deeds of the flesh, “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing” (Galatians 5:19-21). Their “deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Although you and I must hate this life on the dark side, we must compassionately publish the bad news of God’s judgment. Men and women must learn to fear God and the reality of a future life where “their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched (Isaiah 66:24). Only then will these harder cases soften to the Good News of Christ’s death for sin and His resurrection for life. And so, “have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

Denny Prutow

Keep Yourselves in the Love of God (Jude 20-21)

2019-11-29T11:44:36-04:00 December 9th, 2019|

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 20-21). After rehearsing the problems of unbelief within the church, Jude turns to the positive, “But you, beloved … ” (Jude 17, 20). Jude approaches the church with the heart of a pastor. Remember his greeting in verse 1, “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.”

At the same time, Jude addresses an exhortation to the church, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). The “you” implied in the verb, “keep,” is plural, as is the pronoun, “yourselves.” Members of the church must preserve and keep intact their loving relationships with each other and the love they experience with God. In other words, while salvation is a sovereign work, sanctification is cooperative. Paul says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). That is, work out the implications of your salvation in day to day life. Jesus puts it this way, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). If the Holy Spirit has changed your heart, indicate that this is the case. Live according to Christ’s commandments. “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”

Jude also answers the question: how do you keep yourselves in the love of God? Two participles, “building” and “praying” begin two participle phrases, which modify “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20). They answer the question, “How?” First, you keep yourselves in the love of God by “building (plural) yourselves up on your (plural) most holy faith.” The “faith” is the body of truth “once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). As indicated in the first lesson, you and I must continually review and study this faith, the truth that God reveals in Scripture. God’s love is a beautiful many-sided gem. We must regularly review and analyze the various facets of God’s love. As we do so, we grow in our understanding of how God’s love embraces us and how God’s love works itself out in our lives, individually and corporately.

Second, you keep yourselves in the love of God by “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). God uses prayer to bring about His will. “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15). And so, you and I must pray according to God’s will. How do you know God’s will? You find God’s will in Scripture. You must know the Scriptures. Of course, the Spirit inspired Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21). Praying in the Spirit means praying according to the will of God revealed in the Spirit-inspired Word, the Scriptures. In addition, praying in the Spirit means you are united to the Spirit. The Spirit dwells in you (Romans 8:9). Thus you pray self-consciously in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), knowing God’s presence with you and in you.

The participles, building and praying are plurals, referencing the congregation. It is not so much individual prayer but corporate prayer that concerns Jude. Paul reminds the Church at Corinth, “We are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). The gathered church is the special dwelling place of God in the Spirit. “You (plural) also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). Yes, individually, you and I are temples of the Spirit (Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 6:19). We must not profane the temples of our bodies by prostituting them (1 Corinthians 6:15). On the other hand, since the church is a temple having Christ as its foundation, “each man must be careful how he builds on it” (1 Corinthians 3:10). As his temple, in corporate worship, we gather in the special gracious presence of God. J. I Packer defines worship in this way.

Worship is not only an expression of gratitude, but also a means of grace whereby the hungry are fed, so that the empty are sent away rich. For ‘there is in worship an approach of God to man.’ ‘God’s presence in his ordinances’ is a reality; God is essentially present in the world, graciously present in his church (A Quest for Godliness, 252).

In worship, in singing praise, in hearing God’s word read and preached, in corporate fellowship, in corporate prayer, praying with and for one another, we learn and grow and keep ourselves in the love of God. Jude is not ignoring individual responsibility in prayer, study, and reading Scripture. Instead, he is emphasizing the importance of the corporate gathering of God’s people in worship.

As you keep yourselves in the love of God, your motive is the return of Christ. And so, your posture as God’s people is always to be forward-looking. You anxiously wait “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 21). The verb “to wait” carries with it the element of being anxious. You have a sense of expectancy. You receive and welcome Christ before He arrives. Your attitude is not passive but active. You are “looking for (same word) the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).

Believers do not find their ultimate hope in the things of this world. Why? “The present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). Yes, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Believers await the mercy and love and grace of God pronounced by Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life in the world to come. To believers, to those for whom He died, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

And so, “keep yourselves in the love of God.” Do so by “building yourselves up on your most holy faith,” and by “praying in the Holy Spirit.” Also, have your eye on the world to come. Wait “anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 20-21).

Denny Prutow

The Inter-Advent Life (Jude 17-19)

2019-11-25T16:43:42-04:00 December 2nd, 2019|

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Wherever the church or churches are to which Jude is writing, and there is much speculation, apostolic ministry planted them. The apostles had been there and taught there earlier. Now, Jude calls this fact back to the memory of God’s people. Jude is contrasting his readers with the ungodly (Jude 15) and malcontents (Jude 16), who have crept into the assembly (Jude 4). “But you must remember, beloved” (Jude 17). Yes, remember what the apostles taught about the “last time.” The last time began at the first coming of Christ at the first advent. The last time ends with Christ’s second coming at His second advent. The last days is the period between the two advents (Hebrews 1:2). It is the present age, the inter-advent period.

Jude describes this period, quoting apostolic teaching. “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 18). The Apostle Peter says almost the same thing. “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). The teachings of the Apostle Paul are similar.

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Our Lord Jesus Christ laid the foundation for this teaching. John Murray comments on Matthew 24. “In verses 1-14, Jesus deals with the certain outstanding features of the interadventual period. We are reminded in verse 6 that the end is not immediately … and that wars, famines, and earthquakes are but the beginnings of sorrows” (Collected Writings, 2:388). Note Matthew 24:4-8.

See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Matthew 24:9-14 gives us a further assessment of Christ concerning this present age. As Murray puts it, “At verse 14, the more auspicious aspect of the inter-adventual history is promised, the worldwide preaching of the gospel” (Ibid.). At this point, our Lord makes this pronouncement, “Then the end will come.” Here is Matthew 24:9-14,

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

I agree with Murray’s appraisal of Matthew 24. “We are compelled to construe verses 4-14 as, in brief outline, a forecast of interadventual history” (Ibid.). And so, Jude is giving us a view of life in the inter-advent period. He is giving us a heads up. “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts’” (Jude 17-18).

You and I ought not to be surprised to see and experience first-hand “mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” The mocker is one who points the finger laughing and scoffing and making fun of others. As self-centered, he feeds on his pride and arrogance. He follows his own ungodly cravings and passions.

Jude 19 continues, “These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.” They form cliques and sit only with themselves at fellowship meals (Jude 12). They are worldly, worldly-minded, sensual, soulish (ψυχικοί). Jude judges further that these people do not have the Spirit. Compare again, Jude 4. For this reason, their cliques develop into divisions and factions within the church.

But even these factions have a purpose. “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). The KJV reads, “For there must be also heresies (αἱρέσεις) among you.” The presence of a party spirit or faction raises a sharp distinction with those who speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This latter group of Spirit-filled followers of Christ shares a common salvation; Jude is appealing to them to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

Years ago, God called me to contend for the faith against a divisive faction within a congregation. Before my arrival, the congregation elected several men as elders and deacons who held biblical and theological views contrary to the Standards of the local church and denomination. As a result, they refused to take the vows required for entrance upon office. When asked to step aside so the church could elect others to office, they steadfastly refused. The only answer was to begin the process of formal discipline. The result was two full-length church trials, after which the church was able to move forward. Under such circumstances, the words of Jude 17-19 ring true and give guidance.

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Denny Prutow

Enoch’s Prophecy, Jesus’ Judgment (Jude 14-16)

2019-11-21T10:50:26-04:00 November 25th, 2019|

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

Jude 14 refers back to Jude 4, which says that “certain persons have crept in unnoticed … ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 8 refers to “these people,” as does Jude 10. Verse 11 tells us that “they walked in the way of Cain.” Now, Jude 14 and 17 indicate that “it was about these men that Enoch … prophesied.”

Enoch was a prominent figure. Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22). He did not taste death but was translated directly to heaven (Genesis 5:24). The genealogy of Genesis 5 validates the claim that he was the seventh generation from Adam. The words attributed to Enoch come from the apocalyptic book of 1 Enoch, perhaps dating back to mid-second century B.C. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jude takes the quoted words as accurate and prophetic. In doing so, he does not necessarily regard 1 Enoch as canonical Scripture. However, Jude applies the prophecy of Enoch to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to judge the earth. His quotation constitutes a warning to all the ungodly in Jude’s time and in our time.

The prophecy begins with these words, “Behold, the Lord came.” This translation from the New American Standard accurately reflects the past tense. Prophetic words about future events stated in the past tense, as though they have already occurred, indicate the certainty of these future events. In Hebrew, this tense is the prophetic perfect. In 1 Enoch, the subject of the sentence is God. Jude interprets the sentence as referring to Christ, the Lord. Such an interpretive move is not uncommon in the New Testament. For example, take Isaiah 45:22-23, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” The Apostle Paul applies these words to Christ. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow. And every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

Christ will come again “with many thousands of His holy ones.” Matthew 25:31 describes the scene “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him.” Since holy ones (ἁγίαις) can refer to saints, Calvin indicates that these words include “both men of faith, and the angels” (Commentary on Jude, 332). Christ and his entourage come for judgment. He will “execute judgment upon all,” believers and unbelievers alike. “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32-33). To His sheep, Christ will say, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

But our Lord will convict and sentence “all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 17). The ungodly include all those who died in the wilderness, lacking faith in the promised savior (Jude 5). The ungodly are those who, like Sodom and Gomorrah, engage in gross immorality (Jude 7). The ungodly are people like Cain who are ruled by anger, people like Balaam who appear to speak for God but do so only for financial gain, and rebels like Korah, who impudently challenge the authority of Christ (Jude 4, 11).

Jude 17 describes the ungodly further. They are grumblers; they have nothing good to say about anything; they cast a negative shadow on all of life. The dark side of life consumes them. Think of Israel in the wilderness longing to return to the slave pits of Egypt. They are malcontents and complainers who find fault with their food, clothing, homes, work, and families. At the same time, “they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage” (Jude 16, ESV).

They commit their “ungodly deeds in an ungodly way” (Jude 17). On the one hand, the deeds of the ungodly violate God’s standards in the Ten Commandments. On the other side, their manner stands athwart the fruit of the Spirit and comports more with the deeds of the flesh. They take the Name of Jesus lightly and often use His title, the Christ, as an expletive. But Jesus warns, “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). And in the end, He will sentence all the ungodly to a terrifying everlasting judgment, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). No wonder Jude 11 exclaims, “Woe to them!”

The prophet Nahum asks, “Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger?” (Nahum 1:6). The prophet Malachi likewise, “Who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2). Who indeed! We are all helpless sinners.

Yes, who indeed? Romans 5:6 sounds the note of grace and salvation. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:8 adds, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Yes, “Christ died for the ungodly … Christ died for us.” That is, He took the punishment due to us. He stood in our place. He died in our stead. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Denny Prutow