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).