Jude 1:22-23 “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others, show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
A seminary professor of mine once said to our class, “When your seminary has to establish a chair, a department head, for missions and evangelism, you know that the end is near for your school, and maybe your church.” Why? Isn’t it a good thing to put an emphasis on mission work and outreach?
His point was that every class at the seminary is already about the missionary work of the church – every doctrine class, every New Testament class, every Old Testament class, every practical class. If learning the gospel doesn’t teach us, “Share this good news with others,” what will? Did the shepherds need classes to teach them to tell Bethlehem about the Savior in the manger? If we know God’s love and believe God’s love, do we need to be told, “Maybe you could share this with someone else”?
Jude urges a gospel concern for the souls of others here. “Be merciful to those who doubt.” This isn’t being kind in a physical way–feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick and the poor, though those are good, biblical things to do as well. This is the mercy that helps them get over their doubts and put their trust in Jesus.
People have not changed so much since Jude wrote this letter nearly 2000 years ago. We still run into skeptics who think the Bible is unreasonable. Their numbers are growing. Some of them are hardcore. A man I visited on an evangelism call once told me at the door, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”
Others simply have unspoken questions that bother them and get in the way of faith. It is not our job to answer all their questions. Frankly, some things about God and grace are more than we can understand. But God never asked us to figure him out. He invites us to trust him. And for that, people need to hear about the love that sacrificed everything to save us from our sins.
With some people, our gospel sharing takes on a special urgency: “snatch others from the fire and save them.” Maybe they are old or sick, and time is running out. Maybe they are living a particularly self-destructive life, and they need us to intervene before they do something foolish and it is too late. Maybe this is a chance meeting, an opportunity we will never have with this person again. Seize the opportunity before it’s too late.
As we show mercy to those who still need to meet Jesus, Jude wants us to realize the hazards of our work: “…to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” The arguments of the skeptics may sound compelling and reasonable to us. The kinds of sins that promise pleasure almost certainly will sound appealing to us. That doesn’t mean we should withhold mercy, avoid the people who are spiritually dying in a sinful lifestyle, and keep our mouths shut. It means that we need to have a healthy fear for the power of temptation to infect our own faith and life. It’s like a contagious disease we can even catch from contact with a sick person’s clothes. Have you ever visited someone in the hospital so contagious you had to put on a paper gown and mask before you entered the room? Do you remember how careful medical staff had to be during the COVID outbreak? Frontline hospital workers often ended up fighting the disease themselves.
With the sin-sick, it is still our task and privilege to come to the rescue. But don’t end up a victim of the sin that makes them sick. We need a proper sense of respect for the temptation sin presents to us as well.
Help is coming. Jesus’ mercy will soon bring us home. Don’t wait to pass his mercy along.