Are you a bit nervous about family togetherness this Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Let’s look again at the book of Jude. It is interesting to note that Jude (or Judah in Hebrew, Judas in Greek) was Jesus’s younger brother (Matthew 13:55) and did not believe Jesus was the Messiah until he saw Jesus alive after the crucifixion. He wrote this letter before 65-67 A.D. to call out people who were causing divisions in the churches. It was circulated among the early churches and accepted by the early church leaders in the second century. All to say, it is inspired and worthy of a careful reading.
Besides spotting these people, Jude urged us all to contend for the faith within the family of believers. To contend means to state something in a strong and definite way. Can you state the gospel in a strong and definite way? Why not stop and see if you can? “The good news of Christ Jesus is that……..”
We should be able to defend the gospel against false representations that leave important things out. For instance, these people were claiming their faithfulness, while at the same time, living for their own gain and not being gentle, kind, or self-controlled. They talked about Jesus as their Savior but wanted to swim along in their own ways of living without regard for his commands. Part of contending is to spot them and realize how they are perverting the gospel. Once that perversion becomes acceptable, it will be passed down and the gospel will be lost. And this is true in our own families as well as the church.
When I was a young adult, the whole idea of living a life requiring repentance and using the Moral Law as a standard of right living began to slip away. There was a lot of talk about Jesus as your Savior, but almost nothing about living a life of humble obedience to his teaching. It took much strong defense of the gospel to expose this wrong teaching. And those who had ministries based on the Savior not Lord idea fought back with cries of “Repentance is a work -based religion!” “You are being judgmental!” “You think you are better than other people.” My pastor, Ernest Reisinger, took a lot of heat when his book, “Today’s Evangelism,” exposed how this perversion of the gospel led to giving people false assurance about their own standing before God.
Now the problem is that when you are being called names, it is easy to slip from strongly defending the truth into a contentious spirit that ruffles every time someone crosses you. Defense of the faith is very different from contentiousness. Contentiousness can break up a church or a family because the attitude wears one out.
What Does Contentiousness Look Like?
- Always bringing up secondary issues. If all you talk about is your longing for a certain type of music, or your belief that the Presbytery form of government is the best, or that infant baptism is bad (or good), or your favorite version of the Bible is the only legitimate one, or that children should stay for the whole service, or that homeschooling is the only way…..then you have become contentious. It is okay to strongly defend your position, but none of these is what Jude is talking about here.
- Cutting off fellowship from someone who disagrees with you. You state your case and walk away. It is your way or the highway. You are only comfortable around others who home school….or only around those who don’t! This is not contending for the gospel at all; it is feeling insecure about a lifestyle choice.
- Having a wearisome tendency to quarrel or disagree. Hold your tongue when you catch yourself bringing something up again and again. Proverbs 20:3 says, “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.” When you have spotted someone who is changing the gospel, keep your eye on them and don’t vote them into a leadership position or attend their Bible classes or read their blogs. But, bringing up an issue over and over again is not the way to strongly defend the essentials of the gospel or to win your cousin to Christ.
- Having a belligerent, harsh, or arrogant attitude. That is no way to defend the gospel of grace. Do you think this man who grew up with Jesus would tell you to be belligerent and mean? I can’t picture Jesus being mean to his younger brothers who did not believe in him, but he did not back down or go home with them when they thought he had lost his mind. Arrogance never wins anyone to the gospel.
- Dropping an “Iron Curtain” down between those who “believe the Truth” and liberals or someone who believes in women serving as deacons or elders. No discussion! It works both ways. Many liberals in Christian circles immediately write off as ignorant someone who claims the Bible is truth. I have observed elders who build a wall like this between themselves and anyone who opposes their program of church growth or music or worship sequence. They have determined what is “right” and anyone who opposes them is labeled as a trouble-maker. That is not contending for the faith at all; it is failing to lead with gentleness and humility. Walls like this don’t build bridges; they keep people out. The same thing can happen in a family where the father uses his headship to control and rule with an iron hand.
Contentiousness in the church will be like throwing cold water on a fire; it will quench the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit doesn’t comfort, empower, strengthen, enlighten…..Watch Out! Dead orthodoxy or even worse is on the way.
All of this can be applied to our family life.
“It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman’ (Proverbs 21:19).
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words” (Proverbs 23:9).
Contentiousness can destroy marriages and holidays with your extended family members. If your sister-in-law is a fool or a scoffer, drop the discussion when she rages on about her politics or promiscuity. . Don’t become contentious or arrogant or you will never get the opportunity to explain the gospel to her. Instead, respond to her kindly even though she doesn’t really deserve it. Wait for your adult daughter to ask you how you are facing your cancer with such dignity before you tell her AGAIN how the Holy Spirit strengthens you.
A desert can be a terrible place to live and, especially, alone.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
Know when to contend for the gospel and when to keep your mouth shut –whether in the church or in the family.