Dear Beloved in Christ,
“These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear,
serving only themselves.” (Jude 12)
Several years ago, I remember reading a children’s book about lighthouses to Luke and Jude. The story focused upon a family charged with keeping the lights in the lighthouse burning. With the father needing to make a trip to get much needed supplies, the oldest daughter was charged with this most important task. She was hesitant as she clearly understood the grave responsibility it was to warn passing ships of the approaching shoreline and the dangerous reefs nearby. In addition to that tension in the story, the father who had anticipated being home that same day was delayed at a distant port due to a sudden storm arising. That meant that the young girl was in charge of making sure that the light was brightly burning—the light that would safely guide ships through the dangerous storm. Both boys were enraptured as the story went on to its happy conclusion—and I am sure our older three were also listening and enjoying the story, as well. As is so often the case, stories written for children contain profound truths that are important for adults to remember as we live in this fallen world. The boys and I had a nice, brief talk about the importance of lighthouses and they understood. But there is so much more that they need to understand and, by God’s grace, we pray that they will.
The verse quoted above from the book of Jude provides an excellent parallel to all that we are learning in our study of 2 Corinthians. Perhaps, like me, you’ve asked this question regarding the false teachers in the city of Corinth: “How was it possible that such false teachers were able to come into the church at Corinth and lead some of its members to reject Paul and the Gospel he preached among them for 18 months?” The thing to remember in both these examples is that these men who came in were cunning and crafty—men who had a hidden agenda intent on keeping it concealed until optimal damage could be done. Remember, Paul referred to the false teachers in Corinth as ministers of Satan—the one who transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). If you will imagine holding in your hands 50 bright, clear and shining marbles and then taking a dark, black marble and placing it on top of the others, you along with any young child would be able to pick out the one that was different and did not belong. Now take that same handful of marbles and place them in a clear vase along with the dark one, mixing them all together and assuring that the dark one was buried amid the others. The darkness would still be there but it would not be as evident and perhaps for some would appear to go unnoticed. And yet, we would know that it was still there, as a spot or blemish amidst the bright and shining ones—like a cancerous cell, mutated and filled with deadly power, among healthy and normal cells. This was exactly the situation among many congregations in the early church.
In the verse quoted above (verse 12), Jude says that things had become so dangerous that these false, ungodly teachers were seated with God’s people at arguably one of the most intimate times in the life of any church. Love feasts were the occasion in the early church where the Lord’s Supper would be most often celebrated. It was a time of gathering for the church where a meal would be served, teaching would take place and the sacrament would be celebrated. The community of faith, each looking out for the interests of others as would be consistent with the whole meaning and intention of the Lord’s Table, was marred by these spots and blemishes at the feast who only served themselves. What is most striking about this passage is that the word Jude uses here for “spots” is one that usually means rocks or hidden reefs. What he is saying is that they are not just spots that mar the beauty of the gathered body of Christ, but they are also dangerous reefs that could cause the faith of some to come crashing down even as a ship is destroyed by hidden reefs along the coast, not visible from the surface. “Open your eyes,” Jude says, “you have become complacent!” In a similar way, Paul says to the Corinthian believers, “Look at what is right before your eyes” (2 Corinthians 10:7). We know from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians that there was a similar kind of danger around their celebration of the Lord’s Supper: “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18, 19). Paul was calling the Corinthians to return to the Gospel he had preached among them even as Jude was calling God’s people to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 3).
That is the only remedy as we too face the same cunning enemy with the same evil desires. For a church to be awake to these things she must ever press on in the most holy faith, resting in and looking unto Christ as He is proclaimed in the Gospel. He shines brightly in the Word faithfully preached and taught, and in the sacraments and church discipline rightly administered. I am grateful that today such truths recaptured in the Reformation, the light shining out of the darkness, which make up the faith once for all delivered unto the saints—Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Soli Deo Gloria—still guide us here at Grace PCA. But it may not always be so and we must forever be diligent, never resting, staying on our guard against any such as would seek to creep in unnoticed. The battle ever remains now—our true rest comes later when we will forever be with the Lord.
As you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table this week, do so looking unto Jesus, that Light of the world Who shines brightly in Word and Sacrament. He is that true Lighthouse whose light never goes out and will safely guide us into that true haven of rest as we sail the waters of His abounding mercy and grace, though now fraught with hidden reefs. He is able to keep us—and He promises that He will!
Looking unto Him, Who shines brightly in Word and Sacrament,
March 29, 2017
“Fighting the Good Fight”
Body of letter