22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 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.
Baptists do not have saints…or at least not officially so! In reality, however, we kind of do. Or, at the least, there are figures we have revered and canonized in a sense. For Southern Baptists, one such person would be Lottie Moon, the famed missionary to China in whose name Southern Baptists contribute to the cause of international missions every Christmas through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Yes, even Southern Baptists who do not know exactly who Lottie Moon was know that her name is revered.
But did you know that Lottie Moon was once in love?!
In a fascinating article entitled “Lottie Moon’s Romance,” Erich Bridges wrote of Lottie Moon’s relationship with Professor Crawford Toy and what appeared to doom it from becoming a marriage.
Years before, during her education at Virginia’s Albemarle Female Institute, Lottie had met Crawford Toy, a young professor who taught there and at the University of Virginia. Toy was a brilliant teacher of English and classical languages, and Lottie was his star student.
“Girls were known to develop serious crushes on the eligible Professor Toy,” who was both single and handsome, writes Catherine Allen in her biography of Lottie, The New Lottie Moon Story, (Broadman). Lottie was charmed by Toy, and the attraction seems to have been mutual.
The two corresponded for years after Lottie left the Institute. Both were interested in missionary service, and they may have discussed marriage before she went to China for the first time. But Lottie had seen other bright, ambitious women like herself rushed into unhappy marriages, and she may have hesitated…
Still, Toy and Lottie kept up a regular correspondence, and their romantic attraction seems to have endured. But Toy’s career took a sad turn. He had become a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and his views came under fire in the denomination.
“Toy had been educated in the German school of ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible and apparently questioned the authority and reliability of Scripture as accepted by the churches of the denomination,” Rankin writes. “His views became evident when he (later) became a Unitarian. Lottie may have recognized the incompatibility of his teaching with a basic doctrine of her faith: that all who have yet to come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are lost, whether in China or America.”
Toy was asked to resign from the seminary faculty in 1879. Yet even after he began teaching at Harvard, Toy and Lottie considered marriage. She informed her missionary colleagues that she was leaving the mission field to “take the professor of Hebrew’s chair at Harvard University in connection with Dr. Toy,” according to a September 1881 letter written by China missionary T.P. Crawford.
Harvard would not employ women professors for another 40 years. The “connection with Dr. Toy” was apparently to be marriage. Lottie asked family members in Virginia to prepare for a wedding in the spring.
No wedding ever occurred. Perhaps Lottie could not accept Toy’s liberal theological views. Relatives of Toy understood that the pair broke their engagement because of “religious differences.”
Lottie Moon apparently broke off a relationship with a man she deeply loved over his drift into theological liberalism. It is fascinating to read about this. Love mattered to Lottie, but so did doctrine and truth.
All of this raises an important question: What do you do when a person you know drifts from truth into error, from orthodoxy into heresy?
Jude, who has spent a good bit of his letter cautioning the church about false teachers, concludes his letter by speaking to these believers about how to respond to three different groups of people: (1) believers honestly struggling with doubt, (2) those who have rejected Christ, and (3) heretics and false teachers who not only have rejected Christ but want others to reject Him as well. Consider these three groups.
To the doubting, show mercy.
Jude begins with those who doubt. He appears to be speaking here of the honest Christian who has honest doubts. Concerning these he says:
22 And have mercy on those who doubt
There are Christians who, by temperament or disposition or spiritual constitution, seem immune to doubt. They have never wrestled with the truth claims of the faith. They have believed and never questioned. To these, I say, “God bless you!” This is a wonderful state to be in.
However, others who have come to Christ in genuine faith and repentance do go through seasons of doubt. Perhaps it is due to tragic loss, or intense pain, or prolonged suffering. Perhaps it pertains to disposition or spiritual constitution. Perhaps it is due to being confronted with questions for which the doubter has no answers. There are many and varied reasons why Christians struggle with doubts, but let us be clear on this: it is possible for the follower of Jesus to struggle with doubt.
Emily Dickinson, in poem 501, wrote of how one may be active in church and yet still struggle with doubts.
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit-
Strong Hallelujahs roll-
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul-
That is well said. Sometimes even the Hallelujahs of worship cannot stop “the tooth that nibbles at the soul,” that is, doubt. And what should be our posture toward the honestly-doubting Christian?
22 And have mercy on those who doubt
Why? Because doubt can attack any believer, perhaps especially the Christian who considers himself or herself immune from this.
Be merciful to the doubter. Do not rebuke the one who is honestly struggling. Listen. Pray. Try to understand. Turn to the scriptures with that person. But do not show anger or haughtiness. After all, why would you feel any anger toward this struggling believer? Show mercy.
I have seen, as a pastor, some truly deplorable examples of Christians showing rage or a lack of empathy or hard-heartedness or superiority toward the doubting. I have seen the damage it has done.
I recall hearing a brother tell of returning to his home church from college laden with questions about the Bible: how we got the Bible, how it was compiled, questions of manuscripts, questions of canonization, etc. He said that when he raised these questions with his pastor in a sincere desire to find answers the pastor looked at him and said, “Do not ever raise such questions in this church again.” As if his merely asking these questions was a sin or an act of rebellion!
Would you like to know what would have been better? This: “Those are all good and interesting questions. Let’s meet and talk this week about this. Thanks for coming to me with this!” In other words, the pastor could have shown mercy and empathy. In fact, he should have.
Here is what I have come to believe: the Christian who reacts with hostility to the honest questions of the doubter is likely a Christian who is himself or herself uncertain about his or her faith. Anger is oftentimes a mask for insecurity. There is also some fear behind this anger. Is it not possible that the angry responder deep down knows that he or she has not done the requisite study to be able to answer these kinds of questions and they are themselves fearful of the answers? Or perhaps they are ashamed: ashamed at their own failure to know the faith well enough to at least point the questioner to good sources that can help.
Brothers and sisters, the honest questioner deserves the open ear and tender heart and mercy of the church!
Brothers and sisters, if the gospel is true then it can withstand honest questions.
If your children or grandchildren approach you with questions, you do have the option of angrily screaming, “Stop being woke!” or whatever. But let me ask you: are your children or grandchildren not worth an attempt to hear them, to understand what spiritual or intellectual or emotional struggles they are facing, and to help them?
Some might see this very call to mercy as being “woke”! Perish the thought. Jude calls us to mercy toward the doubter. The puritan Thomas Manton wrote:
Reproofs must be given with compassion and holy grief. Our words must have mercy in them. This is to be like God. “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). There are tears in his eyes when he has a rod in his hand. This is to be like Christ. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” Luke 19:41).
Show mercy, church, toward the honest doubter!
To the rejecting, snatch from the fire.
The next step on the latter is a position of greater spiritual hardening. I am speaking here of the one who has rejected Christ. It is likely that Jude is referring here to the one has never believed. The imagery of fire evokes the idea of hell and would suggest lostness.
23a-b save others by snatching them out of the fire
We must “snatch out of the fire” the one who has rejected the faith!
The image comes from Zechariah 3 and the Lord calling Joshua “a brand plucked from the fire” in his rebuke of Satan.
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”
We are to strive to pluck the one who rejects the gospel from the fire in just this same way! Plead with the lost to be saved! I ask you: Do you feel an urgency toward the lost? Do you feel brokenhearted concerning their eternal fate?
Spurgeon once said:
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.
That is a picture of the heart that yearns to pluck the lost from the fire! That is the heart that is broken for the one who has rejected Christ! Or think of Paul in Romans 9. You can see and hear and feel his heart breaking for the lost.
1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
A willingness to be cut off from Christ himself if doing so would lead to the salvation of the Jews.
This is the posture we should have toward those who reject Christ! Is this how you feel about the lost? Do you care? Do you weep? Do you yearn for the lost to know Jesus?
When we look at the book of Acts we see that Paul, wherever he goes, immediately goes to the synagogues to preach the gospel to his kinsmen, the Jews. This is what it looks like to strive to snatch the lost out of the fire!
Do you do this? Are you presenting the gospel to the lost? Do you care?
To the heretics, show fearful mercy and righteous rejection.
Mercy to the doubting. Pleading with the lost. But what of the false teachers, the heretics seeking to shipwreck the faith of others? Of these, Jude writes:
23c-e to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
We show fearful mercy and righteous rejection of false teachers. What we righteously reject is their false teachings and the sinful fruit of these teachings, what Jude calls “the garment stained by the flesh.” Gene Green writes of this image of the stained garment:
The “tunic” (χιτῶνα, chitōna; Matt. 5:40; Luke 6:29; John 19:23; ADB 2:236) was the inner garment worn next to the flesh as opposed to the outer toga (ἱμάτιον, himation). More than one tunic could be worn at a time (Matt. 10:10; Mark 6:9; 14:63; Luke 3:11; 9:3). This would be the garment most likely to become soiled by the body or, as Jude says, ἀπὸ τῆς σαρκὸς ἐσπιλωμένον (apo tēs sarkos espilōmenon). A “stain” (σπίλος, spilos) could be a literal stain or spot, such as that caused by dirt or paint (LSJ 1628), but the term could take on a figurative moral sense (Eph. 5:27; 2 Pet. 2:13). In a similar way, the verb could have a literal sense but could also refer to becoming morally defiled (Wis. 15:4; T. Ash. 2.7; James 3:6; LSJ 1628; BDAG 938).
We must reject the tunics, the sinful fruit, of the false teacher. You will perhaps remember that more than once Jude points out that the false teachers were not only doctrinally compromised but also morally corrupted. This was their garment stained by the flesh and this must be rejected! The church father Clement of Alexandria wrote that “[t]he spotted tunic of the soul is a spirit which has been corrupted by worldly lusts.”
We must hate the sinful behavior of the false teachers while yet desiring their salvation. E. Michael Green interprets these words to mean, “They are to retain their hatred of sin even as they love the sinner.” This is the balance we must strike.
And we must “show mercy with fear.” Just as we do with the honest doubter, we “show mercy.” Yes, but with the false teacher is added a nuance: “mercy with fear.” Fear of what? Fear for the false teacher’s soul but also fear lest we too be pulled into his corruptions.
In an article posted at the North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature, the story is told of how the apostle John allegedly once encountered the notorious heretic Cerinthus in a bathhouse and how John reacted to this encounter.
Irenaeus summarizes the teachings of Cerinthus (1.26.1), and claims that John composed the Fourth Gospel “to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men” (3.11.1). An interpersonal conflict between these two Asiatic figures is most explicit in the Story of John Meeting Cerinthus. Irenaeus recounts:
There are also those who heard from him [Polycarp] that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us flee, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”
Say what you will about this fascinating tradition—and there appears to be no real reason to reject it—it certainly demonstrates how much John feared the wrath of God against heretical and church-destroying teachers and teachings.
And yet, we are to “show mercy with fear.” Even with the heretic our heart breaks and we pray for his or her salvation. We hate the tunic of sin even as we yearn for the false teacher’s repentance. We must not draw so close to the false teacher that we are pulled into his or her orbit, yet we must not stay so far away that we fail to pray for his or her salvation or even confront him or her in the Lord.
To the doubting, show mercy.
To the rejecting, strive with broken hearts to snatch them from the fire.
To the false teacher, hate the wicked fruits and yearn for their repentance.
Jude now concludes his letter.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 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.
All is summed up in this great picture: our God is great and He, through Christ, can “keep you from stumbling and…present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”
In other words, you need not fall away! You need not walk away! You are not doomed to fail! The Lord will see you through! The Lord will get you across the finish line!
Love Jesus! Walk with Jesus! Do not walk away! He will never walk away from you!
 Ralph C. Wood. “Jesus Thrown Everything Off Balance: Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, and Flannery O’Connor on the Necessity of Christian Radicalism in the Study of Literature.” Theology in the Service of the Church: Essays Presented to Fisher H. Humphreys. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008), p.205.
 Thomas Manton. Jude. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Series editors Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), p.211.
 Green, Gene. Jude and 2 Peter. (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 128). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Gerald Bray, ed. James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. New Testament XI (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p.257.
 Green, E. Michael. 2 Peter and Jude. 18 (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 217). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.