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Spots in the Church's Love

THE REFORMED WITNESS HOUR

Message title: Spots in the Church’s Love
Broadcast date: November 8, 2015 (#3801)
Radio speaker: Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma

Dear Radio Friends,

Introduction

        Jude warns the church of his day that certain men had crept into the confines of the church—ungodly men—men who were not believers.  They had revealed their unbelief by living a life of lasciviousness, that is, a life of lust and wantonness.  These men were bold in their sins, defiant against God and the church.  These men defied the officebearers in the church and continued on in their lust and sexual sins as, to use the words of Jude in verse 10, brute beasts corrupting themselves.  In our last broadcast we took special note of their defiance.  They despised dominion, that is, they despised those who had the rule in the church.  They spoke evil of dignities, that is, they spoke out against God Himself and God’s glory, His attributes.  Jude tells God’s saints that these ungodly men in their defiance were as Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities God destroyed.

        In verses 11-13 Jude pronounces woe upon these men in their sin.  We read, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.  These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear:  clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”  These wicked men had entered into the folds of the church and even now were destroying the fellowship and unity of the saints.  Where the church is a place of love and charity, they had made it a place of contention by their murmuring and complaining.  To prove this, Jude points out that these men were spots in the church’s feasts of charity.

SPOTS IN THE CHURCH’S LOVE

I.    The Meaning

        The instruction of the few verses we consider today swirls around the phrase “feasts of charity.”  We read of this at the beginning of verse 12, “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear.”  We are interested in what these feasts of charity were in the church.  The term “charity” is not unfamiliar to us.  It comes from the Greek word for love.  That is its basic meaning:  love.  The feasts of which our text speaks were love feasts.  They were called agape feasts.  We will return to that in a moment.  But we must recognize that these feasts flowed out of a genuine love that God works in the hearts of those whom He saves.  When God calls His people out of the darkness of sin and unto salvation in Jesus Christ, He performs a wonderful work of His grace in their hearts.  Those who were at one time characterized by hatred against God and the neighbor have become new creatures in Christ.  The principle of a new life has replaced that of the old life of hatred, hostility, bitterness, and envy. 

        You see, God is love.  He is not just a God of love, but God is love.  Within His divine Being there is an intimate life of love and fellowship that God carries on within Himself. He is a triune God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is between these three Persons within the Being of God a perfect life of love that binds them together into one.  The love that God has in Himself is unknown to the wicked, unbelieving world.  It is an unchanging love rooted in the holiness of these Persons.  They are drawn to one another in that holiness, and in knowledge they seek one another.  That love within God He has chosen to reveal to the creature outside of Himself, namely, to man.  For that reason God, in the highest act of love, came down to us in the Person of the Son.  The Son of God was born into our human flesh and dwelt among us.  Christ was sent here with a purpose, of course.  He was sent here for the specific purpose of laying down His life on the cross in order to save those whom God had given to Him from eternity—God’s elect.  Christ Himself declared in John 17:2 that He had received power from God to give eternal life to as many as God had given to Him.

        The death of Christ was necessary, of course, because all men as they fell into sin in Adam lost their love.  They became engulfed in hatred—hatred toward God and the neighbor.  That is the very nature of sin—it is hatred and pride.  But God sent His Son into the world, and Christ took upon Himself the sins and the hatred of His people and bore God’s punishment for those sins.  Furthermore, Christ both through His death and His resurrection destroyed the power and dominion sin had over us.  By destroying this power of sin, God has shed abroad His love in our hearts.  That love of God now found in us is a result of the work of sanctification in our hearts.  God has cleansed us from sin and has made us holy.  In that holiness we are able to love.  God’s love does not tolerate sin.  It does not overlook sin.  It does not ignore sin.  Love is the bond of perfectness, the bond of holiness.  Because we are holy we love God who is holy and Jesus Christ who is holy, and we love God’s saints who are holy in the blood of Christ!

        The result of this spiritual reality is that the church is the place where God’s love is found.  This is where God’s people dwell together in sweet accord.  And they love each other.  No, not perfectly, sad to say.  There is still sin in us, and that sin at times gets in the way of a perfect love for each other.  After all, love exists between two holy people, and we are not perfect, are we?  That is why there can be disputes between believers too.  But in the church there is also confession and forgiveness.  And as a result, believers in the church live in love with each other.  Notice, the emphasis on the word believers.  The ungodly men of whom Jude speaks had also crept into the church unawares.  They were not believers, and they therefore had become spots in the life of love that ought to exist in the church.

        Believers show their love for each other by using their gifts on behalf of the church.  In other words, love reveals itself in this:  God’s saints lend of their lives to the church and to other saints.  There is a communion, a fellowship, that exists among them that flows out of a desire to share of their time, talents, and money for the church—for their fellow saints.  There is a love-life that exists in the church—a willingness, not to take, but to give.  Not seeing how much they can get but how much they can give of themselves to others.  And it was this love in the church—this charity that resulted in what was called love-feasts or agape feasts in the early church. 

        That is the reference here in our text.  You see, in the very early church, prior to the worship service in which the Lord’s Supper was held, there was a meal shared by everyone.  Reference to this is found in Acts 2, the last few verses, and I Corinthians 11.  There was a very specific purpose to the meals.  It was an opportunity for those who had much food to share with those who had very little.  It was an opportunity for God’s saints to share what they had in common.  The meals were modest and frugal because food was not only eaten but also given to the poor to take home with them.  These agape feasts therefore were an expression of the love and benevolence of God’s people toward one another—an expression of the communion of saints.  These feasts slowly disappeared, probably because of the abuse of them that Paul speaks of in the last verses of I Corinthians 11.

        That being said, God’s assessment of these ungodly men who were walking in their sin was that they were spots in these feasts of love or charity.  Notice once again, verse 12, “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear.”  These men had no fear of God before their eyes.  They did not love God, much less the saints.  As a result, these men were coming to these feasts of charity with the purpose of feeding themselves.  They saw these feasts as reasons to indulge themselves in the food there.  It was not their intent to come and provide food for the poor but to take from others in order to satisfy their own lusts.  For that reason, Jude says, they are spots in these feasts. 

        We all know what a spot is.  When we come to the table and eat, we are careful not to spill our food on our shirts or blouses because the food will leave a spot on them.  And that spot always sticks out.  It is a blemish on our shirt.  Everyone can see it and it mars the beauty of our shirt.  Well, these men were such spots in the love that was supposed to characterize the saints.  They were a blemish.  They marred the communion of the saints and the love revealed in the act of sharing at these feasts. 

        Jude uses three examples from nature to describe the sins of these men.  First of all, they are as clouds without water, carried about by winds.  They are as dark clouds that blow in on the winds of a storm.  The expectation is that they will drop rain upon the earth replenishing the soil.  Instead these clouds have nothing to drop.  But they quickly blow over the earth without watering it.  These men had nothing to offer the church in the way of their time, talents, and money.  And they did not because they were devoid of God’s love.  They did not truly love the saints.  They were empty clouds.

        Secondly, they were trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.  They were as fruit trees that in the autumn of the year should be filled with fruit but whose fruit has withered so that they are without fruit.  But worse, these trees are dead from the inside, having been plucked out by the roots.  They bore no fruit because they were dead on the inside as well as the outside—twice dead.  So also these ungodly men in the church who were not believers.  They were dead on the inside.  The Spirit had not worked salvation in their hearts.  They had no love to offer because there was no true love within them.  As a result, they were not interested in sharing their gifts with others. 

        Certainly, we must see what the Word of God is teaching us here:  believers are connected to Jesus Christ.  They are one plant with Him.  He is the root and the trunk of the tree that bears life to us the branches.  The life of Christ produces in us the love that is in us and that we reveal to others.  If there is no willingness of labor on behalf of the church, no willingness to share with the saints our time and gifts, then the life of Christ is not in us.  These men were devoid, empty of God’s great love. 

        Finally, they were raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame.  Just as the waves of the sea bring in upon the shoreline all their foam, dead fish, and debris, so also these men not only had nothing to offer to the church, but they also brought into the church their sinful shame.  They shamed the church with their behavior.  They defamed the name of the church with the garbage, the foam, they brought in with their lasciviousness.

II.  The Reason

        The reason this was true of these men is given us in verse 11:  “they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.”  These men, Jude says, had gone in the way of Cain.  Now, I realize that the first thought that comes to mind is that Cain was the first murderer.  He slew his brother Abel because Cain was wicked.  But this cannot be the idea of our text here.  These lascivious men were not murderers.  They were guilty of unbridled lust, but they were not guilty of murder.  When we think of Cain, however, it must be in the sense of Hebrews 11:4, where we are taught that Cain did not offer a sacrifice that was pleasing to God as did Abel.  Abel offered a sacrifice by faith.  He offered a lamb because he saw his need for blood to be shed to cover his sins.  Cain, on the other hand, came before God and laid before Him the fruit of his fields, with the thought in mind that he could by his works merit God’s favor.  That is the same sin that characterized these men in Jude’s day.  They came before God in outward, formal worship, but they did not worship God from the heart.  They did not see their need for the cross of Jesus Christ.  They thought they were good enough in themselves to make it to heaven.  This is why they had no love to offer to their fellow saints.  Their worship of God was in vain.  Members of the church that were as devoid of faith as they were of love.

        These men, we are also told, ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.  Balak the king of Moab, we learn in Numbers 22-24, sent for Balaam, a false prophet of God, in order that he might curse the nation of Israel for him.  The king of Moab knew that he could not win in battle against Israel because God was on Israel’s side.  So Balak offered great riches to Balaam if Balaam would come from his home in the east to curse the nation of Israel.  Out of greed, therefore, Balaam traveled from afar.  But as much as Balaam wanted to curse Israel, God only put in his mouth words that blessed Israel.

        The point is, Balaam was a prophet of God who for money and for gain was willing to curse the nation whom God had chosen as his own.  These men in the church of Jude’s day, we are told, ran greedily after the error of Balaam.  They had joined the church because they thought it would help them in their gain.  No wonder they gorged themselves at the agape feasts of the church.  But more, these men joined the church for personal gain because they felt that it would earn them prestige in society.  Again, a warning to us too, is it not?  We do not join ourselves to the church for personal reasons, simply to find friends or a spouse or because we think it is a nice social club.  We join it because we are convinced that we must throw in our lot with fellow believers in this world.

        Finally, we learn that these men perish in the gainsaying of Korah.  The word gainsaying means simply rebellion or opposition.  Three men in the wilderness, named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, of which Korah was the chief, rebelled against Moses and Aaron.  God had appointed Moses as ruler of Israel and Aaron as high priest.  Korah rebelled against this authority.  For this rebellion God destroyed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and all those who followed them in their rebellion or opposition to Moses.  And what a horrible death they met!  The earth opened and swallowed them up, and their families, and they fell down into the earth alive and perished.  Now these men in the early church of Jude’s day were doing the same thing.  They were despising dominion.  They were rebelling against the rule of Jesus Christ in the church by means of appointed officebearers.  They were contending with the pastor and elders of the church.  They thought themselves to be equals to the pastor and elders.  So, they fought in the church, creating division, and leading many away after their evil ways.  They lifted themselves up in pride claiming to be leaders in the church just as well as the elders were.  These sins and more made these men spots in the worship and love of the church of Jesus Christ.

III. The Woe

        This is why Jude now pronounces woe upon them, that is, God’s curse upon these evil men.  That is what the term “woe” means.  In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounces His woe on the Pharisees for their legalism.  Now Jude does the same on these men for their antinomianism, their despising of God’s law.  Because of their sin God’s curse now rests upon them.  Woe unto them!  These may seem like harsh words, especially given the climate of modern Christianity today that accepts any kind of promiscuity and rebellion against authority.

        But such is the judgment of God’s Word upon those who ignore God, who ignore the work of Jesus Christ in salvation, and who ignore God’s commandments.  They are as wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever, Jude states at the end of verse 13.  These men are as wandering or shooting stars—stars that streak brightly across the night sky only to disappear forever in the blackness of the night.  These men are dying stars to whom is reserved the blackness of the darkness of everlasting condemnation.

        Oh, fellow believers, may what has been said of these men not be true of us!  God preserve us in His love shed abroad in our hearts.  May that love reveal itself in our attitude and in our dealings with one another.  May we use our gifts in the service of the church and God’s kingdom.  And may God bless us richly in this way.  May we as stars burn brightly in this world of darkness.  May we be reserved by God unto eternal life!

Bruinsma, Wilbur

Rev. Wilbur G. Bruinsma (Wife: Mary)

Ordained: October 1978

Pastorates: Faith, Jenison, MI - 1978; Missionary to Jamaica - 1984; First, Holland, MI - 1989; Kalamazoo, MI - 1996; Eastern Home Missionary - 2006; Pittsburgh PRC - 2016.

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