Jude warns the church that “certain individuals” ultimately are causing some major problems within the body of Christ’s followers. In my mind, this was always tied to the idea of some people being “false teachers”. A lot of preachers use this idea to justify never letting anyone else speak from “their pulpit” – lest they inadvertently allow false teaching to take place. In the book of 2 Peter, which is closely tied with Jude, that phrase is used – but it is absent in Jude’s writing. Certainly, leadership in the church is responsible for teaching the truth, but there is more that makes these individuals who’ve “secretly slipped in among” us so dangerous than what they may say or not say in a relationship of authority.
The dangers that Jude points out are more behavioral dangers than didactic ones. These people weren’t necessarily in positions of leadership (though some were). Their deteriorating effects began even with their initial presence, as they:
– pervert grace into immorality (God will forgive me, so...)
– deny the sole Lordship of Jesus (Who really makes the choices of your life?)
– reject authority (Can you follow another’s lead? Are you teachable?)
– speak abusively against spiritual forces they don’t understand
– think of their own desires above what others need
– grumble and find fault (“I don’t like this video/song/way of worshipping…“)
– boast of themselves and use others for personal gain
– chase after only what they want (What do you spend yourself for?)
The result of all this following after their own personal agendas and desires is the division of the church. When each chases after his own wants, we all go different directions, tearing the church apart. Jude uses some pretty strong language in describing these people – identifying them with some major errors in Jewish history and asserting their utter condemnation. He goes so far as to say that these people “do not have the Spirit.”
And here is where things get really personal for us today. Leadership in the church is not simply about running a well ordered machine. It is not merely about being an ‘upstanding member of the community’ or having nice hair and straight teeth. It’s not the same thing as being a business leader or a great CEO. Those skills may be useful – but they may also be utterly useless and sometimes detrimental to leadership if they get in the way of the Spirit.
Leadership in the church has always been about the Spirit. It is He who empowers us to do ministry. Paul reminded the Corinthians of this when he said “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence come from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” He also reminds us that the treasure of Christ is held in us as “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Our churches need to rely less on “conventional wisdom” and take to heart the fact that competence to lead comes only from God – and God often accomplishes His purpose in unconventional ways. We need the Spirit – without Him we’re spinning plates on sticks at best. It may be entertaining for a while, but it’s not really accomplishing anything meaningful.