“And of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” Jude 22, 23
The text is difficult to translate, one reason being because of many manuscript readings at this point. But we offer the following rendering of the text:
“And, indeed, on some have mercy, discriminating (between the weak and the wilful); some save with fear, snatching (them) out of the fire, hating even the underwear blemished from the flesh.”
In verses 20 and 21, Jude had told the saints in the churches what to do about themselves; now he tells what to do about weak brethren deceived or confused by the (hopelessly, v. 12) false teachers. Some of the weaker brethren get temporarily carried away with false doctrine, especially in the time of controversy. Restore such in the spirit of meekness, not being unnecessarily severe in correcting them, nor proudly looking down on them. We ought to be happy to be reconciled with them and to have them restored to our fellowship when they give evidence of repentance and desire to resume their stand on the truth. Contrary to modern thinking that we must have laws forbidding religious and creedal discrimination, we must rather be discriminating against all who attack the Christian Faith. It is only discriminating in the legitimate, good sense to bar those from our membership who oppose the Faith once-for-all delivered to the saints and who refuse or fail to live godly in Christ Jesus. We are to be merciful, discriminating between the teachable and the intractable. An excommunicated person of true repentance and amendment of life may be, and ought to be, compassionately received back into the church, but not those who persist in stubborn resistance to the Faith and the way of godly living marked out in Scripture and the Reformed Confessions; not impenitent heretics like Hymenaeus, Philetus, Sabellius, Aruis and Socinus. It is discriminating, in the proper sense, to welcome the penitent sinner, once more returning to and conforming to the truth and godliness, and to bar and ban the apostate sinner entangled in false doctrine and a wicked manner of life. We are commanded by God to be so discriminating.
But the political hatred of and animosity to our right to be discriminating as to religion, creed, morals, mores and sex has now become a matter of dreadful threat to our whole existence as Christians. The House has already passed the so-called Civil Rights Bill of 1984 which absolutely forbids all discrimination. The Senate now (Sept. 1984) labors to pass this bill. If the president adds his signature, it will become law. Then, for example, neither our schools, seminary nor churches will be able to bar homosexuals from our ministry, pulpits, classrooms, congregations or membership. It would then be impossible to operate “underground” schools, for our children would be forced to attend public schools (where anything goes), or the state authorities could take them off, from our families, to hold in state care institutions to be educated and raised for the state. Then to reply to this statist tyranny with, “We must obey God rather than men” will mean confrontation with the most enigmatical dilemma we have ever had to face! Then Antichrist cannot be far away!
But in the discriminating way of Scripture we show compassion because God is both a discriminating God and a God of compassion. Christ is a discriminating Lord (Mat. 23) and a merciful and faithful high Priest (Heb. 2:17). It is exactly so that He saves His people from their sins.
“Some save.” This is not difficult to understand. First, consider that Paul was much concerned about his brethren, the Jews, that he “might save some of them” (Rom. 11:14). Next, Paul encourages Christians married to unbelievers to live, pray and labor to the end that “thou shalt save thy” spouse (I Cor. 7:16). Then a minister, like Timothy, by taking heed to himself and to the doctrine should “both save himself” and his hearers (I Tim. 4:16). The idea here is that as people of God, saved ourselves, we endeavor to be instruments in the salvation of others.
“Save some with fear,” that is, with the instrument of fear. Some must be dealt with more severely, denouncing with the awful judgments of God which threaten them. The fear of the last judgment and of eternal punishment must be impressed upon us at times. Also church members must fear the censures of Christian discipline. The steps of censure are awe-inspiring and we must regard them with reverential fear and holy dread. The world mocks faithful expounders of the Word as “fire and brimstone” preachers. The world taunts us with what they call our scare-talk concerning the terrors of the Lord, the torments of hell and the sufferings of everlasting damnation. But we have been told by our Lord Himself to fear God and His wrath because He is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28). Does this sort of preaching ever scare any into heaven? Better that than being laughed into hell.
But the fear we would teach them is the fear of the Lord. This is not a slavish, servile fear, which is sinful. In that kind of fear men fear God for His wrath and punishment, but hate Him for His holiness. They want God dead; they wish Him annihilated; for they wish there were no God. This sinful fear may cause a man to quit certain sins without hating sin itself. A wolf may be driven off from its prey without changing its preying and wolfish nature. So wicked sinners are not afraid to lie, die and fry in their sins. Therefore, we are to warn them to flee from the wrath to come and to snatch some of them out of the fire. This means that we will have to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:13).
“Pulling them out of the fire.” The word “pulling” means “taking by force” as the violent do (Matt. 11:12; Jn. 6:15; Acts 23:10). It means “plucking them out” (John 10:28, 29). It means to be “caught up” as the saints shall be caught up into heaven at the coming of the Lord (II Cor. 12:2, 4; I Thess. 4:17). It means to snatch them out of the fire.
“The fire,” of which Jude warns, is it merely a figure of speech? No; for according to the context (v. 7), it is the “everlasting fire” of hell; and Peter speaks of fire kept for a day of judgment (II Pet. 3:7). Lot was “as a firebrand plucked out of the burning” of Sodom and Gomorrah which, set on fire, burned down sinners to a flaming hell (Amos 4:11). Lot, indeed, was as “a brand plucked out of the fire” (Zech. 3:2).
“…hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” Jude refers to the soiled, stinking underwear, reeking with four body odor. No wonder Paul speaks of “our vile body” (Phil. 3:21)! Hating even the under-garment spotted and soiled by its contact with a filthy body—such a detestation of sin we all should have.
Some sinners are so vile that we cannot, dare not, come in contact with them, as those infected with the AIDS disease. They are not even wanted in their places of employment, not in the military, nor in the Salvation Army, nor in health clubs and bath houses, nor in hospitals, nor their dead bodies in mortuaries, lest infection from their corpses be caught and spread. Therefore, some sinners, in order to avoid the society of such evil persons, must be put away out of the church by excommunication. The true church is a holy church and by the separation of excommunication gives witness to its confession that it detests gross sin and wickedness. “A wise man feareth and departeth from evil” (Prov. 14:16).
Today, by way of TV, even on the “commercials,” the filthy garment spotted by the flesh is to be seen. Some of these garments are deliberately tailored to tempt and seduce to the lusts of the flesh, to all kinds of filthiness. These garments are purchased with the wages of unrighteousness and worn in the enjoyment of licentiousness. Not only women, but men wearing clothing too tight, too brief, and, as they say, “too sexy,” do adorn themselves with “the garment spotted by the flesh.” There is much in the garment industry that ought to be detested and loathed as dealing in the vilest rags by those who would be recognized as Christians. Some of the worst of this spotted and stained fashion is demonstrated by the sons of Belial who don female array (transvestites). There was a man who wore outwardly decent dress suits, but who continually put on effeminate airs. Doing so he defiled his garments. They were spotted by his sinful flesh in a very offensive way. The Christian must continually be hating this sort of thing. Only then shall he “keep himself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27).
Joshua the high priest stood before the Angel of the Lord, but he was clothed with filthy garments (Zech. 3:3). Satan stood there, too, as an adversary against him. But the Lord rebuked the devil for disputing the salvation of the priest, snatched him as a brand out of the fire and in mercy took away his filthy garments, caused his iniquity to pass away and clothed him with a change of clean raiment. So we are to have compassion on lost sons and daughters; so we are to discriminate between the weak (Rom. 14) and the wilful (II John 10); so we are to save some by means of fear—fear not only of the consequences of sin, but also of the awful, deadly contagion of sin. We will hate even the sweaty, stained underwear defiled from our flesh. If we do, we will flee the wrath to come, flee youthful lusts, flee, as Joseph did, even the garment spotted by the flesh (the touch) of a lascivious, lewd woman. We will pray, “I flee to Thee to hide me,” fleeing to the Cross of Christ and the Christ of the Cross and there wash all our sins away.