Note: This is another in the occasional verse by verse series through the book of Jude. For past expositions, see the “Jude Exposition” label below.
Jude 1:23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
In v. 23 we have another imperative. The main verb is “save” (sozete).
As an aside, we see here another significant textual issue in this verse. Modern translations do not have one main verb ("save") but two, adding again “have mercy.” So:
NIV Jude 1:23 snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear-- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
NASB Jude 1:23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
The choice of translation is by no means insignificant! Again, we will prefer the traditional rendering where the main (and only) finite verb is “save.”
We acknowledge from the start that Jude did not think it was in man’s power to save, in the sense of ultimate spiritual salvation. “Salvations is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Jude either is encouraging the saints to be the instrument through which God saves others. Or, he is speaking temporally, encouraging believers to be involved in rescuing or salvaging those who are in dire spiritual and physical danger. The end, of course, would also be for the spiritual good of that person.
The call is modified by the prepositional phrase “with fear” [en phobo; with reverence, with awe].
Then there are two supporting participles.
First, “pulling them out of the fire.” This accentuate the danger of their predicament and the urgency that is called for. This is not something that can wait for a few months, weeks, days , or even hours. It cannot wait minutes or seconds. Sinners are like men who are camping and who have rolled over in their sleep into the fire. They must be awakened before they are consumed and it is too late.
There is likely an allusion here to the prophet Zechariah:
Zechariah 3:1 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. 2 And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? 3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. 4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
We are to see unconverted sinners as like men caught in a burning house and they must be pulled out to safety.
When John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was five years old, his family’s home burned down and he was rescued from the burning building. Looking back on that event Wesley often called himself “a brand plucked from the burning” when he reflected on God’s providential sparing of his physical life. No doubt, he also understood how God had plucked him out of a danger in a spiritual sense.
Second, “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” A person might be pulled from the fire but his clothing might still be blackened and reeking of smoke from that fire. The point: We are to have compassion on the lost without in any way approving of their ungodly lifestyle. Jude would have been wary of those who claim that we need to accommodate the Christian message to the culture by taking up worldly ways. No, we are to hate the garment spotted by the flesh.
We need to be very careful as well of a simplistic “God hates the sin and loves the sinner” mentality. For one thing, the Bible teaches that God not only hates sin but he also hates sinners (see, for example, Psalm 5:5: “thou hatest all workers of iniquity”). Jude exhorts believers to minister to and to rescue those sinking down in the sin.
Jude closes this little epistle with a call for discerning compassion. It is a call for believers to see themselves as instruments of God’s peace, as means of his deliverance. We are to be God’s fire-fighters, entering burning buildings and pulling out victims.
• How can a believer be used as a means of saving sinners?
• How is evangelism like pulling victims from a fire?
• How can we do evangelism with those most trapped by sin without approving of their wicked lifestyles?
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