Contend earnestly for the faith

This morning I begin teaching the epistle of Jude in Sunday school, and as I was reviewing my material early this morning, I was again reminded of Jude’s exhortation “to those called” (1:1) to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (1:3). This is my responsibility, not because I am a pastor, but because I am one of the called.

The compound verb “content earnestly” (ἐπαγωνίζομαι) is a rare term indeed, only used here in the New Testament and not once in the LXX. Uses in classical Greek are helpful where the idea of a battle or fight is emerges. In the Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains, (ed. by Louw and Nida), it reads that the verb means “to exert intense effort on behalf of something” (39.30). Jude stresses that we are in a battle for “the faith,” a reference to a body of doctrine that has been handed down to us.

With who am I to battle or contend? Sadly, the context of Jude goes on to note that the enemies in question are not outside the church, but within it! This is how the enemy attacks the faith of Christianity. B. B. Warfield stated it best when he wrote in 1894,

The chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. Mohammedanism has never made inroads upon Christianity save by the sword. Nobody fears that Christianity will be swallowed up by Buddhism. It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity. Why make much of minor points of difference between those who serve the one Christ? Because a pure gospel is worth preserving; and is not only worth preserving, but is logically (and logic will always work itself out into history) the only saving gospel (Selected Writings, vol. 2, 665-66).

Categories: Church, Doctrine, Greek

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