I wrote about Jude 3 a few days ago. That post motivated me to study the passage in more detail. The verse is really a profound statement, vv. 3-4 serving as Jude’s thesis statement for the epistle.
I preached on the passage this past Sunday. The message really centered around the dominant word of the passage and was entitled simply, “Contend”. This post reflects some of my observations from that sermon.
On my computer, I have something like 18 different English translations of the Bible. The Greek word used here, epagonizomai, is translated by all but two of them as ‘contend’. The outliers are Tyndale’s old NT, “ye shuld continually laboure in the fayth” and Young’s Literal Translation, “exhorting to agonize for the faith”. Hopefully you can see that ‘agonize’ is a bit of a transliteration rather than a translation. Our English word ‘agonize’ is picturesque, but it doesn’t really communicate the meaning of the word.
As noted in the earlier post, epagonizomai means “to exert intense effort on behalf of something—‘to struggle for’”1 [as opposed to antagonizomai, ‘to struggle against’]; and it “signifies ‘to contend about a thing, as a combatant’ (epi, ‘upon or about,’ intensive, agon, ‘a contest’), ‘to contend earnestly,’ Jude 3. The word ‘earnestly’ is added to convey the intensive force of the preposition.”2
The word contend, then, means ‘to earnestly fight on behalf of a cause’, in this case the cause being ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’. I plan to preach on that phrase next Sunday.
Contend is a rather aggressive word. I remarked on Sunday about the difference between ‘defend’ and ‘contend’ this way: When I was a lad, I played hockey. I started out my hockey career (!) as a defenseman. I was a bit of a shy and awkward lad and thought that defense might be safer, a position where I wouldn’t hurt the team too much. Little did I know that defense meant you were the last line between you and the goalie and when you made a mistake everybody noticed!
The point of defense, though, is to react to the attacks of the opposing offense. You respond and repel, you aren’t leading an attack. The forwards, on the other hand, are generally on the offense. They are supposed to come back and help with the defense, but their role is to lead the attack in the other team’s defensive zone. They are to contend. (Of course, the analogy breaks down a bit because hockey defensemen are often key parts of the offense as well, but I think you get my point.)
So to contend is to be on the offense. To take the battle to the enemy. To attack.
Attacking in the Spirit
A regular criticism of fundamentalists, however, is the contentiousness of their contention. We sometimes parody ourselves and make jokes about it (see the audio clip on my about page), but we have to admit that fundamentalists have sometimes (often) erred in their approach to contention, in taking the battle to the enemy.
A couple of other passages inform us about the kind of contention the apostles had in mind.
The first is 2 Cor 10.3-5. The key points in this passage are these:
- We do not war according to the flesh – our contention isn’t intimidation by overwhelming force, manipulation by deceptive practices, etc.
- The weapons of our warfare are not ‘of the flesh’ – not fleshly – but instead are mighty through God to pulling down strongholds. Our weapons are different from fleshly weapons both in their nature and in their power.
- The realm of our warfare is spiritual rather than carnal – we are casting down imaginations/speculations and lofty arrogance against God.
Well, what are our weapons? That brings us to Ephesians 6.13-20, and the list of the Christians armour, first defensive:
- Belt of truth
- Breastplate of righteousness
- Boots of the gospel
- Shield of faith
- Helmet of salvation
These defenses are sure. Satan cannot overthrow us because our vitals are protected by righteousness. We must act on this by faith, but our position is secure.
But the Christian armour is not purely defensive. There are actually two offensive weapons for the spiritual battle. The first is pretty obvious in Eph 6.17b:
The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God
Our ability to carry the attack in the spiritual battle depends entirely on the power of our sword, not any inherent power or might we hold in ourselves. It behooves us, then, to be mighty in the Word if we would carry the day.
But there is another weapon. Look at Eph 6.18:
Ephesians 6:18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, [NAU]
Our sword is our offensive weapon, but it must be accompanied by another non-defensive activity: prayer. Prayer energizes every use of the Word, it is directed upward as the sword is directed outward.
In our contending, it is not a matter of belligerence and force of personality. It is a matter of being mighty in spirit, filled with the Spirit, and skilled in the use of the Word.
The subjects of contention
The last thing I want to consider in this post is ‘who is called to contend?’ I suspect that many Christians think the spiritual battles are primarily to be fought by spiritual leaders, by pastors and maybe by deacons and ‘ye who are spiritual’ as Paul mentions in Gal 6.
Let’s look at the people addressed by Jude.
Jude 1:1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:
And then note the beginning of v. 3:
Jude 1:3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation
Who is Jude addressing in his epistle? All believers in general. Not just leadership. Not just the spiritual. Not just pastors. But all believers.
This business of contending is an imperative – a command – for all believers. Everyone needs to grow in the faith so that they are able to contend intelligently. And everyone needs to grow in the Spirit so that everyone is able to contend spiritually.
Next, we will look at the objective of earnest contention. Stay tuned.