Jude 12-13 (NLT)
12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.[a]They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots.13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.
When I was in elementary school, letters sent home to parents from school were written in two languages. One side of the ditto sheet had words in English and if you flipped over to the back the same letter was there in Spanish. One day, walking home from school, I happened to look at the Spanish side and stopped dead in my tracks as I discovered, to my great surprise, I could read Spanish. You see, I had never learned Spanish. Occasionally, I had heard it being spoken around me, but I never thought twice about it. Yet there I stood, reading Spanish. For a brief moment, I thought I was a genius. I could pronounce the words out loud, this language I had never learned. Of course, I didn’t understand a thing I read. They were hollow words to me, empty of meaning. I could mouth the words, though nothing registered in my head.
I think this is, for many of us, a fitting analogue to our life of faith. We have grown up with the language of faith spoken all around us. Or, we’ve heard it in passing often enough that we feel like we understand it. At the very least, we know how to say the words: mercy, peace and love. There are Bible stories we could recite backwards and forwards along with all of their attendant lessons, or so we think. Yet, they fail to register in our hearts. We’ve been spoon-fed so many formulas of faith that there is little vibrancy left to our faith anymore. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we like this kind of spiritual pampering. “Just tell me the answers and don’t expect me to actually think about my faith.” Though of course we’d never put it so crudely.
But that’s a bad idea because there are dangers lurking like the kind described in Jude 12-13. There are people who manipulate the gospel message to suit their own needs, “shameless in the way they care only about themselves” (v. 12). There are false teachers, prophets who will speak words to satisfy not only the itch in their hearer’s ears but the lusts of their own hearts. Because of this danger, we must be more discriminating in our faith, more discerning with the words we hear. Not all Christian books are equal. Not everything you hear on the Christian radio is necessarily true. They all bear checking with the words of the Bible. The words of God never ask us to check our brains at the door. If anything, rigorous study of the Bible bears rewarding fruits of insight and life change and edification.
They’re not much up to snuff, these false teachers, according to Jude. They are like clouds without rain and trees without fruit (v. 12). If only we would take seriously the important task of owning and knowing our faith, not simply as something we hear around us and take for granted, but as truths which can stand up to our study and scrutiny. What matters is that we’re willing to think about our faith, to work through what we believe, so that we are not easily misled by “shepherds who feed only themselves” (v. 12 NIV).
What can you do to make your reading and hearing of Scripture more engaging and more meaningful so that ultimately you can come to have greater ownership over your faith?
by Rev. Peter Choi
*This devotional first appeared in Encounter Monthly Journal, February 2006