Summary: In this sermon Jude describes the characteristics of past heretics.
The Letter of Jude deals with the subject of false teaching, which is the greatest danger to the Church of Jesus Christ today.
11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 11)
We live in a culture that for the most part does not believe that truth can be known. For many, truth—if it exists at all—is relative. There is “your truth.” And there is “my truth.” The dictum of our age is: “True for you but not for me.”
But what is “truth”? One definition of truth is “that which corresponds to reality.” This is sometimes known as the correspondence view of truth. And I believe it is a valid definition.
But I like John MacArthur’s definition of truth: “Truth is what God decrees.” Thus, truth is not any individual’s opinion or imagination. Truth is what God declares. And God has given us an infallible source of saving truth in his revealed Word, the Bible.
Pastors should preach and teach the infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God.
And Christians should read the Word, study the Word, meditate on the Word, memorize the Word, and apply the Word.
Are there difficult parts in the Word of God? Absolutely! God himself said, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8).
In 1 Corinthians 2:16, the apostle Paul paraphrased Isaiah 40:13-14, when he said, “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” To which Paul immediately added, “But we have the mind of Christ.” In other words, Christ gives Christians the ability to know, understand, and apply the truth so as to know and serve God rightly.
Although we do not know the mind of God exhaustively, we can certainly know it sufficiently to respond correctly to his truth.
And so God calls us to fight for the truth. Or, as he put it in the words of Jude, “to contend for the faith” (v. 3).
You recall that Jude began to write this marvelous letter to believers to encourage them with the wonderful truths “about our common salvation” (v. 3a). However, he “found it necessary to write appealing to [the believers] to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3b).
Why? Because word had reached Jude that false teachers had “crept in unnoticed.” They perverted the grace of God into sensuality and denied the deity of Jesus by their character, their conduct, and their creed (v. 4).
Jude said that God’s attitude toward false teachers was displayed in implacable judgment. He pointed to God’s attitude in his judgment of unbelieving individuals, rebellious angels, and sinful communities (vv. 5-7).
Jude then gave a description of false teachers. He said that false teachers were immoral (they “defile the flesh”), insubordinate (they “reject authority”), and irreverent (they “blaspheme the glorious ones”) (vv. 8-10).
In our lesson today, Jude described the characteristics of past heretics. By doing so he demonstrated that the false teachers of the present day were remarkably similar to the heretics of the past.
I. They Disobeyed God (11a)
First, past heretics disobeyed God.
Jude said in verse 11a, “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain. . . .”
By exclaiming “Woe to them!” Jude was using a familiar Jewish expression. “Woe” is “a state of intense hardship or distress.” Even today, Jewish people will sometimes say, “Oi vay!” This is the same as saying, “Oh woe!” It is an exclamation that something terrible is happening or is about to happen.
Jesus pronounced “woes,” for example, on the scribes and Pharisees (in Matthew 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29). He was pronouncing ultimate spiritual judgment on them.
In the same way, Jude, by exclaiming “Woe to them!” was pronouncing that something terrible was going to happen to the false teachers and heretics. And that is the unmitigated wrath of God, which will end in their judgment and destruction in hell.
The first example of a past heretic is Cain. Jude said that false teachers are like past heretics in that they walked in the way of Cain.
Cain was the first child of Adam and Eve. He was born after the Fall of Adam. Genesis 4:1-16 gives the account of Cain:
1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”