Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
When I was in high school, I loved studying history, philosophy, theology and a bunch of other “-ologies.” When I got a chance, I would read, debate and discuss God, Jesus, faith and all the rest. I’m not sure if I had read this verse from Jude or not, but if I read this verse I would think, “Absolutely!” I would hardly call it a spiritual gift, but it really felt like that was something I was meant to do. I was a thinker born into a family of thinkers, so it made sense to me.
Now, before I go to the heart of my big idea for today, I want to say that there is something right about that. If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for long, you’ve probably been told that you should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…do this with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15) If you can pick up a book and study so you can talk with others about Jesus, then by all means do it! If you love doing research and discussing big philosophical and theological ideas with others as a means of introducing them to Jesus, then do it. Be prepared for the moment when someone asks about your faith. Even better, learn to lead conversations toward the subject of Jesus.
However, I want to offer two cautions. When I was younger, I was an active member of an online forum for Christians. There was a debate section in the forum where both Christians and non-Christians could discuss their opposing viewpoints. I was a regular in this forum from time to time because I believed that I was “contending for the faith” by essentially trying to argue non-Christians toward Jesus. You can guess how well that worked. As a high school student, no one really took what I had to say seriously; “just wait a few years until you grow up,” I remember one guy saying. Even more, I began to realize that most of the time the people debating – me, my fellow Christians and non-Christians – weren’t really interested in hearing out someone else’s argument. We just wanted to find the perfect argument, the perfect words that could sway those who didn’t believe as we believed. Eventually I realized that there are no “perfect words” to persuade someone. Besides, most of what we did ended up being the equivalent of yelling our arguments at one another.
I offer that cautionary tale to those of you who are also trying to follow Jesus. There is a time and place to discuss faith. From experience, I’d say that comment sections on Facebook, blogs, news stories, etc. probably aren’t a good place to try to discuss the finer points of theology. I’ve never heard of someone being swayed one way or the other by something someone says on a website, but I’ve talked to plenty of people who have been highly irritated and insulted by those online discussions. Be careful with when, where and (most importantly) how you engage in those discussions.
But there’s another caution I want to give. You see, most people read this verse and they probably feel a little disappointed because they have a very particular idea of what it means to “contend for the faith.” They think of reading, studying, debating, studying some more; in short, intellectual pursuits. If that’s your only picture of contending for the faith you’re missing out on something a lot bigger: you contend for the faith when you follow Jesus to the best of your ability as you are living your life well.
That doesn’t sound exciting. We like the romantic idea of swaying non-believers by the hundreds and seeing miracles happen – healing of physical ailments, financial provision when it’s needed most, answered prayers. We want to see God’s big miracles and I’m not trashing that! Right now, I’m praying for my high school history teacher and her husband because he has lymphoma. Make no mistake, I’m hoping for a miraculous healing for him and for their family.
(And by the way, if you are trying to follow Jesus, please pray for her and her family. Feel free to check out her blog and follow her family as they walk through this tough season of life.)
What I am suggesting is that God’s miracles – maybe even his better miracles – are in the everyday. Getting through a hard day’s work and having the strength to do everything that needed to be done is a miracle. Taking care of those jelly-faced toddlers without killing them? It’s a miracle. Having a consistently hopeful attitude even in the midst of suffering and confusion? It’s a miracle. Forgiving yourself when you stumble and trusting God to help you get back up? It’s a miracle. Living your everyday life in such a way that others can see something good in you – even if they don’t immediately recognize it’s Jesus – it’s a miracle.
You contend for the faith when you live your life well and do it in such a way that you honor Jesus.
Now, what does that look like for you? I’m not sure; I’m still trying to figure out what that means for me! But I think that that’s part of what it means to try to follow Jesus. Everyone has struggles in life. I believe that with Jesus’ strength, we follow him and honor him as we face our everyday struggles. With Jesus, we can struggle well.
If you are not trying to follow Jesus, what suggestions do you have for us in engaging people who believe differently from us?
If you are trying to follow Jesus, how are you doing in contending for the faith? How can you and I both do better as we try to contend for the faith and live lives that honor Jesus?