Be merciful to those who doubt. Save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear. Jude 22 and 23.
The hard facts about the work of evangelism is not everyone responds. In reference to the parable of the sower Jesus tells in Matthew 13, hearts come in all conditions. Some are fertile ground. For these hearts we praise God. Ministry is fun and rewarding when we get the pleasure to watch the words of the gospel flourish in a life. But other hearts can be shallow, distracted, or hardened.
Toward the end of his timely and valuable admonishment, Jude includes a few verses that helps believers know how to relate to all these different conditions of hearts.
…have mercy on some who are wavering (NRSV). The NIV translation uses the phrase be merciful to those who doubt. For whatever reason, the word these people have heard can’t quite gain a footing in their lives. Perhaps like the seed falling on rocky ground, they heard the word and received it with joy. They know what it says. They may have even believed it—for a while. But then trouble or hardship comes into their lives because of the word they dared to take seriously. They fall away, maybe even questioning their faith and those who taught the word to them.
How do we respond? In the words of Jude, with mercy, compassion, and patience keeping in sight the goal of restoring them to the Lord.
Then there’s the distracted heart. This is the seed falling among thorns Jesus references in Matthew 13:22. The distracted person hears the word but is too worried by the things of this life or is so preoccupied in chasing wealth that the word is choked.
Things started out really good for this heart. They heard the word. Their life possessed all the right conditions for the word to take root and grow. But instead of nurturing it, they inched closer and closer to the attractions all this life has to offer. Before they realized what had even happened, the word was lost. These are the ones Jude is telling believers to snatch out of the fire. Warn them of their distraction. Alert them to the lies they are accepting. Help them before it’s too late and their health, relationships, or souls are destroyed.
The last kind is the hard heart. This is the path where seed lands but the evil one steals the seed before it gets the chance to sprout. Jude’s instruction on how to relate to the heart hardened to the gospel is to have mercy on still others with fear. For those aligning with false teaching, Jude says hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
It’s a strong word born out of Jude’s passion to see salvation accepted.
So what is the compassionate response to the hardened heart that sees no need for God? I wonder if Jude’s earlier words in verses 20 and 21 hold some of the answer: build yourselves up in your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
Jude suggests these practices for our own growth and followers of Christ, but he also recommends them because he knows we will encounter all conditions of hearts as we share the gospel. Some will respond, some will waver, and some, sadly to say, will rebel and persist in their belief or advocacy of false teaching.
But God sees what is sown in faith. He understands our attempts and rewards them. We stand with the fellowship of believers in Acts 2, devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. We praise God because he is the one who adds to the number daily those who are being saved.