The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features Chapter 1: Jude, A Slave: The Attitude of Apologetics.
Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ … (Jude 1a)
My business card is standard fare. It identifies me and describes my role at my place of employment. It also offers several ways to get in touch with me. That’s what most business cards do; they serve as practical, brief, and efficient introductions.
Some people, however, use business cards more creatively, with pop-up photos, odd shapes, and other features to grab your attention. And then there are truly unique characters who seek to leave a lasting impression another way: by making audacious claims.
Take Guangbiao Chen, for example. Chen is a Chinese tycoon and philanthropist. His business card details illustrious titles and heroic accomplishments. For example, his English business card describes him in the following ways:
- Most Influential Person of China
- Most Prominent Philanthropist of China
- China Moral Leader
- China Earthquake Rescue Hero
- Most Well-Loved and Beloved Chinese Role Model
We’re only halfway through Chen’s list, but you get the idea. This may be one of the cheekiest business cards ever produced.
But how would you respond if someone handed you a business card that simply read, “Jude, a slave …”? Let’s see how Jude’s profoundly humble self-introduction models the manner in which followers of Jesus should defend the faith.
Why does Jude call himself a slave?
The Greek word translated “slave” or “servant” is doulos and means “bond-slave,” literally “one tied to another.” The term speaks of one who is subject to the will of his or her master. While Jude rightly could have declared himself a half-brother of Jesus, he chooses to exalt his Master and express his absolute subjection to the Lord.
Jude calls himself a slave as a means of modeling Christian humility for all of us. In the New Testament, all believers are pictured as Jesus’ bond-slaves because we are called to accept His Lordship (1 Peter 2:16; Rev. 1:1), and we have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:22-23).
Equally important for Jude, he wants to set the proper tone for an epistle that otherwise might be seen as sharp-edged, confrontational, or even judgmental. Like a faithful bond-slave, he serves his Master without hesitation or compromise. In the short 25 verses of this oft-neglected letter, Jude acknowledges the Lordship of Christ as the impetus for engaging in Christian apologetics.
What is Christian apologetics?
Christian apologetics is the field of study concerned with the systematic defense of the Christian faith. Stated more simply, it is a reasonable defense of Christianity.
The term “apologetics” is derived from the Greek noun apologia and is used in a legal sense. The prosecution delivers the kategoria, or formal charges, and the defendant replies with an apologia, or a formal speech to counter the charges. The verb form, apologeomai, means “to make a defense.” The Christian apologist is engaged in defending Christianity’s claims to truth.
In Scripture, the apostle Paul uses the term apologeomai in his speech to Agrippa when he says, “I consider myself fortunate … that today I am going to make a defense before you” (Acts 26:2 – emphasis added). Paul uses similar terms in his letter to the Philippians to describe his role as a defender of the gospel (Phil. 1:7, 16). The term is used in a negative sense in Rom. 1:20, where Paul says those who reject the revelation of God in creation are “without excuse” (emphasis added).
Peter encourages believers to be ready at all times to give a defense of their faith (1 Peter 3:15-16 – emphasis added). Then he adds this important caveat: with gentleness and respect. The apostle is well-known for his quick tongue and fast draw with a sword, but by the time he pens this epistle, he has matured and mellowed. We, too, should learn to tone down the rhetoric when taking a stand for biblical truth.
The ultimate goal of a conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses at our door, an atheist over the back fence, or a Muslim in the public square should not be to win an argument, speak more loudly than the other person, or get in the last word. Rather, it should be to share a winsome word of truth, leaving the results to the Holy Spirit.
In Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, Gregory Koukl writes about his modest approach to apologetics: “All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give him something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.”
Dallas Willard’s posthumously published book, The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, reminds us that “The apologist for Christ is one characterized by ‘humbleness of mind’ (tapeinophrosunen; Col. 3:12; Acts 20:19; 1 Pet. 5:5) – a vital New Testament concept that cannot be captured by our word ‘humility’ alone.” Peter’s call to give an account, says Willard, is “first, not a call to beat unwilling people into intellectual submission, but to be the servant of those in need, often indeed the servant of those who are in the grip of their own intellectual self-righteousness and pride, usually reinforced by their social surroundings.”
Willard goes on to write, “What we are seeking to defend or explain is Jesus himself, who is a gentle, loving shepherd. If we are not gentle in how we present the good news, how will people encounter the gentle and loving Messiah we want to point to? … Our apologetic happens in a context, and that context is strewn with enmity, hostility, abuse, and other opposition, which ultimately contradict the very things our message lifts up. That is why our apologetic has to embody the message and person we want to communicate. Only with ‘gentleness and reverence’ will people be able to see, verify, and be persuaded to respond to what we have to say.”
What can Jude teach us about being bond-slaves?
In the opening verses of his epistle, Jude reveals two essential qualities of Christian apologists.
First, we are bond-slaves of Jesus who obediently defend the Christian faith with gentleness and respect. The goal of the apologist should be to proclaim the kingdom as Jesus did – simply, clearly, repeatedly, and winsomely.
There are times for vigorous discussion, of course. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches when tough love requires it; note the eight woes on the religious leaders in Matthew 23. Jude does not hold back, either, when exposing the dangers of false teachers in the church. But our primary goal when facing obstinacy is not to win a debate, or to send opponents away licking their wounds. It is to engage them lovingly with the truth, always keeping in mind they are slaves as well – slaves of sin, held captive by Satan – who desperately need the freedom only Jesus offers.
Second, Christian apologists like Jude are always ready to offer a defense. Jude tells his audience he intended to write about our common salvation – the marvelous and uplifting truths of the Christian faith. But something – more likely someone, the Holy Spirit – prompted him to set aside this joyful task, roll up his sleeves, and urge his fellow believers to earnestly contend for the faith.
To always be ready assumes: (1) that we know what we believe and why we believe it; (2) that we are burdened for others who don’t know the truth or have rejected it; (3) that we are constantly alert to opportunities to share our faith; (4) that we acknowledge we don’t have all the answers but serve the God who does; (5) that we may be opposed, or even rejected; (6) that the results are in God’s hands; and (7) that our desire is to advance the kingdom of God rather than scorch the common ground we share with those who need to know Jesus.
It may help to keep in mind that Jude was not always a believer in Jesus. Evidently, growing up with the Son of God failed to convince him that Jesus was the Messiah. It took witnessing the death, burial, and resurrection of his half-brother – the essential facts of the gospel – to convince him that Jesus was God incarnate.
Jude identifies himself as a slave of Jesus. He also identifies himself as the author of the epistle and the brother of James – two important details we explore in the next chapter.
Next: Chapter 2: Jude, Slave, Brother: The Identity of Apologists