This is the first in a series of excerpts from “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available in print and Kindle editions here.
My business card is standard fare. It identifies me and describes my role at the MBC. It also tells how to get in touch with me. That’s what most business cards do: serve as practical, brief, and efficient introductions.
Some people, however, use business cards more creatively. Take Guangbiao Chen, for example, a Chinese tycoon and philanthropist. His business card details illustrious titles and heroic accomplishments:
- Most Influential Person of China
- Most Prominent Philanthropist of China
- 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”? That’s how the author of the Epistle of Jude opens his letter. With profound humility, he models the manner in which followers of Jesus should defend the Christian 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, Jude 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. In New Testament times, it often 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). 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.”
Peter encourages believers to be ready at all times to give a defense of their faith (1 Peter 3:15-16). Then he adds an 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. Rather, it should be to share a winsome word of truth, leaving the results to the Holy Spirit.
Dallas Willard’s posthumously published book, The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, reminds us that “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?”
Next: Are Jude and Peter plagiarists?