“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Jude 1:3
Originally, Jude wanted to share those things of the faith with his fellow believers which were common to them all. But the Holy Spirit redirected him to a matter of greater urgency. Issues of the faith, “once delivered unto the saints,” were being both subtly undermined and overtly perverted. As then, so today. All true believers, are to earnestly contend for the teachings of the faith “given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16).
To earnestly contend for something is not a laid-back activity; the common cross-reference for that phrase is 1 Tim 6:12: “Fight the good fight of faith….” In both instances the meaning has to do with laboring fervently, or striving, just as an athlete would when participating in a sporting event. The sports analogy provides a very graphic illustration: good athletes must train vigorously, in keeping with the demands of their sport. Likewise, a committed Christian must spiritually condition himself in keeping with Paul’s exhortation to “exercise thyself…unto godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Paul often used the correlation between athletic endeavors and the Christian walk to show that a born-again believer’s life is not a passive proposition. It requires spiritual training which includes many of the qualities that a superior athlete demonstrates: diligence, commitment, self-discipline, teachability, etc. Yet, common to the sports scene today, many of us have dedicated ourselves to being spectators––not necessarily “couch potatoes,” but definitely not players.
Too often the reaction to Jude’s exhortation is that contending for the faith is “best left to the experts,” i.e., to scholars, theologians, apologists, or cult authorities. There are at least two problems with such an idea. First, Jude’s words were not written to theological experts but to “them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called”—that is, all His “saints” (Jude 1,3). Second, a major aspect of contending for the faith has to do with every saint’s spiritual development. In other words, contending for the faith isn’t just for cult experts, nor does it necessarily involve arguing with or confronting others. It should be the lifelong spiritual regimen of every believer (1 Peter 3:15).
Earnestly contending for the faith requires the desire to diligently study God’s Word. Jesus set forth the basis of a developmental program for everyone who is committed to Him: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). 2 Timothy 2:15 underscores the practical, everyday exercise for the believer: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The heart of Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Studying and applying the Scriptures is the primary way our personal relationship with Him develops; it’s predicated upon knowing Him through His revelation of Himself.
Earnestly contending for the faith requires knowledge. We needn’t become experts before we share “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” but we are to be diligent in our pursuit of the knowledge of the Lord. Though it’s all too often attempted, it is nevertheless foolish to try to contend for something when one is uninformed. Solomon writes, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints” (Proverbs 2:18).