Some destructive people don’t realize the carnage they leave in their wake. Others intentionally cause rifts and pain, driven by selfish motives. Jude’s letter, which contains succinct prose, startling imagery, and a swift warning, is unlike anything we read in Scripture. The letter equipped early Christians to deal wisely with false teachers who had entered the church community. Today, it can provide us with wisdom to respond to some of the most difficult people and situations we encounter.
The community that Jude addressed contained destructive false teachers “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). They did not respect authority, but acted out of instinct rather than conviction: “But these persons blaspheme all that they do not understand, and all that they understand by instinct like the irrational animals, by these things they are being destroyed” (Jude 10).
Jude’s metaphors for these false teachers give us a sense of what to look for in destructive people: “hidden reefs at your love feasts, caring for themselves, waterless clouds carried away by winds, late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted, wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shameful deeds, wandering stars, for whom the deep gloom of darkness has been reserved for eternity” (Jude 12–13). He depicts people whose destructive, selfish behavior lacks conviction. Like wayward stars, these false teachers go off course, perhaps taking others with them.
After these descriptions, we expect Jude to warn his readers to stay away from these types of people. But he does the opposite: Jude’s closing warning calls readers to interact with people of this sort—though they must do so with incredible wisdom: “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22–23).
Interacting with people who doubt and wander requires a deep knowledge of our own weaknesses and failures. It requires maturity of faith. Jude gives three specific instructions: that we build ourselves up, pray in the Spirit, and keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21–22). This interaction requires the work of a God “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). How do destructive people in your life influence you? Based on how they influence you, how should you approach or end the relationship?