“They are a stain to your love feasts, eating without fear, shepherding themselves; they are waterless clouds, blown by the wind—unfruitful trees in late autumn—twice dead and uprooted. They are wild waves at sea, foaming up their own shame, wandering stars for whom the dark gloom of eternity has been kept.”
Eating without fear: These men have fully engaged in the “love feasts” or the aÓga¿ph (agape), which given its context both here and in historical literature, is most likely what we call Holy Communion today. Paul writes a stern warning against those who would approach the Lord’s table in an unworthy manner and goes as far as to say that those who do eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). Unbelievers sometimes balk when we fence the communion table, preventing them from participating, but we do that not to exclude them, but to save them from imminent judgment. To the unbeliever, the communion cup is a cup of poison and judgment, it should be understood that it is a blessing that we withhold communion from those who would take it wrongly.
But this warning is important for believers to here as well as unbelievers. This is because those who would come to the communion table still holding sins or hatred against a brother, being unrepentant, also heap judgment upon themselves. We need to come to the table with great joy at the privilege that has been offered to us, but at the same time, we should approach God with fear and trembling, trusting in his grace and not taking that privilege and gift for granted.
Shepherding Themselves: These men have assumed the role of pastor without any concern or care for the sheep—they just want a paycheck to satisfy their own lusts. If a shepherd is not vigilant, the sheep will soon be devoured. These men are reckless with the flock that they tend and are more interested in the condition of their bellies than the spiritual condition of their flock.
One of my fears is that when we ordain men to the Gospel ministry, we pay more attention to the facts they know than to the man’s character. This is a recipe for disaster. Robert Murray M’Cheyene once stated that the greatest need of his congregation was his personal holiness. How true that is!
Waterless clouds: A cloud that is without rain may look pretty from a distance, but when up close you will quickly realize that they have no substance. They are valueless and will drift along with the winds of change. Oh, how this speaks of many American pastors today! How many ministers of the Gospel really cherish the Gospel they have been called to preach? How many would lay down their life to preserve the truth of the Gospel? How many pastors have the spiritual depth and density to truly feed their congregations? When sermons are filled with fluff, it is likely that the preacher is filled with the same. Jesus said that those who would come to him in faith would become fountains of water (John 7:38). As the Holy Spirit waters the believer in abundance, the believer’s cup runneth over with rivers of living water. To use the language of 2 Peter, these men are dry wells.
Fruitless trees: Not only do these trees bear no fruit, making them useless, but it is late in autumn and they have no sap in their veins to nourish growth and they are uprooted, never to see growth again. These men are twice dead, they are dead to sin here on earth and they are dead spiritually, an enemy of the giver of life. As Jesus said, the branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off, and they will wither and die being separated from the sap, and then, they will be thrown into the fire (John 15:1-8). Friends, our Lord has told us that we are to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), these men are not only bearing no fruit, but there is no hope for them to bear fruit—they are twice dead. Be alert to those who would come in your midst in a like manner.
Wild waves: The ocean waves are loud and chaotic. Their shame and immorality is like the foam at the top of a breaker. They rage wildly in their sin without trying to hide it. They crash to the shore and they toss everything and everyone caught in their breakers around wildly. There is no safety to be found in these waters, only destruction. Remember that even in Jude’s day the sea was a place of danger and mystery, and so too are these false teachers.
Wandering stars: The language of stars is often used of angels, and in the context of verse 6, this implies that the false teachers will share the same fate as the fallen angels. They will be lost in darkness and damned forever. The believer will spend eternity with Christ, the unbeliever will spend eternity separated from Christ. Christ is true light and apart from him there is no light at all. Flames, weeping, gnashing of teeth, the worm consuming, separation from all that is good and right, and darkness—not a pretty image.
And none of this paints a pretty picture of the people who have become leaders in the church to which Jude is writing. This is a dark time for them. These men are destined for Hell in more ways than one and the church has fallen into their trap. Yet, these descriptions are sadly contemporary. Many churches, as well as whole denominations, have been seduced by men like this. We must be ever vigilant that we do not allow anyone to lead us or our congregation down such roads. We need to be keenly aware of who we ask to lead us. We need to watch to see whether these men are ones who will build up Christ’s body or only their own. We need to see whether they will bring unity or discord. We need to see whose agenda they are working toward. And most importantly, we need to see whether their life is pointing toward Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. These are not only questions that should be asked of pastors, but should be asked of all the members of Christ’s visible church. And, we absolutely must be asking them about our own lives.