Contend for the Faith

One of the great thinkers in the history of the church was an African bishop named Augustine. In his infamous book “The Confessions” Augustine wrote this prayer, “Command [O God] what you will, and give what you command.”  What was this theological titan praying? Simply that God always provides what He commands from His people.

The question then is put before us: What does God demand from His people? In one sense, we could simply look at the whole Bible as a clear testimony of God’s demands, whether by observation (which we call “descriptive”) or by command (which we call “prescriptive”). It is in that latter category, that we find some of the brightest light from the Lord Himself. Today we consider Jude 3, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith…” (ESV) 

What does it mean to contend? We might find it easier if we change the form of this word into something more familiar; namely, what does it look like to be a contender? When we examine the word contend, some helpful definitions involve the idea of “striving against,” or “struggling physically or mentally.” To be a contender entails exerting yourself. Whatever you are going to contend for is going to require time, effort, and will be difficult.

New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner highlights two contexts concerning the word “contend”: the military, and athletics. The Apostle Paul parallels this content 2 Timothy 4:7-8 when he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (ESV)

The Christian life is necessarily one of contention. I don’t mean that the Christian life is full of strife, perpetual disagreements, or even explosive temperaments. But we have misunderstood Christianity if the form we hope to follow is free from every conflict.

Do you know that the Bible is full of conflicts? Whether it’s Abraham or Moses, David or Elijah, Jesus or the Apostles, conflicts surround the people of God. No part of the Christian message ever claimed that our lives were going to be void of conflict. In fact, the evidence proves otherwise. 

If we are going to be a Christian, at least a biblical one, we will necessarily find ourselves in moments of tremendous difficulty. There are going to be disagreements, hardships, and even hurt feelings. But the aim of a Christian is not to actively pursue disagreements as if being a disagreeable person is the mark of a Christian. Neither is it our aim to be harsh or rude; quite the contrary. Instead, we are aiming to faithfully speak, live, and teach what God has revealed to us through His Son, which involves speaking the truth in love.

As we seek to be faithful messengers of God’s Word, we may find that our words – faithful, honest, good, and true – as they may be nevertheless might cause disagreements, ridicule, hardships, and hurt feelings. Simply, read what the Bible has to say about biblical sexuality and you’ll find this out first hand (cf. Romans 1:24-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Jude 7). Jesus offended many, many people, as did Moses, as did Elijah. Nevertheless, our chief concern is “contending for the faith” not “contending for public acceptance.” Why? Because God commanded the former, and warns concerning the latter.  Jesus warned saying, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26 ESV)

Returning to our subject, what does this contending necessarily entail? First, we can’t be cowards. You can’t contend for something if you are terrified. You need boldness, and steel in your spine. You need to be willing to stand against the whole world if need be. Countless brothers and sisters in the Lord have (and still do) contend for the faith, even to the point of losing homes, family, jobs, reputation, and their very lives.

Why would anyone be willing to endure such things? Because there are worse things in this world than martyrdom. Martyrdom before blasphemy is their rallying cry. The same Spirit who transformed Peter from a cowering puss to a roaring lion dwells in you, O Christian. As God emboldened Peter and others, so He shall embolden you. We return to Augustine, “Command what you will, and give what you command.”

Secondly, we must know how to contend. Whether you want to consider the military arena, or the sports arena, if you have an individual who has never practiced, trained, or prepared for a conflict or game, they are going to be rather useless. You must train your minds. You must practice. So that when the time comes to contend, you have already prepared yourself for the conflict before you. We see this in sports and conflict, why don’t we understand this as believers for our spiritual conflicts?

The Apostle Peter gives us these words, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15 ESV) Be a contender where Christ has placed you, gently with the soft-hearted, and stronger with the hard-hearted. May Christ so enable you to contend both for His glory and your sanctification.