I have a Facebook friend with whom I share a common alma mater that is constantly berating other believers in a public manner on social media. Sometimes I will counter her arguments; other times, I agree with the criticism, but not the tone. Usually, I ignore the posts because they leave me feeling frustrated and sad. This person has rarely made a theological post that was written in a positive tone. She believes that she is earnestly contending for the faith.
As Christians, we should earnestly contend for the faith. This phrase comes from the epistle of Jude. Those of us in Christian ministry should earnestly contend, but what does this even mean?
Before I get into the meat of this essay, I wanted to put some information out there about myself. I grew up in a fundamental independent Baptist tradition. I went to theologically conservative schools and went on to earn a doctorate in apologetics. With this background, one might expect my knee-jerk interpretation of this verse to fit into a militant and aggressive stance. However, I rarely am guilty of a knee-jerk interpretation to any passage. If anything, I am the type to mull over a passage too long before coming to a conclusion. On a positive note, that is because I like to dig deep and do research on difficult passages.
It turns out, despite some unusual references (Book of Enoch and possible reference to Nephilum), the big picture of this little book is quite easy to deduce. From the impression of some bloggers and teachers, one would think that it means to unleash a constant barrage of criticisms at other Christians. While 1 Corinthians 5 does demonstrate that Christians should separate from those who profess to be Christians that are guilty of certain gross sins, this must be balanced with teaching, discipleship, and reaching out to help those who are struggling.
Here is the immediate context of this phrase from Jude:
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 that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (vs 3, 4). 
The wider context is even more important. Jude was writing a general letter to “those who are the called.” In contrast to a specific church, this letter was to be copied, passed around, and read by all believers as soon as it made its way to the first recipients. In other words, this was intended to be read by a broad audience with a universal message. It was not just an obscure local problem.
Jude states that while his original purpose was to simply write about the common salvation that he had with his audience, he “felt” the necessity to appeal to them about earnestly contending for the faith. This faith was handed down once for all believers. Certain people had crept into the church with a problem—they had replaced the grace of God with licentiousness and were denying the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the two problems. Most of the rest of this letter is in some way showing examples of these two problems.
Jude proceeds to point to the past, a reminder that implies many of his original readers would have been Jewish and familiar with the Old Testament stories. He reminds them of judgment on those who were led out of Egypt but did not believe. He also references judgment on a group of angels that left their proper place. Thirdly, he mentions how Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed based on their “going after strange flesh.” There is also a strange reference of Michael the archangel pronouncing judgment on the devil when a dispute arose over Moses’ body. These ungodly people of whom Jude is writing are also said to be going the way of Cain or Balaam.
While these references may seem disjointed, it seems that Jude’s main point is that there has always been opposition to God’s work and the result will always be the same to those who bring this opposition—judgment. Jude is addressing the young church about current opposition. Jude poetically describes these men and their fate:
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever (vs. 12, 13).
Jude references another past prophet, Enoch, who preaches an apocalyptic message of the coming of the Lord with His holy angles to execute judgment on the ungodly.  It is said that Enoch was prophesying against these men. Furthermore, these men are described in verse 16 as grumblers, following after their own lust, arrogant, and seeking to find an advantage through their flattery. These were people about which other apostles had warned. They were causing divisions and “devoid of the Holy Spirit.”
Whoever these individuals were, they followed a pattern that can be traced throughout history; they are to be rejected. They are not sincere believers; they have their own agenda, are worldly-minded, and follow their own desires. Left unchecked, they bring division in the church.
After these reminders, which also serve as a warning, Jude changes his tone in verse 20-23:
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
It is important that we notice this conclusion to this brief letter and connect it with the stated intention. He is telling the believers to earnestly contend for the faith. Verses 4-19 state the reasons why they need to content, and verse 20-23 tell them how to contend. One might be a bit disappointed not to find a more militant strategy against these false, lustful, divisive, and proud individuals. Instead, the emphasis of Jude is on the importance of believers building themselves up in their faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. They are told to keep themselves in the love of God while waiting on the Lord’s mercy that leads to eternal life.
Once the believers have nurtured their own faith, they are to help those who might be having doubts with the faith. The implication is that these ungodly people that Jude warns about, might have harmed the faith of some of the believers. Those who have built themselves up in the faith and in prayer, and who have the right focus on their love relationship with God, can then go to show mercy and rescue others whose faith is not strong.
Why doesn’t Jude talk about going after the ungodly? I think the answer, although not directly stated, is clearly taught in the text itself. Judgment is coming. God will judge them, if He hasn’t already. The church’s energy and focus does not need to be in judgment or going after these ungodly folks. Rather, the church’s focus is on building up and protecting herself.
The urgency to contend for the faith is real. However, this is not a verse that can be used to support negatively going after other believers or even false Christians. Rather, this is about you and me, the readers of this little epistle, to build up our own faith by our own devotional life. You might say that our time with God in prayer and our focus on the love of God  is how we earnestly contend. Then, once our faith is built up, we can “go after” other believers in order to aid them in their own faith.
Jude’s closing includes this phrase: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling” is a fitting reminder that Jude is written to believers that are at risk of stumbling in their faith. Therefore, we must earnestly contend. Jude wraps it all up with a beautiful and majestic doxology of praise for the Lord Jesus Christ:
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen (Jude 24, 25).
 The Scripture references in this article are from the English Standard Version accessed English Standard Version (ESV) - Version Information - BibleGateway.com.
 This quote from verse 14, is from The Book of Enoch, a pseudepigraphal writings that has been a favorite among scholars and curious readers alike for its wild and interesting content. The fact that Jude quotes it here is evident that it was in circulation at the time. Some have suggested that it should have been part of the canon; however, the early church as well as the Jewish establishment eventually rejected it as inspired on the same level as Scripture. Perhaps it is based on an oral tradition that went back to the time of Enoch, but there is no real evidence of this theory. Its origin is believed to be in the 2nd century B.C.E. during the 400 silent years between the prophets Malachi and John the Baptist. Only the Ethiopian church today and a few small groups throughout the world consider it as part in the canon.
 I am using the term “focus” here for a reason. The phrase “keeping yourself in the love of God” is not about trying to merit God’s love. He loves unconditionally. The Greek word for “keeping,” (Tareo), is to attend to carefully, to watch, or to guard. God will not stop loving us if we are not “keeping,” but the implication is that we are to carefully watch or guard our love relationship with God. See also: 1 Cor. 9:27; Eph. 4:3.