People who warn against popular evangelical pastors and speakers/writers who mishandle or outright distort the Word of God typically receive the criticism that we engage in character assassination. I agree, in part, that we must be careful not to judge another person’s heart. We don’t have the Lord’s omniscience, and therefore we must temper whatever discernment we may have with humility.
Yet the book of Jude unapologetically evaluates false teachers by pointing to their characters. Those of you who have been following these Monday Bible Studies on Jude’s epistle will remember that Jude writes with a singular purpose: he wants Christians to stand for sound doctrine. Interestingly, he spends almost his whole letter describing the characteristics of false teachers rather than than comparing their doctrinal errors to good teaching. The verse we’ll examine today certainly focuses on the motives of false teachers by holding them up against three Old Testament apostates.
We’re studying Jude 11 today, but of course we need to read it in context.
8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 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. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)
In comparing apostate leaders with Cain, Balaam and Korah, Jude very deliberately comments on the motives driving their corrupted “ministries.” The notorious actions of all three men exposed their wicked hearts, and Jude attributes their evil motives to false teachers who infiltrate the Christian Church.
He begins with Cain, whose story appears in Genesis 4:5-10 (I really need you to click the links to my cross-references so you can fully appreciate Jude’s allusions). As Hebrews 11:4 explains, Cain failed to offer a sacrifice of shed blood, preferring to come to God on his own terms. When the Lord rejected his sacrifice, Cain grew so envious of Abel that he murdered him.
Next, Jude likens false teachers to Balaam, the mercenary “prophet” in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Moab, paid Balaam to curse Israel. When that failed, Balaam undermined Israel by drawing them into sexual immorality. Balaam knew the Lord’s decrees, but he saw that he could make money by perverting, or even flat-out denying, them.
Finally, Jude mentions Korah, who tried to usurp Moses’ leadership position, as we see in Numbers 16:1-32. Korah rebelled, ultimately, against God’s appointment of Moses, presuming to place himself in spiritual authority over Israel.
Using these three examples, Jude asserts that false teachers exhibit envy, material greed and self-appointed authority. They are motivated to promote their aberrant teachings by these character flaws. The Holy Spirit inspired Jude to instruct believers to identify these traits. Yes, that sounds horribly judgmental, but clearly the Lord wants Christians to cultivate that degree of discernment about false teachers.
I’d balance this point, dear sisters in Christ, by saying that we shouldn’t understand this Bible Study as giving us carte blanche to judge the motives of everyone we encounter. Before we analyze a false teacher’s motives, we must determine that he or she teaches falsely by the fruits of his or her teachings and life (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-20). Jude’s point, in verse 11 of his epistle, is that polluted character lies at the root of consistently false teaching. False teachers, consequently, should fear God’s punishment.