Don’t Use the Wrong Tool

We must know our audience if we are to be effective in our gospel witness.

“And 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) 

Having the right tool is vital for accomplishing a project. Attempting to use the wrong tool would prove futile, even in the hands of an able craftsman. A hammer would not be effective for cutting a piece of wood, nor would a saw be helpful for driving in a nail. You need to use the right tool to accomplish each task. Similarly, as we engage in missions and evangelism, we need to understand the people to whom we speak in order to effectively serve them in gospel ministry. 

As Jude concludes his letter, he exhorts his readers to keep watch over one another. Matthew Henry comments: 

We ought to do all we can to rescue others out of the snares of the devil, that they may be saved from (or recovered, when entangled therein, out of) dangerous errors, or pernicious practices. We are not only (under God) our own keepers, but every man ought to be, as much as in him lies, his brother’s keeper; none but a wicked Cain will contradict this (Genesis 4:9). 

Jude recognizes that, while he is the shepherd of his spiritual flock, he is not the only one responsible for “contending for the faith” (v. 3). The congregation is to watch out for one another and, if necessary, bring the wanderers back to the fold (James 5:19-20). To do this well, however, one must know the condition of the wanderer to whom he is speaking. 

Jude distinguishes between two groups of people (or possibly three depending on one’s interpretation of his grammatical construction), and each group must be addressed in a manner appropriate to their condition.  

In addressing the first group, Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt.” Some wander and falter not due to an obstinate rejection of the truth but out of ignorance or doubt. We should be gentle with those who are struggling to believe the truth. Applying a harsh censure to those needing tender compassion would be using the wrong tool. A shepherd need not use the rod to chastise a foolish lamb who has wandered close to the precipice if he can be gently guided back to safety with the staff. 

While Jude is certainly not averse to rebuke, as he demonstrates throughout the letter, he does know that rebuke is not the only tool he can use in his ministry. Sometimes, rebuke is manifestly the wrong tool. We must never soft-pedal Scripture, but God has given us his full counsel that we may rightly, and appropriately, apply it to all situations. At times, that means gentle and merciful counsel to the weak and doubtful. 

There are other times, nevertheless, when gentle words will meet deaf ears and hard hearts. Jude teaches that sometimes we should “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Snatching is an aggressive—at times violent—action. If a child is dangerously close to a fire, we ought not gently beckon them to return to safety. Rather, we snatch them away from danger and offer a stern word of rebuke and warning. Such is the need of some to whom we witness. There is a brazen and obstinate foolishness that must be shaken, not encouraged, out of them. Jude’s use of “fire” highlights the imminent and immense danger that requires a forceful thrusting of the gospel onto those in spiritual peril to snatch them back from destruction. 
Jude continues that we should “Show mercy with fear.” The mercy we show to those in this second group is manifested not through gentleness, but by awakening their sleepy souls to the terror of judgment. Such awakening should not merely remove them from the edge of the fire, but to a distance where they will not even be singed by a spark. 

Furthermore, we are to hate “even the garment stained by the flesh.” As in the case of severely contagious illness, we must not only protect and cleanse the body itself but destroy a polluted garment that may introduce the disease to the body. Jude’s readers are not simply to reject the message of false teachers, but to cast out the false teachers themselves. Even if a shepherd faithfully instructs the sheep about the danger of wolves, the sheep are only safe when the wolves are expelled from the fold. 


Heavenly Father, 
Make us wise stewards of your gospel, that many may hear and be saved from the wrath to come. Preserve us from the corruption of sin and give us diligence to cast away anything that is stained by it. 
In your Son’s name,  

Prayer Requests: 

  • Pray for wisdom to share the gospel in a manner appropriate to your hearers. 
  • Pray that those deceived by false teachers may become aware of their position. 
  • Pray for purity of life and doctrine, free from the pollution of the flesh.