In the movie “On the Waterfront”, Marlon Brando’s character laments that he didn’t contend as well as he should have. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender.”
In Jude’s letter, he urges us not to make the same mistake: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 1:3, NIV)
Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James”, which is unusual for a Hebrew writer, who normally would have referred to a father or patriarch instead. He also separates himself from the Apostles (v 17), so in all likelihood this is Jude (a form of Judah, who was sometimes called Judas), the brother of Jesus. (Jesus had 4 younger brothers born to Mary and Joseph according to Matthew 13:55—James, Joseph, Simon and Jude). Interestingly, neither James nor Jude identified themselves as Jesus’ brothers directly, probably out of humility or a desire to avoid being given special consideration as members of Joseph and Mary’s household.
Jude encourages us to “contend for the faith”. Contend comes from the Greek word, ἐπαγωνίζομαι,(epagonizomai) which means to struggle with; to argue earnestly, debate. The agon (agon) was an assembly location where people watched athletic contests. Paul uses a form of it to refer to “fighting the good fight.” In either case, it can refer to several things, and it would seem fitting that if you are called upon to contend:
1) you should prepare. You wouldn’t go into an athletic contest without training, or a debate without mastering your subject. And yet many people who call themselves Christians do little or no training in order to understand and defend their faith. How’s YOUR training going?
2) It implies belief and passion, since competition requires commitment and effort. Athletes who compete at the highest levels all started as a kid from somewhere, but gained a belief in themselves that encouraged them to pursue their talents with passion.
3) It assumes competition. We live in a world that doesn’t automatically accept the claims of Jesus Christ, and is in fact increasingly hostile to it. While we are told to do so with gentleness and respect, we are encouraged to be able to give answers to those who oppose us. How ready are you to answer questions about your faith? If you want to know more about how to do that, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and Tim Keller’s books are great resources. In the meantime, get out there and contend today! Fight for your faith! You don’t want to reach the end of your life, and look back with regret to say “I coulda been a contender!”
Jude had friends and family who died a martyr’s death,
Who proudly shared their faith until they drew their final breath.
No one knows exactly what may lie around the bend,
But each of us can make a choice of how we reach our end.
Faith is not some made-up thing we play with to pretend;
Take hold of yours and join the fight: Believe! Engage! Contend!
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