“…show mercy with fear—hating even the garment stained by corrupted flesh.” – Jude 23b (ESV)[i]
God’s baptized saints: On this last Sunday of the church year, right before Advent, it is fitting we speak of the Last Day…
As we heard the prophet of Isaiah say:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.
And in our Gospel reading we just heard:
“Be on guard! Be alert!… What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
The message is this: The day is fast approaching when Our Lord will come again to deliver His people in the ultimate way!
Rise, my soul, to watch and pray,
From thy sleep awaken;
Be not by the evil day
For the Foe,
Well we know,
Oft his harvest reapeth
While the Christian sleepeth.
Know He desires good things for you when He separates the sheep from the goats… The clean from the unclean! The sparkling from the stained!
Why do I put it like that? Well, I’ll get to explaining that in a moment but it is going to take a another moment to provide the necessary background to my explanation.
In the process of preparing for this sermon, studying this passage from the end of the book of Jude – which, very confusingly for us, mentions stained clothing or garments from corrupted or unclean flesh — I came across passages in the Old Testament book of Leviticus about how to handle defiling molds in clothing or leather articles (in chapter 13[ii]) and passages talking about how bodily discharges or emissions (things like seminal discharge, menstrual flow or hemorrhage, or human excrement) – as well as contagious diseases! – should be dealt with as well…
In short, because of the literal stains of uncleanliness, this defilement or corruption caused by things like mold, bodily discharges, and leprosy that contaminated clothing needed to be isolated… quarantined…. For it was unclean….
Keep that stuff far from us!
And not only this, but this quarantining often involved the people too… The one from who the uncleanliness came, and even others affected by it as well!
Now this might sound a bit familiar to us today but have we really begun to understand the full extent of what was happening here?
Well, in part – even as there were undoubtedly practical considerations with some of these matters – all of this ultimately has to do with the supreme importance of the symbolism of the Old Testament, the “shadows” as the Apostle Paul called them in the book of Colossians, which really pointed to, indicated, the Reality behind such shadows…
Take the daily sacrifices offered in the Old Testament, for example. These were at times offered on behalf of all, and finally should not be seen as something having to do with God’s Law – even if we sometimes call them a part of God’s “ceremonial laws” – but to the Promises of Salvation through the Coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.
You know, as John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”. It is very likely that when the sinner of Luke 18 stands in the court of the temple and will not even lift his eyes before God, beating his chest and saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” that he is saying, “Oh Lord, let these sacrifices be for me!”
This sacrifice, involving lambs, was performed daily at the temple in Jerusalem! Every morning and evening. This lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people (see Exodus 29:38-42, for example)…
But when Jesus comes, no sacrifice for sins is left, as the shadows recede! If it helps, think of shadows like these as the temporary scaffolding for the real Sacrifice, Priest, and Temple, Jesus Christ…
Not only this, but we should also realize this: In the Old Testament, these sacrifices provided safe access to a Holy God.
Sins of course were always an issue here, but then there is also original sin — the sinful infection that we all share from birth. It is like a spiritual leprosy.
Gasoline burns in the presence of fire – God’s holiness is gracious but also destructive. He cannot abide the sin – the leprosy, the uncleanness – within us (Kleinig).
This is why in the Old Testament we see so many of these signs, these shadows, these “divine object lessons”.
Finally, these externals are often “typological” of the internals of human life.
Therefore, with leprosy, for example, even the external signs of leprosy/infection, like corrupted clothing, are a sign of the *real* inner infection that infects us all and causes the outer infections. The leper or menstruating woman is “unclean” and “unworthy”, but this is really meant to serve as a symbol for the greater uncleanness and unworthiness that infects us all.
For we all, in our fallen nature, are the contaminated who contaminate… And this also, of course, is why we die. The wages of sin is death…
While we are at this stuff, let’s go on. Unclean animals also serve a similar function as a divine object lesson – spiritual holiness is symbolized by physical perfection, not oddities. (what one author called the “no oddballs allowed” principle).
One biblical scholar, Gordan Wenham, expands on the matters these object lessons point to, putting it like this:
Imagine two poles of existence, there is the positive and the negative. The positive has to do with God, life, order, normality and being clean… The negative has to do with chaos, death, disorder, deformity, and being unclean….
So, what finally, to take away from all of this? God’s overall message here, in the Old Testament but especially in the New Testament is this:
I am not like the Gods of the other nations. I am holy. Do not get excited because of your blood descent, ethnic pride, success, or your righteousness…
Instead, be glad because I really am concerned about you – I am yours and you are mine and I desire that you would know true joy and peace in true justice, true mercy and abundant life.
Be invigorated because I want you to be holy as I am holy! Through the pardon and power I give you in the blood of my Son, Jesus, I am separating you out – making you distinct!
You will not, like the nations, sacrifice your infants, partake in ritualized temple prostitution or disregard the elderly and the poor…
You will live as people who live according to and by my word — because I love you even as you continue to have sin…
Instead, come out and be separate! Be holy, and not unclean!
As the old hymn “My Song is Love Unknown” says:
“Love to the loveless (i.e. because of the leprosy of sin, the uncleanness of sin) shown that they might lovely be”…
I hope that is some helpful background to what now seems to us like a very foreign and confusing topic…
And let us wrestle with this just a bit more, go on a bit more[!]… to help us get at the multi-layered meaning that we can see here when we look at the Scriptures as a whole….
With Christ’s coming in the New Testament, God rescinds some of these ceremonial practices – things like the sacrifices, circumcision, special holy days and laws of cleanliness and purification – that he Himself had instituted in order to set His people apart from the other nations…[iii]
Now in the times of the Old Testament, the Gentiles… or heathen… or “non-Jews” were certainly invited to find hope in Israel’s God (think of the books of Ruth and Jonah, for example!), and yet these ceremonies also tended to divide the Jews from everyone else…
In fact, many have noted that it was these ceremonial practices themselves that appear to have enabled Israel to resist a loss of identity – and therefore the Messiah really could come from a clearly identifiable people even if one not rich in earthly power – the Jews.
So, by bringing all of these ceremonies to fulfillment in Himself, these were the “dividing wall” Christ came to abolish…
Nevertheless, God is of course still interested in matters of identity – that is why we are now no longer circumcised, but instead baptized into His family!
And of course in preserving a faithful people for Himself He now brings the Jew and the Gentile, the formerly “clean” and the “unclean”, together in Himself!
That said – and this is where we may begin to feel a bit rankled – even as He has done and is doing this, He also continues to talk about those who do not believe, those who do not receive Him, as being “unclean”.
And, in some sense, He continues to advocate separation! As Paul says II Corinthians 6, echoing the Old Testament again:
“Therefore come out from among them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be My sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”
Now, with this background, I think we are finally ready to jump into our passage from Jude again!
The passage from II Cor. 6 as well as our chosen text this morning from the book of Jude gives Christians guidance on how to interact with those among them who are turning away from the faith, who are growing distant from the congregation… veering towards “goat-status” or uncleanness…
Interestingly, if we look at our context today, our world today, we increasingly see these formations of separate groups… the phenomenon of people “coming apart”, as one sociologist put it…
Whether it has to with party politics, or generational differences, different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, diverging views within political parties, concerns about carrying things like the coronavirus, or simply “living in different worlds,” as we say today, the separations and polarizations grow deeper and more profound.[iv]
Interestingly, I don’t detect this so much on the part of Christians… Even if Christians are exhorted by the Apostle Paul to “come out from among them and be separate” in 2 Corinthians 6 (which we just heard), devout Christians hardly ever seem to be the ones who desire to withdraw… at least to the point of cutting of ties… There is a real hesitation here…
If someone is homeschooling for example, taking their kids out of the public schools… it is often because they feel that it is something they need to do so that Christian faith is preserved… even as they hope to continue to engage in the wider society…
With our current world, one might wonder how much more a society can take… as we continue to lose our center, our moorings, as things “come apart” more and more and love and trust fracture into a million pieces…
2 Timothy 3:5 says:
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”
Paul then adds: “Avoid such people….”
The 4th century Christian monk St. Anthony, renowned for his wisdom, talked about the full-blown hostility that the disintegrating world would eventually produce:
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.”
Now, if you are like me, you don’t desire for this to happen! For us to become ever more separated from our non-Christian friends and neighbors, such that they no longer even feel any closeness to us!
Nevertheless, we need perspective. When I was fifteen years old, I attended a “youth gathering” of young men and women of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Denver, Colorado. I remember singing with some 18,000 other youth (and it was powerful enough for me that part of me wants to sing this!):
“Lord, teach us how to proclaim
all your goodness, your love and your name!
Lord, teach us how to forgive, and in love, teach us Lord, how to live.
Raising our voices in song, help us tell all the world we belong.”[v]
But do we really belong?
How great a worry for us should this be as we seek to “love not the world”… to be in it but not of it?
And here is something else to think about. In mild-mannered Lutheran seminary professor Dr. John Stephenson’s recent essay: “A Quickening of the Apocalyptic Pulse?” he states:
“As I sense that the dramatic developments of the past two years constitute a dramatic intensification of the signs of the Lord’s coming, I would ask whether it is fanciful to suppose that electronically-monitored vaccine passports are at the least a dress rehearsal for the worldwide imposition of of the mark of the Beast that has puzzled interpreters ever since the writing of Revelation 13:16ff. While some detect a marked rise of the mercury in the eschatological thermometer, much of visible Christendom appears sunk in apathy, with leading churchmen preferring to encourage ‘“climate” hysteria and other suchlike chic concerns.”[vi]
Whether or not you agree with Stephenson… whether or not you think the twigs are tender… the leaves are out and summer near…[vii]
…you must know this: If you do not know the Bible you will be in a heap of trouble…
Folks, I am not saying that we should all become Amish…
…but there are undoubtedly at least a few things we could learn from them…
Again, if you do not know the Bible you will be in a heap of trouble.
This is especially true today – as in the Christian church we have many false teachers just like there were in the days of Jude… those who are powerfully attached to their sin do not fear him (Jude 12).
Going back to what we just heard from the Apostle Paul as well, do we need to be concerned about those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…” today?
Perhaps one is a popular mainstream media personality who has recently written a new book to help guide Christians and others in our fracturing world…
I took some time to listen to this person, who we’ll call Kristen. Kristen, like all of us, is loathe to see the continual disintegration of our world, the incessant “coming apart”
For example, she reports:
“It would be hard to overstate just how much some Americans have come to despise each other, at least in the abstract. In a January 2019 paper, ‘Lethal Mass Partisanship,’ researchers asked Republicans and Democrats if they believed that members of the opposing party were ‘just worse for politics’ or ‘downright evil.’ More than 40 percent in each party chose ‘downright evil.’ Twenty percent of Democrats and more than 15 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement ‘We’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.’”
Ouch. And I’d add that even if people don’t have such hate in their hearts, a constant stream of fear – along with the felt need to avoid most all risks – is nevertheless influencing many people’s actions today.
For example, I heard the other day about how in one survey of 2,000 vaccinated Americans, 60% of them said that their unvaccinated relatives will not be welcome to join them for Christmas this year! I won’t get started here, but feel free to ask me what I think about that…
In any case, Kristen thinks that she has come up with an answer for some of our harshest divides.
Her answer – which came to her just a couple of years ago – was that she was guilty of an over-reliance on black-and-white thinking, or “binary thinking,” or “dualistic thinking”, and that she had to overcome this. She had to just stop seeing people in black and white terms, as good or evil….
In one sense, of course, this is right: when the great Russian author and political prisoner Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that “[t]he line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts…” he was imperfectly giving voice to something Christians, in their hearts, are deeply aware of.
Even the Christian, who is a new creature in Christ, still contends with his fallen human nature, with original sin… with the “old Adam” that loves evil and remains in part until death…
At the same time, what Kristen does is simply create a new kind of dualism. Redefining the meaning of the biblical term grace, she says “If there is one practical idea that encapsulates grace, it’s the belief that people are doing the best they can with what they have.”
Is that what grace is?
This not only makes grace contingent on what one does, but into something that we, not God, defines…[viii]
Kristen is wrong on several counts here. First of all, if the third chapter of the book of Romans tells us anything, it is that people do not strive to love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind….
Nor do they even tend to wrestle with the fact that this is the primary think they should be doing….
Writing of societies that were purportedly Christian G. K. Chesterton quipped, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried…”
If Kristen really believes that grace means “people are doing the best they can with what they have,” what will she and those she identifies with do when the going gets really tough and she no longer feels she can say this about someone?
Don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing to believe that our views of good and evil should be intelligent and even nuanced to some degree – even if ultimately, it is only those covered with Christ’s robe of righteousness that God will call “good”.
In like fashion, it is not a bad thing to believe, as one said, “that everyone is fighting a hard battle” and to let such a though spur one on to compassion…
At the same time, we dare not forget that the love of God is otherworldly.
It is, again, “love to the [absolutely] loveless shown, that they might lovely be…”
Jesus came not for the healthy – that is, those who are doing their best – He came for the sick…. For the loveless sinners.[ix]
Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?
Can you give a reason for the hope that is within you?
My dear Christians – you better believe this is important!
Be exhorted by Luther:
“Truly, you cannot read Scripture too much; and what you read, you cannot understand too well; and what you understand, you cannot teach too well; and what you can teach, you cannot live too well.”
First, here, God calls out to you: “Come out and be separate!” Be with me. Spend time with me…
I know we ultimately want to be appreciated by the people around us. We do not want to be ashamed… Socially shamed.
But, above all, we should be more concerned about bringing shame upon our God, and dishonoring Him…
Because He – in spite of the fact that even we who believe just do not understand Him very well! – is the Source of all the love, light, and life that we have ever known and delighted in….[x]
“Help us tell all the world we belong?”
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place…”
Let’s look take a closer look at this passage from Jude:
“… show mercy with fear—hating even the clothing, or garment, stained by corrupted flesh.”
Here both garment and flesh are figurative in this context, evoking memories of the symbolic actions, items, and realities of Old and New Testaments we have already discussed….
Martin Franzmann also points out that even today though there is relevance: “[t]he garment spotted by the flesh is a strong expression to indicate that even the slightest contact [with these], even an apparently external contact, is to be avoided.”
We need to be honest. Many in the world look at Christianity and find this to be the case with it. Christianity is “stained” itself, or as they say today “toxic”…[xi]
They hate that the Scriptures say:
“….Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
holiness adorns your house
for endless days…”
Yes, the message of the cross certainly confuses and offends the world! At the same time, with its persistent insistence on things natural law, orders of creation, hierarchy, and natural marriage and family. Christianity today is seen as the modern equivalent of “unclean”!
And yet, it is in fact the Christian faith that ultimately helps us escape the toxic… unclean world!
That, in fact, is what Jude is talking about here: deliverance from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Deliverance from these things in fact and deliverance from their influence, power….
As Christians, we should certainly know that all of us are sinners. And at the same time, we need to also remember what Paul wrote to Timothy:
“…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
The external is important… What is happening around us is important. You should not only be concerned about your own fallen flesh, your own sinful nature… but also remember that the Scriptures also teach that bad company corrupts good character….
In other words, while we are all sinners, we can also get caught up in sinful currents more and more, and really go from bad to worse. Men can grow more and more evil – where they, for example, assert that there is no God ; or call evil good and good evil ; or are not even able to detect their sin…
Quite honestly I feel like many of the theologians of the church have evidently become far less concerned – or even aware – of these important truths…
Jude, however, is well aware of this.[xii]
And so he first of all calls out to us in our reading today to “Be merciful to those who doubt” and to “save others by snatching them from the fire”
I am not sure if we can say Jude gives us some sort of definitive taxonomy for dealing with those mired in unbelief (two or three categories!), but I do think that we can see at least three important stages here that we should be aware of…
And these first two groups are composed of members of the church who are filled with doubts or worse. The former are to be gently persuaded while more forceful action might be required for the latter, pulling them back from the rim of the volcano, so to speak, as they “play with fire…”[xiii]
And then he speaks of a third group, saying: “to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
This category of people seems to be more confrontational, antagonistic, and bellicose… These folks seem to be the libertine heretics Jude spoke of in verse 8 of his letter. They “defile flesh” as their influence on the congregation corrupts…
Again, it likely includes the false teachers described earlier in the book. And yet, Jude speaks of quarantine the contaminating deeds of those so polluted while also showing them mercy…[xiv] The Africa Bible Commentary puts it well:
“As we engage in the rescue operation, we must be vigilant not to be corrupted by the flesh. Cases about where sincere counsellors have been carried away by their concern for those they counsel, and have ended up forfeiting their faith and sinking with them. Jude says: Don’t compromise! We should have contact without contamination.”[xv]
Again, Jesus came not for the healthy – that is, those who are doing their best – He came for the sick…. For the sinners.
So remember your rescue operation.
So when it says….
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.”
We know that some will mourn because of their loss, because the great delusion they were under will be revealed to them…
But our mourning – not only because of our realization of how little we loved Him on earth as could have… but for the loss of all those who turned away from Jesus…
…Will be turned into dancing!
As we experience the new heavens and the new earth! No eye has seen, no ear has heard, what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him!
To say the least, as the baptized[xvi] stand with their King, the negative chaos, death, disorder, deformity, and uncleanness will give way to the positive, God, life, order, normality and cleanness, in the ultimate sense!
Because of the blood of the Lamb of God which definitively deals with all of our uncleanness!
Covering us with the pure and white robes won for us in His death and resurrection!
So brothers and sisters, come out and be separate…
[i] November 2021 sermon, last Sunday of the church year: (used Isaiah, Jude, Mark readings)
[ii] The passage is summed up by saying: “These are the regulations concerning defiling molds in woolen or linen clothing, woven or knitted material, or any leather article, for pronouncing them clean or unclean….”
[iii] We need to see that the Apostle Paul makes a distinction between what has been called the “ceremonial law” or “ceremonial practices” (Eph. 2:14-15, Acts 10:9-16, Col. 2:16-17) and what has been called the “moral law” (Rom. 13:8-10, James 2:8, Rom. 2:15, Matt. 5:17-19).
While the whole of the law has been fulfilled on our behalf in Christ (Rom. 10:4) – that it may now be fulfilled in the Christian’s own body (Rom. 8:4) – when Paul talks about the law being abolished, in Ephesians 2:14-15 for example, he is referring to these “shadows” we have been speaking of…
[vi] Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently speaking at a “Green Pass” protest in Italy said: “It’s clearly an instrument for controlling the money supply, controlling individual movements, controlling our kind of new digitalized economy, that gives these totalitarian elements the capacity to control every aspect, every feature of our lives, and the green pass is the emblem of that.”
[vii] From our Gospel reading: “28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
[viii] Therefore she writes: “Maya Angelou said, ‘You did . . . what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better[,]’” [and so, Powers goes on to say “]Grace tills the ground so that peace, wholeness, and completeness can take root in our burdened bodies, relationships, and the world.[“]
She writes elsewhere: “True grace is otherworldly. It goes against every instinct we have to seek revenge for wrongs or to shame and humiliate people who have acted immorally or unethically. It is what the theologian Dorothee Sölle, who grew up in Nazi Germany, called “borrow[ing] the eyes of God.” It enables us to see the divinity in every person, no matter what they’ve done, what they believe, or who they voted for. Grace is giving other people space to not be you.”
[ix] So you too can see all as someone God dearly loves – as one who was bought by the blood of Christ…
Using your “Christ glasses,” you too can see them as one loved by God and who God means for them to be… who they can be in Him…
[x] I came across this recently, in a review of Eric Metaxas’ new book:
“Eric Metaxas reminds us that despairing atheists have another option than suicide. That option is only foreclosed to those who have closed their minds and hearts. At a time when so many are succumbing to despair, Metaxas reminds us that hope remains in Jesus:
You get to be a part of giving others genuine hope in the genuine God who is the author of life and hope and goodness and truth and beauty. It is what you were created to do, but perhaps until now you didn’t understand this as you do now. That only means that you can now live as the one who made you made you to live. You can begin now. And this is not merely a poetic or a nice idea; it is true. The God of the universe wants you to spread goodness and truth and beauty wherever you go, to his glory. There are people whose lives you will touch, whether you know it or not. So now you know. Have we missed anything? (p.397)”
[xi] Related: https://religionnews.com/2021/11/16/in-catholic-italy-de-baptism-is-gaining-popularity/
[xii] To be sure, Jude, with his relentless focus on “the ungodly and their works of darkness” (Concordia Self-Study Bible), comes off as a bit of a downer to many modern Christians.
Now, it is true, right at the beginning and also at the end of the book, we hear some very beautiful and encouraging stuff, but other than that, Jude might strike us as an angry scold of sorts, just eager to pile on words of condemnation for awful unbelievers.
The Lutheran Study Bible, however, help us better understand the seriousness of the issue and helps us to see the practicality of the book even for us today…
“Jude warns his fellow Christians that false teachers behave ‘like unreasoning animals’ (v 10). They are instinctively driven to what is wrong and destructive. Jude uses numerous examples from the OT, Jewish literature, and the prophecies of the apostles to illustrate his warning. He admonishes his readers to rescue those entrapped by the ungodly (vv 22-23).” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2187)
Do you see yourself as trying to help the ungodly escape the snares of the devil?
Jude says, you should… And he is right.
So, knowing this firmly, “knowing the One whom we have believed,” (see Barfield, Newbigin, often….) be built up in our most holy faith and consider this excerpt from the writing of our Lord Jesus’ dear brother, Jude….
[xiii] Those described here would be people who have possibly even lost their faith but still continue to identify with it in some way. Perhaps they still attend the congregation externally even as they deny Christ in word and deed…
Curtis Giese: “…this describes a forceful act of rescue… where the person who is being rescued from the fire might be reluctant or even hostile to the rescuers….”
Perhaps we can think of this person as being like Lot, from the story of Sodom where God destroys that city because of their sins (see Jude 7).
The fire from which we are to snatch them is “the fire of God’s judgment that is threatening to destroy them.” (Franzmann)
From a Biblehub.com commentary: “Pulling them out of the fire.—Better, snatching them out of the fire. We have here another reminiscence of Zechariah 3:1-3 : we had one in Jude 1:9. (Comp. Amos 4:11.) The fire of the judgment to come is probably not meant; rather the imminent danger (as of one who is asleep in a burning house) in which the fire of their sins keeps them. This is the second class: those who can still be rescued, but by strong measures….”
Barnes Notes on the Bible, from Biblehub.com: “Pulling them out of the fire – As you would snatch persons out of the fire; or as you would seize on a person that was walking into a volcano. Then, a man would not use the mild and gentle language of persuasion, but by word and gesture show that he was deeply in earnest….”
Clement of Alexandria understood “the fire” here to have to do with sexual passion and indulgence.
On the brink, people who are right on the edge and need to be snatched back before fall into it… (see Matt 18:15-17; Luke 17:3; Gal 6:1,2; 2 Thess 3:15; I Tim 5:20; Titus 3:10; Jas 5:19-20)
[xiv] Barnes Notes on the Bible, Biblehub.com, adds this helpful comment:
“Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh – The allusion here is not quite certain, though the idea which the apostle meant to convey is not difficult to be understood. By “the garment spotted by the flesh” there may be an allusion to a garment worn by one who had had the plague, or some offensive disease which might be communicated to others by touching even the clothing which they had worn. Or there may be an allusion to the ceremonial law of Moses, by which all those who came in contact with dead bodies were regarded as unclean, Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 19:11. Or there may be an allusion to the case mentioned in Leviticus 15:4, Leviticus 15:10, Leviticus 15:17; or perhaps to a case of leprosy. In all such instances, there would be the idea that the thing referred to by which the garment had been spotted was polluting, contagious, or loathsome, and that it was proper not even to touch such a garment, or to come in contact with it in any way.
To something of this kind the apostle compares the sins of the persons here referred to. While the utmost effort was to be made to save them, they were in no way to partake of their sins; their conduct was to be regarded as loathsome and contagious; and those who attempted to save them were to take every precaution to preserve their own purity. There is much wisdom in this counsel. While we endeavor to save the “sinner,” we cannot too deeply loathe his “sins;” and in approaching some classes of sinners there is need of as much care to avoid being defiled by them, as there would be to escape the plague if we had any transaction with one who had it. Not a few have been deeply corrupted in their attempts to reform the polluted. There never could be, for example, too much circumspection and prayer for personal safety from pollution, in attempting to reform licentious and abandoned females. ]”
What else is going on with these clothes? Zechariah 3:1-5 helps:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by….
This above passage gives us hope for their salvation, even if it seems unlikely….
The garment here is called a tunic, that is an undergarment, and so it is the first item to become discolored and filthy from the sinful flesh or nature… It is to be despised… (see Leviticus 13:47-59 and Leviticus 15)
Note also Isaiah 64:5, Amos 4:11-12, Num. 16:1-35; Ps. 106:17-18
[xv] Giese: “Even in the case of severe and contagious defilement, Jude still encourages the beloved to seek to bring such polluting people back to the communion of saints,” yet with extreme caution.
[xvi] Say I am baptized!
Do not forget the “previous cleansing of [your] sins” (2 Pet 1:9) but put off the spotted and soiled garment of your sinful nature and return to your baptism…
Be clothed in Christ and put on the new purified self, created in Christ, l like a new baptismal garment (Giese)