Three Approaches to the Erring…
These may be scoffers, heretics or apostates, perhaps erring brothers or unbelievers. Truth has a package for them all. The primary focus of Jude was the apostates. In dealing with them he puts forth three manners of interaction…
“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 22-23, niv).
“And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 22-23, kjv).
Here Jude outlines three approaches to those who deny the Truth of the gospel. Some are still doubters. They make claims or discount truths, yet they still may be restored. There is in them a degree of doubt about the untruths they affirm. “Be merciful to those who doubt,” advises Jude. Do not crush them with overreaching rejection.
Jesus demonstrates this to some degree in his merciful response to Thomas (see John 20:24-29). “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (v. 27). If a rebuke, it was a gentle one, yet it was enough! Thomas fell to His knees and cried, “My Lord and my God!” (v.28).
“Snatch others…” writes Jude. This is a bold and violent action, an abrupt pinning of untruth to the wall of the immutable gospel. We see Jesus responding this way to the Pharisees. Near the end of a 39 verse tirade Jesus shouts, “You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33). Bold and violent indeed — yet Righteous.
Finally, there are those to be approached with severity but also with caution… “with fear,” as Jude has it. Fear for whom? The erring, or oneself? Scripture gives reason for both.
To the Galatians, Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” “…hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” says Jude (v.23).
Perhaps we glimpse a bit of this in Jesus’ casting of demons into nearby swine. (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20). It was imperative that they exit their host, but not into the watching, wavering crowd. The curiosity and double-mindedness of the onlookers made them vulnerable. Thus Jesus sends them specifically into the nearby swine. Compassion on the man, no fear for Himself, but for those weak around Him great caution.