Does Jude 1:22 mean what I think it means?
If you were to talk to people who are passionate about their roles and responsibilities in life, you’d likely discover that their greatest desire is to “make a difference” in people or in society. They are motivated people who want to have a lasting effect on the world and for that they should be applauded.
Many people find biblical direction to “make a difference” when they read verse 22 in the Book of Jude. This sentiment is further spurred by the biblical command in that verse to “have compassion.”
“And of some have compassion, making a difference:” – Jude 1:22
Many draw the conclusion that having compassion will “make a difference” in the lives of people. I would agree in principle that such an action of compassion would “make a difference” since there are many in the world who do not exercise such virtue toward their fellow man. However, is this interpretation the true meaning of the biblical text? Is this what the Bible is telling us to do? The problem lies in an improper interpretation not based on the text’s grammatical and historical context. Herein lies the rub – the idioms and phrases of our English language transpose a certain type of meaning on this verse that would not correlate with the mind of Jude or other First Century believers.
Let’s break this down further. The phrase “make a difference” first appeared in print in 1470 with its modern meaning and become an English idiom, which is to say it became a figure of speech and common expression. In Christian circles, it was tied to Jude 1:22 and became the premier verse to encourage compassion which “makes a difference” in people’s lives. Today the verse can be seen on prayer cards, heard as the topic of sermons, and echoed as the mantra of ministers.
However, we have superimposed our understanding of an idiom, which was not in use at the time of the writing of this biblical book, onto the text. There is a greater, deeper, and more specific meaning contained within these verses.
In order to discover such meaning, we must first look at the original word used in the text, which is the Greek word “διακρίνω.” It is formed by combining two other Greek words, δια, a preposition meaning “through,” and κρίνω, a verb meaning “to judge.” Therefore, the compound word means “to separate, make a distinction, or to discriminate” based on the root idea to “thoroughly judge” something.
Now, let’s examine the word in the context of the book and two verses in particular in order to discover the application. Jude begins by stating that Christians must “earnestly contend” for the faith, which is that body of biblical doctrine which was delivered to them. The reason for this was because men had crept in unbeknownst to the congregation, and the influence of false doctrine was beginning to permeate the church. The results of false teaching could absolutely destroy the faith of the believers and culminate with the failure to reach the lost for Christ, so Jude made great haste to warn his audience. In his final exhortation of the book, Jude explains how these Christians need to approach those who are teaching false doctrine and those who were beginning to believe heresy. Note verses 22 and 23:
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 distinguishes two groups of people: some upon whom the Christians must have compassion and some upon whom they must “save with fear,” which is the Bible’s way of saying “put the fear of God in them.” In certain situations with certain people, Christians must present a message of “compassion” if they are going to change the direction of the wayward person. These types of folks will need to see that “the goodness of God leadeth to repentance” (Romans 2:4). For others, they will need to be reminded of God’s law of reaping and sowing (Galatians 6:7-8) and of the judgment that awaits those who go astray (Romans 1:32). Many would think of this approach as the “fire and brimstone” sermon. While it may be abrasive to some, it will be what is needed to rescue those who have gone astray and to “pull them out of the fire.”
How do you tell what person needs which message? Great question! You will have to develop discernment by seeking God for the answer and by giving counsel to those in need. The biblical process is explained in I John 5:16:
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death.
Here’s the procedure: if you see someone commit a sin, you should “ask” the Lord for help on that person’s behalf. Simply, you will pray for a way to help that person. If you do this, God will give you “life” for them. The word “life” is a word used to describe the spiritual quality of the Word of God (see Hebrews 4:12 where it is translated “quick” and John 6:63 where Jesus’s words are called “life”). When God answers your prayer, he’ll give you a verse that can broadly fall into one of these two categories – it will either be a message of compassion or a message of consequence. Regardless of categorization, it will be a reproof, and it will provide instruction in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16-17).
Put it all together: you should pray for the wayward person, allow God to answer by giving you a Bible verse or principle to share with them, and then you will take that counsel back to them in an attempt to correct the error and to restore their spiritual life and walk with God.
In my own life, there have been times when I’ve had people directly confront me to tell me to straighten things out in my life. I could tell they were led of the Lord because it was exactly what I needed to hear. Though their message was stern, their manner was sincere (James 1:20, II Timothy 2:25). There have been other times when I’ve needed a gentle message from a loving friend in order for me to return to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul (I Peter 2:25).
In light of these principles, Jude 1:22 contains much more for believers than what initially appears to the casual observer of Scripture. My humorous exhortation for you is to “STOP making a difference” with this verse and apply it appropriately by developing discernment for the sake of others who need specific biblical messages. If you want to (as we would say in English) “make a difference” in the lives of others, go for it! Just find a different verse to encourage your efforts. Good verses include Mark 6:34, Matthew 9:36-38, and many others.