Are You a Contender?

by Rebecca Stark, author of The Good Portion: God

Recently, a Canadian mother saved her young son from a cougar that attacked him in her family’s backyard. She pried open the cougar’s jaws with her bare hands as he tried to drag the boy away. A few years ago I read a news story about another British Columbia woman who saved her son from a cougar using a kitchen towel. These two mothers courageously risked their own lives to protect their boys. 

If you google the phrase “mom saves child from cougar,” you’ll find stories of other heroic mamas. One mother used a camping cooler, and another a water bottle to rescue their children from an attacking cougar. One brave mom managed to save her child but died from her own injuries

Faced with a dangerous attack on a beloved child, would any mother simply stand and watch? No, a mother’s love compels her to protect and defend her children, and to fight to the death if necessary. 

When Jude wrote his New Testament letter to one of the early Christian churches, he urged the members to fight to protect and defend the faith. “Beloved,” he wrote,

“although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4 ESV).

“Certain persons” who claimed to be believers had “crept” into the church. They looked like ordinary Christians, and they settled into the church like ordinary Christians would, but they had joined for shady reasons. We don’t know the details, but it seems that both by their actions, which were immoral, and by their teachings, which were false, they attacked “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”

The believers in this church (the true ones, that is) knew enough about the doctrine of the apostles—the teachings that were probably already set down in a not-yet-completed New Testament canon—that Jude didn’t need to flesh out the “the faith once for all handed down.” These early Christians were already united around the body of doctrine that was the faith, so Jude could jump straight into his appeal for them to defend it.

The sneaky false teachers were attacking this church from within, and Jude’s letter is a plea for every single true believer there, everyone “called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), to rise up and defend the apostles’ gospel. And because Jude’s letter is scripture, it is, by extension, a plea for every true believer down through the ages and across the world to be ready to protect and defend the gospel. The call to defend the faith is not just for pastors and deacons, but for laymen and laywomen, too. God calls us all to be defensive warriors, fighting against imposters within the church who destroy others by distorting the truth. 

Like the brave mothers who snatched their children from the cougar’s jaws, a believer’s fight to defend the faith is compelled by love. We fight, first, because we love the truth, and second, because we love people and want to save them from certain death. We fight to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” of God’s judgment against unbelief and apostasy. We defend the truth as an act of mercy toward “those who doubt” (Jude 22-23).

But we can’t contend for the faith if we don’t know what it is. We won’t recognize infiltrating false teachers if we don’t know what the apostles taught. We can’t discern a destructive false gospel if we don’t understand what the real gospel is. 

Step one for contenders, then, is to know the truth. Jude’s first readers (or hearers) had a partial canon of scripture, yet he assumed they understood what the faith once for all delivered to the saints was. We have a complete canon, and our own personal copies of scripture, so we don’t have an excuse for not knowing the whole body of doctrine handed down to us from the apostles. If we don’t know it, we can learn it as we study the Bible, and as we read or listen to faithful Bible teachers.

Step two is to step up and defend the faith we know. Although there may be cases in which false teachers need to be physically removed from the body, fighting for the faith is mostly a war of words. We fight for the faith by speaking—or like Jude, by writing. And while we may sometimes be forced to use strong language as a weapon against wolves in our midst, most of our contending won’t look like a war, not even a word war. No, our most common defense tactics will be teaching and reminding. 

We contend for the faith when we teach the truth to those among us who don’t have a firm grasp of it. Our hope is that as they learn, they become more grounded in the faith and less likely to be snatched away by false teachers with a false gospel. 

And for those who are already established in the faith? As we remind each other of the beauty of the truth we already know, we encourage faithfulness to it (2 Peter 12-13). We fight for the faith by helping each other remember how lovely our gospel is, because those who are busy basking in the glory of the real gospel aren’t fooled by a false one.

This blog is an edited version of a piece first posted by Rebecca at Out of the Ordinary.

Sneak Peek Interview of Rebecca on The Good Portion: God

Sneak Peek Interview: Rebecca Stark

Rebecca writes: “Most of all, I want each reader to catch a glimpse of God’s glory. I pray she sees his beauty as she explores who he is and what he has done. And as she reads, I hope her heart begins to sing his praises.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

God Is Good

Excerpt from the recently released The Good Portion-God: The Doctrine of God for Every Woman by Rebecca Stark:

One of my favorite autumn activities is picking the wild cranberries that grow on the mossy forest floor surrounding my home. Last fall they were so plentiful that I didn’t need to harvest beyond the small strip of woods right across the street from my house. When the snow finally came, I had three large mixing bowls full of cranberries waiting to be turned into jam or juice, or frozen whole to use in muffins throughout the winter. Even so, I left plenty of berries on the bushes for the birds and bears.

Where I live in northern Canada, the wild bounty God provides includes cranberries (or lingonberries), caribou, moose, bison and more. In Minnesota where I grew up, He gives wild blueberries, chokecherries, juneberries, wild rice, and venison. From His goodness, God provides all of these native foods for His creatures to eat.

Even if you live where there isn’t much wild food to hunt or gather, God provides the food you eat. Do you grow some of your own food? The vegetables and fruits you grow are His good gifts to you. If you buy your food in a local market or supermarket, God is using farmers, truckers, grocers, and others to supply food for you to eat.

No matter where we live, or how we gather it, we all receive our food from God’s goodness. From God’s goodness, He gives us wonderful gifts—food, homes, families, and more. But even greater than these is His gift of His Son. From His goodness, God gave His own Son for our salvation.

God Gives

The Lord is good to all … (Ps. 145:9)

The Father, Son, and Spirit exist in an eternal relationship of sharing and love,[1] and from the overflow of this eternal goodness, God gives good gifts to His creatures. The psalmist David described the goodness of God in Psalm 145:

The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Ps. 145:9, 15–16)

Our good God generously provides everything His creatures need.

The eighteenth-century English Baptist pastor John Gill described God’s goodness as ‘an inexhaustible fountain’: overflowing forever even though He is continually sharing His goodness with the living things He has made.[2] In John Gill’s time, city fountains didn’t recirculate their water like the fountains we have now. Instead, they drew water from a reservoir or natural springs, and provided this clean water for all the people who lived around them. God’s inexhaustible fountain of goodness is this kind of fountain—one that constantly provides us with fresh goodness. But with His fountain, there is no danger the reservoir will run dry or the springs will dry up. He has an eternal unlimited supply of fresh goodness. His goodness flows from Him forever in a never-ending stream.

From the abundance of His generosity, God grows mushrooms to feed squirrels and saplings to feed deer. He provides earthworms for robins and mice for foxes. The greens I grow in my garden come from His goodness, too. He could have created only one kind of salad green, or none at all, but instead, He created crispy romaine, buttery spinach, chewy kale, spicy arugula, and red leaf lettuce for extra visual punch, each variety increasing my pleasure as I eat my summer salads. Vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats, both wild and cultivated—every different kind is a good gift from our good God.

God directs everything in the universe, so every benefit we receive—every ‘good gift’—comes from Him (James 1:17). Beyond our food, homes, and families, He gives us jobs, friends, vacations, sunshine, music, colors, and even the air we breathe. Everything that sustains us and everything that gives us joy— all are God’s gifts to us. Even when people give gifts to us, underneath their gifts is the goodness of God. He gave them enough to share (1 Cor. 4:7) and the desire to share with us.

God is generous to everyone, even those who don’t acknowledge Him or His gifts. ‘[H]e is kind to the ungrateful and evil,’ Jesus said (Luke 6:35). ‘[H]e makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matt. 5:44–45). Even God’s enemies receive good gifts from Him.

This doesn’t mean, however, that He distributes His gifts equally to everyone. As long as He gives no one less than they deserve, God can give more to some than others and still be perfectly just and good. He can do what He chooses with all that belongs to Him, and we have no right to complain or be envious of the gifts He gives to others (Matt. 20:13–15).

But we aren’t always satisfied with what we receive from Him, are we? I sometimes envy retired couples who drive their motor homes through my town each summer. I was in my forties when my husband passed away, so I will never be able to take retirement road trips with him. Given the opportunity, we probably wouldn’t have traveled much during our retirement years anyway, but knowing this doesn’t keep me from coveting this gift God has given to others but not me. What gifts do you long for? A bigger and better house? A more challenging job? A more attentive husband? Whatever they are, when we envy the gifts God has given to others, we’re rejecting His goodness, first, by begrudging His generosity to others, and second, by undervaluing the gifts He has generously given to us.

The first step to being satisfied with the gifts God has given us is to acknowledge them. We tend to take His generosity for granted because He is constantly providing for us from His abundance. We may commute to work, for instance, without considering that it is only because our good God is protecting us that we arrive safely. Or we may take a daily shower without acknowledging that God is the one who keeps the water pipes and the water heater working. But neither safe travels nor warm showers are automatic. They are both good gifts from God, gifts that some women won’t receive today. When we remember His kindnesses to us—His big gifts and His small ones—and receive them with thanksgiving, we will be more content with what we have and less envious of His gifts to others.

From His goodness, God provides for the earthly needs of all His creatures, but for those who belong to Him, His generosity continues throughout eternity. Even in this life, every single circumstance is a good gift working an eternal purpose. All things, including life’s trials, are part of God’s benevolent plan to make every believer more like Christ (Rom. 8:28–29). Can you see why the apostle Paul reminds his readers to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18)? Our generous God uses everything, even the hard things, to remake His people in His image.

And as those who are being remade in His image, God’s people should reflect His goodness. Since He is good even to His enemies, we are called to be good to our enemies, too. And who are our enemies? When Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies, He included a wide range of people in this category. According to Jesus, anyone who didn’t love them, anyone who wasn’t a brother to them, along with anyone who Was actively persecuting them (Matt. 5:43–48), was an enemy. Every one of us has plenty of enemies to be generous to! The grumpy neighbor who doesn’t like your family because she prefers silence to the sound of children playing in your backyard is, according to Jesus, your enemy. As His disciple, you are called to not retaliate, but to do good instead. If you take her a few fresh muffins, you are fulfilling His command to love your enemies. You are providing for someone who doesn’t love you or your children, just as God provides for those who don’t love Him or His children. Likewise, when you treat kindly the co- worker who purposefully undermined you, you are imitating God’s kindness to both the just and the unjust. And if you pray for someone who is hostile to you because of your Christian faith, you are also reflecting God’s generosity to His enemies. You are following Jesus’ command to be like ‘your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:45).

But just as God is especially generous to those who belong to Him, His people should be especially ‘good to … those who are of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6:10). Yes, we should give to people in our neighborhoods and people across the world, but the priority for our generosity should be our fellow-believers. Even as we donate to needy children world-wide, our first duty is to make sure the needs of the children in our own churches are met.

And whenever we give to others—to our fellow believers, to the community around us, or to people far away—we are simply giving from what we have already received from God. Any praise we receive for our generosity should be redirected to Him, who gives to us so we can give to others. All the glory for both the gifts we receive and the gifts we give is rightfully His.

[1] Reeves, Michael, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic 2012), 47.

[2] Gill, John, ‘A Body of Doctrinal Divinity’ Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/gill/doctrinal.ii.xvi.html