The brief letter of Jude paints a startling picture of one very dysfunctional workplace—a church blighted by ungodly leaders. Some of the problems are unique to churches, such as denying Jesus Christ (Jude 4) and heresy (“Korah’s rebellion,” Jude 8). Others could occur in a secular workplace: rejection of authority, slander (Jude 8), violence (“the way of Cain”), and greed (“Balaam’s error,” Jude 8). The worst abuses are perpetrated by leaders who gorge themselves at the expense of their flocks. “They feast with you without fear. They are shepherds who care only for themselves” (Jude 12, NRSV alt. reading). Jude’s words apply equally to church leaders misappropriating church funds for their own pleasures, executives plundering a corporate pension fund to prop up reported profits (and thus their bonuses), or employees surfing the web on company time.
In the face of this malfeasance, Jude gives a command as surprising in the workplace as in the church: Have mercy. “Have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies” (Jude 22–23). Jude is not afraid to take strong action against evil. His mercy is not soft or weak, as his images of fire, fear, and defiled bodies indicate. Jude’s mercy is severe. But it is mercy nonetheless, for its hope is not merely to punish the offenders but to save them.
This severe mercy may be what some workplace situations require. Someone who commits fraud, harasses other workers, or lies to customers cannot be let off lightly. That leads only to greater evil. But discipline cannot turn into mere revenge. In Christ’s eyes, no person is beyond hope. The godly leader treats each person with respect and tries to discern what kind of discipline might lead them back into the fold.
Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W, Barker, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1983).
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