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.
As sheep being led by teachers in the word of God, we will learn necessary life lessons. Some of us, however, learn a new set of lessons as shepherds. Whether one is teaching in the word or in any secular discipline, it is important to know how to deal with each student individually. The first grade teacher is concerned with keeping order in the classroom and making sure each child progresses along with the material. The teacher of the word has the same interests, but there is a greater concern. There is a spiritual component to these interactions that makes them even more critical. When the direction of one’s faith is involved, the need for order and alignment is more pressing, but this is not an issue just for the shepherds.
Earlier verses in this chapter of Jude speak about those who attempt to bring division to the Church. These come in all shapes and sizes, individuals with their own specific issues. It can be difficult to discern those who desire to bring the Church to unity from those who desire to pull her apart. There certainly is responsibility on the shepherds to determine who is who among the flock, but this discernment is valuable to all of us. There is a difference between one who sincerely doubts for lack of knowledge or wisdom and one who sows doubt with intention. There is a difference between one who is struggling not to stray toward the fire and one who is trying to lead others there with purpose. We must be able to distinguish between these so that we can be merciful with others while still protecting ourselves and the brethren.
The warning in these verses is not about fear but about wisdom. The reality in which we live dictates that not every sheep we encounter is necessarily a sheep. There are wolves among us, and we cannot be so naïve to dismiss that, but the Lord has given us what we need to be a successful Church regardless of those wolves. He allows us to discern between those who desire life and unity and those who desire destruction and separation. We must be merciful and kind while still being on guard for spiritual pitfalls. Love and trust the brethren, but act with righteous discernment. Father, give us wisdom and mercy as You teach us to distinguish between the wolves and the sheep while dealing with our brothers and sisters rightly.