Hidden Reefs that Cause Shipwreck
Robert Wurtz II
Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 1:11-13).
Our passage is situated in the context of Jude’s declaration that believers must “earnestly contending for the faith that was once and for all delivered unto the Saints.” In the first century, ungodly people came into the churches by stealth and turned the grace of God into license. The word “ungodly” indicates that they were unregenerate and devoid of the fear of God. Nevertheless, they made their way into the ministry and negatively influenced people under the guise of ministering for God.
The ESV translates this passage identifying these seducers as “hidden reefs” in the sea. The KJV and NKJV render them as “spots” which is not the sense or strong enough. The Greek word is spilas, and it means “rocks covered over by water” or a “reef.” Metaphorically it means to cause others to lose their faith. In other words, these spilas are instruments of a shipwreck. They lie under the surface and strike at the hidden and vulnerable parts of a ship as it comes into contact with them. Hence, they shipwreck other peoples’ faith.
Jude gives two areas where these seducers stumble and therefore shipwreck others, the envious way of Cain and the greedy way of Baalim. This is lust for popularity with God and men and lust for money (covetousness). The reader will recognize that these two trappings spoiled many of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The way of Cain is that of envy and jealousy. He was displeased that God favored his brother Abel’s offering above his. Envy turned to hate and then murder. The Pharisees watched the crowds that Jesus drew. He baptized more disciples than John the Baptist whom they had enviously hated before. John said, “I must decrease, and He must increase” but not them. They loved the chief seats and to hear the accolades of people.
The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted Jesus dead because He cut deeply into their fan base. They were prepared to ally with each other and even include the Zealots to bring Jesus down. Each group had their reasons for shouting “crucify,” but even Pilate had the good sense to perceive that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up” (Mark 15:10). As Dr. Joe Rigney has pointedly suggested:
“Envy hides behind a façade of care and compassion for others. When the Sanhedrin gather to discuss what to do about Jesus and his miraculous signs, they rationalize the need for action by concern for the people. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). Caiaphas seizes upon this reasoning and ironically prophesies that it is better for one man to die for the people, rather than the whole nation perish (John 11:49–50). Envy cannot bear to show its face, so it hides behind false pretenses. ‘It’s for the good of the people,’ rationalizes the high priest.”
False ministers such as these are dangerous to individual Christians and congregations. They are rocks under the surface of the waves waiting to tear the hull of the ship apart. Moreover, they, like the Pharisees, are covetous. In Luke 16:14 Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters (God and money). In the next verse, we read, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).
Jude is written much like the book of Galatians as a strong warning. The danger is what Paul calls “making shipwreck.” The behavior and teachings of such people can stumble a person (to use a different metaphor) or group until they abandon their faith, ministry, or both. Who are these stumbling blocks? (They) are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 1:12-13).