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Thursday, January 11, 2018

We read a Muslim book in our family worship!

One of our greatest blessings as a family in the last six months has been hosting international students from countries all over the world, including Japan, Russia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. It has been such a privilege for us to get to know them, and to talk about our faith with them.

For Christmas my new friend Aziz, a Saudi studying at a local university, gave me a book by a Muslim Imam that is a favorite of his father's, a gift that I appreciated very much and have enjoyed reading. In our family worship after dinner one night, I shared an excerpt from the book and then a passage from the Bible, and we compared and contrasted the two.  I thought you might like to hear about it, and repeat our little experiment in discernment...

In his book Don't Be Sad, Dr. Aid al-Quarni writes this:

By brooding over the past and its tragedies, one exhibits a form of insanity - a kind of sickness that destroys one's resolve to live for the present moment. Those who have a firm purpose have filed away and forgotten occurrences of the past, which will never again see light, since they occupy such a dark place in the recesses of the Mind. Episodes of the past are finished with; sadness cannot retrieve them, melancholy cannot make things right, and depression will never bring the past back to life....

Do not live in the nightmares of former times or under the shade of what you have missed. Save yourself from the ghostly apparition of the past. Do you think you can return the sun to its place of rising, the baby to its mother's womb, the milk to the other, or the tears to the eye? By constantly dwelling on the past and it's happenings, you place yourself in a very frightful and tragic state of mind....

The person who lives in the past is like someone who tries to saw sawdust. 

There is much truth in those words, and I especially like the last saying. The Imam's teaching is an example of what we call in Christian theology "common grace" (and possibly "natural revelation," depending on our understanding of that term), because what he says about the past makes a lot of sense, and it also fits with the wisdom revealed in the Christian Scriptures. One particular passage, which we read together that night in our family worship, says something very similar, but also differs from the Imam's teaching in a couple important ways. See if you can pick out the similarities and differences as you read the apostle Paul's words Philippians 3:12-15...

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

The part in bold print, of course, is very similar to what the Imam was saying, so his words ring true to us who believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority by which all human wisdom should be judged. But the biggest difference between the two excerpts, which also should be fairly obvious, is that in the biblical passage, the idea of "forgetting the past" is sandwiched between two statements about Jesus Christ being the reason why we can and should put the past behind us. This is a microcosm of the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity that I've discovered in becoming friends with Aziz (and in my studies about the two religions): our morality and values are similar in many ways, but in Islam Jesus is viewed as merely a prophet (rather than the Son of God) who did not really die on the cross, while Christianity affirms the opposite about him on both counts.  To us Jesus is the "reason for the season"--not just at Christmas, but in everything we believe and do.

It was also interesting to note that in the preceding verses of Philippians 3, what Paul was "forgetting" from the past were not only bad things he had done, or even bad things that happened to him, but also the good things he had done when practicing his religion. He wanted to put those "good works" behind him because they could actually prevent him from having a saving relationship with Jesus, if he was trusting in them to make him right with God. So he says in verses 9-11,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord....in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.


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Thursday, January 4, 2018

It's a conspiracy! (Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians 6:11-18)

This is my last post (!) in an almost year-long series going through the book of Galatians and Martin Luther's classic commentary on the book. Along the way I have tried to always communicate the basic truths of the passages I read about, and also add a little "spice" by talking about something especially provocative or practical to our lives. So it is fitting that for this last post in the series, I have some summary quotes by Luther that capture the essence of the last passage in Galatians, and then after that I will launch into some interesting conspiracy theories...

But first things first.  The apostle Paul closes out this powerful letter with these words in Galatians 6:11-18:  "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen."

As any good writer does, Paul uses his conclusion to reiterate the main theme of his work, which in this case is justification by faith alone. He has been especially concerned that the Galatians not fall prey to the false teaching of the Judaizers, who said that circumcision was necessary for salvation. The crescendo of Paul's conclusion is therefore verse 15: "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." About that verse, Martin Luther writes,

Reason fails to understand this, "for the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." (I Cor. 2:14.) It therefore seeks righteousness in externals. However, we learn from the Word of God that there is nothing under the sun that can make us righteous before God and a new creature except Christ Jesus. A new creature is one in whom the image of God has been renewed. Such a creature cannot be brought into life by good works, but by Christ alone. Good works may improve the outward appearance, but they cannot produce a new creature. A new creature is the work of the Holy Ghost, who imbues our hearts with faith, love, and other Christian virtues, grants us the strength to subdue the flesh and to reject the righteousness of the world.

The camaraderie, shared passions, and common sympathies between Paul and Luther, which we have seen throughout this series of posts, is evident in their last words as well. Paul concludes in verse 18, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen." And Luther concludes his commentary with the similar sentiments...

This is the Apostle's farewell. He ends his Epistle as he began it by wishing the Galatians the grace of God. We can hear him say: "I have presented Christ to you, I have pleaded with you, I have reproved you, I have overlooked nothing that I thought might be of benefit to you. All I can do now is to pray that our Lord Jesus Christ would bless my Epistle and grant you the guidance of the Holy Ghost." The Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who gave me the strength and the grace to explain this Epistle and granted you the grace to hear it, preserve and strengthen us in faith unto the day of our redemption. To Him, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, be glory, world without end. Amen.

So where did the "conspiracy theories" come in, you might ask? Well, I'm glad you did, so I can close my own series of writings with something I found interesting (if not very relevant, in the end)...

I noticed as I read through Luther's commentary that there was a glaring omission...he did not say anything about the end of Galatians 6:16 and the controversial phrase about "the Israel of God." Most pre-modern and Covenantal theologians understand this as a reference to the Church of Christ, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, and a not-so-subtle way for Paul to reiterate his general theme of inclusion and his specific teaching in chapter 3, where he said that the Gentiles were also "children of Abraham" through their faith.  Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists, on the other hand, take the phrase as a reference to ethnic Jews, because to allow that it may apply to the Church would contradict their foundational belief in the separation of the "two peoples of God" (Israel and the Church).

If you'd like to read an extensive exegetical discussion of the verse (and see what I think about it, as well as some opposing comments), click here. But the first conspiracy theory arose in my mind when I thought about why Luther's Galatians commentary did not even mention that part of the verse, when he seemed to comment on every other portion along the way. And I mused, "Hmm, maybe Luther thought it was supporting a pro-Jewish perspective, and he really was anti-semitic, so he just ignored it. Or worse, maybe he wanted to take it out of the Bible altogether, like the book of James." So I was thinking that maybe Luther himself was conspiring against this part of Scripture.

But then I did some research and found out that in the complete, unabridged version of Luther's commentary (which the Kindle one I've been reading is not), he does comment on "the Israel of God" and takes the traditional Covenantal view. Here's what he says:

When Paul adds "and upon the Israel of God," he touches the false apostles and the Jews who gloried and bragged that they were the people of God, that they had the law and the promises. So it is as if Paul said: They are the Israel of God, those with faithful Abraham who believe in the promises of God offered in Christ, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, and not they which are the begotten of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after the flesh. But this entire matter was handled before in the third chapter.

So it wasn't Luther who left that phrase out of his commentary, it was whoever edited it for my Kindle version! And that led me to a new conspiracy theory... Maybe it was a Dispensationalist or Christian Zionist who did the abridgment!  Or someone that was afraid of offending Jews...

Just kidding! I actually intended to parody anti-semitism there, in case you were wondering, and not to parrot it. We need to be careful on the one hand not to elevate ethnic Jews above non-Jews in any way, but we also need to make sure we don't view them in a negative light either. (Those are Paul's main two points in Romans 10:18-11:24, by the way.)

Thank you for joining me on my trek through Galatians and Luther's commentary... I'm looking forward to moving on to many new and interesting topics in the days to come!

Happy New Year!

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Blessed to be a blessing (Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians 6:6-10)

We should be a blessing financially to those who've blessed us spiritually, and doing so is actually good for us!  (And not doing it is bad for us.)  That's the basic point of Paul's words in Galatians 6:6-10...

"Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

Martin Luther begins his commentary on these verses with some personal words from his own experience...

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow "all good things" upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul's admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now....

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts. Paul's admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: "If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" (I Cor. 9:11.)

Having been a pastor for over 20 years, and now a full-time Christian writer/editor who is seeking support from others on Patreon, I understand Luther's reticence to even talk about money, let alone ask for it.  But the Lord talks about it a lot in the Bible, including two whole chapters about donations to the suffering believers in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9).  There is a great need to support gifted people who devote their lives to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" by doing work that pays far less than the salaries in the secular business world.  Pastors, missionaries, and others who serve the Lord in non-profit endeavors simply could not do the work God has called them to (or do it well, at least) unless others who are blessed financially determine to bless them in that way.  Luther sums this up well...

I must say I do not find much pleasure in explaining these verses. I am made to appear as if I am speaking for my own benefit. If a minister preaches on money he is likely to be accused of covetousness. Still people must be told these things that they may know their duty. 

Paul and Luther go on to "up the stakes," so to speak, by reminding us what Jesus taught repeatedly, that what we do with our money is actually an indication of our spiritual state before God (see Matt. 6:19-24 and 25:14-30).  Paul writes in verse 8, "For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life."  And Luther comments:

Though this support is something physical the Apostle does not hesitate to call it sowing to the Spirit. When people scrape up everything they can lay their hands on and keep everything for themselves the Apostle calls it a sowing to the flesh. He pronounces those who sow to the Spirit blessed for this life and the life to come, while those who sow to the flesh are accursed now and forever.

Finally, Paul adds that we should "not grow weary of doing good" and "not give up" in our support of those who have been a spiritual blessing to us (v. 9).  Luther suggests that one reason for the temptation to grow weary or give up may be because we don't always see good fruit come out of our giving, and sometimes we even see bad fruit.  He must have witnessed some ingratitude among those who "lived by the gospel," so he zeroes in on that.  But his words have a broader application to any of us who might be disappointed in any way by the seemingly negligible effects of our charitable giving...

It is easy enough to do good once or twice, but to keep on doing good without getting disgusted with the ingratitude of those whom we have benefited, that is not so easy. Therefore the Apostle does not only admonish us to do good, but to do good untiringly. For our encouragement he adds the promise: "For in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." "Wait for the harvest and then you will reap the reward of your sowing to the Spirit. Think of that when you do good and the ingratitude of men [or other disappointments] will not stop you from doing good."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Luther on restoring the fallen (from his commentary on Galatians 6:1-5)

"When someone falls down, do you put out your hand to help them, or do you kick dirt in their face?"

I heard a preacher say that recently, and it captures well the underlying concern in the apostle Paul's words in Galatians 6:1-5, as well as Martin Luther's comments on it.  I've come to this great passage in my devotional reading of both Galatians and Luther's commentary, and I'm continuing to do this "devotional blogging" until I reach the end of the book (which won't be very long now).

The passage says, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load."

The great Reformer obviously had observed that loving restoration is the opposite of what often happens when someone has fallen into sin.  He writes,

Let the ministers of the Gospel learn from Paul how to deal with those who have sinned. "Brethren," he says, "if any man be overtaken with a fault, do not aggravate his grief, do not scold him, do not condemn him, but lift him up and gently restore his faith. If you see a brother despondent over a sin he has committed, run up to him, reach out your hand to him, comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a mother. When you meet a willful sinner who does not care, go after him and rebuke him sharply." But this is not the treatment for one who has been overtaken by a sin and is sorry. He must be dealt with in the spirit of meekness and not in the spirit of severity. A repentant sinner is not to be given gall and vinegar to drink.

Those who fail to do so [bear the burdens of the fallen] expose their lack of understanding of the law of Christ. Love, according to Paul, "believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." This commandment is not meant for those who deny Christ; neither is it meant for those who continue to live in sin. Only those who are willing to hear the Word of God and then inadvertently fall into sin to their own great sorrow and regret, carry the burdens which the Apostle encourages us to bear. Let us not be hard on them. If Christ did not punish them, what right have we to do it?

Paul and Luther then go on talk about the primary reason why people kick dirt in the faces of the fallen rather than helping them up, which is pride.  They think of themselves higher than they ought to think (v. 3, see also Rom. 12:3), and compare themselves to those who have failed with thoughts like "I would never do that" or "he made his bed, now he'll have to lie in it."  But Paul challenges us to examine our own works, which would surely lead us to recognize that we ourselves are no better than anyone else (because we know more about our own secret sins than we do about those of others).  This calls to mind some wise words from a pastor who reached out to me after some sin had been exposed in my life.  I said to him on a text, "Thanks for your phone message...it takes courage and compassion to care for the lepers."  And he responded, "We're all lepers, Dave, we just don't realize it sometimes."

Luther then goes even deeper by suggesting that a particular symptom of spiritual pride, which must be healed in us before we can be healers to others, is a desire for the approval of people, or "the fear of man" as the Scripture calls it.  His words about this are helpful not just for pastors (whom he addresses), but for anyone who wants to help others up rather than kick dirt in their faces...

"Let a minister be faithful in his office," is the apostolic injunction. "Let him not seek his own glory or look for praise. Let him desire to do good work and to preach the Gospel in all its purity. Whether an ungrateful world appreciates his efforts is to give him no concern because, after all, he is in the ministry not for his own glory but for the glory of Christ." A faithful minister cares little what people think of him, as long as his conscience approves of him. The approval of his own good conscience is the best praise a minister can have. To know that we have taught the Word of God and administered the sacraments rightly is to have a glory that cannot be taken away.

[About verse 6, "each will have to bear his own load"]  That means: For anybody to covet praise is foolish because the praise of men will be of no help to you in the hour of death. Before the judgment throne of Christ everybody will have to bear his own burden. As it is the praise of men stops when we die. Before the eternal Judge it is not praise that counts but your own conscience.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone (Luther's commentary on Galatians 5:16-26)

The quote in the title above is often attributed to Luther. Those particular words are not in the commentary section I read, but the basic idea is very prominent. Luther again shows how balanced and pastoral he is in his thoughts on a passage that Paul begins (and summarizes) by saying, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (vv. 13-14).

Luther captures the point of the passage (and the saying above) in the following quotes...

Christians are glad to hear and obey this teaching of love. When others hear about this Christian liberty of ours they at once infer, "If I am free, I may do what I like. If salvation is not a matter of doing why should we do anything for the poor?" In this crude manner they turn the liberty of the spirit into wantonness and licentiousness. We want them to know, however, that if they use their lives and possessions after their own pleasure, if they do not help the poor, if they cheat their fellow-men in business and snatch and scrape by hook and by crook everything they can lay their hands on, we want to tell them that they are not free, no matter how much they think they are, but they are the dirty slaves of the devil, and are seven times worse than they ever were as the slaves of the Pope.

The Apostle exhorts all Christians to practice good works after they have embraced the pure doctrine of faith, because even though they have been justified they still have the old flesh to refrain them from doing good. Therefore it becomes necessary that sincere preachers cultivate the doctrine of good works as diligently as the doctrine of faith, for Satan is a deadly enemy of both. Nevertheless faith must come first because without faith it is impossible to know what a God-pleasing deed is.

So the great Reformer (like the great Apostle before him) knows that it is important to emphasize the role of good works (especially love) as an evidence of true faith.  But in his later comments we see Luther's pastoral and practical concern that this emphasis can sometimes cause true believers to fear for their souls because our works never seem to be good enough and our sinful flesh never seems to go away.  (To understand what the "flesh" is according to Scripture, see this post.)  Luther says,

Do not despair if you feel the flesh battling against the Spirit or if you cannot make it behave. For you to follow the guidance of the Spirit in all things without interference on the part of the flesh is impossible. You are doing all you can if you resist the flesh and do not fulfill its demands. 

When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: "You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing." If at that time I had understood this passage, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," I could have spared myself many a day of self- torment. I would have said to myself: "Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh." 

I remember how Doctor Staupitz used to say to me: "I have promised God a thousand times that I would become a better man, but I never kept my promise. From now on I am not going to make any more vows. Experience has taught me that I cannot keep them. Unless God is merciful to me for Christ's sake and grants unto me a blessed departure, I shall not be able to stand before Him." His was a God-pleasing despair. No true believer trusts in his own righteousness, but says with David, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." (Ps. 143:2) Again, "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Ps. 130:3.) 

No man is to despair of salvation just because he is aware of the lust of the flesh. Let him be aware of it so long as he does not yield to it. The passion of lust, wrath, and other vices may shake him, but they are not to get him down. Sin may assail him, but he is not to welcome it. Yes, the better Christian a man is, the more he will experience the heat of the conflict. This explains the many expressions of regret in the Psalms and in the entire Bible. Everybody is to determine his peculiar weakness and guard against it. Watch and wrestle in spirit against your weakness. Even if you cannot completely overcome it, at least you ought to fight against it.

According to this description a saint is not one who is made of wood and never feels any lusts or desires of the flesh. A true saint confesses his righteousness and prays that his sins may be forgiven.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Preachers who should be castrated (Galatians 5:7-12 and Luther's comments on it)

The people who misled the Galatians in the first century were saying that they needed to be circumcised in order to be justified before God (i.e forgiven for their sins).  Paul said he'd like to see those teachers do more than just cut off their foreskin, but go farther and take the whole thing off!  Galatians 5:7-12 is the passage where he says this:

"You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"

Why would Paul use such harsh language (clearly a form of "cursing") in regard to what the Galatians were being taught?  It's because the stakes were so high--namely, the eternal fate and spiritual success of those who were being misled.  (See this post for another example of such cursing earlier in the book.)

Martin Luther, in his commentary on the passage, provides some justifications for Paul's use of profanity (and his own, no doubt).  First of all, he asserts that Satan himself is behind all such false teaching, and shares the apostle's compassion for poor sinners in need of forgiveness and hope...

The devil is a cunning persuader. He knows how to enlarge the smallest sin into a mountain until we think we have committed the worst crime ever committed on earth. Such stricken consciences must be comforted and set straight as Paul corrected the Galatians by showing them that their opinion is not of Christ because it runs counter to the Gospel, which describes Christ as a meek and merciful Savior. 

Satan will circumvent the Gospel and explain Christ in this his own diabolical way: "Indeed Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to those who are holy and righteous. If you are a sinner you stand no chance. Did not Christ say that unbelievers are already damned? And did not Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils patiently, bidding us to follow His example? You do not mean to say that your life is in accord with Christ's precepts or example? You are a sinner. You are no good at all." 

Satan is to be answered in this way: The Scriptures present Christ in a twofold aspect. First, as a gift. "He of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption." (I Cor. 1:30.) Hence my many and grievous sins are nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the Scriptures present Christ for our example. As an exemplar He is to be placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and gladness that l may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the day of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to anything else, except that Christ died for my sins.

Second, Paul and Luther both recognize that the persecution they faced (which would certainly not be mitigated by the language they used:), is a sign that they were angering Satan and thus "on the right track"...

Saint Bernard observed that the Church is in best shape when Satan assaults it on every side by trickery and violence; and in worst shape when it is at peace. In support of his statement he quotes the passage from the song of Hezekiah: "Behold, for peace I had great bitterness." Paul looks with suspicion upon any doctrine that does not provoke antagonism. 

Persecution always follows on the heels of the Word of God as the Psalmist experienced. "I believe, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted." (Ps. 116:10.) The Christians are accused and slandered without mercy. Murderers and thieves receive better treatment than Christians. The world regards true Christians as the worst offenders, for whom no punishment can be too severe. The world hates the Christians with amazing brutality, and without compunction commits them to the most shameful death, congratulating itself that it has rendered God and the cause of peace a distinct service by ridding the world of the undesired presence of these Christians. We are not to let such treatment cause us to falter in our adherence to Christ. As long as we experience such persecutions we know all is well with the Gospel.

And finally, Paul and Luther were so strong in their language because they believed the truth of the Word of God itself was being intentionally twisted and corrupted, and if unchecked that would lead to the destruction of the very foundations of the Christian faith...

This goes to show again how much importance Paul attached to the least points of Christian doctrine, that he dared to curse the false apostles, evidently men of great popularity and influence. What right, then, have we to make little of doctrine? No matter how nonessential a point of doctrine may seem, if slighted it may prove the gradual disintegration of the truths of our salvation. 

Let us do everything to advance the glory and authority of God's Word. Every tittle of it is greater than heaven and earth. Christian charity and unity have nothing to do with the Word of God. We are bold to curse and condemn all men who in the least point corrupt the Word of God, "for a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." 

Paul does right to curse these troublers of the Galatians, wishing that they were cut off and rooted out of the Church of God and that their doctrine might perish forever. Such cursing is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus Peter cursed Simon the sorcerer, "Thy money perish with thee." Many instances of this holy cursing are recorded in the sacred Scriptures, especially in the Psalms, e.g., "Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell." (Ps. 55:15.)

Luther's comments about the importance of "the least points of Christian doctrine" might be taken to mean that we should curse other teachers who disagree on more minor matters like the mode and subjects of baptism, the Five Points of Calvinism, and worship styles.  And perhaps Luther did go too far in that regard sometimes, like when he condemned the other Reformers for their different views of the elements in the Lord's Supper.  But I think we should hear his words in the context of the Galatian heresy, which was about salvation and justification rather than other less important doctrines, and take them as a challenge to not tolerate even the smallest deviation from biblical truth in those areas. 

Augustine was a hero of Luther's, and the church father was known to say, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity."  So Paul's cursing (and Luther's), was an attempt to promote unity on the most essential issue of how we can be right with God, and they believed it was charitable (or loving) because they were trying to wake people up to the danger of getting that issue wrong.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Reformation 500 - Six Days of Luther, Day 6 (from his commentary on Galatians 5:6)

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Exactly 500 years later, I have been celebrating the great movement of God that followed his initial protest by posting his comments in full on this great passage in Galatians 5:1-6, six posts in a row.  This will be the last entry where I'll post his comments in full, but the celebration will continue every week or so on this blog, as I continue to read and excerpt and comment on Luther's teaching through the rest of the book of Galatians.

Since his comments on Galatians 5:6 are relatively short, at the end of them I will provide a list to my former posts about these two world-changing books (Galatians and Luther's commentary on it)... Perhaps you might want to click on one or a few and discover or review them before we move on.

Here's what the great Reformer had to say about verse 6 of Galatians 5...

VERSE 6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love. 

Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, "In Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing," i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, "If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing," is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.

And here are the titles and links for my previous posts on Galatians and Luther, in case you'd like to check out any of them...

Martin Luther: "Preach the Gospel to Yourself" (from his commentary on Galatians 1:1-4)

DAMN those gospel preachers! (Luther on Galatians 1:6-9)

Paul and Luther defended themselves...Should you? (Luther on Galatians 1:11-24)

How important is your reputation? (Luther's comments on Galatians 2:1-10)

Paul rebukes Peter (and us) (Luther's commentary on Galatians 2:11-15)

The biggest problem for Catholics (and many Protestants too) (Martin Luther on Galatians 2:16-19)

"I've got good news and bad news..." (Luther's commentary on Galatians 2:20-21)

Blessed for Doing Nothing (Martin Luther on Galatians 3:1-9)

What Martin Luther got right, and one thing he didn't (in his commentary on Galatians 3:10-14)

How did we ever make it without...? (Luther's commentary on Galatians 3:15-18)

Luther's Law/Gospel Distinction (in his commentary on Galatians 3:19-22)

"Law and Gospel cross paths continually" (Luther on Galatians 3:23-29)

No longer a slave (Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians 4:1-7)

Martin Luther, 16th Century Cessationist (from his commentary on Galatians 4:6)

The Danger of Christian Idolatry (Martin Luther on Galatians 4:8-11)

What Martin Luther would say to Donald Trump (from his commentary on Galatians 4:12-20)

Was Luther an Antinomian? (from his commentary on Galatians 4:21-31)