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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."

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