Considering that today is Reformation Day—a day marked by actions resulting in events that changed the course of the entire world—I suppose I’ll just go ahead and put this out there to see what happens.
I sure am glad that Martin Luther didn’t just pray for his enemies, but that he actually fought back, having engaged them in ways that eventually stopped the wheels of a dreadful machine intent on stripping humanity completely clean of the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone.
Thanks, Martin, for reminding us that there’s more to Christian faithfulness than prayers, pious intentions, and potlucks. Thanks for showing us that sometimes—just sometimes—blades need to be sharpened and armor needs to be fastened as battle lines are drawn against the cosmic powers aligned in opposition to Christ and His Church.
Allow me to keep going.
I suppose while I’m sharing these things, I’ll add that I’m glad David went toe to toe with Goliath instead of staying home and figuring that God would sort it all out in His own way (1 Samuel 17). And speaking of this same future monarch, I’m glad the prophet Nathan was willing to risk his own life to confront King David regarding his murderous affair with Bathsheba. I imagine a prophet facing off with a king would be quite the sight.
I should say I appreciate the trifecta of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When King Nebuchadnezzar imposed mandates that stripped away their religious liberty, they stood against him. Indeed, rather than simply—and much more easily—excusing themselves from faithfulness by saying it was their duty to obey the governing authorities, they demonstrated a better sense, one proving that sometimes the government is genuinely honored when it is resisted (Daniel 3:1-30).
I’m sincerely thankful for John the Baptist’s exemplary stand before King Herod, namely his unequivocal devotion to God’s moral and natural law in relation to marriage. Too many clergy believe it isn’t their place to deal in such things. Sure, they give their theological reasons. And they sound really smart, too. Personally, I think it’s because they’re scared. And why wouldn’t they be? They know, just as John knew, that their actions might spell their end (Mark 6:17–29).
Oh, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul (Matthew 16:26)? I’ll say this can start when a person gets over his or herself.
Let’s keep going.
I’m grateful that Saint Peter finally put his often misplaced boldness to a better use, having told the Sanhedrin to go fly a kite when they attempted to strip the Apostles of their freedom to preach and teach the Gospel. “We must obey God rather than men,” Peter said, so dryly, and yet so robustly by faith (Acts 5:29).
I really appreciate Saint Paul. For example, right after Saint Paul and his fellow missionary, Silas, had been unjustly beaten and thrown into prison, once the treachery to their rights as Roman citizens was discovered, rather than letting their persecutors off the hook, Paul demanded they be paraded through the city in their shame (Acts 16:35-37). I don’t know if such scenes in the Scriptures are supposed to make me smile, but admittedly, this one does.
Even better, while standing before Festus, instead of accepting what seemed to be the inevitable fate of the “little man,” Paul refused to go quietly into the night, as the poets would say. He worked the system, appealing his rights as a citizen before Caesar, rather than sheepishly shrinking into the easier assumption that he was outclassed and done for, relegating his fate to the simpler hope that God would just have to handle it (Acts 25:9-12).
I suppose lastly, I’m also quite fond of the fact that Paul wasn’t beyond calling out the Church’s enemies by name in his Epistles, effectively neutralizing particular characters’ attempts to corrupt or destroy the Gospel both in public and private (1 Timothy 1:19-20). In other words, move in ways that hinder or pervert the people of God and the Gospel for faith and Paul won’t hesitate to make you famous.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but that, too, has the potential for making me grin.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. You should pray for those who are enemies of the Church, offering regular petitions to God that He would change their hearts. This means laboring in love for them, not only trusting that God will keep His promises to work things for the benefit of salvation, but also bearing in mind that you, too, were once at enmity with your Creator, and yet He loved you enough to redeem you by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s by His sacrifice that Christians have real peace, and as a result, they’ve been recreated to desire peace with their foes. Still, having said all of this, I sure do appreciate Amelia Earhart’s practical observation, which offered, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” I think she was right by these words. And the examples from God’s Word I described above are proof. They remind us we shouldn’t step from the Gospel assuming that the postures of a bowed head or a turned cheek will be all that’s required when engaging with the world around us. There may be times God shows His love for the world through you by putting you out in front of a giant. It may be that He expects you to take an uncompromising, and quite possibly a personally damaging, position against a bully. He may expect you to be a shield for Christian liberty. He may lead you into an unexpected fray to speak a firm word to a liar, or expose a shameful parade of fools, or publicly decry false theology, or call someone out by name who must be marked and avoided by others.
He may require that you demonstrate genuine honor for the government by resisting it.
In short, faithfulness to Christ may mean stepping up. It may actually mean getting in the way of the Gospel’s enemies and doing what you can to crush them. Yes, crush them. It may mean warring against them, not only to bring their godless ways to a halt, but to do so through deliberate actions that confuse their efforts, threaten their power, and eventually retake the fields they’ve seemingly conquered.
As a side note, clergy who preach against this—or do what they can to get in the way of Christians engaging in these ways—are wrong, and they should be told as much. Perhaps at a minimum, they need to read Saint James’ Epistle in its entirety, being sure not to skip over the more uncomfortable portions describing the loveless spirit that would say to a person in need, “Be warm and well fed” (James 2:16). After that, they might give Luther a quick perusal. They’ll find more than enough content relaying something similar to:
“Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He does all things. If Gideon had not obeyed and gone to battle with Midian, the Midianites would never have been conquered, even though God could, of course, have conquered them without Gideon. He could also give you corn and fruit without your plowing and planting, but that is not His will” (Exposition of Psalm 138, W.A. 31. I. 435 f.).
Finally, after a little light reading from Luther, may I be so bold as to suggest listening to what I said at our recent conference? Click here to view the video.
Remember, the opposite of Biblical love is not hate. It’s apathy. It’s inaction. For God to have lacked love means for Him to have forsaken us in our condition of Sin. But He didn’t. He reached to us. He acted. Even better, God recreated us by His Gospel to be people who are ready to respond when things are out of kilter. Some of the required actions sting. Some of the required actions are very hard to do. No one wants to be wrong. No one enjoys being told they’re out of line. No one prefers to be told “no.” But God’s holy Law reminds us of just how wrong we are in ways that reach into our very cores. In a sense, the discipline God shows us in this regard is an emanation of His love. It is a warning given to those He’d rather not to lose to eternal condemnation. Because we’ve been recreated by that same love, this is our desire, too. If it isn’t, then we need to check our faith.
And so, to bring this morning’s thoughts to a close, Christians love through action, whether that be by rebuking and correcting, or through gentleness and care. Either way, through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit provides discernment, all the while reminding us that such love will take different forms in different contexts. And part of my point: sometimes—just sometimes—this love must roll up its sleeves and get dirt under its fingernails.