Luther On Serving Our Neighbor

I am currently reading through “The Freedom Of a Christian” by Martin Luther (excellent book!).  I just entered the section on works and service to our neighbors.  I found it to be very sobering in light of reality, and very challenging:

Let us be clear that no one needs to do these things [works] to attain righteousness and salvation.  Therefore, we should be guided in all our works by this one thought alone – that we may serve and benefit others in everything that is done, having nothing else before our eyes except the need and advantage of the neighbor.  The Apostle Paul wants us to work with our hands in order to share with the needy (Eph. 5:28).  Notice that he could have said that we should work to support ourselves.  But Paul says that we work to give to those in need.  This is why caring for our body is also a Christian work.  If the body is healthy and fit, we are able to work and save money that can be used to help those in need.  In this way, the stronger member of the body can serve the weaker.  This demonstrates that we are children of God, caring and working for the well-being of others and fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens.  Here you have the true Christian life, one where faith is active in love (Gal. 5:6).  It expresses itself joyfully and lovingly and results in the freest possible service.  Satisfied with our own abundance of faith, we Christians serve the neighbor without any hope of reward. (Pgs. 79-81 in the book)

Admittedly, I rarely think of my job and the money I make as something that is gained for the benefit of others (beyond my wife and children).  My first instinct is to think of how I can use it for me.  I feel so far from having this mentality that Luther talks about here that it feels daunting to even try.  If I do try, I am bound to fail quickly, get discouraged, and slide back into the same routine of thinking mainly about myself.

But, I think Luther is correct in his understanding of this.  I think that, as a product of sin and our wealthy and comfortable culture, we have become such a self-centered people.  The more we have, the more we want – to the point where our wanting is nearly unquenchable.    Once we have resolved our own budgets and desires, there is usually little or nothing left over for anyone else.

What do you think about this quote from Luther?  If you agree with him, how do we even begin?  What does it look like to really do this well?  If you disagree with him, why?

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One thought on “Luther On Serving Our Neighbor

  1. Pratt, I love this perspective from Luther. It goes right along with his teaching that man was created to be “outward looking.” We were fashioned to live a life directed toward our God and our neighbor. Sin is the movement away from God and others. Luther described sin as “man curving in on himself.” Vocation and finances are one aspect of this neighbor oriented lifestyle. From Luther’s perspective it is in this outward posture that we find freedom. Indeed, it is here that we become human again. Thanks for posting this!

    Do you have any further thoughts on Luther’s teaching here?

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