Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Luther on "Disagreeable Preachers"

Today is Martin Luther's 527th birthday, and as I like to do on days such as these, I have been reading various works by Luther. In particular, I decided to spend some time in Luther's commentary on 1 Peter as I prepare for Sunday morning's message (1 Peter 4:7-11). Therein, Luther deals with those who do not use their spiritual gifts in a loving and appropriate way, and he says:

"These are disagreeable people, and yet they are common in the world, especially among the preachers. As soon as one feels he can do something another cannot -- is apt to learn, has a fine voice, or dispatches work quickly -- he overdoes it, becomes proud, despises others who cannot equal him, yea, he thinks he knows more than those under whom he studied and suddenly changed from pupil to professor and wishes to make a show before the whole world. If then the public join him and praise and boast of his ability (as such spirits strive for this one thing with all their might), he is then first made a little gentle and tickled so that he does not know whether he is walking upon the earth or in the clouds. Such characters do the greatest harm to Christianity; what pious orthodox teachers did so well, and planted and built during long years with great care and labor, they break to pieces and ruin in a short time, and consider their ways better and holier, and they must also be honored by such names which suggest that they were seeking the honor of God and salvation of their neighbors."

If, when reading Luther's words, we are tempted to look down our noses at others whom we deem guilty of such attitudes and conduct, then we have missed the point. Rather, I think it best for us to be driven by Luther's words to look in the mirror at ourselves. Are we allowing the precious blessings of God's giftedness and the gratitude of His people to puff us up with toxic pride? We must always be on guard against this, lest we tear down what others have labored long to build. And Luther's words also contain a warning for the layperson as well. Be careful in heaping praise upon the gifted servants of God, for in so doing, you may unintentionally be casting them into a great temptation, the allure of which is dreadfully powerful.

Luther then wisely concludes this section with a more positive injunction for preachers and those to whom they preach:

"Whoever now preaches the word of God in its purity, without the addition of any human doctrine, that God out of pure love gave his only begotten son Jesus Christ for the sins of the lost world, seeks not his own, but God's honor, does not like God, rule over you, but serves you with his gifts, points out to you how you may be delivered from your sins and be saved. Whoever does the contrary seeks his own honor and advantage as is the manner and character of all work-righteous persons."

From this, we draw that our preaching must be thoroughly saturated in the very words of God Himself in Scripture, and not our own opinions and ideas. This is the only way to truly honor God in the ministry to which He has called us. And if a preacher does this, the congregation must be assured that he is not seeking to reign over his people, for he demonstrates his awareness that Christ is the only Lord over the church. Rather, such a preacher has humbly served both his God and his flock by giving them that which is most precious: God's divine truth. And so the right way to honor such a preacher is not then to heap praise upon him, but rather to praise the true source of his words, the Lord Himself, and to submit to the Lord in saving faith and obedient service.

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