Saturday, July 10, 2010

Matthew 5:43-48 (Luther)

Matthew 5:43. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
44. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45. So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47. And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The statement that Christ quotes here does not appear in any single place in the Old Testament, but is scattered here and there throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, where it talks about the enemies of Israel among the surrounding Gentiles, like Moab, Ammon, and Amalek.53 Although it does not expressly say that they should hate their enemies, still this follows from statements like the one in Deuteronomy 23:6, that they should never do anything good for the Ammonites, the Moabites, and their other enemies, nor ever wish them good fortune or success. This was indeed a great concession and a generous grant to the Jews, and one which they used to good advantage. But here as elsewhere they misunderstood this, going to extremes and misusing it to gratify their own whims. Hence Christ has to reinterpret it and show them what the Law really meant. They had neglected this and had laid emphasis only upon the statements that sounded as if they supported their position. Thus they provided backing for their own crookedness.
Here again you must note the distinction, and primarily the fact that He is speaking only about what Christians as Christians should do, and in particular what they should do on account of the Gospel and their Christianity. My reply to someone else’s hate or envy, slander or persecution should not be more hatred and persecution, slander and curses, but rather my love and help, my blessings and my prayers. For a Christian is the kind of man who knows no hatred or hostility against anyone at all, whose heart is neither angry nor vindictive, but only loving, mild, and helpful. That is how our Lord Christ is, and His heavenly Father Himself, to whom He points here as the pattern.
Now the question arises: What is to be said about the fact that the Scriptures often talk about holy men cursing their enemies, even about Christ and His apostles doing so? Would you call that blessing their enemies? Or how can I love the pope when every day I rebuke and curse him—and with good reason, too? The answer, put as simply as possible, is this: I have often said that the office of preaching is not our office but God’s. But whatever is God’s, that we do not do ourselves; but He does it Himself, through the Word and the office, as His own gift and business.54 Now, it is written in John 16:8 that it is the office and work of the Holy Spirit to convince the world. But if He is to convince it, He cannot act the hypocrite or play the flattering gentleman and say what it would like to hear. He must rebuke it vigorously and attack it—the way Christ pronounces “Woe!” upon His Pharisees (Matthew 23); the way Paul says to Elymas (Acts 13:10):55 “You son of the devil … full of all villainy!”; the way Stephen reads a hard and sharp text to the high priests (Acts 7:51–55); and especially the way St. Paul (Gal. 1:8) puts it all on one pile and calls everyone ἀνάθεμα, that is, excommunicated and cursed and sentenced to the abyss of hell, who does not preach the pure teaching about faith.
You see, that is how God’s Word proceeds. It challenges the whole world. It reaches into the mouth of the lords and the princes and of everyone else, denouncing and cursing their whole way of life, something that is not proper for you or me to do as individual Christians except in our office and our teaching position. In Psalm 2:10, 11 David dares to do this. He tells all the kings and lords to think, to humble themselves, to fall at the feet of the teaching about Christ, and to let themselves be rebuked and instructed. Otherwise they will be damned instantly and turned over to the devil. I would not dare to do that. But that is the way God’s Word proceeds. It hammers the great and mighty mountains with its thunder and lightning and storms, so that they smoke. It shatters everything that is great and proud and disobedient, as Psalm 29 says. But on the other hand, it is also like a fruitful rain, sprinkling and moistening, planting and strengthening whatever is like the poor, parched plants that are weak and sickly.
Now, it is wrong for someone who is not a teacher and preacher, commissioned to administer the Word of God, to rush in, snapping and snarling and cursing. But whoever has been commissioned with this office, must administer it. And it is wrong for him to neglect it or to be so seared that he refuses to open his mouth and to denounce what should be denounced, irrespective of personal considerations. For example, now we have to say to our bishops that they are tyrants and villains, who flagrantly oppose both God and the law with their violent and capricious dealings. Now when I do this, I am not doing it on my own, but by virtue of my office. Otherwise, as far as my own person is concerned, I ought not to wish or say anything evil to any man on earth; rather I ought to wish everyone well and speak and act kindly toward him. It is not in this way that I am the enemy of the pope, the bishops, and all the enemies who persecute us and continually torment us. From my heart I am perfectly willing to let them have whatever temporal goods, power, and prestige God gives them; and I would do my best to help them keep it all. Indeed, I would be even happier if they were also as rich in spiritual goods as we are, and lacked nothing. And it would be our heart’s delight if by surrendering our own body and life we could bring them to this, rescue them from their blindness, and save them from the power of the devil.
But they simply refuse to have this, and they cannot tolerate or accept any of the good things that we offer them. Therefore we must also let them go their own way, and say: “If we have to make a choice of which should perish, whether the Word of God and the kingdom of Christ or the pope with all his mob, then rather let him go to the abyss of hell, in the name of his god the devil, just so that the Word of God may abide!” If I must bless and praise one of them and curse and damn the other one, then I will bless the Word of God but curse them with everything they have. For I must place the Word of God above everything else. To keep it and to stay with Christ, who is my highest Treasure in heaven and on earth, I must be willing to risk my body and life, the popularity of the world, my goods, my reputation, and all my happiness. For one of these two things has to happen: either the Word of God will abide and conquer them; or at least they will be unable to suppress it, even if they refuse to accept all its grace and goodness and salvation.
In this way a Christian can easily handle the situation and his relations toward both his enemies and his friends. So far as his neighbor’s person is concerned, he will love and bless everyone. But on the other hand, so far as God and His Word are concerned, he will not put up with any transgression. He must give this precedence over everything else and subordinate everything else to it, irrespective of any person, be he friend or foe; for this cause belongs neither to us nor to our neighbor, but to God, whom it is our duty to obey before anything else (Acts 5:29). Consequently I say to my worst enemies: “Where it is only my own person that is involved, there I am very willing to help you and to do everything good for you, in spite of the fact that you are my enemy and that all you ever do for me is to harm me. But where it is the Word of God that is involved, there you must not expect any friendship or love that I may have for you to persuade me to do something against that, even if you were my nearest and dearest friend. But since you cannot endure the Word, I will speak this prayer and benediction over you: ‘May God dash you to the ground!’56 I shall willingly serve you, but not in order to help you overthrow the Word of God. For this purpose you will never be able to persuade me even to give you a drink of water.” In other words, our love and service belong to men. But they belong to God above all; if this is hindered or threatened, love and service are no longer in place. For the command is: “You shall love your enemy and do him good.” But to God’s enemies I must also be an enemy, lest I join forces with them against God.
Thus He has refuted this idea also against the delusion of the Jews, who gave a crooked twist to Scripture57 by maintaining that they were permitted to hate their enemies. He has interpreted the Law to mean that they were to have no enemy at all whom they should hate, in spite of the fact that Moses had told them not to establish or to maintain friendly relations with certain alien heathen, whom not they but God Himself had specifically designated as His enemies. But that they were to regard as their enemies anyone whom they chose, and that they were to curse, persecute, and torment such people—that was not what Moses meant to say. Solomon correctly understood and interpreted Moses, and he says (Prov. 25:21): “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” a statement which St. Paul also cites (Rom. 12:20). Hating your enemy is proper to a public person and to an office that has been divinely established. But the commandment (Lev. 19:18): “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” applies to the common crowd and to each individual in particular.
Look at how high He puts the target. Not only does He denounce those who do harm to their enemies, but He also refuses to call those “pious” who neglect to do them good when they need it. He says first: “Love your enemies.” But “to love” means to be goodhearted and to wish the best, to have a heart that is friendly, kind, and sweet toward everyone, not one that makes fun of misery or misfortune. He also wants us to express this by our words, as He says: “Bless those who curse you.” Thus we should not speak a single harsh word against them, however terrible their abuse, slander, scolding, and curses may be, but only speak to them kindly and wish them well. This is the source of that beautiful Christian saying which some pious people use. When they hear that someone has done them wrong or has played some ugly trick upon them, they say: “May God forgive him!” They are concerned and sympathetic, and all they want is to keep this from bringing any harm to him in his relation to God. That is really a good tongue in response to the evil tongues of others, with both the mouth and the heart demonstrating nothing but love.
In the third place, He wants this kind of heart to become manifest in deeds as well, in all kinds of friendly and cordial works. He says: “Do good to those who hate you.” This is really a very rare virtue. It is the kind of teaching that does not suit the world at all; nature finds it impossible to recompense all sorts of evil with nothing but good, not to be overcome by evil nor by shameful ingratitude but to overcome evil with good, as St. Paul says (Rom. 12:21). For this reason He had laid down the condition earlier (Matt. 5:20) that whoever wants to be a disciple of Christ and to enter the kingdom of heaven must have a righteousness that is different, one that is better than that of the Pharisees and the Jewish saints.
The fourth item, however, “Pray for those who spitefully abuse you and persecute you,” applies more directly to our doctrine and faith than to our person and life. The fact that they persecute us is due to the Word of God: they claim that they are right and that we are wrong. Then it is our duty to pray and to commend our cause to God, for on earth there is no law or judge to vindicate us. Our persecutors are actually in competition not with us, but with God Himself; it is with His kingdom that they are interfering; they are doing the greatest injury not to us but to God Himself; and it is His wrath and condemnation that they have incurred. When we see all this, we should have pity on them and pray for them to be rescued from their blindness and their terrible doom. No one can do us any harm without doing it first to a far greater lord, namely, to the High Majesty in heaven Himself.
Yet all this is valid only in so far as it goes on apart from one’s official responsibility and does not interfere with it. As I have always said, it is necessary carefully to distinguish the teaching that pertains universally to each individual person from the teaching that pertains to persons in an office, whether it be spiritual or secular, whose task it is to punish and to resist evil. Therefore, even though personally they may be gentle, yet administering justice and meting out punishment is their official work; and it has to go on. It would be wrong if their pity moved them to neglect this; for that would be tantamount to helping, strengthening, and encouraging the evil. It is as if I were to say to our enemies, the pope, the bishops, the princes, and all the rest, who are persecuting the Gospel and trampling its poor adherents underfoot: “Gentlemen, may the dear God reward you! You are pious people and holy fathers”; or as if I were to keep quiet, pay them homage, or kiss their feet. No, dear brother, this is what I ought to say: “I am a preacher. I have to have teeth in my mouth. I have to bite and salt and tell them the truth. And if they refuse to hear, then in the name of God I have to excommunicate them, lock them out of heaven, consign them to the fire of hell, and turn them over to the devil.”
Now, whoever has this office of rebuking and denouncing, let him perform it. But apart from that office, let everyone stick to this teaching: You shall not denounce or curse anyone, but you shall wish him everything good and show this in your actions, even though he may act badly; thus you will disclaim all right to mete out punishment, and you will assign it to those whose office it is. Such a person will eventually find a Judge that will not spare him, even though you may not take vengeance or even seek it. God will not let any violence go unpunished, but He Himself will take vengeance on our enemies and will send home to them what they have deserved by the way they have treated us. As He Himself says (Deut. 32:35): “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” On the basis of this, St. Paul admonishes the Christians (Rom. 12:19):58 “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” These words are not only instruction but also consolation, as if He were to say: “Do not take it upon yourselves to avenge yourselves on one another, or to speak curses and maledictions. The person that does you harm or injury is interfering with an office that is not his. He is presuming to inflict punishment or injury upon you without the command of God, indeed, contrary to it. Now, if you do the same, then you, too, are interfering with the office of God and sinning against God as gravely as this man has sinned against you. Therefore keep your fist to yourself. Leave it in the charge of His wrath and punishing, for He will not let it remain unavenged, and His punishment is more severe than you would like. This man has not assailed you but God Himself, and has already fallen into His wrath. He will not escape this. No one ever has. So why get angry with him when the anger of God, immensely greater and more severe than the anger and punishment of the whole world, has already come upon him and has already avenged itself more thoroughly than you ever could? Besides, he has not injured you one tenth as much as he has injured God. When you see him lying under this severe condemnation, why so many curses and threats of vengeance? Rather you should take pity on his plight, and pray for him to be rescued from it and to reform.”
As a confirmation and illustration of this teaching He cites two examples. He says in the first place: “So that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” It is as if He were to say: “If you want to be called true children of the Father in heaven, then let His example move you to live and act the way He does. But what does He do? He makes His sun rise every day, and He sends rain on the pious and on the wicked alike.” Thus by mentioning these two things, the sun and the rain, He has summarized in a few words all the earthly blessings that God grants to the world. If it were not for these two things, or even one of them, the whole world would long since have become a wasteland, desolate and destroyed. If the sun did not rise every day, there could be no daily work; the animals, along with the trees, the plants, and the grass would all perish from the frost. Therefore the sun alone is the source of the incalculable blessing that fills the world and provides nourishment for all who seek it, whether human or animal, as well as of the heat and warmth by which everything stays alive, grows, and propagates itself, instead of perishing. In other words, the benefits that God bestows through the sun every hour and every moment are innumerable. Yet where is there someone who acknowledges this or is thankful for it?
Nevertheless, though God gives, produces, and preserves everything through the sun, still we must have rain as well. If the sun kept on shining all the time, finally everything would dry up and wither away on account of the heat, and no food or grain could grow for man or beast. Therefore He has tempered it with the rain, to revive it all and to preserve its moisture and strength. Now, in these two there are included the four items that belong to life, the items that the philosophers call the “primary qualities”—cold and warm, dry and moist.59 There must not be one member of these pairs without the other. If there were nothing but cold, or nothing but heat, there would be no life. Now, the sun brings two of these items, the heat and the dryness, and the rain also brings two, that it is cold and moist. Thus to the whole world, to His enemies as well as His friends, God gives body and life and everything it needs and uses, generously and freely every day. Indeed, He rains most copiously on a desert, a wild forest, or an ocean, where it is utterly useless, while He sends only scant showers where pious people live. And He gives the best kingdoms and countries and people and money and goods to the worst scoundrels, while to the pious He hardly gives enough bread to eat.
Everywhere throughout the wide world, God is displaying these examples to us, as if He wanted to admonish us by them and to say to us: “Don’t you know what sort of man I am, and what sort of good I am doing for you? Ask the sun and the moon and the rain about it, ask everything that is cold or wet or warm or dry. Then you will see that I show innumerable benefits not only to My Christians but even more to the wicked people, who are not grateful to Me but repay Me with their intense persecution of My Son and of the pious Christians.” Thus you must be ashamed of yourself when you look at the sun, which preaches this to you every day, ashamed even when you are in a field and you look at a little flower or at the leaf of a tree. For this is written all over the leaves and the grass. There is no bird so small, indeed, no fruit or berry or grain so tiny, that it does not show this to you and say: “For whom do I bear my beautiful fruits and berries? For the vilest rogues and rascals on earth.” How you must reproach yourself, then, for your lack of love toward God, your failure to do any favors for your neighbor, and your refusal to show at least some regard for others, when He is continually doing you so much good by means of all the creatures?
There is not a single man on earth who has to put up with one per cent of what He has to suffer every day from evil men. Not only are His possessions and all His creatures misused for sinful and shameful ends; but also the very men who have these possessions in the greatest abundance—kings, lords, and princes—hate Him and His Word as much as they do the devil himself. If they could, they would gladly exterminate it in one fell swoop. They incessantly fume against it with nothing but abuse, curses, and slander, and besides they batter it with their fists. So there is no one on earth that is the object of more hatred and envy, of more vicious tricks, than are His Christians. Now, this is what He has to put up with daily from the whole world. Still He is so faithful that daily He sends the sunshine and His other superabundant blessings upon people who do not deserve even to have a blade of grass or a moment of sunshine, but to be showered with incessant hell-fire and to be pelted with thunderbolts and hailstones, spears and bullets. He really ought to be called a faithful Father for letting such desperate scoundrels have all those possessions, lands, servants, and good weather, for letting them act like the lords of all and the squires of His domain! Why, even the sun and the moon, together with all the creatures, have to serve them, letting themselves be misused in opposition to God by the whims and the wickedness of such people. Now, if we want to be sons of the Father, we ought to let this sublime example move us to live likewise.
The other example is that of the relation among the criminals and murderers themselves. They, too, know the art of sticking together and of backing one another up. They will even put their bodies, their possessions, and their very lives at one another’s disposal; and yet their only aim is to do harm to other people, to rob and murder, and this only for the sake of temporal and uncertain possessions. “Therefore,” He means to say, “you surely ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You call yourselves Christians and sons of God, and you want to get to heaven. You have such a good and faithful Father, who promises and gives you everything good. And yet you are no more devout than robbers and murderers; you are just like all the criminals on earth.” For there have never been people so bad that they did not practice love and friendship toward each other. Otherwise how could their business continue? Even the devils in hell cannot live in opposition to one another, or their kingdom would soon be destroyed, as Christ Himself says (Matt. 12:25, 26).
Do you see now how pious you are if you are friendly and kind only to your friends? You are just about as pious as the thieves and the scoundrels, as the whores and the criminals, or as the devil himself. Yet in your smugness you go around supposing that you are all right, you preen yourself and brag just as though you were an angel. Thus our schismatic spirits now brag about the great love they have in their midst, which makes it obvious that the Holy Spirit is with them. But what is it that they do? They love their own schismatic rabble; but meanwhile they hate us poisonously and murderously, though we have never done them any harm. From this it is obvious what sort of spirit they really have! Yet they have a right to brag that there is as much love among them as among scoundrels, criminals, and murderers, or as much as among the devils. On this basis, no man on earth would be called wicked. There is no one so desperately bad that he does not need to have someone for a friend. How, otherwise, could he live in human society if all he did were to snarl and snap at everyone? Now, if you want to draw the conclusion, “He loves his friends, therefore he is pious and holy,” you would finally have to make the devil and all his followers pious as well. Therefore the conclusion Her intends to draw here, in opposition to the Pharisaic saints, is that everything they teach about love and the like is all wrong. He instructs them to turn the page and to look at the Scriptures correctly if they want to be the people of God, to see correctly and to show love toward their enemies. In this way they could prove that their love was genuine and that they were God’s children, as He shows His love to the ungrateful and to His enemies.
Moses himself had clearly said this, for example, in Exodus 23:4: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall bring it back to him”; and again (Ex. 23:5): “If you see it lying under its burden … you shall help it up.” Here they should have discovered that they had an obligation to love their enemies, too, if they had really looked at the text instead of gliding over it, the way our blind theologians skim over the surface of the Scriptures. For since the command here is to pick up and help an ass or an ox that belongs to an enemy, it means that they should do so all the more when danger threatens the enemy himself in his person or property, wife or children. In other words, this is what it says: “You shall not desire harm for your neighbor but prevent it, and, if possible, help him and promote his advantage. In this way you can finally move him, and by your kindness you can overcome and soften him. Thus all he can do is to love you in return, because he sees and experiences nothing evil in your treatment of him, but only pure love and sheer goodness.”
With this teaching and these examples Christ now concludes this chapter: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here our sophists have spun out many dreams about perfection and have applied them all to their orders and classes—as if only priests and monks were in a state of perfection, the one higher than the other, the bishops higher than all the others, and the pope the highest of all. By this means the word “perfection” becomes completely inapplicable to the ordinary Christian way of life, as if such people could not be called perfect or be perfect. But you hear Christ talking here not to bishops, monks, and nuns, but in general to all Christians who are His pupils, who want to be called the sons of God, and who do not want to be like the publicans and criminals as are the Pharisees and our clergy.
How does it come about that they are perfect? The answer—in brief, because elsewhere I have discussed it in more detail 60—is this: We cannot be or become perfect in the sense that we do not have any sin, the way they dream about perfection. Here and everywhere in Scripture “to be perfect” means, in the first place, that doctrine be completely correct and perfect, and then, that life move and be regulated according to it. Here, for example, the doctrine is that we should love not only those who do us good, but our enemies, too. Now, whoever teaches this and lives according to this teaching, teaches and lives perfectly.
But the teaching and the life of the Jews were both imperfect and wrong, because they taught that they should love only their friends, and they lived accordingly. Such a love is chopped up and divided, it is only half a love. What He wants is an entire, whole, and undivided love, where one loves and helps his enemy as well as his friend. So I am called a truly perfect man, one who has and holds the doctrine in its entirety. Now, if my life does not measure up to this in every detail—as indeed it cannot, since flesh and blood incessantly hold it back—that does not detract from the perfection. Only we must keep striving for it, and moving and progressing toward it every day. This happens when the spirit is master over the flesh, holding it in cheek, subduing and restraining it, in order not to give it room to act contrary to this teaching. It happens when I let love move along on the true middle course, treating everyone alike and excluding no one. Then I have true Christian perfection, which is not restricted to special offices or stations, but is common to all Christians, and should be. It forms and fashions itself according to the example of the heavenly Father. He does not split or chop up His love and kindness, but by means of the sun and the rain He lets all men on earth enjoy them alike, none excluded, be he pious or wicked.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:118). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Matthew 5:42 (Luther)

Matthew 5:42. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

He points to three ways that the Christians should suffer with regard to their temporal possessions: they should let them be taken away from them, they should be happy to lend them, and they should give them away. Here the current teaching50 did not go beyond the secular and imperial law, which does not tell you to give your property away to someone else or to let him take it away from you. It only teaches you how to manage and do business with your property so that you get a good return on it by your buying, selling, and trading. Now, Christ is not preaching about this. He leaves the division of property and business to the teaching of reason. But He points to the three things that a Christian ought to have beyond all this: he should let things be taken away from him, either by force or under the pretext of the law; he should be happy to give them away; and he should be happy to lend them. Here again we must distinguish between secular law and the teaching of Christ. According to secular law you may use your possessions, do business with them, buy them and sell them. Thus we read that the holy patriarchs had business dealings with money and property just as other people do,51 just as everyone must do if he is to live in human society and support his wife and children. All this belongs to a life where the stomach has its rights, too; and it is just as necessary as eating and drinking.
But Christ teaches you in addition that you should still be willing to let everything be taken away from you, and do so gladly, doing good or contributing or lending where you can, and submitting to violence not only with regard to your property but also with regard to your life, as was said in the preceding text. Especially should you be willing to do so for the sake of the Lord Christ, if you are threatened on account of the Gospel. In such a case you should be willing to surrender not only your coat but your cloak as well, not only your property and reputation but even your very life. Where this is the case, you need not hesitate; for that matter, it is quite rare that there is another case. In other cases, involving secular affairs and the secular realm, you have the opportunity to appeal to judges and to the law if you have suffered injustice or violence, and to seek redress through them. But if you cannot secure justice or protection, then you have to suffer, just as even the non-Christians have to suffer.
But here we must be careful not to give rogues and rascals the chance to take advantage of this doctrine and to declare: “The Christians have to stand for anything. Therefore it is all right to lay hands on their property, to take it and steal it. A Christian has the obligation to throw the door open on everything he has, to give or lend as much as any impudent scoundrel may ask for without demanding it back.” That was how that miserable apostate, Emperor Julian, made fun of this text.52 He took whatever he wanted from the Christians, saying that he wanted to pay them in their own coin. No, my dear fellow, you have it wrong. It is, of course, true that Christians should be ready to put up with anything. But when you come before the judge or fall into the hands of the executioner, watch and see what you will have to put up with from him! A Christian has to be ready to endure whatever you and everyone else may do to him, but he is not obliged to let your whims run riot all over him if he can prevent it by appealing to the law and by seeking the help of the government. Although the government may refuse to protect him or may itself become guilty of violence, he is not obliged to keep quiet on that account as though he had to sanction such procedure.
So it is here, too. He should be willing to lend and give to everyone who asks him. Yet if he knows that this is a scoundrel, he is not obliged to give it to him. Christ is not telling me to give what I have to any scoundrel that comes along and to deprive my family of it or others who may need it and whom I am obliged to help, and then to suffer want myself and become a burden to others. He is not saying that we should give and lend to everybody, but “to him who begs from us,” that is, to the one who really needs it, not to the one who develops a whim that he would like to take something from us by force; such people are well off enough already, or they want to support themselves at other people’s expense, without working. Therefore it is important to be careful here and to ascertain what sort of people there may be in a city, who there is poor and badly off and who is not, rather than to let in any vagrant or tramp who is not in need and could very well support himself. There are plenty of such people roaming around the country nowadays, whom I would call Squire Filth. They would like to take advantage of this teaching and use it to have a good time with other people’s possessions until they are all used up, wandering around from one place to another. Such people should be turned over to the police and taught something different, instead of deceiving pious folk with their mischief.
This is what St. Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 8:13: He is asking the Corinthians for a contribution to the poor Christians in the famine, but he does not mean that on account of it “others should be eased and you burdened,” that is, that they should have toil and trouble and be in want themselves in order to let their possessions make the other people happy. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 he gives the Christians this command: they should keep away from those who live in idleness, and each one should do his work in quietness, eating his own bread and not burdening other people; and he concludes that “if anyone will not work, let him not eat.” Therefore, whoever is able to work should know it is God’s command that he do something to support himself, rather than burdening other people. There are still plenty of needy people, and there is plenty of lending and giving to do anyway; as the Scriptures say (Deut. 15:11): “The poor will never cease out of the land.” Therefore we should not do our lending and giving in such a way that we fling our gifts away into the wind and do not look to see who is getting them. First we should open our eyes to determine who it is—whether he is “begging,” as Christ says here, that is, whether he is in need and is asking properly, or whether he is a fraud or a scamp.
For this you need to employ your secular person, to be prudent in your contacts with other people, to recognize the poor, and to see the kind of people with whom you are dealing and those to whom you should or should not give. Then if you see that it is a genuine seeker, open your hand and lend it to him if he can pay you back. But if he cannot, then give it to him free, and call the account square. There are pious people who would like to work and to support themselves, with their wife and children, but who can never prosper and must occasionally get into debt and difficulty. For the benefit of such people every city should have its common treasury and alms, and it should have church officials to determine who these people are and how they live, so as not to let any of the lazy bums become a burden to other people.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:115). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Matthew 5:38-42 (Luther)

Matthew 5:38. You have heard that it was said: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
39. But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
40. And if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well;
41. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

This text has also given rise to many questions and errors among nearly all the theologians who have failed to distinguish properly between the secular and the spiritual, between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world.43 Once these two have been confused instead of being clearly and accurately separated, there can never be any correct understanding in Christendom, as I have often said and shown. So far, all we have been hearing is the way Christ directed His sermon against the Pharisees, who were misleading the people in both doctrine and life and were misinterpreting and distorting God’s commandment in such a way as to produce only counterfeit saints. It is the same today. Among the preachers there is always a group—if not a majority!—of such Jewish saints, whose teaching deals only with the sin and the piety that are manifest in outward works.
In the preceding sections He criticized and rejected their teaching and false interpretation. Now He considers the passage which the Law of Moses (Ex. 21:24) addresses to those who were charged with governmental authority and with the sword of punishment. It was a matter of obligation and necessity for them to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Thus it was as grievous a sin for them if they failed to use the sword of punishment with which they were charged as it was for the others to seize the sword and avenge themselves without authorization. According to the preceding sections, similarly, the man who refused to live and stay with his lawful wedded wife sinned just as much as the man who lived with another woman out of wedlock. They had taken this text, distorted it, and confused it by applying it to themselves, though it was addressed only to the government. They took it to mean that every individual had a right to wreak vengeance on his own behalf, taking an eye for an eye. There was the same confusion in their use of other passages. They applied to themselves that right to get angry which was appropriate and obligatory for the government. They removed desire and appetite from its context in matrimony. And so, too, they had perverted swearing for their own frivolous and abusive purposes, rather than for the purpose of showing love to those in need.
Now Christ comes along to demolish this perverted idea and false interpretation. He is not tampering with the responsibility and authority of the government, but He is teaching His individual Christians how to live personally, apart from their official position and authority. They should not desire revenge at all. They should have the attitude that if someone hits them on one cheek, they are ready, if need be, to turn the other cheek to him as well, restraining the vindictiveness not only of their fist but also of their heart, their thoughts, and all their powers as well. In other words, what He wants is a heart that will neither be impatient nor wreak vengeance nor disturb the peace. Such a righteousness is different from the one they taught and maintained. Still they wanted to deck themselves out with what they found in Moses, claiming that revenge and self-defense were proper against violence, since the text reads: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”
This saying has been the undoing of many people; not only Jews but even Christians have stumbled on it. For it seemed to them that it was too strict and severe to forbid any resistance to evil at all, since we have to have law and punishment in society. Some have cited the contrary example of Christ (John 18:22, 23). When He was struck on one cheek before the priest Annas, He did not offer the other one; instead He declared His innocence and rebuked the high priest’s servant. That seems to be a violation of this text.
On that basis they said it was not necessary to turn the other cheek to an assailant, and they gave the text a helping hand by saying that it was enough for a person to be ready in his heart to offer the other cheek. They said the right thing, but they interpreted it the wrong way. They supposed that offering the other cheek to an assailant meant saying to him: “See, take this cheek, too, and hit me again,” or throwing your cloak to the man who wants to take your coat. If that were the meaning, we would finally have to surrender everything, house and home, wife and children. We say, therefore, that all it does is to proclaim to every Christian that he should willingly and patiently suffer whatever is his lot, without seeking revenge or hitting back.
But the question and argument still remain. Must a person suffer all sorts of things from everyone, without defending himself at all? Has he no right to plead a case or to lodge a complaint before a court, or to claim and demand what belongs to him? If all these things were forbidden, a strange situation would develop. It would be necessary to put up with everybody’s whim and insolence. Personal safety and private property would be impossible, and finally the social order would collapse.
To answer this, you must always pay attention to the main point, which is, that Christ is addressing His sermon only to His Christians and seeking to teach them the kind of people they should be, in contrast to the carnal ideas and thoughts that still clung to the apostles. They imagined that He would institute a new realm and empire and set them up in it to rule as lords and to conquer their enemies and the wicked world. Thus flesh and blood has always expected to find its own dominion, honor, and advantage in the Gospel, and an escape from all suffering. The pope has longed for this, too, and his realm has developed into nothing more than a secular dominion, so dreadful that the world has had to submit to him.
Now, too, we see the whole world seeking its own advantage in the Gospel. This has brought on the rise of so many sects, whose only aim is their own advancement and aggrandizement, together with the extermination of others. So it was with Münzer and his peasants, and more recently with others, too.44 Even real Christians are sometimes tempted this way. They see that the world at large, and particularly their own government, is being so poorly managed that they feel like jumping in and taking over. But this is wrong. No one should suppose that God wants to have us govern and rule this way with the law and punishment of the world. The Christians’ way is altogether different. They neither deal with such things nor care about them. They are perfectly content to leave these things to the care of those who are authorized to distribute property, to do business, to punish, and to protect. As Christ teaches (Matt. 22:21): “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” For we have been transferred to another and a higher existence, a divine and an eternal kingdom, where the things that belong to the world are unnecessary and where in Christ everyone is a lord for himself over both the devil and the world, as we have said elsewhere.
It is the duty and obligation of those who participate in this earthly regime to administer law and punishment, to maintain the distinctions that exist among ranks and persons, to manage and distribute property. This way everything will be in good shape, and everyone will know what he is to do and to have; no one will meddle in another man’s office or pry into his affairs or take his property. That is what lawyers are for, to teach and manage such matters. But the Gospel does not trouble itself with these matters. It teaches about the right relation of the heart to God, while in all these other questions it should take care to stay pure and not to stumble into a false righteousness. You must grasp and obey this distinction, for it is the basis on which such questions can be easily answered. Then you will see that Christ is talking about a spiritual existence and life and that He is addressing Himself to His Christians. He is telling them to live and behave before God and in the world with their heart dependent upon God and uninterested in things like secular rule or government, power or punishment, anger or revenge.
Now, if someone asks whether a Christian may go to court or defend himself, the answer is simply no. A Christian is the kind of person who has nothing to do with this sort of secular existence and law. He belongs to a kingdom or realm where the only regulation should be the prayer (Matt. 6:12): “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Here only mutual love and service should prevail, even toward people who do not love us, but who hate us, hurt and harm us. It is to these Christians that He says they should not resist evil, that they should not even seek revenge, but that they should turn the other cheek to an assailant.
A related question is this: May a Christian be a secular official and administer the office and work of a ruler or a judge? This would mean that the two persons or the two types of office are combined in one man. In addition to being a Christian, he would be a prince or a judge or a lord or a servant or a maid—all of which are termed “secular” persons because they are part of the secular realm. To this we say: Yes; God Himself has ordained and established this secular realm and its distinctions, and by His Word He has confirmed and commended them. For without them this life could not endure. We are all included in them; indeed, we were born into them even before we became Christians. Therefore we must also remain in them as long as we are on earth, but only according to our outward life and our physical existence.
There is no getting around it, a Christian has to be a secular person of some sort. As regards his own person, according to his life as a Christian, he is in subjection to no one but Christ, without any obligation either to the emperor or to any other man. But at least outwardly, according to his body and property, he is related by subjection and obligation to the emperor, inasmuch as he occupies some office or station in life or has a house and home, a wife and children; for all these are things that pertain to the emperor. Here he must necessarily do what he is told and what this outward life requires. If he has a house or a wife and children or servants and refuses to support them or, if need be, to protect them, he does wrong. It will not do for him to declare that he is a Christian and therefore has to forsake or relinquish everything. But he must be told: “Now you are under the emperor’s control. Here your name is not ‘Christian,’ but ‘father’ or ‘lord’ or ‘prince.’ According to your own person you are a Christian; but in relation to your servant45 you are a different person, and you are obliged to protect him.”
You see, now we are talking about a Christian-in-relation: not about his being a Christian, but about this life and his obligation in it to some other person, whether under him or over him or even alongside him, like a lord or a lady, a wife or children or neighbors, whom he is obliged, if possible, to defend, guard, and protect. Here it would be a mistake to teach: “Turn the other cheek, and throw your cloak away with your coat.” That would be ridiculous, like the case of the crazy saint who let the lice nibble at him and refused to kill any of them on account of this text, maintaining that he had to suffer and could not resist evil.
Do you want to know what your duty is as a prince or a judge or a lord or a lady, with people under you? You do not have to ask Christ about your duty. Ask the imperial or the territorial law.46 It will soon tell you your duty toward your inferiors as their protector. It gives you both the power and the might to protect and to punish within the limits of your authority and commission, not as a Christian but as an imperial subject. What kind of crazy mother would it be who would refuse to defend and save her child from a dog or a wolf and who would say: “A Christian must not defend himself”? Should we not teach her a lesson with a good whipping and say: “Are you a mother? Then do your duty as a mother, as you are charged to do it. Christ did not abrogate this but rather confirmed it.”
This is what is told about many of the holy martyrs. When they were called to arms even by infidel emperors and lords, they went to war. In all good conscience they slashed and killed, and in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen.47 Yet they did not sin against this text. For they were not doing this as Christians, for their own persons, but as obedient members and subjects, under obligation to a secular person and authority. But in areas where you are free and without any obligation to such a secular authority, you have a different rule, since you are a different person.
Just learn the difference between the two persons that a Christian must carry simultaneously on earth, because he lives in human society and has to make use of secular and imperial things, the same way that the heathen do. For until he has been transferred bodily from this life to another one, his flesh and blood is identical with theirs; and what he needs to provide for it does not come from the spiritual realm but from the land and soil, which belongs to the emperor. Now, with this distinction of the boundary between the province of the Christian person and that of the secular person you can neatly classify all these sayings and apply them properly where they belong, not confusing them and throwing them into one pot, the way the teaching and the administration of the pope have done.
So much for the person who has obligations toward other persons under the secular law, the law of fathers and mothers, lords and ladies. But what if only your own person is involved and an injury or injustice has been done to you? Is it right to use force in guarding and defending yourself against this? The answer is no. Here even the secular and imperial law teaches: “Striking back makes a quarrel, and the one who strikes back is in the wrong.”48 By this action you will be interfering in the judge’s office and usurping his right for yourself, for it is his duty to punish. So it is in other cases. The fact that someone has stolen or robbed from you gives you no right to steal or rob from him and to take something from him by force. Our natural inclination is to take swift vengeance, before a person has a chance to turn around. This should not be. But if you are unwilling or unable to stand it, you can always take him to court and get what is coming to you there.
It is permissible for you to use orderly procedure in demanding and obtaining your rights, but be careful not to have a vindictive heart. Thus it is proper for a judge to punish and execute, and yet he is forbidden to have any hatred or vindictiveness in his heart. It is a common circumstance that people abuse their office to gratify their own whims. Now, where this is not the case and you are simply seeking to use the law for your protection and self-preservation against violence and malice, rather than for your vindictiveness or malevolence, you are not doing wrong. When the heart is pure, then everything is right and well done. The danger here is that the wicked world, along with our flesh and blood, always seeks its own advantage and yet puts on a lovely front to hide the scoundrel within.
Thus you are not forbidden to go to court and lodge a complaint against injustice or violence, just so long as you do not have a false heart, but one that remains as patient as it was before, one that is doing this only to maintain the right and to avoid the wrong, out of a genuine love for righteousness. Earlier I cited the example of the saintly Joseph.49 He lodged a complaint with his father against his brothers when they had done something wrong and had acquired a bad reputation for it. For this the Scriptures praise him. He was not prompted by an evil, talebearing, or quarrelsome heart, as they supposed in their hostility to him, but by a friendly and brotherly heart, interested only in their good, because he did not like to see them acquiring a bad reputation. Therefore this cannot be called vindictiveness or malice, but rather helpfulness, as well as distress over their recriminations.
In the parable in the Gospel about the servant whose master forgave him his entire debt, but who refused to forgive his fellow servant a small debt, we read that the other servants were indignant and registered a complaint with their master (Matt. 18:31). They were not being vindictive or talking pleasure in his trouble. They kept their fists, their hearts, and their mouths quiet; they did not curse him or slander him or carry slanderous reports to others. But they brought the matter to the attention of their master, whose business it was to punish. They sought what was right, but they did so with a fine Christian heart, as people who had the obligation to be faithful to their master. That is how it ought to be, whether in a household or in a city. If a pious servant or a faithful subject sees someone doing a wrong or an injury to his master, he should report it to him and prevent the injury. Similarly, if a pious citizen sees violence and harm being done to his neighbor, he should help to defend and protect him. This is secular business, all of which Christ has not forbidden but confirmed.
Certainly we are not compelled or obliged to let every insolent person run rampant all over the place and to take it silently without doing anything about it—not if we can follow orderly procedure in defending ourselves. Otherwise, however, all we can do is to suffer if someone treats us unjustly and violently. We must not sanction a wrong, but we must testify to the truth. In opposition to violence and malice, we certainly may appeal to the law. Thus, before the high priest Annas, Christ Himself appealed to the law and asked for justice (John 18:23); nevertheless He let Himself be struck, offering not merely His other cheek but His whole body.
So you see, you have excellent and clear instructions here regarding the proper behavior in both of these cases. The long-winded and dangerous glosses that people used to look for have become unnecessary. What is necessary is the right distinction between the two, rather than a confusion of them. Each should move in its own sphere, and yet both should be effective. A Christian may carry on all sorts of secular business with impunity—not as a Christian but as a secular person—while his heart remains pure in his Christianity, as Christ demands. This the world cannot do; but contrary to God’s command, it misuses every secular ordinance and law, indeed, every creature.
Thus when a Christian goes to war or when he sits on a judges bench, punishing his neighbor, or when he registers an official complaint, he is not doing this as a Christian, but as a soldier or a judge or a lawyer. At the same time he keeps a Christian heart. He does not intend anyone any harm, and it grieves him that his neighbor must suffer grief. So he lives simultaneously as a Christian toward everyone, personally suffering all sorts of things in the world, and as a secular person, maintaining, using, and performing all the functions required by the law of his territory or city, by civil law, and by domestic law. In other words, a Christian as such does not live for the things that are visible about this outward life. They all belong to the imperial government, which Christ has no intention of overthrowing. Nor does He teach us to escape from it or to desert the world and our office and station, but to make use of this rule and established order. Yet while we keep our obligation to this rule and established order, inwardly we live by another rule, which does not hinder it nor even deal with it, but which is willing to put up with it.
This distinction enables us to take up this text and to apply each of its parts. A Christian should not resist any evil; but within the limits of his office, a secular person should oppose every evil. The head of a household should not put up with insubordination or bickering among his servants. A Christian should not sue anyone, but should surrender both his coat and his cloak when they are taken away from him; but a secular person should go to court if he can to protect and defend himself against some violence or outrage. In short, the rule in the kingdom of Christ is the toleration of everything, forgiveness, and the recompense of evil with good. On the other hand, in the realm of the emperor, there should be no tolerance shown toward any injustice, but rather a defense against wrong and a punishment of it, and an effort to defend and maintain the right, according to what each one’s office or station may require.
But you may say: “All right. But still Christ says here in plain words: ‘Do not resist evil.’ It sounds obvious that this is being absolutely forbidden.” Answer: Yes, but pay attention to whom He is saying this. He is not saying: “No one should ever resist evil”; for that would completely undermine all rule and authority. But this is what He is saying: “You, you shall not do it.” Now, who are these “you”? They are the disciples of Christ, whom He is teaching about their personal lives, apart from the secular government. As we have said often enough, being a Christian is something quite different from holding and administering a secular office or position. Therefore He intends to say: “Leave the resistance of evil, the administration of justice, and punishment to the one who holds a position in the secular realm, as the lawyers and the laws instruct you ú to do. But to you, My disciples, whom I am not teaching aboutruling outwardly but about living before God, I say: You shall not resist evil. You shall put up with all sorts of things and maintain a pure and friendly heart toward those who treat you unjustly or roughly. If someone takes your coat, you shall not seek revenge. Rather, if there is nothing you can do to prevent it, you shall let him take your cloak as well.”
He states two ways by which one may suffer an injustice or have his property taken away from him. In the first place, it can happen purely by force and violence without any question of legality, as when someone is struck across the mouth or openly robbed; this is what He means by “being struck on the cheek.” Secondly, it can happen not by overt violence but under the pretext and with the support of the law. Thus a person may seek an injunction against you before the law as if he had a good claim against you, when what he really wants is to make you surrender your own property. This is what Christ calls “taking your coat” before the court, when someone denies you the right to your own property; then you must not only suffer injustice innocently, but you must also be adjudged guilty as though you were in the wrong. It is not the law that is doing you injury or injustice, for it has been instituted to defend the pious. But there are rogues and rascals sitting on judges’ benches and holding public office. They are supposed to administer justice. And yet, if you are beyond the reach of violence, they will turn and twist and misuse the law to support their own whims. Here the world shows its mastery every day. Nowadays nothing is so common as making right wrong and wrong right by all sorts of clever artifices and queer tricks.
But most often this happens to pious Christians. The world hates them regardless, and it takes pleasure in tormenting them. Therefore Christ tells them beforehand that in the world they ought to expect this sort of thing and ought to yield to suffering. Especially if it happens on account of that which makes them Christians, that is, on account of the Gospel and the spiritual realm, they should be prepared to take punishment and to lose everything. We have to suffer anyway, since as individual persons we have no power or defense against the government if it should set itself against us. But where this is not the case and you can use the law to defend and protect yourself against some violence to you or yours, then it is your right and your duty to do so.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:105). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Matthew 5:33-37 (Luther)

Matthew 5:33. Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.”
34. But I say to you: Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
35. Or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.
36. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
37. Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil.

This text has also been stretched by many glosses, and all sorts of delusions and errors have been drawn from it. It has puzzled many great theologians, who could not understand the blunt prohibition of any swearing whatever, and the command to be satisfied with yes and no. So tautly have some of them stretched their consciences as to doubt whether an oath of nonaggression is legitimate upon release from captivity, or an oath to bind a peace treaty with the Turks or infidels.41 Now, it is undeniable that Christ Himself and St. Paul often swore. Besides, Scripture praises those who swear by His name (Deut. 6:13). Here, too, therefore, a distinction is necessary for the correct understanding of the text.
We have heard often enough that Christ has no intention here of interfering in the order of the secular realm, nor of depriving the government of anything. All He is preaching about is how individual Christians should behave in their everyday life. Therefore swearing should be thought of as forbidden in exactly the same sense as killing or looking at a woman and desiring her was forbidden earlier. Killing is right, yet it is also wrong. Desiring a man or a woman is sinful, and it is not sinful. That is to say, we must make the proper distinction here. To you and to me it is said: “If you kill, you do wrong; if you look at a woman with desire, you do wrong.” But to a judge He says: “If you do not punish and kill, you shall be punished yourself.” And to a husband or wife He says: “If you do not cling to your spouse, you do wrong.” So both regulations stand: “You should kill” and “You should not kill”; “You should have a woman” and “You should not have a woman.” For you must not get angry or kill or look at a woman with desire unless you have a word or command from God to do so. On the other hand, for you to get angry when God commands you to, or for you to have a wife according to the Word of God, is right in both cases; for what God says to you and commands you to do is vastly different from what you do on your own.
You should understand the prohibition of swearing in the same way as you understand those. Here He forbids you to “swear at all.” Earlier He issued such a complete prohibition of killing that even anger in the heart was wrong, and He commanded such an isolation from men and women that it was wrong even to look at them or to think about them with desire. Preaching would be harmful if we used it to interfere with government or with matrimony and said to a judge: “You shall not get angry, and you shall not show or express your anger”; or to a married couple: “You shall not look at each other or be in love with each other.” On the contrary, we must teach the exact opposite here and say: “You, judge, shall get angry and wreak punishment; and everyone shall have and love his spouse.” What does Christ mean, then, when He says that it is wrong to desire a woman and to have anger in the heart? The answer, as we have said above, is this: He means the woman that God has not given you and the anger that is not demanded of you; these you shall not have. But in the event that it is demanded of you, then it is no longer your anger but God’s anger, and no longer your desire but the desire which God has given and ordained; for here you have a word of God that you shall love your own spouse and not desire any other. The same is true in the case of swearing; you must determine whether or not you have a word of God for it.
His rigid emphasis upon the prohibition here was said in opposition to their false teachers, who preached that even taking an unnecessary oath and swearing without a word of God was not sinful. Indeed, as Christ shows here, they had developed a distinction between oaths that were valid and those that were not, thus allowing people to swear freely. For example, if someone were to swear by heaven or by Jerusalem or by his head, those would be little oaths and not very binding—just so long as he did not invoke the name of God. So far had they progressed in this that a mere yes or no meant nothing, and they maintained that it did not matter if they failed to do something which they had not sworn to do. This was just like their teaching on the question of killing. It was not sinful if you nursed a secret anger and spite, or if you hated your wife, had no desire or love for her, but desired another woman and proved this with your glances, your jokes, and in other ways.
He began His sermon against such impure saints and said: “If you do not change and become pious, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. It will not do to proceed in the matter of swearing as you do, making it right and valid wherever and whenever you please. But this is the command: ‘Do not swear at all, neither by the temple nor by Jerusalem nor by your head, as little as by God Himself.’ But in your dealings with each other, say yes and no, and let it go at yes and no. It is an abuse of the name of God to go beyond this to oaths and swearing, as if a mere yes and no were not valid or binding without the addition of the name of God.” Another abuse is frivolous swearing, as is so common now, attaching the name of God to practically every word. All this must be strictly forbidden, just as there should be no cursing with God’s name.
For cursing, like swearing, can be either good or bad. In Scripture we read that holy people have often cursed. Thus Noah curses his one son Ham (Gen. 9:25). The patriarch Jacob pronounced a malediction and curse upon his three sons, Reuben, Levi, and Simeon (Gen. 49:3–7). Moses did the same against Korah (Num. 16:15 f.). Indeed, in the Psalter, Christ harshly curses His Judas,42 and in the Gospel He curses the false teachers (Matthew 23). And in Galatians 1:9 Paul curses any teacher who preaches otherwise, even if it were an angel from heaven, as ἀνάθεμα, that is, banished and cursed by God; it is as if we were to say: “May God hold them back and destroy them utterly and give them neither grace nor success.” Thus the time may come when it is wrong not to curse. Certainly it would be wrong for us now to bespeak success and the blessing of God upon the venomous schemes and spiteful plans of the pope, the bishops, and the princes, who oppose the Gospel, seek the blood of pious people, and try to pit one German land against another. It is not our Christian duty to do this, but rather to say: “Dear Lord, curse and destroy and throw all their schemes to the abyss of hell.” Therefore no one can pray the Lord’s Prayer correctly without cursing. For when he prays: “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” he must put all the opposition to this on one pile and say: “Curses, maledictions, and disgrace upon every other name and every other kingdom! May they be ruined and torn apart, and may all their schemes and wisdom and plans run aground.”
The distinction, however, is in the fact that no one should curse or swear on his own, unless he has a word of God telling him to do so. As we have said, where it is done with the authorization of a word of God, it is all right to swear, to get angry, or to desire a woman. But “the authorization of a word of God” means a command that I do it for His sake in the execution of my office or an order through those who are in office. To give an illustration: If you should happen to be imprisoned by the government and were required to swear an oath of nonaggression, or if a prince demanded an oath of allegiance, or if a judge demanded an oath from a witness—then it would be your duty to take the oath. For there the word stands (Rom. 13:1): “You shall obey the government.” God has so ordained and constituted the earthly realm that one person must bind himself to another, so that all dubious questions may be adjusted, confirmed, and decided by the use of an oath, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says (Heb. 6:16).
But you say: “Yes, but here we read a different word, spoken by Christ: ‘You shall not swear.’ ” The answer is the same as the one we gave earlier with regard to killing and getting angry. You should not do it on your own behalf. But here it is not you that is swearing, but it is the judge who is ordering you to do so. It is tantamount to his doing it himself, and now you are the judge’s mouth. Now, Christ is neither prohibiting nor prescribing anything for the government here, but He is letting this realm take its own course as it should and must. What He is forbidding is unauthorized, capricious, or habitual swearing. Similarly, when He forbids you to draw your sword, He does not mean that you should disobey the government if your territorial prince needs you or summons you to go to war. Then you are obliged to slash away with your sword. For your hand and sword are no longer on their own, but have been subordinated to the government; and you are not doing this yourself, but your prince is doing it, whom God has authorized. We say the same about similar cases. If it should happen that we sign a treaty or pact with our enemies or the Turks, then the emperor and the princes could both give and receive an oath—even though the Turk swears by the devil or Mohammed, whom he regards and worships as his god, the way we worship our Lord Christ and swear by Him.
So here is one cause for which it is right to swear, when it is necessary to take an oath out of obedience to the government, as a confirmation of the truth or as a means of preserving something for the sake of peace and harmony. The other cause is love. Even though an oath may not be required by the government, it may be necessary for the good of our neighbor. In this way love may also get angry and critical when it sees a neighbor sinning or straying, as Christ teaches in Matthew 18:15–17. It cannot treat evil as a laughing matter or as a praiseworthy thing. Similarly, I may show love to another man’s wife, helping her in her need or distress. Such love is not carnal and forbidden love, but Christian and brotherly love. Its source is not my own lust or impertinence, but my neighbor’s need; and it is authorized by a word of God which says (Lev. 19:18): “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Accordingly, if I see someone in spiritual need and danger, weak in his faith or despondent in his conscience or erring in Iris understanding, I must not only console him; but to comfort his conscience, I must also take an oath and say: “This is the truth and the Word of God, just as surely as God lives and Christ died.” Here an oath is necessary, indeed indispensable. For it establishes the true teaching, it instructs and comforts the erring and timid conscience, and it liberates it from the devil. Therefore you may swear here by the highest and holiest thing possible. This is the way Christ and Paul swore, calling God to witness. Thus an oath is in place in every proclamation of threats or of promises that comes from a Christian preacher, whether he is bringing fear to the hardened heart or comfort to the timid.
Similarly, in exonerating a neighbor or rescuing his reputation from the attacks of evil and venomous mouths, it is permissible to say: “By God, you are doing him an injustice.” All this is the proper use of God’s name, for the glory of God, for the cause of truth, and for the good and the salvation of the neighbor. Here you have a word and a command of God hovering over you, commanding you to love your neighbor, to rebuke the disorderly, and to comfort the sorrowful. Because it is a matter of command, it cannot be wrong. Indeed, the very command urges you to swear, and you do wrong if you fail to do so. In short, in the cases where you do have a word of God, may God give you the grace to swear, to rebuke, to get angry, and to do everything you can. But where it would transgress or exceed the Word of God, where it would be neither a matter of divine command nor a matter of your neighbor’s need or benefit, you should not do any of these things. God does not want anything at all on your own initiative without His Word, regardless of what it is, even if you knew how to raise the dead. Much less will He tolerate the abuse of His name by invoking it where it is neither necessary nor beneficial, or by throwing it around at home and everywhere else all the time. Nowadays some people have to add an oath to every word, most of all in the taverns; it would be a good idea if this were strictly forbidden and punished. Thus you have a proper and clear interpretation of this item, and no one has to torture himself unnecessarily over this text and make a purgatory out of it where there is none.
Now, Christ says: “I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven or by the earth or by the city of Jerusalem.” It is evident from this that they greatly respected and honored the city and even swore by it. He substantiates this when He calls it a “city of God,” and elsewhere it is also called “the holy city” (Is. 52:1). But the reason for its being called “holy” was the presence of the Word of God, through which God Himself dwelt there. This great respect for the city was a fine custom, one that was undoubtedly originated by good people; thus the prophet Isaiah praises it gloriously, not on its own account but on account of the Word. In the same way it is proper to call every city “holy” if it has the Word of God, and to make the claim that God is certainly present there.
But the statement: “You shall not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black,” applies to His creation as such, not to our use of the creation. He does not mean to say that it is wrong to powder our hair and make it black or any other color, but that it is beyond our power to bring out a hair that is white or black or to keep it from changing one way or another. When it has grown out, of course, it can be clipped off or singed. To some extent it is possible to make use of one creature in changing another creature, but it is impossible to make any contribution to its being created in one way rather than in another. Thus He makes even our heads a sanctuary, something that does not belong to our work or power, but is the gift and creation of God.
His conclusion, “Let what you say be simply yes or no,” is obviously addressed to those who have neither authorization nor need for swearing. As we have said, no one should swear on his own authority at all. But the addition of these two elements, either a command or a necessity, means that you are no longer swearing on your own authority. You are not doing it on your own behalf, but on behalf of him who demands it of you—your government or your neighbor’s need or God’s commandment.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:98). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Matthew 5:31,32 (Luther)

Matthew 5:31. It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”
32. But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Here you get a good picture of the violence they did to the commandment in order to provide themselves with enough room and freedom to transgress it and yet to avoid the charge of sin. All that really mattered was that a person was not too flagrant in committing overt acts of adultery. If he had developed an aversion to his wife and wanted to get rid of her and if he had acquired a desire for another woman, he was permitted to desert his wife and to have an affair with another woman whom he liked better. If this woman already had a husband, it was a simple matter to make him give her up and put her away without it being said that he had been forced to do so. Among them it was also a minor matter if a man took another woman to bed with him and thus made her his wife, for they would have liked to have more than one wife anyway. So far, in fact, had the situation progressed that in matters of marriage and divorce everyone acted pretty much as he pleased, without being ashamed or having a bad conscience about it. For this reason Christ also takes up this matter of divorce. He salts and rebukes the scandalous way they abuse the permission of divorce, and He instructs their consciences on the kind of procedure in this question which is proper and which does not go beyond or against the commandment. He touches on it only very briefly here; later on (Matt. 19:3–9) He discusses it in greater detail.
What is the proper procedure for us nowadays in matters of marriage and divorce? I have said that this should be left to the lawyers and made subject to the secular government. For marriage is a rather secular and outward thing, having to do with wife and children, house and home, and with other matters that belong to the realm of the government, all of which have been completely subjected to reason (Gen. 1:28). Therefore we should not tamper with what the government and wise men decide and prescribe with regard to these questions on the basis of the laws and of reason. Christ is not functioning here as a lawyer or a governor, to set down or prescribe any regulations for outward conduct; but He is functioning as a preacher, to instruct consciences about using the divorce law properly, rather than wickedly and capriciously, contrary to God’s commandment. Here, therefore, we will not go beyond an examination of their situation and a consideration of the proper behavior of people who lay claim to the name “Christian.” The non-Christians are no concern of ours, since they must be governed, not with the Gospel, but with compulsion and punishment. Thus we shall keep our ministry clear and not claim any more right than we are authorized to have.
In Deuteronomy 24:1 we read: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, he should write her a bill of divorce and send her out.” But immediately (Deut. 24:4) it adds the prohibition that if later on the same man would like to have her back, he “may not take her again to be his wife.” They were quick to learn this law and eager to abuse it. As soon as a man got tired of his wife and developed a desire for another, he immediately discarded and dismissed her, though Moses had permitted this only on the grounds that “he found some indecency in her” which prevented them from staying together. They had taken many liberties on this question, till they themselves saw that what they were doing was no credit to them and that frequently it was quite frivolous. Therefore they asked Christ, Matthew 19: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” His answer to them is a severe sermon, the likes of which they had never heard before, coming to the same conclusion as He did here: Except for the cause of fornication, both he who divorces a woman and he who pays court to a divorced woman are guilty of adultery and are making her guilty of adultery, too, if she takes another man; for if she did not have a man again, she could not be guilty of adultery. So He not only rebukes them for their frivolity in the question of divorce, but He teaches them not to get a divorce at all, or if they do get one, to remain unmarried on both sides. And He comes to the conclusion that divorce is always an occasion for adultery.
They asked (Matt. 19:7): “Why, then, did Moses permit such divorces?” He answers (Matt. 19:8): “For your hard hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives. It is still not a good thing to do; but since you are such wicked and unmanageable people, it is better to grant you this much than to let you do worse by vexing or murdering each other or by living together in incessant hate, discord, and hostility.” This same thing might even be advisable nowadays, if the secular government prescribed it, that certain queer, stubborn, and obstinate people, who have no capacity for toleration and are not suited for married life at all, should be permitted to get a divorce. Since people are as evil as they are, any other way of governing is impossible. Frequently something must be tolerated even though it is not a good thing to do, to prevent something even worse from happening.
So it is settled now. Those who want to be Christians should not be divorced, but every man should keep his own spouse, sustaining and bearing good and ill with her, even though she may have her oddities, peculiarities, and faults. If he does get a divorce, he should remain unmarried. We have no right to make marriage a free thing, as though it were in our power to do with as we pleased, changing and exchanging. But the rule is the one Christ pronounces (Matt. 19:6): “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” The only source of trouble here is the fact that marriage is not thought of on the basis of the Word of God, as His work and ordinance, and that His will is ignored. He has given every man his spouse, to keep her and for His sake to put up with the difficulties involved in married life. To them it seems to be nothing more than a purely human and secular state, with which God has nothing to do. Therefore they tire of it so quickly; and if it does not go the way they would like, they immediately want a divorce and a change. Then God so arranges things that they are no better off as a consequence. A person who wants to change and improve everything and who refuses to put up with any inadequacies, but insists on having everything clean and comfortable, will usually get in exchange something twice as uncomfortable or ten times as uncomfortable. This is a general rule, not only in this matter but in all others as well.
So it must be on earth. Daily there have to be many troubles and trials in every house, city, and country. No station in life is free of suffering and pain, both from your own, like your wife or children or household help or subjects, and from the outside, from your neighbors and all sorts of accidental trouble. When a person sees and feels all this, he quickly becomes dissatisfied, and he tires of his way of life, or it makes him impatient, irritated, and profane. If he cannot avoid this trouble or get rid of it, he wants to change his station in life, supposing that everyone else’s station and condition are better than his own. After changing around for a long time, he discovers that his situation has progressively deteriorated. A change is a fast and easy thing, but an improvement is a rare and doubtful thing. This was what the Jews found out, too, as they divorced and changed their marriage partners.
In this area, therefore, we should do what we have always taught and exhorted: If you want an undertaking of yours to be blessed and successful, even a temporal undertaking like getting married or staying home or accepting a position, lift up your voice to God, and call upon the One who owns it and who has to grant it. It is no small gift from God to find a wife who is pious and easy to get along with. Then why not ask Him to make it a happy marriage? For your initial desire and your curiosity will not give you either happiness or stability, unless He adds His blessing and success and helps you to bear the occasional troubles. Those who do not do this, therefore, who rush into things on their own as though they did not need God’s help, and who do not learn how to make certain allowances—they get exactly what they deserve. They have sheer purgatory and the torments of hell inside them, and that without any help from the devil. They do not bear their trouble patiently. They have selected only what seems to be just right to them, and they have tried to abolish and annul the article called “forgiveness of sin.” Therefore their reward is a restless and impatient heart; thus they have to suffer double trouble and have no thanks for it. But we have said enough about this elsewhere.
But you ask: “Then is there no legitimate cause for the divorce and remarriage of a man and his wife?” Answer: Both here and in Matthew 19:9 Christ sets down only one, called adultery; and He cites it on the basis of the Law of Moses, which punishes adultery with death (Lev. 20:10). Since it is only death that can dissolve a marriage and set you free, an adulterer has already been divorced, not by men but by God Himself, and separated not only from his wife but from this very life. By his adultery he has divorced himself from his wife and has dissolved his marriage. He had no right to do either of these, and so he has brought on his own death, in the sense that before God he is already dead even though the judge may not have him executed. Because it is God that is doing the divorcing here, the other partner is set completely free and is not obliged, unless he chooses to do so, to keep the spouse that has broken the marriage vow.
We neither commend nor forbid such divorces, but leave it to the government to act here; and we submit to whatever the secular law prescribes in this matter. To those who really want to be Christians, we would give this advice. The two partners should be admonished and urged to stay together. If the guilty party is humbled and reformed, the innocent party should let himself be reconciled to him and forgive him in Christian love. Sometimes there is no hope for improvement, or the reconciliation of the guilty one and his restoration to good graces is followed only by his abuse of this kindness. He persists in his flagrant and loose behavior and takes it for granted that he is entitled to be spared and forgiven. I would not advise or prescribe mercy for a person like that; rather I would help to have such a person flogged or jailed. For one oversight is still pardonable, but a sin that takes mercy and forgiveness for granted is intolerable. Anyway, as we have said, we know that no one should be compelled to take back a public prostitute or an adulterer if he does not want to do so or is so disgusted that he cannot do so. We read (Matt. 1:19) that although Joseph was a pious man, he was not willing to take Mary, his betrothed wife, when he saw that she was pregnant; and he is praised for being “resolved to divorce her quietly” instead of registering a complaint against her and having her executed, as he had a right to do.
An additional cause for divorce is this: when one spouse deserts the other, that is, when he runs away out of sheer peevishness. For example, if a pagan woman were married to a Christian man, or as happens sometimes nowadays, if one spouse is an Evangelical and the other is not, is divorce legitimate in such a case? Paul discusses the matter in 1 Corinthians 7:13–15 and comes to this conclusion: if the one partner consents to remain, the other partner should keep him; even though they may not be one in matters of faith, the faith should not dissolve the marriage. If it happens that the other partner simply refuses to remain, then let him go; you have no duty or obligation to go with him. But it sometimes happens now that one of these good-for-nothings deserts his wife without her knowledge or consent, leaving his house and home, wife and children, and staying away two or three years or as long as he feels like staying away. When he has sown his wild oats and squandered his property, he decides he would like to return home and pick up where he had left off. And now the other partner should be obliged to wait for him as long as he feels like staying away and then to take him back?! Such a good-for-nothing should not only be barred from his house and home, but also banished from the country. If he refuses to come after a summons and a decent interval of waiting, the other partner should be set completely free. Such a person is much worse than a heathen and an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8); he is less tolerable than a wicked adulterer, who fell once but can still improve and be as faithful to his wife as he had been before. But this person treats marriage just as he pleases. In his wife and children he does not recognize the obligations of domestic life and duty, but takes it for granted that he will be received if the notion takes him to return. This is how it should be: Whoever wants to have a wife and children must stay with them; he must bear the good and the ill with them as long as he lives. If he refuses to do so, he should be told that he must; otherwise he will be separated from wife, house, and home permanently. Where these causes are not present, other faults and foibles should not be a hindrance to marriage, nor a reason for divorce, things like quarrels or other trouble. But if there is a divorce, says St. Paul, both partners should remain unmarried.
This much in brief on what the text says about this business; elsewhere I have written enough about it.40 As I have said, the best way to prevent divorce and other discord is for everyone to learn patience in putting up with the common faults and troubles of his station in life and to put up with them in his wife as well, knowing that we can never have everything just right, the way we would like to have it. Even the condition of your own body can never be any different or better. You have to put up with the many kinds of filth and discomfort that it causes you every day; and if you were to throw away everything about it that is impure, you would have to start with the belly, which you need to nourish you and to keep you alive.
Now, you can stand it when your body emits a stench before you realize it, or when it festers and becomes pussy and completely pollutes your skin. You make allowances for all this. In fact, this only increases your concern and love for your body; you wait on it and wash it, and you endure and help in every way you can. Why not do the same with the spouse whom God has given you, who is an even greater treasure and whom you have even more reason to love? For the love among Christians should be the same kind of love as that of every member of the body for every other one, as St. Paul often says (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12–26), each one accepting the faults of the other, sympathizing with them, bearing and removing them, and doing everything possible to help him. Hence the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins is the most important of all, both for us personally and for our relations with others. As Christ continually bears with us in His kingdom and forgives us all sorts of faults, so we should bear and forgive one another in every situation and in every way. Whoever refuses to do this, may God grant him no rest and make his misfortune or plague ten times as bad.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:92). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.