Luther on Freedom and Considering Others

Luther is famous for, among other things, his writing on Christian freedom.  Rare indeed is the seminarian, pastor, or interested reader who is not familiar with his words in “The Freedom of a Christian,” where Luther famously writes, “Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”  I have come into contact with many Lutherans who tend to flaunt Christian freedom as the (practical) hallmark of their faith.  Some of these folks came from strict Fundamentalist backgrounds where seemingly everything was verboten but.  Some were raised Lutheran and know nothing else.  Most all, unfortunately, who focus on freedom tend to do so with an attitude of arrogance and asininity.

Luther, however, will let us off the hook so easily.  While refusing to focus on “Thou shalt not” as the paradigm for the Christian life, he rightly reminds us that the true focus of the Christian life–with respect to good works–is the benefit of others.  Commenting on the first section of Galatians 5, he says:

The weak are offended when something is done that they don’t understand and can’t distinguish from evil.  Romans 14 deals with this situation at length.  For example, when the weak saw that others were eating foods forbidden by the law as unclean, they did not dare eat these foods because they were inhibited by their consciences.  Yet they could not disapprove of what the others did.  Here Paul became a Jew with the Jews, a weak person with the weak to serve them through love so that they would become strong in Christ.

On the other hand, the strong are offended when they become annoyed by the weak and grow impatient with their slowness and clumsiness.  Without consideration for others, they overuse their freedom in Christ, resulting in weak people becoming offended.  It would be better for them to keep all the laws before offending one person.  This is what it means to live by the Spirit.  What good does it do to use the Spirit of freedom against the Spirit of love?

But you may insist, “We are free to do this,”  Certainly.  But you must put the weakness of your brother or sister ahead of your own freedom.  It doesn’t hurt you if you don’t exercise your freedom.  Yet it hurts them if they are offended by your freedom.  Don’t forget that the task of love is thinking of what’s best for others.  Rather than finding out how much freedom you can exercise, find out how much service you can give to your brother or sister.
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 27:382)

His last two lines are poignant and truthful challenges to live our lives of faith with others’ interests and well-beings squarely in view.  “Don’t forget that the task of love is thinking of what’s best for others.  Rather than finding out how much freedom you can exercise, find out how much service you can give to your brother or sister.”  We would do well to enjoy our freedom while living to serve instead of merely focusing on ourselves…like much of the rest of pop-Christianity.  Lord, help us!

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