A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil.
EXHORTATION TO BE IMITATORS OF GOD
1. This is a letter of admonition, instructing Christians, according to the plan underlying Paul's epistles, not to become sluggish and careless, but by their deeds to evince their faith, and honour and proclaim the Word he has taught them; for the sake of the gentiles and unbelievers, that these may not take offence at the doctrine of Christ.
2. To begin with, having shown that we were made children of God through Christ, he admonishes us to be followers, or imitators, of the Father, as beloved children. He employs the most endearing of terms-
He who despises such glow of love, which fills all heaven and earth and is beyond all power to comprehend it; who does not permit this love to kindle and incite in him love for his neighbour whether enemy or friend-
3. "Walk in love," counsels the apostle. He would have our external life all love. But not the world's love is to be our pattern, which seeks only its own advantage, and loves only so long as it is the gainer thereby; we must love even as Christ loved, who sought neither pleasure nor gain from us but gave himself for us, not to mention the other blessings he bestows daily-
"To God for an odour of a sweet smell [for a sweet-
4. This expression Paul takes from the Old Testament. There the temporal sacrifices are described as being "a sweet-
SINS NOT TO BE NAMED AMONG CHRISTIANS.
"But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints."
5. In naming uncleanness in addition to fornication, the reference is to all sensual affections in distinction from wedded love. They are too unsavoury for him to mention by name, though in Romans 1, 24 he finds it expedient to speak of them without disguise. However, also wedded love must be characterized by moderation among Christians. While there is a conjugal duty to be required by necessity, it is for the very purpose of avoiding un chastity and uncleanness. The ideal and perfect condition, it is true, would be cohabitation with a sole view to procreation; however, that is too high for attainment by all.
6. Paul declares that the sin he indicates should not be named of the Ephesians. Unquestionably, among Christians there will always be some infirm one to fall; but we must labour diligently, correcting, amending and restraining. We must not suffer the offense to go unchallenged, but curtail and remedy it, lest, as remarked in the preceding lesson, the heathen stumble, saying: "Christians tolerate such vices themselves; their conduct is not different from our own." An occasional fall among Christians must be borne with so long as right prevails in general, and such things are neither tolerated nor taught, but reproved and amended. Paul gives the counsel (Gal 6, 1) that the brethren restore the fallen in a spirit of meekness; and he blames the Corinthians for not reproving them who sin. I Cor 5, 2. A sin, once punished, is as if the sin did not exist; it is no longer a matter of reproach.
7. Likewise with covetousness: we are to understand it is not to be named of Christians. That is, should one be covetous, should one defraud another or contend with him about temporal advantage, as evidently was true of the Corinthians (I Cor 6, 1), the offence must not be suffered to go un reproved and uncorrected. The Gospel must be carefully upheld and preserved among the multitude, "that our ministration be not blamed." 2 Cor 6, 3. I make this point for the sake of those who, so soon as they observe that all Christians are not perfectly holy, but will occasionally stumble and fall, imagine there is no such thing as a Christian and the Gospel is impotent and fruit-
8. The writer of the epistle goes on to assign the reason why it does not sound well to hear such things concerning Christians-
"Nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not befitting."
FOOLISH TALKING AND JESTING.
10. By "foolish talking" is indicated the fables and tales and other lore in which the Greeks particularly abound-
11. Particularly unchristian is every kind of such buffoonery in the church when men are gathered to hear and learn the Word of God. But the practice is common where many come together. Even where at first things of a serious nature are discussed, men soon pass to frivolous, wanton, foolish talk, resulting in a waste of time and the neglect of better things. For instance, on the festival of Easter, foolish, ridiculous stories have been introduced into the sermon to arouse the drowsy. And at the Christmas services, the absurd pantomime of rocking a babe, and silly declamations in rhyme, have found vogue. Similarly the festivals commemorating the three holy kings, the passion of Christ, Dorothy and other saints were characterized.
12. In this category should also be classed the legends of the saints and the confused mass of lies concerning miracles, pilgrimages, masses, worship of saints, indulgences, and so on, which once dominated the pulpit. Yet these falsehoods are too gross to be called merely foolish. They are not just frivolous lies merely destructive of good morals, such as Paul refers to here, but they completely overthrow faith and the Word of God, making sainthood impossible. Such kind of jesting is altogether too serious. Those, however, who have seen into them treat them as lies of the same frivolous and abominable character as the fables or old women's tales mentioned by Paul 1 Tim 4, 7. But while the latter are mere human tales which nobody believes, which no one will place reliance on, serving as mere occasion of merriment, without becoming a source of general moral corruption, an obstacle to improvement and a cause of cold, indolent Christianity, the falsehoods of the pulpit are diabolical tales held as truth in all seriousness, but a comedy for the devil and his angels.
13. "Jesting" has reference to those conversational expedients which pander to gaiety in the form of scandal; they are called among us banter and badinage. Laughter, mirth and gaiety is their purpose, and we meet with them generally in society and high life. Among the heathen, jesting was counted a virtue, and therefore received the title "eutrapelia" by Aristotle. But Paul calls it a vice among Christians, who certainly may find conversational expedients of a different kind, such as will inspire a cheerful and joyous spirit in Christ. True, Christians are not all so pure but that some may err in this matter; but the Christian Church does not command jesting, nor suffer any member to abandon himself to the practice. It reproves and prohibits it, particularly in religious assemblies, and in teaching and preaching. For Christ says (Mt 12, 36) that at the last day men must give account of every idle, unprofitable word they have spoken. Christians should be a very firm, though courteous, people. Courtesy should be coupled with seriousness, and seriousness with courtesy, according to the pattern of the life of Christ supplied in the Gospel. "Which are not befitting."
14. Paul apparently would include in the catalog all unprofitable language of whatever name. I would call those words unprofitable which serve not to further the faith nor to supply the wants of the body and preserve it. We have enough else to talk about during this short lifetime, if we desire to speak, enough that is profitable and pleasant, if we talk only of Christ, of love and of other essential things. The apostle mentions the giving of thanks. It should be our daily and constant employment to praise and thank God, privately and publicly, for the great and inexpressible treasures he has given us in Christ. But it appears that what is needful is relegated to the rear, while objects of indifference are brought to the fore. Now, mark you, if Paul will not tolerate banter and suggestive conversation among Christians, what would he say of the shameful backbiting which is heard whenever people meet, though but two individuals? Yes, what would be his judgment of those who in public preaching clinch and claw, attack and calumniate each other?
FRUITLESS CHRISTIANS ARE HEATHEN.
"For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."
15. Hereby he declares in dry words that the man who does not exhibit the fruits of faith is a heathen under the name of a Christian. Here is absolute condemnation in a word. The whoremonger is a denier of the faith; the unclean person is a denier of the faith; the covetous individual is a denier of the faith: all are rebellious, perjured and faithless toward God. Paul tells Timothy (I Tim 5, 8): "But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever." How could he utter anything more severe, more terrifying? He begins, "For this ye know." In other words: Doubt not; do not find vain comfort in the thought that this is a jest or an aspersion. A Christian name, and association with Christians, will count for nothing. It will profit you as little as it profits the Jews to be Abraham's seed and disciples of Moses. Christ's words (Mt 7, 21) concern every man: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." There must be performance; faith must be manifested by works.
16. If the great fire of divine love which he uses as his first argument will not draw us, then may the terrible threat of hell fire prove a sufficient incentive. In other words, if men follow not God, walking in love and showing their faith by their deeds, let them know they are not God's children, not heirs in his kingdom, and therefore are unquestionably heirs of the evil one in hell. He who is unmoved by the threats of hell fire must truly be a stick or a stone; indeed, he must have a heart like an anvil, as Job says.
17. The writer of the epistle passes unusually severe sentence upon the covetous man, for he calls him an idolater, or a worshiper of a false God. Plainly, Paul entertained special enmity against the covetous, for in Colossians 3, 5 he defines this sin in a similar manner. His reasoning, I judge, is this: All other sinners turn to use what they have and make it subservient to their lusts. Fornicators and the unclean make their bodies serve their pleasure. The haughty employ property, art, reputation and men to secure honour to themselves. The unhappy idolater alone is servant to his possessions; his sin is to save, guard and preserve property. He dare not make use of it either for himself or for others, but worships it as his god. Rather than touch his money, he would suffer both the kingdom of God and of the world to perish. He will not give a farthing to the support of a preacher or a schoolmaster for the sake of advancing God's kingdom. Because he places his confidence, his trust, in his money rather than in the living God, whose promises concerning ample support are abundant, his real God is his money, and to call him an idolater is entirely just. And, in addition, he must renounce heaven! A shameful vice, indeed! 0 contemptible Unbelief! what a dangerous vice art thou!
DECEPTION BY EMPTY WORDS.
"Let no man deceive you with empty words."
18. This applies to those who gloss their un chastity over, as if it were but a trivial sin. And some have been even such vulgar teachers as to consider no un chastity evil except adultery, and to accept it as a normal function, like eating and drinking. The Greek philosophers and poets were of this class. And Terence says, "It is neither a sin nor a shame for a youth to commit fornication." To obey such doctrine would be to know nothing of God and to live in the lust of concupiscence, like the gentiles who know not God, of whom we heard in the preceding lesson. All arguments of this character are vain words; they may fascinate the reason after a fashion; yet they are vain and futile, unable to profit their authors. Covetousness likewise has much false show and glitter. When one defrauds another or seeks his own advantage to the injury of others, his act is not at all called sin, but cleverness, economy and sagacity, though meanwhile the poor must suffer want and even die of hunger. Such arguments are merely the specious and blind utterances of heathen, contrary to Christian love.
19. But we have additional light upon this subject, showing that because of such practices the wrath of God comes upon the unbelieving. In First Corinthians 10, 8 are cited numerous examples of punishment for the sin of fornication. See also Num 25. Again, because of wantonness, covetousness and un chastity, the entire world was destroyed by the flood. This is a severe utterance but true and indubitable. "For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience."
"Sons of disobedience"-
20. Among these idle chatterers and misleading teachers the sluggards and drones should beware of being classified, who, with better light than the heathen, know full well that covetousness and un chastity are sin. While they teach nothing to controvert this, they notwithstanding trust for salvation in a faith barren of works, on the ground that works cannot effect salvation. They know full well that a faith barren of works is nothing, is a false faith; that fruit and good works must follow a genuine faith of necessity. Nevertheless they go on in carnal security, without fear of the wrath and judgment of God, who wants the old Adam to be crucified, and to find good fruit on good trees.It is possible that St. Paul does not refer in this passage to those who, like the heathen, teach and maintain by specious arguments that un chastity is no sin; nevertheless there is reason to apprehend that the reward of the heathen will be meted out to them likewise; for they live like the heathen, being strangers to both chastity and kindness. And our apprehension is so much more justified because they have a better knowledge of the wrong they commit. This is Paul's standpoint when he asks (Rom 2, 3): "And reckonest thou this, 0 man, who judgest them that practice such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" "After thy hardness and impenitent heart," he adds, thou "treasurest up for thyself wrath."
"Be not ye therefore partakers with them; for ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord."
21. Peter similarly counsels (I Pet 4, 3) to let the time past of our lives suffice us to have wrought the will of the gentiles, and no longer be partakers with them, but live the rest of our time to the will of God. While we were gentiles we knew not that all those things were sin, because of the darkness of unbelief, which prevented our knowing God. But now we have become a light in the Lord. That is, we have been so amply enlightened through Christ that we not only know God and what he desires, and understand what sin and wrong are, but we are also able to light others, to teach them what we know. Paul commends the Philippians for being a light in the world, among an evil and untoward generation. Phil. 2, 15. And, similarly, when we were gentiles we not only were darkened, not only were ignorant and went astray, but we were darkness itself, leading others into the same condition by our words and deeds. We have reason, then, to be thankful unto him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light (I Pet 2, 9), and to "walk as children of light."
"For the fruit of the light [Spirit] is in all goodness and righteousness and truth."
22. Since Paul is speaking of light, it would have been more to the point had he said "fruit of the light," in accordance with the Latin version, than "fruit of the Spirit," the Greek rendering. And who knows but it may, in the Greek, have been altered to harmonize with Galatians 5, 22, where Paul speaks of the "fruit of the Spirit"? It matters little, however; evidently "Spirit" and "light" are synonymous in this place. "Goodness" is the fruit of light, or of the Spirit, as opposed to covetousness. The Christian is to be good; that is, useful, gladly working his neighbour's good. "Righteousness," as fruit of the Spirit among men-