Advice from Luther

Martin Luther faced a plague in his own town of Wittenberg, and he was asked the question, “Should we stay or flee?” To sum up his answer, it was:

  1. Take care of your responsibilities.
  2. Take care of your neighbor.
  3. Do as you please.

Solid, practical advice! Now listen to how he describes what our attitudes should be. Here are his words:

Because we know that it is the devil’s game to induce such fear and dread, we should in turn minimize it, take such courage as to spite and annoy him, and send those terrors right back to him. And we should arm ourselves with this answer to the devil:

“Get away, you devil, with your terrors! Just because you hate it, I’ll spite you by going the more quickly to help my sick neighbor. I’ll pay no attention to you: I’ve got two heavy blows to use against you: the first one is that I know that helping my neighbor is a deed well-pleasing to God and all the angels; by this deed I do God’s will and render true service and obedience to him.”

The second blow against the devil is God’s mighty promise by which he encourages those who minister to the needy. He says in Psalm 41, “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive; the Lord will bless him on earth and not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed. In his illness he will heal all his infirmities.” Are not these glorious and mighty promises of God heaped up upon those who minister to the needy? What should terrorize us or frighten us away from such great and divine comfort? The service we can render to the needy is indeed such a small thing in comparison with God’s promises and rewards.

Of course, we aren’t in Luther’s precise situation, but we can minimize the devil’s game and take courage in obeying Jesus.

How can we adapt Luther’s advice for today?

  1. Take care of your responsibilities. If you are working at an essential business or industry, then you have an obligation to keep working. Luther tells us we cannot deny our responsibilities unless there is someone to take our place.
  2. Take care of your neighbor. Are there people in your life who rely on you? For me and my family, my parents are in that category, so we are continuing to serve them by bringing meals and doing things around the house — not easy when practicing physical distancing. Brenda is also a caregiver for a friend’s special needs daughter, and there is no physical distancing possible there!
  3. Do as you please. Luther and his contemporaries had the option of leaving the city to avoid the plague, but we clearly don’t have that option…for us, there’s no place else to go.

So while we shelter at home, we have a choice to make: what do we choose to do? The answer is clear, because our marching orders haven’t changed: love God, and love people. And in this unprecedented time, this is how we can bring honor to Jesus; this is how we can make him look good.

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