The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Loving your neighbor

Martin Luther offers six guideposts that direct us in the public arena

Martin Luther, it seems to me, had a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an intimacy born of continually encountering the living Christ in Scripture and then wrestling with what it meant to live in his tumultuous times as a believer saved by God's grace through God's gift of faith.

Passionately and continually, Luther taught and preached about multiple ways in which being justified by God through Christ profoundly changes believers' lives, impacting the way we live in our households and in the broader public. Indeed, "faith," Luther taught, "is a divine work in us which changes us."

Luther insisted that we are changed toward beings who love others as self. Believers' love for others is, according to him, the actual love of Christ given to the believing community, especially in the eucharist and in baptism. Christ's love has two dimensions, he taught: "[T]he love Christ bears toward us and the love we owe our neighbor." And: "By faith we receive blessings from above, from God; through love we give them out below, to our neighbor." Luther saw the commandment to love neighbor as self — and the moral-spiritual power to do so — as a splendid and life-shaping gift from God to the believing community.

For Luther, Christ's love living in us meant serving the neighbors' well-being in every aspect of life, even at great risk to oneself. We could have marvelous discussions for endless hours about what "neighbor-love" as the norm of Christian life meant to Luther and means for us today. Lutherans should be reveling in that question — in our dinner conversations, at church, in prayer, at the grocery store and throughout the day. Here, we offer six guideposts for those deliberations.

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