Where There Is No Love, There Doctrine Cannot Remain Pure

In this holy season of Advent, a time of repentance as we await the birth of the Savior according to the flesh, as well as in difficult circumstances in our country and, yes, even among Lutherans in America, let us take to heart the words of Blessed Martin Luther:

It is inevitable that one member occasionally jostles the other, just as a foot or a toe of our body bumps the others, or as a person injures himself. Such bumps and trials do not fail to come, especially because we are sojourning here in the realm of the devil, who tempts us uninterruptedly, and also because the flesh is still weak and full of flaws. This explains why even dear and faithful friends fall out or become irritable with one another. At times the devil injects poison and suspicion into a heart because of a single word or glance and thereby stirs up mutual animosity. He is a master in this art and devotes himself to it most diligently. He employs his craftiness before one is really aware of it. As we read in Acts 15:2, this is what he did in the case of St. Paul and Barnabas, who had a sharp dissension and parted company. Or take the two men Jerome and Rufinus, who had been the best of friends and like brothers. They quarreled over a preface and were unable to re-establish their former friendship. The same thing would have happened between St. Augustine and Jerome if Augustine had not been so shrewd. Trifles can lead to such quarreling and enmity that great harm results to many. The blood soon begins to boil; then the devil shoots his venomous darts into the heart by means of evil tongues, and finally no one says or thinks anything good about the other person. The devil keeps on fanning the flames and is eager to set people against one another, to spread misery, and to incite them to murder….

Therefore it behooves us Christians to be on our guard against the devil’s craft and cunning, to exercise prudence, and to beware of letting such poison develop in our hearts. We must repel any suspicion and antipathy that may be stirred up in us and remind ourselves not to let love depart and die out for this reason but to hold to it with a strong hand. And if aversion and discord have arisen anywhere, we must restore and improve the love and friendship.

It does not require such great skill to begin to love; but, as Christ says here, remaining in love takes real skill and virtue. In matrimony many people are initially filled with such ardent affection and passion that they would fairly eat each other; later they become bitter foes. The same thing happens among Christian brethren. A trivial cause may dispel love and separate those who should really be bound with the firmest ties; it turns them into the worst and bitterest enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the days of the apostles, when the devil raised up his schismatic spirits and heretics, so that bishops and pastors became inflamed with hatred against one another and then also divided the people into many kinds of sects and schisms from which Christendom suffered terrible harm. That is the devil’s joy and delight. He strives for nothing else than to destroy love among Christians and to create utter hatred and envy. For he knows very well that Christendom is built and preserved by love. In Col. 3:14 Paul speaks of love as “binding everything together in perfect harmony.” And in 1 Cor. 13:13 he calls love the greatest virtue, which accomplishes and achieves most in the Christian realm. For in the absence of love doctrine cannot remain pure; nor can hearts be held together in unity.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (Jn 15:9). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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