by Matthew C. Harrison
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 THESS. 5:16–22).
How shall we live as Lutherans?
During this 500th anniversary year, we’ve been taking stock of the gifts given by God through Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. But looking back for its own sake is of little benefit. We look back to learn, rejoice and repent precisely to move forward into the here and now. So also, St. Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians applies to us today!
“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
There’s a lot of joy in Lutheranism. Certainty of eternal life is ours (ROM. 5:1FF.). Christ proves it true. “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (ROM. 4:25). “I know whom I have believed” (2 TIM. 1:12). “Whoever believes has eternal life” (JOHN 6:47). “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 JOHN 1:7). Jesus loves sinners! “He receives sinners and eats with them” (LUKE 15:2). Joy!
Lutherans realize that they always fall short of the demands of the Law, and that “none is righteous, no, not one” (ROM. 3:10). Not a one of us will walk into heaven because our thoughts, words or deeds were less sinful than the worst of sinners. That means that we are free to see those who don’t know Jesus not as people who need to get holy like us, but rather as objects of Christ’s love — sinners all, just exactly like us (MATT. 9:36F.) Joy!
Lutherans rejoice to know that God’s Word of the Gospel is brought to us by a voice (ROM. 10:17), by a text of the Bible (JOHN 20:31), by the word of absolution (JOHN 20:23), by water (TITUS 3:5) and in bread and wine (1 COR. 11:23F.) — all for manifold and multiple certainty JOHN 1:16). Joy at every turn for sinners! Knowing that salvation is doled out to us in these ways, continuously, we are freed not to be prudes or hypocrites or unforgiving jerks (MATT. 18:28). Christ took on our flesh (JOHN 1:14)! Creation was created, and despite sin, Christ has redeemed His creation, and it is good and to be enjoyed to God’s glory (ROM. 14:13FF.; 1 COR. 10:31)! Joy!
Lutherans do not limit salvation to Lutherans (MARK 16:16). Orthodox Lutherans confess exactly what the Bible says (1 COR. 4:6). People who believe in Jesus as Savior are Christians even if, like the apostles with Jesus, they don’t have everything exactly as the Bible teaches (1 COR. 3:10FF.). Joy!
“Pray without ceasing.”
We have “access” to God the Father in Jesus Christ (EPH. 2:18). Jesus taught His disciples how to pray by word and deed (MATT. 6:5FF.). We have loads of prayers in the Bible (all the psalms, for instance!). In fact, Luther taught that every single verse of the Bible can be used for prayer, with individual petitions on “Instruction,” “Thanksgiving,” “Confession of Sin,”, etc.* Nothing we Christians have been gifted and tasked to do in this life is more powerful than prayer (JOHN 14:13), especially our prayers SPIRITUAL HEALTH. together for all manner of needs on Sunday morning.
How powerful is the ceaseless prayer of the shut-in widow who is perhaps unknown to most of her congregation! Pastors, how powerful is your prayer for your people (PHIL. 1:3)! Laity, have you been on your knees for your pastor, for your congregation?
Jesus teaches us to pray, tells us God is our dear Father. He invites us to pray at all times (EPH. 6:18), He loves it when we pray, and He promises to hear our prayers (MATT. 7:7–8)! Isn’t that just marvelous? Joy!
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
It is God’s will that we rejoice, pray and give thanks (PHIL. 4:4). A heart that has ceased to give thanks for life, for eternal life, for Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, for congregation, for pastor — yes, even for trials — is a heart in atrophy! “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (MARK 9:24). Luther taught that for persistent thanklessness, the Lord slowly takes away His Gospel. I think that’s true for nations, for families, for individuals, for congregations, for pastors and for church bodies. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever” (PS. 136:1).
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.”
Luther put it this way, “Do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (Small Catechism). Don’t close your ears because your pastor has a few quirks and is a sinner, like the rest of us (EPH. 4:2). Don’t stay away from church for stupid, selfish reasons. We are sinners all. Open your Bible — and that includes you, pastor (JOHN 5:39F.)! God’s Word is rich and diverse and made just for you (PS. 19:10; 2 TIM. 3:16)!
“Test everything; hold fast what is good.”
There’s a lot of spiritual junk out there! In fact, as the Bible teaches, false teachers will abound in these last days (MATT. 24:11). Make sure you’ve got your Lutheran Study Bible from CPH, and use it! Keep your Small Catechism with explanation handy! “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (JOHN 8:31).
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 THESS. 5:23–24).
— Pastor Harrison
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
* To learn more about Luther’s method of praying on the basis of Holy Scripture, see his A Simple Way to Pray, available from Concordia Publishing House.