From the Word
14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:14–18, RSV
John uses an illustration plain enough for any one to understand, and from which we may judge that the soul wanting in small duties will be deficient in great ones. According to the apostle, if one possesses this world’s goods and sees his neighbor in want, being able to render assistance without injury to himself, and closes his heart against him, not assisting him even with the slightest work of love, how can the love of God dwell in him, since he appreciates it so little that he will not spare his needy brother a penny? How can he be expected to render a greater service — to lay down his life for his brother? What right has such a soul to boast that Christ has laid down his life for him and delivered him from death?
Frequently people are found who have this world’s goods and are able to help the needy, yet close their hearts against the unfortunate. Where shall we find in imperial courts, among kings, princes and lords, any who extend a helping hand to the needy Church in the maintenance of the poor, of the ministry, and of schools? How would they measure up in the greater duty of laying down their lives for the brethren, and especially for the Christian Church?
But the merely selfish may well escape our censure in comparison to those who not only close their purses to the poor, but shamelessly and forcibly deprive and rob their needy neighbor of his own by overreaching, by fraud, oppression and extortion; who take from the Church the property rightfully hers and especially reserved for her. Not only is the papistical rabble of to-day guilty of such sin, but many who would be known as evangelical practice the same fraud with reference to the parochial estates and general property of the Church, and tyrannically harass and torment the poor ministers. But oh, how heavy and terrible the impending judgment for those who have denied to Christ the Lord in his thirst even the cup of cold water. Therefore let him who would prove himself a Christian show himself such by his deeds and works.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 310–11.