Many of you have probably heard of the 16th century reformer Martin Luther. Having discovered the Gospel while a Catholic monk, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ and set off a fire-storm that sparked the Reformation. If you go into my office you’ll see a picture of Luther on my bookshelf. He is a man I admire, and I still profit much from his writings and commentaries. Yet he had feet made of clay.
Three years before his death he wrote a vicious pamphlet called “The Jews and Their Lies”. It spewed hatred against the Jews, denouncing them in crude terms such as blasphemers, liars, and murderers. He accused them of drinking human blood and murdering Protestant children through poisons. The pamphlet calls for depriving Jews of their homes and running them out of the country. He suggests that Jewish homes should be burnt, their synagogues destroyed, their scrolls & religious books confiscated, their money seized (and only given back if they converted to Christ), their young men put to forced labor, and their Rabbis prohibited to teach—and to put them to death if they continued to do so. He even says they should be denied safe passage on the highways, which essentially means no one should come to their aid if they were being robbed or killed.
How could this ‘man of God’ be so hateful against God’s historic people? Well, it all came about because of unrealistic expectations. At the start of his ministry he was convinced the reason Jews hadn’t accepted Christ was because of the false doctrines that were being perpetrated by the Catholic Church. Once the Reformation started, he engaged in an enthusiastic campaign to convert the Jewish people—expressing a deep love for them and an expectation that they would come to Christ. He even wrote a beautiful defense of the Jewish people which he titled “Christ was Born a Jew”. But when Luther realized that the Jews would not convert to Protestantism any more than they had to Catholicism, his love slowly turned in bitter disappointment and eventually a deep anger against them. (By the way, if you’re tempted to now disdain Luther, I would like to remind you of other notorious sinners—David, Moses, & even Abraham).
In a recent sermon on ministry burnout, John MacArthur says that burnout isn’t from overwork but rather from failing to achieve unrealistic expectations.* Expectations are unrealistic when we want something that is beyond what God has willed for us. Christians have an uncanny ability to make an idol even out of good things. For some, it is the desire to double the size of the church. For others, it is the goal to see your children saved. These things are beautiful, wonderful, and proper. But here is the key point: we will always be in spiritual danger when our goals for ministry or life become more important than our desire to see God’s will displayed.
Luther should have been content with serving God—regardless of the outcome. We have much to learn from Luther—even from his clay feet.
* Thanks to Greg and Kay Watson for this great MacArthur quote.