Theme: The source of true courage.
This week’s lessons show us the importance of depending on Jesus.
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
J. C. Ryle wrote, “The sword has a lawful office of its own… But the sword is not to be used in the propagation and maintenance of the gospel… Happy would it have been for the church if this sentence had been more frequently remembered.”1
What are the Christians weapons? Paul answered, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10, 5). Our battle is not a battle for political power, but of ideas. It is a battle which Paul knew does in time change the world. Paul thought in Christian ways, and he wanted others to think in Christian ways too.
An example comes from the Reformation period. In 1524, seven years after Martin Luther had nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, the farmers of Germany rebelled against their feudal lords in what became known as The Peasants’ War (1524-1526). The revolt began near Schaffhausen where Hans Mueller, acting on a suggestion from Thomas Muenzer, formed the peasants into an “Evangelical Brotherhood” pledged to emancipate the farmers. By the end of that year there were some 30,000 farmers in arms in Southern Germany refusing to pay state taxes, church tithes, or feudal dues.
In March 1525, they circulated a document called the “Twelve Articles” in which they claimed the right to choose their own pastors, pay only just tithes, be considered as free men rather than serfs, enjoy fair rents, and other such reasonable demands. They were also favorable to the Reformation and opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.
The peasants sent a copy to Luther fully expecting his support. And, indeed, Luther’s first response was sympathetic. Luther acknowledged the injustices about which the farmers were in arms and blamed the rulers of both state and church for their responsibility. He told them, “We have no one on earth to thank for this mischievous rebellion except you, princes and lords, and especially you blind bishops… You do nothing but flay and rob your subjects, in order that you may lead a life of splendor and pride, until the poor common people can bear it no longer.”2
But Luther did not endorse the rebellion even though most of its goals coincided with those of the Reformation. Later, when hundreds of monasteries were sacked and many cities overrun, Luther denounced the violence in fierce and characteristically uncompromising terms.
Why did Luther react this way, when nearly everyone expected him to side with the peasants? Luther’s justified fear of anarchy was one strong reason. Another was his conviction that God has established the authority of princes. But Luther knew that the power of the sword has not been given either to the church or to the individual Christian, and he understood that our weapons are not the weapons of this world and that it is scriptural arguments alone that have power “to demolish strongholds.”
According to Luther, the Reformation would proceed non vi, Sed verbo—not by force, but by the power of Gods Word. And so it did! The Peasants War was a tragic episode in the Reformation period. More lives were lost in that war in Germany than in any tumult prior to the Thirty Years’ War. Some 130,000 farmers died in battle or afterwards as a result of retaliatory punishments, Germany was impoverished. The Reformation itself almost perished. But it did not, because it moved by the power of the Word of God, and God blessed the teaching of that Word by the reformers.
1 John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew, p. 368
2 Martin Luther, “Admonition to Peace” (April, 1525), Cited by Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 6, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin 1300-1564 (Norwalk, Conn.: The Easton Press, 1992), p. 386.
What power is available to Christians to fight the battles of the Christian life?
Why didn’t Martin Luther support the peasants’ rebellion?
Build up your own spiritual arsenal by memorizing 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5 and Ephesians :10-18.