You can listen to the devotion here.
In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Samuel 15:22
22 And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
Devotion from the Blessed Dr. Martin Luther
Context: I don’t normally do this but I thought giving this devotional reading some context might be helpful. Luther believed that a person could only be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works of the law or obedience. So, he is not saying in this devotion that you are saved by works. What he is saying is that as Christians we live lives of faith and obedience in the vocations that God has placed us in – and that when we are faithful and obedient in those it is good and pleasing in God’s sight. He is arguing against the idea that you must be something like a priest, or a monk, or a nun to do works that are pleasing to God. You see this in his Small Catechism in the Table of Duties where he says, “Certain passages of Scripture for various Holy Orders and positions, admonishing them about their duties and responsibilities.”
I wrote about this in an article for the Lutheran Witness several years ago: The six chief parts deal primarily with faith – that is what is to be believed. The Table of Duties deals with love – that is how we are to love our neighbors in our various vocations. Whereas the Ten Commandments speak in general terms to all men, the Table of Duties shows what responsibilities we have as individuals in our various vocations.
Luther went so far as to call these vocations “holy orders” to offer an alternative to the medieval piety of his day. Instead of only certain vocations being holy, Luther teaches that all the vocations one has in the church, state/society, and the home are holy. How do we serve our neighbor in our vocations? What does the Christian life look like day in and day out? The Table of Duties shows us the way.
It is in this context that we should understand this writing of Luther.
And now, Luther:
A pious maid, who occupies herself doing what is commanded her and in accord with her office sweeps the house or takes out the chamber pot; or a servant, who in that manner, plows and runs; these go straight to heaven on the right road, while another who goes to St. James, or to church, and totally ignores his office and work goes straight to hell.
So we must close our eyes and not behold the works, if they are big, small, glorious, disgusting, spiritual, physical, or what appearance and reputation they have upon the earth; but rather see the Command and obedience that are in them; whether the same work is truly impressive and purely divine or if it is so poor as lifting a blade of straw. But if it is not of obedience and the command, then the work is not legitimate, truly the devil’s own, even if it were something so great as raising the dead.
Then this is certain. God’s eyes do not look at the works, but rather on the obedience of the works. So he also desires that we should look upon his command and calling, of which St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:17, “Let each one remain in the calling in which he is called.” And St. Peter in 1 Peter 4:10, “You will be as the true good steward, or people called in manifold grace; that each on serve and be available to the others by grace, as he has received it.” See, St. Peter says that the grace and gifts of God are not singular but manifold. And each should accept his own, use them and by them be of service to others.
What a fine thing it would be if it so happened that each minded his own business and served others thereby so they would go together on the true road up to heaven. So writes St. Paul in Romans 12:4-6 and 1 Corinthians 12:12, that the body has many members, but not all members do the same works. So also we in the Christian congregation are many members, but not all have the same works. So no one should do the others’ work, but each accept his own and all in one unified obedience, in many types of commands and manifold works, move in harmony.
Then you say: “So, should the dear Saints’ lives and examples not be followed? Then why do we preach about them?” Answer: One should preach them so God is praised by it, and to motivate us and also to comfort us with God’s goodness and grace so that not works, but rather obedience is illustrated by it. Not that one should leave his own obedience behind so that we are led so deeply into works of the great saints that we would depart completely from our own obedience, so that our jaws would drop at their stupendous works and so we would despise our own command and calling. Therefore, there is no doubt that it is only the most miserable devil’s work that one becomes anxious to serve God only in the church, at the altar, at mass, singing, reading, offering, and doing the like as if all other works were nothing or of no use. How could the devil better lead us from the true way than when he compels us to serve God so narrowly, only in the church and with works that are done therein?
Gracious Lord, grant us the grace we need each day that we may serve you faithfully in the vocations that You have placed us in. And grant us forgiveness for all the ways in which we will fail in those vocations; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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