5. LUTHER AS HUSBAND AND FATHER
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her . . . . Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” — Ephesians 5:25, 6:4.
Martin Luther proposed to and married Katherine von Bora on the same day. She was a former nun, placed under Luther’s care. He tried to find her a husband, but with no success. The parents of one willing young man refused to permit him to marry her. Katherine refused to marry several prospects suggested by Luther. She stated that she would marry Luther himself, but his friends strongly advised against that. She was far too headstrong, they felt, and would be a poor match. When Luther finally married her, he did not do it for love. He stated that he was marrying, first, to please his father, and second, to confirm by example his teaching that marriage was a good and God-pleasing act. The couple was blessed with six children, three sons and three daughters.
Through his marriage Luther established by example the Lutheran parsonage and reestablished God’s intentions for the Christian home. Celibacy, as embraced and enforced by the Roman Church, contradicts both the Word and intentions of God. Man was not created to be alone, and very few individuals possess the gift of continence. In Luther’s day, as well as in our own, the sad results of forced celibacy are obvious. What a blessing it is for pastors to have wives and to be blessed with families.
But Luther’s example goes beyond simply the marriage of clergy. Before the Reformation people lost a proper understanding of God’s will for marriage. Sometimes wives were viewed as chattel–the personal property of husbands, and were married, not for loving companionship, as God intended, but to work and to produce heirs. Luther reestablished God’s will, that men marry and be faithful to their wives. In the pulpit and at home he upheld God’s directive, that “husbands love (their) wives, as Christ loved the Church.” In other words, they were to love their wives self-sacrificially. Luther grew to love Katie and stated that he would not give her up for all of Venice and France put together. She was God’s gift to him–a gift he treasured!
By example Luther also reestablished God’s will for fathers and their children. He took Paul’s words seriously: “Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Luther spent time with his children. He used strict discipline, but in love. He maintained that a father needs a “rod in one hand and an apple in the other.” He shared God’s truths with his children in ways they could understand. He once wrote a delightful letter to his son, Hans, in which he described heaven as a pleasant garden, in which boys “wore golden jackets” and “gathered apples and pears and purple and yellow plums.” Luther went on to describe how there were “ponies with golden reins and silver saddles” to ride, “whistles and drums” to play and “crossbows” to shoot.
Recently I have heard more than one individual lament that our young people seem to take little interest in church. May I suggest that a most important remedy to that problem is for our men to remember the example of Martin Luther–love your wives as Christ loved the Church and take the time personally to bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord!
We thank God for His gift to the church in Martin Luther also as husband and father.
— Pastor Paul D. Nolting
(Series concluded — Ed.)