Luther’s Great Pentecost Hymn

Translator’s Preface

The first stanza of Martin Luther’s hymn, “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott” was originally a Latin antiphon (a responsive prayer or exclamation, either spoken or chanted at the beginning of the service) for Vespers on the evening before Pentecost, in use from the 11th century. Currently, in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, we still use the first part of this antiphon as a refrain for the Psalm appointed for Pentecost (Psalm 51b, Christian Worship p. 87), as the Verse of the Day for Pentecost, and there are hints of it in the Prayer of the Day for Pentecost. The antiphon, in its entirety, went thus (in English):

Come, Holy Spirit, fill up the hearts of your believers, and kindle in them the fire of your love: You who have gathered the nations in the unity of the faith through all the diverse languages. Alleluia, Alleluia.”

In the 15th century, even before Luther was born, more hymns and songs were beginning to appear in German, including a paraphrase of this antiphon with its own melody.

In the early 1520s, Luther repeatedly appealled to men like Georg Spalatin for scripturally sound, clear, and appropriate Psalm arrangements and hymns in German. His appeals basically fell on deaf ears, so Luther himself took up his pen and composed more than 20 hymns between 1523 and 1524 that appeared in the first evangelical hymnals of 1524. One of them was, “Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott,” which is known at least in Wisconsin Synod circles as, “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (Christian Worship 176).

For this hymn, Luther tweaked the already existing German stanza and set it to an adapted and simplified version of its customary melody. The earliest printed version of the original German stanza went thus (in English prose):

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God
Fill up with the pot [or kettle] of your grace
The heart and mind of those believers of yours.
Your burning love kindle in them,
You who through the radiance of your light
Have gathered in one faith
The people from all the world’s tongues,
For which may praise and honor to you be sung,
Alleluia, Alleluia.

This was one of Luther’s favorite hymns, as he made clear in 1539, when he told his companions, “The hymn, ‘Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God,’ the Holy Spirit himself composed about himself, both the text and the melody” (WA TR, #4478).

One of Luther’s changes was to begin the fifth line with, “O Lord,” probably both to tie this original stanza with the two new ones he composed (whose fifth lines also begin, “O Lord”) and to emphasize the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

The most notable change to the original German stanza was the sixth line. The original stanza, as also the older Latin antiphon, emphasized the unity of the Church’s faith, into which the Spirit had gathered people from all nations and tongues. But Luther relegated the concept of unity to the word “gathered” itself, and he substituted “to the faith” for “in one faith.” Thereby he meant either to emphasize the purenesscorrectness, and truth of that faith, or to reinforce the truth that we are saved by faith alone; the gathering work of the Holy Spirit is a gathering primarily to faith. (Good works will always follow faith as a matter of course.)

Luther’s three stanzas went thus (in English prose):

Come, Holy Spirit, Lord God,
Fill up with the blessing of your grace
Your believers’ heart, disposition, and mind;
Your burning love kindle in them.
O Lord, through the radiance of your light,
You have gathered to the faith
The people from all the world’s tongues.
May this, Lord, to your praise be sung.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

You Holy Light, Precious Protection,
Cause the Word of Life to shine on us
And teach us to know God correctly,
To call him Father from our hearts.
O Lord, protect from foreign doctrine,
That we seek no other master
Than Jesus with correct faith
And trust in him with all our might.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

You Holy Fiery Burning, Sweet Cheer,
Now help us joyfully and cheeredly
Steadfastly to remain in your service,
[And help] the tribulation not to drive us away.
O Lord, through your power prepare us
And fortify the timidity of the flesh,
That we here valiantly contend
And through death and life press on to you.
Alleluia. Alleluia.

With his additional two stanzas, the hymn, while not reflecting Luther’s best poetry, nonetheless is a treasure of biblical, and thus Lutheran, theology. He highlights salvation by grace alone, apprehended through faith in Jesus alone, worked through the Word alone. The doctrine and importance of the means of grace – the gospel of Jesus in Word and sacraments – is especially highlighted in st. 2. This doctrine is the driving force behind Luther’s prayer in that stanza for purity and correctness of teaching. The theology of the cross, another hallmark of Lutheranism, is highlighted in st. 3 in gripping terms.

The English translation in Christian Worship is unfortunate on a number of levels. Here is a sampling:

  • “All your graces” in line 2 of st. 1 is a misunderstanding of Luther’s “deiner Gnaden Gut,” which is really just a poetic way of saying, “your grace.” It thus misses the stress on God’s saving love in Christ.
  • Lines 6 & 7 of st. 1 turn Luther’s accomplished historical, gospel fact into a plea for something as-yet unrealized to be realized.
  • Luther’s original address, “Precious Protection” (could also be translated “Noble Refuge”), in line 1 of st. 2 somehow got turned into “Guide divine.” Thus the connection between that name and the second half of the verse is lost. (That connection is sort of redirected to the first half of the verse.)
  • “Call him Father with delight” in line 4 of st. 2 is a little unfortunate, though perhaps necessary in our modern world of broken homes and failed fatherhood in abundance. Luther’s original emphasis was simply on knowing and calling on God as a Father, period, as opposed to knowing him as an angry judge and being afraid to call on him or to have anything to do with him.
  • The translation that personally bothers me the most is the rendering of Luther’s, “rechtem Glauben” (“correct faith”), as, “living faith.” Certainly we want a living faith (as St. James makes clear), but perhaps now more than ever we need to emphasis that there is also a correct believing and an incorrect believing, and it is only correct believing (that is, believing in the truth) that can and will be living faith in the truest form. That this is the proper way to understand Luther’s phrase is probably best proved by the German compound noun which combines precisely these two words, Rechtgläubigkeit, which we would translate as orthodoxy, but many of us don’t know what orthodoxy means either – teaching and believing the right way (which implies there is a wrong way – contrary to the popular American expression, “You just gotta have faith…”).
  • “Grant us the will your work to do” in line 2 of st. 3 neither captures the connection between “süsser Trost” (line 1) and “getrost” (line 2) in Luther’s original nor the meaning and beauty of line 2 as a whole.
  • It’s always unfortunate when the concept of steadfastness gets lost in translation, as it does in line 3 of st. 3.

I was asked by a committee within our synod to study this hymn, and I found that I could not really meditate on it properly or with full edification without at least making my own attempt to rectify these problems. My own opinion is that my rendition of st. 3 below is the best of the three, while the rendition of st. 1 could probably use the most improvement (for which I will gladly take advice from readers).

The hymn itself is a prayer – a prayer especially appropriate for Pentecost, but also for every day of our lives. This powerful prayer is also my own in presenting a new translation of it below.

Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord

Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord!
In your believers’ hearts be stored
The fullness of your grace and light;
Your burning love in them ignite.
O Lord, what has your radiance done!
Within the faith you’ve made as one
People and realms of ev’ry tongue!
For this, O Lord, your praises e’er be sung!
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O Holy Light, Shield Supreme!
The Word of life upon us beam
And teach us all the highest art—
To call God, “Father,” from the heart.
O Lord, keep us from falsehood free;
Let Jesus our sole master be,
That with a faith correct and right
We place our trust in him with all our might.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O Holy Fire, Cheer so sweet!
Help us, with joy and cheer replete,
To serve you steadfast, come what may,
Nor by our trials be driv’n away.
O Lord, lend power for the fight,
Repress for us Old Adam’s fright,
That we as knights wage battle brave,
Press on to you in heav’n through grief and grave.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Exegetical Brief: Philippians 2:12b

By Pastor Holger Weiß

Translator’s Preface

This translation is especially unique to the translator in two ways. First, this is the first time he has attempted to translate an article written by someone still living. He met Pastor Weiß at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon during Summer Quarter of 2011. Pastor Weiß is the spiritual shepherd of Emmausgemeinde (Emmaus Church) in Schönfeld by Annaberg-Buchholz, a member congregation of the Evangelisch-Lutherische Freikirche (ELFK; Evangelical Lutheran Free Church) in Germany. He also serves as a professor of New Testament studies at the Lutherisches-Theologishes Seminar (Lutheran Theological Seminary) in Leipzig on the side. In his conversations with Pastor Weiß, it struck the translator that never did the title pastor suit a man better than it did Pastor Weiß.

Secondly, after laboring over the translation and then sending it to Pastor Weiß for approval before publishing it, the translator was amused to learn that Pastor Weiß had originally written it to fulfill an assignment for a class on Philippians during Summer Quarter of 2009. “Just let me know if I should send you the English paper,” he wrote. After all the work and with Pastor Weiß’s blessing, what is presented here is not the original English paper, but an English translation of a German translation by Pastor Weiß of the original English paper by the same.

This article was printed on pages 2-4 of the February 2011 edition of Theologische Handreichung und Information, the theological quarterly of the ELFK, under the title “Schafft, dass ihr selig werdet… Wie ist Philipper 2,12 zu übersetzen und zu verstehen?” (see below for translation).

It is the translator’s prayer that what follows will not only clearly communicate Pastor Weiß’s fine exegesis of Philippians 2:12, but that it will also showcase the unity in the truth that the Holy Spirit, working through Scripture, produces even when the two parties thus united (WELS and ELFK) live thousands of miles away from each other. God grant both these petitions for Jesus’ sake.

Work out your salvation…

How should Philippians 2:12 be translated and understood?

As confessional Lutherans we have been solemnly entrusted with the three solas of the Lutheran Reformation: We are justified by grace alone, through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ alone, and this is communicated to us through Holy Scripture alone (sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura).

Justification by grace alone is the beating heart of the Bible’s teaching. The apostle Paul teaches it in many passages (e.g. Eph 2:8f; Ro 3:23f). Hence it could seem very strange indeed when Paul appeals to his readers, “Work out your salvation…” (Php 2:12). Isn’t he leading us back into Catholicism with its work-righteousness? Or is he suggesting that Jesus’ redeeming work is not sufficient by itself for our redemption? Do we still have to add our own merits (“do” something1) in order to reach heavenly glory one day? Clearly the translation and especially the correct understanding of this apostolic exhortation in the original text is of critical importance.

The original Greek text of this verse reads: τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε. To translate the verse correctly, we first need to analyze the verb. The predicate κατεργάζεσθε is a present, middle, imperative, second person plural form of κατεργάζομαι. This verb means “to accomplish [something], to carry [something] out.” Paul uses this verb, for example, when he confesses, “For I do not know what I do (ὃ γὰρ κατεργάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω). For I do not do what I want, but what I hate, that I do” (Ro 7:15). The congregation in Corinth had neglected to practice church discipline with a member who had fallen into sexual immorality. To these Christians Paul testifies, “But I, I who am not with you bodily but in spirit, have already decided about the man who has done this, just as if I were with you (ἤδη κέκρικα ὡς παρὼν τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον)” (1 Co 5:3).2 The imperative form expresses a requirement for the readers (second person plural). The readers in this case are primarily the Christians in Philippi. In a wider sense, however, Paul is also addressing all other Christians who read the letter to the Philippians. The present tense expresses a durative aspect. In other words, it does not have to do with a one-time requirement, but with a lasting, continuing one.3 Gordon Fee says about the meaning of κατεργάζομαι:

Its basic sense is to “accomplish” something, not in the sense of “fulfillment,” but of “carrying out”4 a matter… Under no circumstances can it be stretched to mean “work at,” as though salvation were something that needed our work (as in good works) in order for it to be accomplished.5

That which should be carried out is expressed by the accusative object. The noun σωτηρία is occasionally used in the New Testament for preservation in danger or deliverance from deadly peril. So Paul, for example, appeals to his traveling companions in the ship, “Therefore I urge you to eat something, for this will serve to preserve you (τοῦτο γὰρ πρὸς τῆς ὑμετέρας σωτηρίας ὑπάρχει)” (Ac 27:34). But it predominantly refers to our eternal salvation and can be joined with various verbs. Hebrews 1:14, for example, says about the angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (κληρονομεῖν σωτηρίαν)?” The accusative object is modified by a genitive, masculine, plural pronoun, ἑαυτῶν. Exegetes variously interpret it as reflexive or possessive. Both are grammatically possible. Gordon Fee, however, makes it clear that, when the pronoun should be understood reflexively, it usually arises from an inherent contrast in the sentence:

While the reflexive at times does stress what belongs especially to the subject of a sentence (cf. e.g., [Php 2:]3-4 above), that is usually made clear by some inherent contrast in the sentence. In other cases it functions very close to a normal possessive, except that by use of the reflexive it slightly intensifies the possessive as being one’s own.6

Hence one could render the exhortation from Philippians 2:12 as, “Work out your salvation” – not in the sense of achievement or completion, but in the sense of the “carrying out [Durchführung]” of salvation.

How are we to understand this apostolic exhortation to work out or carry out our salvation? We must first note that Paul begins the entire statement in Philippians 2:12 with the conjunction “so” or “therefore” (ὥστε), which connects the exhortation with the section that precedes. That entire section, Philippians 2:5-11, forms the essential basis for the requirement in Philippians 2:12. In it Paul praises our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who humbled himself and became obedient to death. Through his obedience Jesus has won our eternal salvation, which God gives us as a gift of his grace through faith in Jesus Christ. “Therefore,” because Jesus has humbled himself and become obedient in order to redeem us, Paul now urges us to “carry out” this salvation.

We must also note that the exhortation from Philippians 2:12 is inserted into an even greater context. In Philippians 1:27—2:30, Paul is encouraging his readers to live in a manner worthy of the gospel about Christ.

And finally, we should not overlook the fact that the apostolic exhortation in Philippians 2:12 follows two prepositional phrases in the dative which refer to the Philippians’ obedience. Paul here uses the verb ὑπακούω, which means “to listen to” in the sense of “obey, follow.”7

All these observations make it clear that the apostolic exhortation from Philippians 2:12 does not belong in the realm of justification, but in the realm of sanctification, which flows from justification. In this passage Paul is not addressing how people are saved. His concern is how saved people “live out” the salvation that God has given them solely out of his grace through faith in Christ, that is, how their salvation is realized in everyday life.8

Paul makes this exhortation as a result of the serious dangers that threaten our faith on a daily basis. He exhorts us as those who are already on the path to heaven, but still have to conduct our lives as Christians in this world. We face temptations from the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful flesh. False teachers are spreading in our midst and have already become a serious spiritual challenge [Anfechtung] for many Christians. Satan wants to lead us astray so that we turn our backs on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As believers we must be vigilant so that we do not lose the eternal salvation that God has given to us through baptism out of his grace. We have this salvation only through faith in our redeemer Jesus Christ. If we fall away from the faith and die as unbelievers, we will suffer the punishment for our sins in hell for all eternity. Lenski’s explanation of σωτηρίαν in Philippians 2:12 is worth noting:

The saving effected by God at the time of our conversion does not place us into the salvation of heaven at one stroke; it makes us σεσῳσμένοι, “those who have been saved” (Eph 2:5). But until we attain the safety of heaven we must be kept safe in this dangerous world; the great salvation that is now ours must be kept ours, our heart’s hold upon it must be made ever stronger.9

We certainly cannot manage this with our own strength. So just as the Holy Spirit alone can bring us to faith through the means of grace, so also only the Holy Spirit can keep us in the faith through Word and sacrament. Hence Lenski rightly explains:

Paul refers to the constant, faithful use of Word and Sacrament (“life’s word,” v. 16). These means of grace renew and increase our hold on salvation, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16). This use of the means is the vital part of the working.10

Thus to “work out” or “carry out” one’s salvation means, first of all, that one makes regular use of the means of grace. Through them the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and enables us to lead a way of life worthy of the gospel. Strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit we will then, in “fear and trembling,” do our level best not to do anything which God forbids or to omit anything which God commands, since we jeopardize our salvation through such misbehavior. By conducting ourselves in this way, we follow Paul’s exhortation and live out the salvation that God has given to us by grace alone through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


In connection with this matter, the reader might be interested in knowing how the newer German Bible translations render this passage (Php 2:12b). Here is a brief sampling:

  • The way the Gute-Nachricht-Bibel (GNB; “Good News Bible”) renders this phrase appears to be unsuitable: “Work on yourselves with fear and trembling, so that you are saved.” It makes the requirement to work on oneself a prerequisite for salvation. Yet Holy Scripture plainly says in many passages that we do not actively cooperate in our salvation, but receive our redemption by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • The Hoffnung für alle (Hfa; “Hope for all”) seems much better here: “You are saved, and this should show itself in your life. Therefore also live now in reverence for God and in complete devotion to him.” Here it is first established as a fact that we are already saved. From this then proceeds the encouragement to live in reverence for God and in complete devotion to him.
  • On the other hand, the Neues-Leben-Bibel (NL; “New Life Bible”) shows itself even more removed from the original text: “Now, in my absence, you must see to it even more that God’s love is on display in your life. Therefore obey God with full respect and reverence.” Here it is certainly mentioned that God’s love should be on display in our lives. The reference to salvation is completely cut out though, so that it is not at all clear why we should obey God with full respect and reverence.
  • The Neue Genfer Übersetzung (NGÜ; “New Geneva Translation”) seems quite acceptable at first glance: “So, as you have always been obedient to God up till now, you should also continue to submit yourselves to him (Christ) with respect and deep reverence and to do everything in your power so that your salvation works itself out in your life fully and completely.” The note added to this translation, however, is highly problematic: “Literally: ‘So, as you have always been obedient, you should complete your salvation with fear and trembling.’ ” What is well rendered in the actual translation – that salvation should work itself out in life – is completely ruined by this note. For the note says that the Christian should “complete” his salvation. But if this is true, then salvation would be at least partially an achievement of man that he still has to produce.
  • The same goes for the new Basis-Bibel (“Basic Bible”) from Stuttgart: “Your salvation is at stake. Put all you have into it—even if you are overcome with fear and trembling in the process.” Here too the impression is given that man should work on his salvation, and that he should do so full of anxiety, with “fear and trembling.”
  • The Neue evangelistische Übersetzung (NeÜ; “New Evangelist’s Translation”) by K. Vanheiden appears to be more useful: “Now, in my absence, you must see to it even more that you work hard with all reverence and conscientiousness so that your salvation works itself out.” He makes clear that Philippians 2:12b has to do with salvation working itself out in the Christian’s life and not with prerequisites which people have to fulfill themselves in order to be redeemed.


  • Bauer, Walter. Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur, 6th ed. Ed. Kurt und Barbara Aland. Berlin und New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988.
  • Hoffmann, Ernst G. and Heinrich von Siebenthal. Griechische Grammatik zum Neuen Testament, 2nd ed. Riehen/Basel: Immanuel-Verlag, 1990.
  • Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. Fee. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.
  • Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians. Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1946.


1 Luther translated the passage under discussion: “Schafft, daß ihr selig werdet” (the German title of this article), literally, “Make [it] so that you are saved,” or more freely, “Do what needs to be done so that you are saved.” It is this meaning of schaffen, make or do, that Pastor Weiss is working with in this parenthetical comment.

2 Walter Bauer, Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur, 6th ed., ed. Kurt und Barbara Aland, (Berlin und New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), p. 857.

3 Ernst G. Hoffmann und Heinrich von Siebenthal, Griechische Grammatik zum Neuen Testament, 2nd ed. (Riehen/Basel: Immanuel-Verlag, 1990), §194a.

4 Pastor Weiss translated this for his German readers as durchführen. He refers back to this word a little later when talking about how to translate the passage. The German word has been included in brackets there to make this connection clear.

5 Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 234.

6 Fee, op. cit., 234.

7 Bauer, op. cit., 1668.

8 Fee, op. cit., 235.

9 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1946), p. 798.

10 Ibid., 798f.

Not Against Flesh and Blood

By Doctor Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das Sechste Capitel der Epistel S. Pauli an die Epheser, Von der Christen harnisch und woffen, gepredigt durch D. Mart. Luther (The Sixth Chapter of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Concerning the Armor and Weapons of Christians, Preached by D. Martin Luther) on October 29, 1531, taken from D. Martin Luthers Werke, vol. 34, part 2 (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1908), pp. 385-388.

The translation was inspired by, but not copied from, the devotion titled “The Importance of Truth and Unity” found in the Luther devotional Day by Day We Magnify You (Marshall D. Johnson, ed. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2008], p. 379). The reader will find it to be, among other things, an excellent treatise on the biblical article of church fellowship. It was originally prepared as the opening devotion for a pastoral circuit meeting.

God graciously preserve the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s unity in the truth that we may afford an unrelenting assault on the devil and all his works and ways.

Ephesians 6:12a.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Now he goes on to paint our enemy, to whom we are subject here on earth. He makes the painting truly terrifying enough, so that we don’t disregard it so casually and blithely, but rather know what kind of a struggle we’re engaged in and what sort of danger we should expect. For whoever is going to struggle and fight and plans on emerging victorious must first know what kind of enemy he is up against – what he is plotting and how strong and mighty he is – and what kind of trouble and danger the struggle holds for him.

When he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” we must not understand the words “flesh and blood” to mean the evil lusts or enticing of the flesh, such as enticing to sexual immorality, anger, hatred, pride, greed, etc. – as though one need not struggle against those. No, St. Paul uses “flesh and blood,” as he customarily does, to refer to the state and condition of the world or of the people on earth who live in flesh and blood (although it is finely and commendably arranged and God wants it to be preserved). He calls it “flesh and blood” because it is not spirit or the Holy Spirit’s business and work. He speaks the same way in Galatians 1, where he says about the apostles, “When I went up to Jerusalem, I did not deliberate over it with flesh and blood…,” which is to say, “I didn’t care what kind of people they were, what great apostles they were, or what great disciples of the apostles they were.” So in this passage it does not mean anything bad in man, but something that separates and distinguishes between our army and warfare and the world’s.

In the world there is no struggle except that of flesh and blood against each other – one prince, city, or people against another. But none of that has anything to do with us, for it is not the Holy Spirit’s cause preached or revealed and given from heaven. No, the struggle of flesh and blood has its origins with the creation in Genesis 1, when we became flesh and blood and God gave man authority over every creature and confirmed it as an essential part of his existence. Man needed no Holy Spirit for that purpose. Instead, whatever is ordered according to reason and human ordaining is in place in order that everyone may have and protect his house, home, wife, child, and servants, which the heathen also have, and they know of no Spirit.

Thus he teaches us Christians not to take up at any time such a war as the world wages and engages in. Nor should we do as Muentzer, our prophet of the devil, would do together with his rabble-rousers. They take the government into their own hands and fight with the sword and root out the godless. But this type of warfare belongs to flesh and blood between the two, that is, to human authority, powers, and wisdom, to rule and government on earth. We should rather be armed against enemies different from earthly ones, enemies who battle with us for a different life, kingdom, country, and rule, where it means eternal life or death, the kingdom of heaven or the fires of hell. Something more than what flesh and blood is and is capable of is involved here. For flesh and blood only has to do with mere temporal and transitory goods and affairs. For us, however, eternal blessing or harm is at stake. Therefore we also do not have such an enemy whom we could slaughter and strangle, as is done in the world. For he is a spirit who does not have flesh and blood. So too we are not flesh and blood insofar as we are Christians, although we are flesh and blood on account of the body and this life.

Now you might ask, “But aren’t we supposed to fight against our factions, fanatics [Schwärmer], and heretics, and aren’t they flesh and blood?” Certainly, but we do not fight against them as against flesh and blood, but as against the abominable devil, who through them does not struggle against us and attack us in a fleshly or bodily way. No, he attacks our faith, the dear Word, baptism, the Sacrament, and all articles of faith, none of which are given or instituted by flesh and blood or belong to the government of this earth. These are shown from heaven and belong to eternal life. Therefore we do not fight against them that we may take body, possession, or anything else from them, or that we may keep what is ours safe from them. Rather, we fight to preserve our doctrine and faith, Christ and God, to repel them to the devil and prevail over them to that end, and to gain eternal life, of which the world knows nothing.

So he shows us here with these words what our situation is and what we’re facing, namely that we must stand in battle here and that a Christian who wants to believe should arm himself. A Christian must fight and contend, if not outwardly with factions and deceiving tongues, then inwardly in his heart against unbelief and deceiving thoughts and influences. He must expect the attacks at every hour, both from others and within himself, when the devil strikes his heart with terror, sorrow, and despair. It cannot be otherwise, for this spirit cannot rest. He is enemy to God and to eternal life. Therefore he also plans how to rout you from it and wants to have everyone dead who seeks after it. He does not seek our money or other transitory goods, but how he can get us to lose eternal life. When he has taken that, he has taken everything and it is all his very own. And he has taken away eternal life when he takes away the Word, which brings it.

Now this is certainly a dangerous affair, and it sounds so dreadful that a person might very well become anxious and fearful. After all, he has to expect this spiritual struggle continually, and his mangy little neck is not at stake, but the one treasure that is impossible to retrieve once it is lost. This struggle means eternal life or death.

The reward is so great that no human heart can comprehend it, and for this reason it calls for an even greater, harder struggle. Yet it has been contested so lightly wherever people do not cling to the dear Word with all their powers, so that they lose it eternally. Indeed this struggle must not be regarded so trivially, as the world does. With regard to the Sacrament or some other error, some imprudent spirits who are deceived by the devil assert, “People should not contest so fiercely and get bent out of shape over one article of faith and tear apart Christian love over it. Nor should they hand each other over to the devil over it. Instead, even if someone errs in a minor point, if he otherwise agrees in the others, it should not be a big deal to yield somewhat and let the matter go and still maintain brotherly and Christian unity or fellowship just as well.”

No, my dear man, I want no part in a peace and unity that people get by losing God’s word, for in so doing eternal life and everything else would already be lost. Here yielding or conceding anything to oblige yourself or any person is not permitted. Instead, everything must yield to the Word, be it friend or foe. For God has given his word not for the sake of an external or earthly unity and peace, but for the sake of eternal life. The Word and its doctrine must establish Christian unity or fellowship. Where doctrine is one and the same, there Christian unity will follow as a matter of course. If it is not the same, then no unity will ever remain. Therefore don’t even speak to me of any love or friendship where people want to break up the Word or the faith. For it says that the Word, not love, brings eternal life, God’s grace, and all heavenly treasures.

We will gladly maintain outward peace with them, as we must do with everyone while we are in the world, even with our worst enemies. Let that go its own way in this life and in worldly affairs. We have nothing to contend for there. But when it comes to doctrine and Christian fellowship, we want nothing to do with them nor want to regard them as brothers, but as enemies, because they deliberately persist in their error. We want to fight against them through our spiritual struggle. Therefore it is only a devilish and deceptive, cunning attack which asserts such a thing and demands that we should yield something and make allowance for an error for the sake of unity. With this attack the devil seeks to lead us away from the Word so cunningly. For when we accept this and agree on this point, then he has already won a place. And soon he will have taken an entire yard if you give him just an inch, and – just like that – he’s torn up everything.

It certainly does not seem that this struggle contains such great danger and power, but St. Paul makes it truly great because it is not a matter of money or possessions, human love or affection, worldly peace or ease, or what flesh and blood is and is capable of or what the world can give and take. In this struggle we stand to lose God and eternal life. Therefore let all that stay or go where it stays or goes, for the devil still hasn’t won anything thereby. But if you make the mistake of letting him take from you this article, namely the Word, then you have lost everything and there is no more help or counsel for you. For the Word is paramount, and without it no possession, life, or anything you are capable of avails or endures before God. And does the devil ever wish and seek to deprive you of it with such fine pretense and appearance! For he has in mind to take everything from you. Therefore it does no good to joke or be carefree about it.

If you had to fight for your house and home, wife and child, and finally for your own body and life, you would certainly not be lazy, but would seek out your enemy and let him have no peace. You would not accept anything from him or yield anything to him, but would take care to anticipate him and have the mastery over him. But now you have other enemies, who have quite different plans for you and have sworn your eternal death, enemies who will not cease until they have overpowered you, and yet who attack you with such cunning (as already mentioned), as if they were pursuing love and friendship for you. See, that is why St. Paul earlier so earnestly exhorts us to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength, that is, not to let ourselves be moved to retreat a hair’s breadth from the Word, but to be confident against such cunning attacks of the devil.  ✠