The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is fast approaching. On Reformation Day, we remember how Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a Wittenberg church on Oct. 31, 1517.
But while Martin Luther is closely associated with his opposition to selling indulgences – monetary payments to receive forgiveness for sin – fewer people today know he was also instrumental in helping change the way Christians look at marriage.
Before the Reformation took place, celibate service to God was often seen as the highest calling. But as Martin Luther conducted his own examination of Scripture, he began to share the beauty and high calling of marriage with others.
Luther publicly praised the institution in his sermons starting around 1519. He argued that, for most people, marriage was helpful, honorable… and necessary.
Further shaping Luther’s views on marriage was his own unlikely union to his wife, a former nun named Katherine von Bora. Obviously, Luther wasn’t looking to marry when he was a monk. But even after he was excommunicated in 1521, Luther didn’t plan on marriage because he was convinced he would become a martyr for his beliefs.
So when Martin Luther helped 12 nuns escape from a convent in 1523, he wasn’t trying to find a bride. On the contrary, he diligently began the work to find husbands for the women. One by one they got married – except for Katherine. A feisty and outspoken woman, she didn’t like the man Luther had set her up with, and made clear she would not marry him. However, she eventually she let it be known she would be amicable to marrying Luther.
That’s how, on June 13, 1523, the 41-year-old former monk married the 26-year-old former nun.
Martin and Katherine “Katie” Luther had six kids together, and adopted four others. Luther trusted Katie with his business dealings, admired her intellect, and grew to love her deeply. That affection was mutual, as Katherine wrote that “my sorrow is so deep that no words can express my heartbreak” when her husband died after a little over 20 years of marriage.
Here are three marriage lessons we can learn from Martin and Katherine Luther:
1. Love is a choice.
Martin and Katie weren’t in love on their wedding day – indeed, Luther wrote “I feel neither passionate love nor burning for my spouse, but I cherish her.”
But the duo was sincerely committed to God and trusted in His plan of marriage and family. They knew marriage was holy and good. And so they went about married life – and as the days, months and years passed, their love for each other deepened.
Martin Luther was only able to write that “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage” because he made the choice, again and again, to live out love to his “rib,” his dear Katie.
2. Married life isn’t easy – but it is the source of blessing.
Life in general was hard in the 16th century, and the unique circumstances Martin and Katherine Luther lived through sometimes made it even more so.
Luther had many health complications. They had financial woes. Both Martin and Katherine had strong personalities. They lost two children and suffered a miscarriage.
But perhaps because they didn’t expect married life to be easy, the Luthers didn’t question their marriage or consider divorce. Rather, they learned to cling to God and each other – and it was during those hard times that God used marriage to shape their character.
God also used their marriage to grow their faith. Luther believed one learns a lot about Christ through marriage and child-rearing.
Let us likewise persevere in our own marriages so we may receive a similar reward!
3. A little kindness goes a long way.
“The Christian is supposed to love his neighbor,” Luther wrote. “And since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.”
What a convicting thought for all of us who have treated our neighbors, colleagues, or even strangers with more deference than we have our spouse!
What would our marriages look like if we took the time to be kind? If we did little things for each other that showed our love and appreciation that brought us together in the first place?
Luther sums this proactive view of love nicely when he wrote, “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”
If you want to learn more about Martin Luther’s life and impact on our faith, you can listen to our recent broadcast on the topic with guest Eric Metaxas, or buy his biography on Luther at the Focus on the Family Store online.