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MLK’s Messages Were Often Based On Scripture

Martin Luther King, Jr. often used scripture in his speeches–more appropriately called sermons I suppose. After all, he was a minister of the gospel. It’s worth taking a brief look at a couple of these speeches/sermons on the day his birth is celebrated.

On one occasion, King imagined a letter Paul had written to American Christians (“Paul’s Letter to American Christians”). He began the letter with Paul’s familiar greeting: “I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” In this fictional letter, Paul then offers praise and criticism, in particular critiquing racial inequality, as well as America’s penchant for greed and materialism. Unfortunately, it’s still a letter that could be written today.

In the late 1950s, King preached a sermon entitled “Loving Your Enemies.” This sermon’s foundation was a well-known passage from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

King then gave us his thinking on the meaning of loving your enemy: “It’s significant that he does not say, ‘Like your enemy.’ Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the evil deed the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says ‘Love your enemy.’ When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.”

King is usually remembered as the foremost civil rights leader of the 20th century. His letters and sermons about civil rights, however, were almost always based on scripture. Thus, he should also be remembered as one of the greatest teachers and preachers of the 20th century. In my opinion, he’s the best orator in my lifetime. Take the time to read King’s speeches, letters, and sermons. You’ll find plenty of scripture that would fit well with a scripture blog.

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