And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians 13:13
Notice how faith and love sandwich the word hope in 1 Corinthians 13:13? There’s a reason for that. On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, let’s pause to appreciate how a stubborn 16th-century monk sprayed hope across the world by unveiling the truth about faith and God’s love. That news sparked the Reformation and continues to transform lives in every corner of Earth today.
Martin Luther (1529) by Lucas Cranach the Elder
On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of Germany’s Wittenberg Castle church. He questioned the predominant church’s teaching that one could earn salvation by buying “indulgences.” In reality, these indulgences did nothing but fatten church coffers and make poor people poorer.
Luther tried to spark discussion by arguing that God loves His people so much that He designed salvation to occur through faith, not works like buying indulgences. The result of Luther’s “95 Theses” reached far beyond what he dreamed. People translated Luther’s document into several languages and devoured his words in a way not seen before.
The Faith Revolution
Luther’s act sparked the Reformation in Europe. When people learned that God wanted a personal relationship with them, their joy and faith grew. Prior to that, the church taught that only priests could read Scripture or pray directly to God. Thanks to Luther, the truth of the Gospel became available to everyone.
God became accessible. Light shined on the truth. Fear dissipated. Hope for a better future and eternal life spread.
For faith to offer life-transforming hope, it must be based on truth. Faith is no greater, stronger or vibrant than what we believe and in what we place our trust.
The Reformation and Communism
Several years ago, I spoke to the political parties and parliament of Albania. The word hope permeated every conversation. People told me, “We live with hope now. Communism has fallen. We have elections now. Children go to school. Universities are growing.”
Albanians experienced the devastation of looking out only for oneself and putting their faith in the government, institutions or possessions. The fall of Communism legalized religion, freeing people to put their faith in the truth found in Scripture. When that happened, they began to open their hearts to each other, loving God, themselves, their neighbors and even their enemies. People worked together for the good of everyone, not just an elite few.
The fall of Communism taught Albanians that their society could only flourish if they loved each other. That’s a universal truth revealed in Scripture and brought to the common man through the Reformation.
Food for the Hungry works in communities ravaged by poverty and oppression. People live with despair that lingers and tramples generations. Deep down inside these discouraged people, a tiny flame of hope flickers. They want something better for themselves, their children, their family, their community and their nation.
The Reformation that Martin Luther sparked 500 years ago influences the work of Food for the Hungry today. Our work goes beyond teaching important skills, digging life-giving wells or passing out emergency food. In all we do, we work to instill hope.
I have witnessed the hope that blossoms when people live with a faith guided by truth, not by myths. When people live according to the truth God prepared for them, they have hope that transcends their situation. Hope gives them energy and determination to have a better life.
The Faith, Hope, Love Sandwich
Hope and prosperity emerge in communities when people put their faith in God and love each other.
We know the teachings of the Reformation have changed a community when love motivates people’s work and behavior toward one another. (See an example.) With love, people care for each other and hope for the best for everyone. We can measure the emergence of hope in a community. We see that people:
Perceive that the worst is in the past
Believe they can recover from critical incidents (disasters, marital issues, death of a loved one, etc.)
Feel that they have some level of control over their present
Support others in their journey
Have a vision and goals for their own future
Are planning to reach their goals for the future
Have enough self-esteem to believe they can achieve their goals
Know they have value in God’s eyes
This kind of hope is sandwiched between faith in God and love for each other. As Martin Luther argued and my friends in Albania proved, societies only thrive within the triad of faith, hope and love.
On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, pause to ask yourself, “Am I putting my faith in things, government or institutions? Or am I living a life of faith, hope and love?”
As I have witnessed hundreds of times in my travels throughout the world and in my work at Food for the Hungry, you, your family and society will benefit if your answer to the latter question is a resounding, “Yes.”