This year marks the 40th federally celebrated MLK Day and reminds the church we are called to love, sacrifice, and trust in God’s providence.
By Dr. Mark A. Croston, Sr.
The crusade for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began soon after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983. This year marks the 40th year since that date. We all tend to forget things as years go by. But here are a few things Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day should remind the church of.
1. MLK Day reminds the church we are called to love
One of my earliest memories is of Miss Debbie, my beginners Sunday School class teacher, singing: “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” This simple song helped us not only embrace God’s love for us personally but also gain an appropriate, global Christian worldview.
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in who’s winning, the politics of the parties, and the sides of the situations, that we forget the Bible calls us to love. Love is our secret weapon to advance the kingdom of God in this world. Not testy tweets, shouting stand-offs, or bitter brawls. Not cutting people out of our space but inviting people into His space.“Love is our secret weapon to advance the kingdom of God in this world.” — @CrostonMin Click To Tweet
Our country was still holding on to some unloving laws and ways. But King gave his life, challenging the church to lead the way through love. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, CSB). Loving is not always easy, but we must strive to love everyone as Jesus would love. We must learn to love people who are not like us so we can create a space for the gospel message.
Even though those who wanted to maintain the unloving status quo led vicious attacks, in his book, Strength to Love, King said, “We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of His holiness.” His push for racial justice through nonviolence reminds us, even in our struggles today, we cannot pursue a righteous cause by unrighteous means.
2. MLK Day reminds the church we are called to sacrifice
It’s easy to go along to get along, to be popular or part of the “in” crowd, but God calls us to give up our lives in sacrifice. John writes, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and the testimony they had given” (Revelation 6:9, CSB). Tertullian affirms this in his Apologeticus, L. 13 (AD 197). He wrote “Plures efficimur, quotiens metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis Christianorum,” which has been translated as “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
King demonstrated that the church must be willing to sacrifice through short-term suffering, to achieve larger eternal results. In his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, King writes, “The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.”“Submission and sacrifice are God’s spiritual path to our greatest victories.” — @CrostonMin Click To Tweet
King goes on to say, “Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.”
Submission and sacrifice are God’s spiritual path to our greatest victories.
3. MLK Day reminds the church God’s providence is in full control
In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul says, “This is why I have sent Timothy to you. He is my dearly loved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (CSB). Part of King’s task was to remind us about the ways of Jesus Christ.
King concluded his last speech, on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, with these words:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
We too often act as if it is our agenda that matters and our will that must be done. King reminds us that preachers, politicians, and other pundits come and go. They may push the pendulum of life too far to one side or the other for a brief time. But ultimately God’s sovereign providence is still in control. He has not abdicated His eternal throne. God still rules and reigns. And just like on resurrection morning, He still has all power in His hands!“The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.” — Martin Luther King Jr. Click To Tweet
Our challenge is not to do what looks good or is popular in the moment, but to be in line with God’s eternal plan so when our time on earth has come to an end, God will welcome us into His eternal heaven saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21, CSB).
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.― Letter from a Birmingham Jail- Martin Luther King Jr.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Dr. Mark Croston
Mark is the national director for black church ministries at LifeWay Christian Resources.