News

The powerfully generous life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment: Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.*

Next week, our nation will take a day to remember and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on January 15, 1929 and died in 1968 at the age of 39. Dr. King’s legacy lives on. His lost life does not indicate a lost cause, though the struggle he fought is still ongoing. To this day, Dr. King’s words resonate deeply with those who sense God’s justice and long to bring it about in their lifetimes.

Dr. King was a man of faith, which led him to strong convictions about freedom and justice. But those same convictions also led him to generosity. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he immediately determined to give all the money that came with it (about $54,000) to furthering the cause of civil rights. And it was in the same year that President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

This act of giving away his prize money was not a surprise. It was what you would expect from Dr. King, the man who warned people about money becoming an idol and said that too much of it could cause men “to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.”** Dr. King also worried that riches might drive people to the “darkness of selfishness.” His thoughts on money closely reflected the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Dr. King understood the words of 1 Timothy 6:17-19. He believed “creative altruism” could destroy self-centeredness and could help us live for others, practice selflessness, and commit us to the mission God has laid in front of us … a mission greater than anything money could buy – “treasure in heaven” and the “life that is truly life!”

Most of our readers are already remarkably altruistic, characterized by extraordinary giving to others for the sake of the recipients’ good and not for any benefit to themselves. But maybe this year, on January 20, we can spend some time thinking about how we can be more creative with our altruism, how we can be more strategic with our giving and never miss an opportunity to serve others.

Here are five things you can do with or for others on MLK day:

  1. Join in one of the many local volunteer opportunities in your community being held in honor of MLK day.
  2. Ask a younger mentee or family member about the cause of justice. What needs to happen for the world to be a more just place? Just listen.
  3. Read a speech or sermon by Dr. King. Share it with your family.
  4. Write a speech about something you believe in strongly. Find a forum for delivering your speech, or pass your words on to someone in your family to keep.
  5. Answer this question: What can you do to be more creatively altruistic in your family, your home town, or the world? Then, consider what the first step might be.

And pray: Ask God to show you how you can give your life for justice, freedom, and kindness towards others.


* King, Coretta Scott, The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Second edition), 2011. (New York: William Morrow).

** From “The False God of Money,” in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume VI. Advocate for Justice. University of California Press with the King Center, 2007 (Stanford: University of California Press), page 134. Retrieved 14 January 2020, from https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu.

Up Next

The often unrecognized power of philanthropy to solve public problems

Read Now

Sign up for our
Saturday 7 email digest

Join 40,000+ subscribers who receive our email digest of the
week's top stories from ncfgiving.com. We call it Saturday 7.

Read our privacy policy

×