Martin Luther King Day is a national holiday celebrating the life and legacy of one of America’s most influential heroes: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK was not only the leader of the civil rights movement; he was a Baptist minister and devout follower of Jesus. His legacy includes writings, speeches, and sermons such as the famous “I Have a Dream” speech and letter from a Birmingham jail, and today, many of his quotes remain some of the most famous in American history.
While you may not preach a full sermon on Martin Luther King Jr., it’s still a good idea to acknowledge the life and work of this hero in the Christian faith. In the following article, we’ll look at 25 inspirational quotes and Bible verses that can help you honor Dr. King on MLK weekend.
Who Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?
Dr. King was the most prominent leader in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Practicing nonviolent means of demonstration, he was ultimately successful in helping to achieve “the most important breakthrough in equal-rights legislation for African Americans since the Reconstruction period.”
Dr. King’s work ultimately helped end legal racial segregation in the South and other parts of America, after a century of struggling for rights that had been legally granted after the Civil War.
Just four years after MLK was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was tragically assassinated.
25 Quotes + Bible Verses for MLK Day
Quotes from the “I Have a Dream” Speech
On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a 17-minute speech to over 200,000 onlookers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The speech was part of the 1963 March on Washington, partially designed to initiate and advance a bill securing civil rights for African-Americans.
The speech–which remains one of the most famous in history–was a success.
So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
Quotes from a Letter from Birmingham Jail
Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most segregated cities in America in the 1960s. In 1963–just one year before his assassination–Dr. King was put in jail in Birmingham. This letter was written in response to criticism of his fight for civil rights.
How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
Quotes from the sermon, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore”
Though MLK is known more for his speeches, he was first and foremost a preacher. “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore” is one of his most famous sermons, preached multiple times throughout the mid 1950s.
We may debate over the origin of evil, but only the person victimized with a superficial optimism will debate over its reality. Evil is with us as a stark, grim, and colossal reality.
Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter. A mythical Satan, through the work of a conniving serpent, may gain the allegiance of man for a period, but ultimately he must give way to the magnetic redemptive power of a humble servant on an uplifted cross.
There is something in the very nature of the universe which ultimately comes to the aid of goodness in its perennial struggle with evil.
Let us not lose faith in man and certainly not in God. We must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed, and that man, by the grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love.
Quotes from “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
In 1963, MLK spoke to a crowd of sanitation workers who had gone on strike. In this famous speech, he referenced the possibility of dying before his time. He also referenced significant points in history–the Exodus, the Renaissance, the end of the Civil War.
He was killed the next day.
The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.
It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
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!
More Famous Quotes from MLK
Of course, there are many, many other famous quotes from MLK. Here are five of them.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace, I was a drum major for righteousness, and all the other shallow things will not matter.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.
We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Bible Verses for Martin Luther King Day
Martin Luther King Day touches on themes of Biblical justice, love, hope, peace, and suffering. If you do choose to give a sermon that incorporates MLK day, here are some great Biblical starting points–some of which Dr. King used in his own sermons.
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 sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-14)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Get Free MLK Day Media from Tithe.ly
In addition to talking about Martin Luther King at a weekend service, you may also want to use your online presence to honor this hero in the faith. One simple way to acknowledge MLK Day is to post on your social media channels. You can download the graphic below for free from Tithe.ly Media.