Why a Christian Does a Good Work

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:2
“When you give alms, do not sound the trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets in order to be praised by the people. I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what the right hand is doing so that your alms may be in secret. And your Father, who sees what is in secret, will reward you.”
Someone might wonder: What will come of it, that he says alms should be in secret? Should it be bad when alms are announced to those who are supposed to receive them? No. You must look to what Christ’s point is. For he looks at the heart and opinion. That is, when it is given or donated in order to seek honor and praise, then it is worthless before God, even if many poor were helped by it. But giving alms secretly where the heart does not reveal itself by wanting to have honor and making a name for itself, but where its attitude is that it freely gives regardless whether the alms have no grand appearance and praise before the people, even if they are despised and defiled. This is what it means to do them secretly even if it is done in public before the whole world. For it is covered by the simplicity of the heart that does not ask or care for praise and leaves it to God whether it meets gratitude or ingratitude, good or evil. For in this way, the giver does not see it although other people see it. This is how I and others must do in our preaching office: we must not care whether we please the people or not, as, in fact, we must expect contempt, ingratitude, persecution, and all kinds of misfortune. For every good work must expect this. This is how it is tested and examined that it may stand and be found honest, unlike the other, showy works of the hypocrites. In summary, if you want to be a Christian, you must be such that
you do not do any good work for the sake of the people, but only in order to serve God with your office, station, money, possession, or anything else that you have, can, and do, and to honor God by what you can do, although you may never earn any thanks for it here on earth. For it is also impossible that even the least of a good man’s works could be rewarded here on earth even if he were given a golden crown and an entire kingdom. This is why he should not think any farther than that he derive food and drink from it and not expect any reward from the world, since it is not worthy to pay or reward him for a good work or even to recognize and honor someone who is a true Christian. Even if it recognizes him, it is not good enough to thank him. Since, then, a good work is not begun for the sake of the world, so it is also not ended for its sake, but it is commended to God who will reward it abundantly, not secretly, but publicly, before the whole world and all angels. Now, where such understanding and mind are not, no truly good work can be done. Rather, people become impatient, cause unrest for themselves, and allows the world’s shameful ingratitude to overcome them, so that such good work is spoiled and lost. And then it becomes apparent that they did not do the good work for God’s sake, but for the sake of the people. If I did not know this myself, I would have long since bidden farewell to the world and let it go to the devil instead of speaking a single word to it. But this is not about the world but about our dear Father in heaven: We want to preach and do good to love, praise, and honor him, since the whole world is his enemy and despises and blasphemes him most shamefully, and does what it can against him to frustrate him. But we take comfort in the fact that he will still live when the world will have perished. And since he said and promised that he would reward us and pay us back, he will not lie to us.

St. Louis ed., 7:497-498.

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