Friday, July 23, 2010


Matthew 7:3. Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4. Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye?
5. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brothers eye.

As a way of giving us an earnest warning to guard against this vice, He uses an extreme example to describe it. He pronounces this sentence: Everyone who judges his neighbor has a big log in his eye, while the one who is being judged only has a little speck; by the very fact that he is condemning others he himself is ten times as liable to judgment and condemnation. This is really a grim and terrible sentence. Where are the schismatic spirits now, the Master Smart Alecks, who know so much about lording it over the Gospel and criticizing it? All they can do is to judge us and other people, even when there is nothing wrong or when they discover a speck in us and gleefully blow it up. That is how the papists are slandering us now. When they do their best and look for just cause to judge and condemn us, the worst they can find is the fact that some of our supporters have taken possession of church properties.6 Or they accuse us of not fasting and of anything else that gives the impression of involving some transgression. But they fail to notice their own log, the fact that they are persecuting the Gospel, murdering innocent people on account of it, and, for that matter, acting as the greatest robbers and thieves of monasteries and church properties. What do the pope, the bishops, and the princes refrain from robbing? While they do what they please with all the church properties, they claim that everyone else is an uncanonical bishop and maintains his bishopric as a thief and a robber, not in a godly and honorable way. And all this is supposed to be just fine and not to be called stealing or robbing! And when we do not fast or strictly keep their style of “righteousness,” which they themselves do not keep—this alone is supposed to be wicked, while all their sin and shame is godly and honorable. That is the way of the world everywhere; the log judges the speck, and the big villain condemns the little one.
Now, it is true that we are not free of transgressions; in fact, no Christian will advance so far that he will be without a speck. St. Paul himself could not advance that far, as he complains in Romans 7:15. And daily all Christendom must pray: “Forgive us our debts,” and must confess the article of the Creed that reads: “the forgiveness of sins.” But these log-bearers and speck-judges refuse to stand for this article. They insist on having everything so pure that there is no inadequacy or fault in it. As soon as they see something wrong, they move right into their judging and condemning, as if they were so holy that they did not need forgiveness of sins or prayer. They want to reform the Lord’s Prayer and extinguish the principal article of the Creed. They are all full of demons and of blindness, while they mourn over other people’s specks. The same thing happens among us when we lose our senses. Those who are full of vices and wickedness cannot stop watching and condemning the tiny vices of other people. Thus the log is the master and the judge of the speck.
Now, anyone who is a Christian must certainly know and feel in himself that such immaculate purity is impossible and that daily the article “the forgiveness of sins” has to rule in us. Therefore it is easy to pardon other people’s faults and to put them all together by saying in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us as we forgive.” This is especially so when it is evident that the other person honors the Word and does not despise or persecute it. Where the Word is, there Christ’s kingdom is, and full forgiveness, which consumes the speck. Therefore, where we notice this, we should not despise or condemn anyone. Otherwise we shall make our own speck a log and fail to obtain forgiveness, because we refuse to forgive other people.
You may say to this: “Am I not to speak out when an injustice is being done? Am I to call it justice and condone it? Am I to find it pleasing when the properties of the monasteries are seized or when there is coarse behavior and no praying or fasting?” No, I am not telling you to do that. He acknowledges here that there is a speck and that it should be removed; but here He is giving you instructions about doing it properly. I have to admit that it is not very nice, this speck in the eye. But above all I must determine whether I have a log in my own eye, and take that out first. Make the villain in your own breast pious, and then go on to see to it that the little villain becomes pious, too. It is wrong when the big thieves hang the little ones, as the saying goes, and the big villains condemn the little ones.7 If the pope and his supporters began here, sweeping in front of their own door first and changing their thieving and villainous ways, we would have to follow or suffer the consequences. But now they refuse to surrender their log or to have it denounced, while they condemn us for having a speck and not maintaining the purity we should. In this way that big heretic, the pope, condemns the other little heretics.8 While the big thieves steal publicly and rob incessantly, the little thieves have to call them “pious” and be willing to hang for them and to pay for them.
“There shall be no such perversion in My kingdom,” Christ says, “but first you must make the big villain pious, the one you find in your own skin when you examine yourself carefully. Once you have accomplished this much, there will be time enough to make a little villain pious. But it will amaze you how much trouble the big villain will cause you every day. Therefore I am willing to guarantee and to stake My life on it that you will never get around to removing the speck from someone else’s eye, and will have to say: ‘How can I deal with other people and make them pious first? I cannot even make myself pious or get rid of my log.’ Thus you will probably leave your brother’s speck unharmed.” You see, what Christ means to say as a summary of this teaching is that we should willingly practice forgiveness, patient forbearance, and humility in our relations with one another; that is what the situation would have to be like if we followed this teaching. Then everything in Christendom would move along correctly and harmoniously, as it should, and God would be with us. But through his members and through Sectarianism the devil keeps this from happening.
The grim sentence that Christ pronounces here ought to make us tremble at this vice. As I have said, the one who judges always has a log in his eye as far as God is concerned, while the one who is being judged has only a speck. Now, the log is an infinitely graver sin than the speck, that is, the kind of sin that damns altogether and leaves us no grace. However great our sins and transgressions may be otherwise, He can forgive all of these, as He shows by calling the neighbor’s sin a “speck.” But you spoil everything when to these sins you add the abomination and the filth of judging and condemning someone else on account of his faults and when you refuse to forgive the way you want God to forgive you. You go ahead refusing to see the log, and you imagine that you are without sin. But if you recognized yourself, as has been said, you would also refrain from judging your neighbor. Thus your log would be called a little speck, and it would obtain the forgiveness of sins. You would also be willing to forgive and tolerate and excuse someone else’s speck, in view of the fact that God forgives and pardons your log.
But “log in the eye” is the right name for something which makes a man stone-blind, something which the world can neither see nor evaluate. In fact, it is so beautifully decorated that the world imagines it is something precious and very sacred. In speaking about the villainous eye (Matt. 6:23), Christ said earlier that greedy people light a lantern for themselves and dream up the lovely idea that this must not be called being greedy but worshiping God. So it is here, too. Those who have a log in their eye refuse to admit that they have, or to be denounced as blind and miserable people. They want to be praised for judging the doctrine and the life of other people from a truly Christian motivation. In this way the schismatic spirits can brag and swear that the reason they teach differently is not any pride or envy, but only their desire for the glory of God and the salvation of their neighbor. They make it all so beautiful and bright, and they make their humility and God’s glory so great that they cannot see anything else. In matters of life it is the same. As soon as people begin judging and criticizing one another, we see the same camouflage and the same boast: “I am not doing this out of hostility to the person but out of love for righteousness. I am a friend to the person but an enemy to the cause.”9 This tickles a person so gently beneath his lovely exterior that he never becomes aware of any log.
But it will not do for you to judge and pass judgment as you please, without the Word and command of God, and then to invoke the glory and the righteousness of God. This is a demonic addition, decorating and beautifying itself with this camouflage. Here it is said that God does not want us to take it upon ourselves to act as judges, either in matters of doctrine or in matters of life. Where judging or rebuking is necessary, those should do it who have the office and the commission to do it: preachers and ministers in the spiritual realm and the government in the secular realm, or a brother with a brother alone, on the basis of a brotherly love that bears and corrects the neighbor’s faults.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:219). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Matthew 7:1. Judge not, that you be not judged.
2. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

In the preceding chapter we heard the Lord Christ follow His instruction regarding truly good works with a long sermon of warning against greed as a great hindrance to the kingdom of God in both doctrine and life, and as a deadly threat to Christendom. Now He begins a further warning, directed against another great and dangerous vice, called “self-centered wisdom,” which judges and criticizes everyone. Where these two vices are in command, there the Gospel cannot remain. Greed produces either silence in the preachers or contempt and inattention for the Gospel in the hearers. But if you add self-centered wisdom to it, everyone will strive to be the best preacher and his own master, listening to no one and learning from no one. So it happens that sects and schisms arise to adulterate and corrupt the Word, to keep it from remaining pure, and thus once more to ruin the Gospel and its fruit. This is what He terms “judging” or passing judgment here. Whatever a person does himself, that he likes; but whatever other people do has to stink. A lovely and charming virtue indeed! It belongs to that wonderful man called Master Smart Aleck.1 Neither God nor the world likes him, and yet he is all over the place.
To keep this sermon from becoming a stumbling block and being misunderstood as if it forbade any judgment or criticism at all, it should be clear, on the basis of what has already been said so often, that here Christ is preaching only to His disciples. He is not talking at all about the judgment or punishment that takes place in the world. In the household, for example, the mother and father have to judge among the children and the servants, have to administer punishment, even corporal punishment, when they refuse to behave. If a prince or a judge wants to administer his office properly, he cannot avoid judging and punishing. This is all part of the secular realm, which is not our concern here and which we will therefore permit to act the way it should and must act. What we are discussing here is another kingdom, one which in no way weakens or annuls the other, namely, spiritual life and existence among Christians, where it is forbidden for one to judge and condemn another. The devil always mixes into such judging to do his work. He gives each individual a high estimate of himself and the opinion that his cause must be the best and must be the only one to prevail, while he criticizes and undermines whatever does not measure up to his standards.
Although such behavior is the highest kind of foolishness and wrong even in secular affairs, we can put up with it, since it is so obvious that it does not fool anyone. Thus some whore will imagine that she is prettier than anyone else, and what she sees in others will not please her. Or some young fool will fancy himself to be so handsome and clever that there is nobody like him. Among wise and learned people it is the usual thing for no one to concede that what another one knows or does amounts to anything; everyone will act as if he were the only one who can do everything better, and he will spare no one in his criticism. Everyone sees and understands this, and yet this Master Smart Aleck is all over the place. He is so smart that he knows how to bridle a horse by the tail, though the rest of the world has to bridle it by the mouth.
But real trouble and woe arise when this invades spiritual affairs and when the devil plants his seed in Christ’s kingdom, so that it takes root both in doctrine and in life. The result in the area of doctrine is this: Although a man may have the assignment and commission from God to preach the Gospel, others arise, even among his pupils, who claim to know it ten times as well as he does. Thus it is the plague and misfortune of the Gospel to have everyone judging it, becoming a doctor of it on his own, and presuming to be a master in doctrine. This is what happened to Moses, when Korah and his mob rebelled against him and said (Num. 16:3): “Why do you exalt yourselves above the people of God? Are they not all holy? Shall God speak only through Moses and Aaron?” And nowadays they say: “Do we not have as much right to have the Spirit and to understand Scripture as others do?” Right away a different doctrine is served up, and sects are started. Then the judging and the criticizing begin, and particularly the shameful slandering, one party venomously accusing and misrepresenting the other, as we are experiencing right now. This brings on the deadly damage of dividing Christendom and undermining pure doctrine everywhere.
Christ worried about this, and not only worried, but also predicted that it would happen. The world refuses to be changed, even if we preached ourselves to death. Wherever the Gospel arises, therefore, the factions and sects must follow, to spoil it and put it down. The reason is that the devil must sow his seed among the good seed (Matt. 13:25); and wherever God builds a church, he builds his chapel or tabernacle next to it.2 Satan always wants to be in the midst of the children of God, as Scripture says (Job 1:6). Christ intends this as a warning to His apostles and loyal preachers. They must maintain a diligent watch against this vice and be careful not to let it intrude itself and cause schisms and dissension, especially in doctrine. It is as if He were to say: “If you want to be My disciples, let your understanding and your ideas in doctrine all be the same. Let no one claim to be the master who knows something new or better, judging or condemning the others. Concentrate on what I command you to preach, not on who is to do the preaching. And preserve harmony among yourselves, so that one does not despise the other or start something new.”
You must understand this in such a way that it does not take away the right of the man in the public ministry of preaching to judge matters of doctrine as well as of life. Indeed, it is incumbent on him in his office to rebuke publicly whatever does not square with true doctrine, for the very purpose of preventing sects from coming in and taking hold. When he sees that life is wrong, he must likewise denounce it and resist it. He is put there to oversee this, and he will have to give account of it (Heb. 13:17). In fact, whenever any Christian sees his neighbor doing wrong, he has the duty of admonishing him and restraining him, which is impossible without judging and passing judgment. But this is all done on the basis of an office or a commission, which Christ, is not discussing here, as we have said often enough. What is forbidden is that everyone may go ahead on the basis of his own ideas and make a doctrine and spirit of his own, imagining that he is to be Master Smart Aleck, who is supposed to correct everybody and to criticize him, though he has no commission to do anything of the sort. These are the people that the Lord is denouncing here. He does not want anyone to undertake or to do anything on the basis of his own ideas and without a commission, especially not the task of judging other people.
Now, this is what I mean by judging in matters of doctrine. It is one of the most terrible, most abominable, and most dangerous vices on earth. It is the source of all the schismatic spirits. And the monks, the priests; and all the others in the papacy were stuck in it, everyone claiming that what he did was the best, and judging others; but there is no point in discussing that now. The other kind of judging or passing judgment deals with matters of life, when one person criticizes and condemns the life and works of someone else and is not pleased with what anyone else does. This vice is very widespread and common. Now, as in matters of doctrine we should be of one accord, with one mind and understanding and faith, so we have the command to be of one mind and heart in our external affairs. Of course, this cannot be uniform in the same way that faith is. Since there are many stations in society, their works must be dissimilar and varied. Then, too, in this varied life there are also various kinds of faults; for example, some people are odd or short-tempered or impatient. This is inevitable in Christendom, since our old Adam is not dead yet and the flesh continually strives against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).
What is needed here is the virtue called tolerance and the forgiveness of sins, by which one person bears with another, pardons him, and forgives him, as St. Paul teaches in beautiful words (Rom. 15:1): “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” This is the same thing that Christ says here: “Judge not.” There are some in Christendom whose gifts are greater and better, and there must be, especially among the preachers. But such people should not put on a superior air or take the attitude that they are better than those people who do not have these gifts. In the spiritual sphere, therefore, no one should lord it over others. Outwardly there ought to be some difference. A prince should have a higher and a better position than a peasant, a preacher should be more learned than an ordinary manual laborer. A lord cannot be a servant, a lady cannot be a maid. Yet in all these distinctions of position the hearts should have the same attitude and pay no attention to the dissimilarity. This happens when I make allowances for my neighbor, even though he may occupy a lower station j and have fewer gifts than I. When he is a groom taking care of a horse, I am just as pleased with his work as with my own work when I preach or govern land or people, though my work is better and accomplishes more than his. I must not look at the outward masks we wear, but at the fact that he lives in the same faith and the same Christ as I, that he has grace, Baptism, and the Sacrament as much as I, though my work and my office are different and higher. For it is the same God (1 Cor. 12:6) accomplishing and giving all this. He is as pleased with the tiniest as with the very biggest.
What is prevalent in the world, however, is the exact opposite of that commendable and beautiful virtue about which St. Paul speaks (Rom. 15:1). Everyone is pleasing to himself. A man will come along in the name of the devil, unable to look at his own vices, but only at other people’s. This clings to all of us by nature, and even though we are baptized, we cannot get rid of it. We love to beautify and decorate ourselves and to see what is good in us, tickling ourselves with it as if it belonged to us. In order to maintain our exclusive claim to beauty, we ignore and leave out of sight the good there is in our neighbor. If we notice the least little pimple on him, we fill our eyes with it and so magnify it that on its account we see nothing good, though the man may have eyes like a hawk and a face like an angel. That would be like seeing someone in a garment all of gold except perhaps for a seam or a white thread drawn through it, and then acting shocked, as if it were worthless on that account. Meanwhile I would be precious in my own sight on account of the gold patch sewn on my shabby smock frock. So it is that we overlook our own vices, which are all over us, while we fail to see anything good about other people. Now, once this natural inclination appears among Christians, then the judging begins. Then I am ready to despise and condemn a man as soon as he stumbles a little or makes some other mistake. He treats me the same way, giving me the same measure I give him, as Christ says here. He searches out and he criticizes the worst things he can find about me. By such behavior love is suppressed, and all that remains is a biting and a devouring back and forth, until they have consumed each other and lost their Christianity.
The same thing happens if you look at someone else’s life but refuse to look at yourself. You soon find something about him to displease you, and he finds the same in you. Thus the heathen complain that in their circles no one sees what he is carrying on his own back, but that the one following him sees it very well;3 that is, no one sees his own inadequacies, but he quickly sees those of others. Now, if you proceed on the basis of what you see this way, the only consequence must be slander and judging back and forth. The devil cooks this up in Christendom, and he is so successful at it that finally nothing is left but continual judging in matters of life as well as in matters of doctrine. Though the kingdom of Christ is a united, harmonious, and peaceful kingdom both in doctrine and in life, this divides it and replaces it with sectarianism, arrogance, and contempt.
This warning, therefore, is highly necessary. Once we have discharged our office—be it public preaching and rebuking or brotherly admonishing, as Christ teaches it in Matthew 18:15–17—we can learn from this warning and get used to tolerating, concealing, and adorning our neighbor’s transgressions. If I see something in him that does not please me very much, I should pull back and take a look at myself. There I will find many things which do not please other people either and which I want them to pardon and tolerate. This will soon relieve the itch that tickles itself and enjoys someone else’s transgressions, and Master Smart Aleck will toddle along and stop passing judgment. Thus you will be happy to square things with the other person. First you will say: “Lord, forgive me my debt”; and then you will say to your neighbor: “If you have sinned against me, or if I have sinned against you, let us forgive each other.” But if you see that he is the kind of coarse person who will not stop unless you rebuke him, then go to him and tell him so by himself, as we have often pointed out on the basis of Matthew 18:15; this may cause him to improve and desist. This should not be called passing judgment on him and condemning him, but admonishing him in a brotherly way to improve. Such admonition should proceed in a fine and peaceable fashion, according to God’s commandment. Otherwise, if you are tickled and if you poke fun at your neighbor and ridicule him, you only make him bitter and stubborn against you. By withdrawing your love from him and finding enjoyment in his sin, you become much worse than he and twice as big a sinner. You also fall under the judgment of God by your condemnation of one whom God has not condemned. Thus you load an even heavier judgment on yourself, as Christ warns here, and you deserve even greater condemnation from God.
You see, the source of all this abominable evil, as St. Paul says, is the fact that we are pleasing to ourselves (Rom. 15:1). We play around and tickle ourselves with our gifts as though they belonged to us, but we see nothing about someone else except his frailties. Thus we become completely blind, and our eyes are not clear enough to see either our neighbor or ourselves. Though we should begin by looking at our own wickedness and seeing our own inadequacies,4 we do not do so. We look at ourselves through rose-colored glasses, and so we think we are beautiful when we see some gift in ourselves that our neighbor does not have. By this we ruin the gift itself. We also fail to see the good things about our neighbor, though we could always find just as many of those as we now see faults. We should also be pleased with these good things and put up with whatever failings he may have in addition, as we are pleased with ourselves and really know how to put up with a great deal.
In other words, it is the worst kind of vice and the most demonic kind of pride for us to commend ourselves and pat ourselves on the back if we see or feel some special gift in ourselves. We do not thank God for it, but we become so proud and contemptuous of others and so preoccupied with it that we do not pay attention to whatever else we are doing, and imagine that we are in fine shape. We steal and rob God of His glory this way, and we make ourselves an idol, without seeing the trouble we cause by all this. Even without that, we would have enough trouble on our minds from looking at what the Apocalypse says to a bishop who let himself think that he was more learned and better than others (Rev. 3:17): “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” If it is true that your gift is greater than somebody else’s, this is as it must be, because your office is different, higher, and greater. But when you go on to use your gift as a mirror in which you admire yourself, you spoil it completely and make this sublime ornament filthier than everybody else’s faults. The richer your gifts, the more abominable the perversion if you make them an idol. This is just like mixing poison with a fine malmsey. You have really accomplished something if after judging someone else on account of a small fault you then fall, with your conceit, into the grave sin of ingratitude to God. Thus you replace Him with yourself in your own heart, and you meddle into His jurisdiction, where just one sin is graver than the sins of all other men. You become arrogant toward your neighbor and so completely blind in everything that you can no longer know or see God or your neighbor or even yourself.
What do you accomplish with this judging except to call down the judgment of God upon yourself? You give Him the right to say to you: “I did not grant this gift to you so that you could despise your neighbor with it and serve yourself, but so that you could serve your neighbor in his poverty and weakness, and serve Me. Now you go ahead without even thanking Me for it, as if it had grown up in your own heart. You use My very gift to oppose Me and your neighbor and to make yourself a tyrant, a jailer, and a judge against your neighbor, whom your love should prompt you to tolerate, to help, and to lift up when he falls.” What answer can you give Him when He talks to you that way, as He has warned you here that He will, except that you deserve this judgment for making a great log out of the little speck that you see in your neighbor’s eye, as Christ says here (Matt. 7:3)?
I shall not discuss the fact that this miserable judging makes you damnable not only on account of the deed itself, but also because the person who does the judging is usually stuck deeper in sin and vices than other people. If he went back and read his own diary and account book, telling how he has lived since his youth, he would hear a story that would make him shudder and that he would like to suppress from other people. Now everyone would like to pretend that he is pious and to forget the whole past and to criticize and condemn some poor man for sinning just once. Such a person brings double trouble on himself. He ignores his previous life, he forgets what he used to be like, and he does not think how sad he would have felt if people had ridiculed and condemned him. That is one sin, that he is ungrateful and forgets the forgiveness of sins, grace, and all the kindness of God. The other is that he has lost his piety and is renewing the guilt of all his former sins by using his piety as a mirror in which he admires himself, thus becoming seven times as bad as he used to be (Luke 11:26).
You do not imagine, do you, that God is unable to spread out an account book before your very nose and to cite not only your transgressions and the sins of your youth (Ps. 25:7), but also your whole life, which you thought was very precious, as the monks think about their cloister life? How will you stand before Him then and answer for blaspheming and crucifying His Son daily with your Masses and other idolatry? This is what happens when we forget what we used to be like. Then it is easy to judge other people. But the command is: “Hans, take hold of your own nose, and reach into your own bosom. If you are looking for a villain on whom to pass judgment, you will find there the biggest villain on earth. You will just as soon forget about other people and gladly let them alone. You will never find as much sin in another person as you will in yourself. If you see a great deal of another person, you see one year or two. But when you look at yourself, you see your whole life, especially the serious blemishes that nobody else knows about. And then you must be ashamed of yourself.”
That, you see, would be a good cure for this shameful vice. You would stop pleasing yourself and pray God to forgive you and others. Secondly, though you see something bad in your neighbor, you should not despise and condemn him on account of it. Instead you should look at his good qualities and use your own good qualities to help him, by covering up for him, by making him look good, and by giving him your advice, knowing that even if you were the holiest and most pious man on earth, you would become the worst man by judging someone else. God did not give you your gifts for you to tickle yourself with them, but for you to help your neighbor with them when he needs it, and thus by your strength to bear his weakness, by your piety and honor to cover up his sin and to conceal his shame, as God through Christ has done for you and still does every day.5 If you refuse to do that, if you insist upon flattering yourself and despising others, you should know that while someone else may have a speck in his eye as far as you are concerned, by comparison you have a log in your eye as far as God is concerned (Matt. 7:3).
Thus you see why Christ is speaking out so harshly against this vice and pronouncing such a severe sentence: “Whoever judges will be judged.” This is as it should be. By meddling into God’s judgment and condemning one whom God has not condemned, you are giving Him just cause to do the same to you in turn. He will condemn you and all your works to hell, in spite of all your piety. He will elevate to a position of honor the neighbor whom you have judged and condemned, even making him a judge over you and having him find ten times as much in you that is damnable as you have found in him. So you have done very well indeed. You have angered and alienated both God and your neighbor. Thus you lose both the grace of God and the Christian life simultaneously, and you become worse than a heathen who knows nothing about God.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:210). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MATTHEW 6:28-34 (Luther)

Matthew 6:28. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?

Here you have another example and analogy; according to it, the little flowers in the field, which cattle trample and eat, are to become our theologians and masters and to embarrass us still further. Just look at them grow, all adorned with lovely colors! Yet not one of them is anxious or worried about how it should grow or what color it should have, but it leaves these anxieties to God. And without any care or effort on its part God dresses it up in such lovely and beautiful colors that, as Christ says, King Solomon in all his glory was not so beautiful as one of these—indeed, no empress with all her ladies-in-waiting, with all her gold, pearls, and jewels. No king He could name was so rich or so glorious or so beautifully adorned as was Solomon. But with all his magnificent pomp and splendor, the king is nothing when compared with a rose or a pink or a violet in the field. In this way our Lord God can adorn anyone whom He chooses to adorn. That is really an adornment, a color that no man can make or match, an adornment that no one could or would surpass. Though they were to be covered with pure gold and satin, they would still say: “I prefer the adornment of my Master up there in heaven, who adorns the little birds, to that of all the tailors and embroiderers on earth.”
Now, since He dresses and adorns so many flowers with such a variety of colors, and each has its own coat, more splendid than all the adornment in the world, why is it that we cannot have faith that He will dress us as well? What are the flowers and the grass in the field when compared with us? And what were they created for except to stand there for a day or two, to let themselves be looked at, and then to wither and turn into hay? Or as Christ says, they are “thrown into the oven” to be burned and to heat the oven. Yet our Lord God regards these tiny and transient things so highly that He lavishes His gifts upon them and adorns them more beautifully than any earthly king or other human being. Yet they do not need this adornment; indeed, it is wasted upon them, since, with the flower, it soon perishes. But we are His highest creatures, for whose sakes He made all things and to whom He gives everything. We matter so much to Him that this life is not to be the end of us, but after this life He intends to give us eternal life. Now, should we not trust Him to clothe us as He clothes the flowers of the field with so many colors and the birds of the air with their lovely feathers? He is speaking satirically, in order to describe how abominable our unbelief is and to make it look as ridiculous as possible. But it is the devil himself and the disastrous fall we committed that make it necessary for us to watch a whole world filled with birds and flowers opposed to us, denouncing our unbelief by their own example and appearance, and acting as our most sublime theologians. They sing and preach to us and smile at us so lovingly, just to have us believe. And yet we go right on letting them preach and sing, while we remain as greedy and selfish as ever. But to our eternal shame and disgrace each individual flower is a witness against us to condemn our unbelief before God and all the creatures until the Last Day. Now He closes this sermon for His Christians.

31. Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or, “What shall we drink?” or, “What shall we wear?” 32. For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

Every day you see these illustrations before your very eyes, how God nourishes and feeds everything that lives and grows from the earth, clothes and adorns it so beautifully. Now let these illustrations persuade you to lay aside your anxiety and your unbelief and to remember that you are Christians and not heathen. Such anxiety and greed are appropriate to heathen, who do not know God or care about Him. It is really idolatry, as St. Paul says (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5) and as Christ said earlier, when He called it the service of Mammon. Baptized or not, therefore, no greedy belly can be a Christian; but he has certainly lost Christ and has become a heathen. The two are intolerable to each other—being greedy or anxious and being a believer—and one has to eliminate the other. Now, for Christians who hear and know the Word, nothing is more disgraceful before God and all the creatures than to be likened to heathen. They do not believe that God feeds them and gives them all things; and thus they fall away from God, deny the faith, and pay no attention either to His Word or to these obvious examples. This is a harsh judgment, one that certainly ought to alarm everyone. For the choice is clear: either a Christian must reflect and then forsake his greedy anxiety, or he must know that he is not a Christian but ten times as bad as a heathen.
“Since you are Christians,” He says, “you dare not doubt that your Father is well aware of your need for all this, of the fact that you have a belly that needs food and drink and a body that needs clothing. If He did not know it, you would have reason to be concerned and anxious about how to provide for yourselves. But since He does know it, He will not forsake you. He is faithful and willing to take special care of you Christians, because, as has been said, He cares for the birds of the air as well. So forget your anxieties, since you cannot accomplish anything by them. It does not depend upon your anxiety but upon His knowledge and concern.” If nothing grew in the field unless we were anxious about it, we would all have died in our cradles; and during the night, while we are lying asleep, nothing could grow. Indeed, even by worrying ourselves to death we could not make a single blade of grass grow in the field. We really ought to see and understand that God gives everything without any anxiety on our part, and yet we are such godless people that we refuse to give up our anxiety and our greed. Though it is up to Him to be concerned, as a father is concerned for his children, we refuse to leave it to Him.

33. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

As I have said, the Lord saw very well that among the outward and coarse vices there is none that opposes the Gospel and holds back the kingdom of God as terribly as does greed. As soon as a preacher makes it his aim to get rich, he stops performing his office the way he should. The concern about making a living traps his heart, the way a “snare” does, to use St. Paul’s designation (1 Tim. 6:9). He cannot teach or denounce in the right places or in the right manner. He is concerned about losing popularity and friendship among those from whom he can get it. Thus he lets himself be seduced into keeping quiet and into seducing other people as well, not through heresy but through his own belly, which is his idol. Whoever wants to do his duty as a preacher and perform his office faithfully must retain the freedom to tell the truth fearlessly, regardless of other people. He must denounce anyone that needs to be denounced—great or small, rich or poor or powerful, friend or foe. Greed refuses to do this, for it is afraid that if it offends the bigwigs36 or its good friends, it will be unable to find bread. So greed puts its whistle into its pocket and keeps quiet.
It is the same way with the common crowd. Though they are not preachers, they should listen to the Word of God and help to advance the kingdom of God, each individual in his own life and station. But they refuse to take any chances or to suffer any need for the sake of the Gospel. Above all, they see to it that they have plenty and that their belly is taken care of, regardless of whether there is enough for the Gospel or not. So they scrape and scratch, getting along as well as they can. They give the preachers nothing; in fact, they deprive them of what they do have. Thus the devil has his way, and no one wants to preach or to listen any more, with the result that both the doctrine and its fruit disappear from the hearts of the people and the kingdom of God collapses entirely. All this is done by no one else but that abominable and demonic Mammon.
That, you see, is the reason for this long sermon, in which Christ, the Lord, gives a faithful warning to those that are His. To provide a better preventive against this, He prescribes a good and potent medicine here, called “seeking the kingdom of God.” Taking this medicine makes anxiety unnecessary, but it makes it possible for us to have enough, in fact, a treasure greater and more excellent than the one that Mammon can give us or than anything we can ever get with our anxiety.
But it is important for the heart to realize what the kingdom of God is and what it grants. If we could be persuaded to give this some thought and if in our hearts we were to measure and weigh how much greater and more precious a treasure this is than Mammon or the kingdom of the world, that is, than everything on earth, then we would spit at Mammon. If you had the wealth and the might of the King of France and of the Turkish Emperor, what more would you have than a beggar at the door has with his crumbs? All that is really necessary is something to fill the belly every day. More than this no one can do, even if he has all the goods and all the glory in the world. The poorest beggar has as much of this as the mightiest emperor; and he may even get more enjoyment and benefit out of his crumbs than the emperor does out of a magnificent, royal repast. That is all there is to it, and no one gets any more out of it. It lasts only a brief and tiny while, and then we have to surrender it all. We cannot use it to extend our physical existence by a single hour when our hour comes. Hence it is a poor and miserable kingdom, indeed, a foul and stinking one.
By way of comparison, what is the kingdom of God or of Christ, the Lord? Figure it out for yourself, and tell me what the creature is in comparison with its Creator, and the world in comparison with God. If heaven and earth were completely mine, what would I have in comparison with God? Not as much as a drop of water or a grain of dust in comparison with the whole ocean! In addition, this is the kind of treasure that cannot vanish or diminish or shrink. No human heart or understanding can measure or grasp how great it is or how long it endures. And for the sake of this filthy and mortal kingdom of the belly I am supposed to be shameful enough to discard and surrender God and His kingdom, which is divine and imperishable and which gives me eternal life, righteousness, peace, joy, and salvation? In it I shall have for eternity everything that I am seeking and desiring here for a time, and it will all be infinitely more glorious and abundant than what I can get here on earth, even with great sorrow, anxiety, and labor. But before I can get it and take possession of it, I have to go away and surrender everything. What great folly and shameful blindness for us not to see this! What stubborn wickedness, that the world, possessed by the devil, refuses to be told or to pay attention when this is being preached!
By these words, therefore, Christ would like to wake us up and say: “If you want to have the right sort of anxiety and concern about always having plenty, then seek for the treasure called ‘the kingdom of God.’ Do not be anxious about the temporal and perishable treasure which moth and rust consume (as He said earlier). You have a much different treasure in heaven, which I am pointing out to you. If you are anxious about that and seek it and if you keep in mind what you have in it, you will soon forget about the other one. This is the kind of treasure that will sustain you forever, and it cannot perish or be taken away. Because the treasure you cling to is an enduring one, you will endure, too, even though you may not have a single heller from the world.”
What file kingdom of God is has often been stated. To put it most briefly, it does not mean outward things like eating and drinking (Rom. 14:17) nor other works that we can do. Rather, it means believing in Jesus Christ. In this kingdom He is the Head and the only King, in whom and through whom we have everything; whoever abides in it cannot be harmed by any sin, death, or misfortune, but has eternal life, joy, and salvation. Here he begins in this faith, but on the Last Day all will be revealed, and he will be eternally perfected in it.
Now, what does it mean to “seek” this kingdom? What is the method of reaching it, and what way or path leads to it? Here one points in one direction, another in another direction. This is what the pope teaches: “Run to Rome and get an indulgence, confess and do penance, read or hear Mass, put on a cowl, and discipline yourself with long services and a strict, ascetic life.” We used to run in every direction we were told to run, like crazy and foolish people. We all wanted to seek the kingdom of God, but all we found was the kingdom of the devil. For there are many ways, but they are all departures from that one way of believing in Christ and practicing and applying the Gospel, to which faith clings. This involves growing and being strengthened at heart through preaching, listening, reading, singing, meditating, and every other possible way. And it involves blossoming out in fruits, to advance it and to lead many other people to it. Thank God, that is what we are doing now; and there are many others as well, both preachers and other Christians, who are zealous in practicing this. For this they are willing to risk everything they have, and they would be ready to lose it rather than to surrender the Word.
Though they boast that they are the servants of God and the brides of Christ, none of the monks, nuns, or priests either do or understand this. They all miss the one right way, and they neglect the Gospel. They do not know God or Christ and His kingdom. If you want to know it and find it, you must not seek for it on the basis of your own ideas. You must hear His Word, as the foundation and cornerstone, and see where He directs you and how He interprets it. Now, this is His Word about His kingdom (Mark 16:16): “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Word was not spun out of our own heads, nor did it grow out of any human heart. It fell from heaven and was manifested by the mouth of God, to give us certainty and to keep us from missing the right path. Now when both the preachers and the hearers proceed as they should in the diligent use of Word and Sacrament, when they consistently apply this in their lives to make it known among the people, and when they bring in the young people and teach them, then they are really seeking and promoting the kingdom of God and taking it seriously.
Now, what does He mean by adding “and His righteousness”? This kingdom has a righteousness of its own, but a righteousness different from that in the world, since it is a different kingdom. Thus it refers to the righteousness that comes from a faith that is-busy and active in good works. It means that I take the Gospel seriously, that I listen to it or use it diligently, and that then I actually live in accordance with it instead of being an idle fellow or a hypocrite, who lets it come in through one ear and out through the other. The Kingdom proves its presence in deed and in power, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 4:20): “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” That is what we call the Gospel with its fruits—doing good works, fulfilling your station or office diligently and faithfully, and undergoing all sorts of suffering for the Gospel. He uses “righteousness” here in a general sense for the whole life of a Christian in relation to God and man, including both the tree and its fruit, not in the sense that it is completely perfect. It is continually progressing, as He shows here by telling His disciples to keep on seeking it, since they have not yet obtained it (Phil. 3:12) or learned it or lived it perfectly. For our condition in the kingdom of Christ is half sin and half holiness. What there is in us that belongs to faith and to Christ is completely pure and perfect, since it is not our own but Christ’s, who is ours through faith and who lives and works in us. But what is still our own is completely sinful. Yet under Christ and in Him it is concealed and blotted out through the forgiveness of sins; and daily it is put to death through the same grace of the Spirit, until we have died to this life altogether.
You see, it is a quality of the righteousness of this kingdom to act sincerely, without any hypocrisy. For it is set in opposition to those who know how to talk and boast about the Gospel but do not live according to it. Preaching the Word of God, doing good to everyone, and suffering all sorts of misfortune is a difficult business; but that is why it is called “the righteousness of God.” The world cannot stand doing good only to suffer evil for it. This does not belong to the world’s realm, where it is wrong for the man who does right to be punished or to suffer violence; such a person should be rewarded with gratitude and good things. But our reward is laid away for us not on earth but in heaven (Luke 6:23), and that is where we shall find it. Anyone who knows this and wants to act accordingly will have enough to do, without having to look for other ways; and he can forget about the greed and the anxiety of Mammon, too. He will become so soured on the world that his life and his temporal possessions will not mean much to him any more, and he will become so tired that every hour he will be looking forward to death and hoping for it.
So much for the admonition by which He directs our attention away from temporal possessions to the eternal treasure, and tells us that these possessions are not worth our attention in comparison with the ones we have in heaven. To this admonition He now adds a promise and a consolation, to keep us from thinking that since we have to suffer so much from a world that denies and begrudges us everything and since every hour we are expecting to have it all taken away from us, He wants to give us nothing at all on earth and to let us starve. We should know that here, too, we shall have what we require for the necessities of this life. That is why He says: “If you just seek the kingdom of God first, then all these things shall be yours as well.” That is, you shall receive food and drink and clothing as a bonus, without any anxiety of your own. In fact, it will come by the very fact that you are not anxious about such things and that you risk everything for the sake of the kingdom of God, and in such a way that you will not know where it came from, as our experience teaches us every day. God has enough in the world to feed those that are His. For He feeds all the birds and worms, and He clothes the lilies of the field, as we have heard; in fact, He gives generously even to scoundrels and lets things grow for them. Reluctantly, the world has to let us eat and drink with it.
Now, if we realize this, if we have the Word of God and use it, and if each individual does what he should, what more do we want? We have plenty to eat and to drink and to wear, and we get as much to fill our stomach as even a king or an emperor does. Of course, in keeping with his rank, he has to have more, and his must be grander. But that does not mean that he enjoys it any more. My bread feeds me as well as his royal repast, and my clothes cover and warm me as well as his gold and silver garments. How would it be possible for a person to starve to death who serves God with fidelity and furthers His kingdom? After all, He gives the whole world more than enough. The earth would have to run out of bread or the heavens would have to run out of rain before a Christian would die of starvation; indeed, God Himself would have to starve to death first. Now, since He has created and given so superabundantly and given such a sure promise that He will give enough and will do so before we look around or become aware of it, why plague yourself with this terrible anxiety and greed? Everywhere, but especially in the Psalter, Scripture is full of statements like these (Ps. 33:19): “He feeds the pious in time of famine”; and (Ps. 37:19, 25): “I have never seen a pious man beg for bread.” He will not let your situation make a liar out of Him. Just believe! If the present world of noblemen, peasants, and city people refuses to do this, He can find other people or other means through which to give, and to give more than they can ever take away from you.

34. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

“Let this be your concern,” He says, “how to retain the kingdom of God. And get rid of the other concerns so completely that you are not even concerned about tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, it will bring its own concerns along.” As we say, “Do not cross your bridges until you come to them.”37 Our concern accomplishes nothing anyway, even though we are concerned for only one day at a time. Experience shows that two or three days often pass by faster than today. If God is kindly disposed to a man and gives him success, he can often accomplish more in one hour without care and anxiety than another man in four whole days with great care and anxiety. Whereas the one has dragged on with his anxiety and made it tedious for himself, the other has disposed of it in an hour. Thus no one can accomplish anything except when the hour comes that God gives as a free gift without our anxiety. It is vain for you to try to anticipate and with your concern to work out what you think are great schemes.
Our Lord God knows the art of secretly shortening and lengthening times and hours for us, to make one hour become two weeks for someone, and vice versa. Thus with long labor and sorrow one person accomplishes no more than another person with short and easy work. This is evident every day. There are many people who work steadily and hard but barely make ends meet, while there are others who have arranged and ordered their affairs so well that without any particular effort everything goes along smoothly, and they prosper. God works it all this way to keep us from supposing that our anxiety necessarily brings His blessing. But we refuse to wait for God to add these good things to us. Instead we insist on finding them for ourselves before God gives them.
Look at what happens amid the busy digging and hunting in the mines. Often it develops that where there are the greatest prospects for ore and where it seems that everything will turn to gold, there nothing is found, or it is suddenly cut off and vanishes from your grasp. On the other hand, in places that seem to be a total loss and that are neglected, quite by surprise there will often be a rich find. One man has invested everything he has, and he gets nothing; another man begins as a beggar, and he becomes a lord. Later on, those who have accumulated many thousands of guldens may become beggars before ten years are up. Only seldom do such great fortunes last until the third heir.38 In other words, the formula for good fortune and blessings should be: “Not by my seeking, but by His generosity; not by finding, but by chance.” We would like to make things come out the way we planned them, but it does not work out that way. For this is what He thinks: “You will not get it that way; at least you will not hold on to it and enjoy it very long.” I myself have known many people whose pockets bulged with guldens and who could not be bothered with groschens, but eventually they would have been glad to find that many hellers.
Now, since you see that it is pointless and that your anxiety is useless, why not give it up and think instead about how to get the kingdom of God? He wants to be generous to you, but not on account of your being concerned or even on account of your working. It is not such concern that gains and accomplishes anything, but rather the concern that is part of your office. The kingdom of God requires you to do what you are commanded to do, to preach and to promote the Word of God, to serve your neighbor according to your calling,39 and to take whatever God gives you. The best possessions are not the ones that come from our planning, but the ones that come by chance and from His generosity. The things that we have acquired or planned to keep by being anxious will probably be the first to collapse and be ruined. This is what often happens to the rich bellies; by their great anxiety they often ruin their grain and other supplies. It is a great gift of grace that God does not make it our concern how the grain is growing in the field, but gives it to us while we are lying asleep. Otherwise we would ruin it with our anxiety, and we would get nothing.
Therefore He says now: “Why be concerned about more than the present day and take on the troubles of two days? Be content with the trouble that the present day lays upon you. Tomorrow will bring you another one.” He calls it a “trouble” or a plague laid upon us that we have to make a living in the sweat of our face (Gen. 3:19) and endure all sorts of other accidents, worries, misfortunes, and dangers every day, Daily in this life we must see and expect such trouble, when something is stolen from you or you suffer some other damage or when you get sick or when your servants do. Suffer such sorrow, anguish, and trouble, and receive it with joy. Be content with that, for it is enough for you to bear. Forget about your anxiety, which only increases and aggravates the trouble. From these examples you can see that God never used anyone’s anxiety to make him rich; in fact, many people have the deepest kind of anxiety, and still they have nothing. What He does is this: when He sees someone fulfilling his office diligently and faithfully, being concerned to do so in a God-pleasing way, and leaving the concern over its success to God, He is generous in His gifts to such a person. It is written (Prov. 10:4): “The hand of the diligent makes rich.” He wants nothing to do with the lazy, gluttonous bellies who are neither concerned nor busy; they act as if they just had to sit and wait for Him to drop a roasted goose into their mouth. He commands you to get an honest grip on your work, and then He will be present with His blessing and give you plenty. Let this be enough regarding this sermon.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:199). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

MATTHEW 6:26,27 (Luther)

Matthew 6:26. Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27. And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his stature?

Here He cites an analogy and a comparison in support of His admonition. With ridicule and derision He scoffs at our miserable greed and concern for our bellies, to rescue us from it, to point out to us what we really are, and to make us thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. We are something much higher, nobler, and better than the birds. We are lords not only over the birds but over all living creatures, and everything was given to us for our use and created for our sakes. Still we do not have enough faith to rely upon being provided for with all these things that God has given and supplied for us. Nevertheless He daily supplies nourishment and food to the smallest birds—and even to the littlest worms, which are the tiniest among our servants—without any concern or thought on their part at all. They do not gather anything, and they do not lay up provisions. They do not sow, and they do not reap what has been sown.
Now is it not a crying shame that we cannot entrust our bellies to God without concern or greed, we to whom He has given and supplied all creatures and for whom He lets so much grow every year that we have enough to sow and much more to reap? If anyone has a reason for being concerned and for harvesting, it is the little birds. They cannot do any sowing, and when summer is approaching, they might think: “You see, now the whole world is sowing its grain in order to harvest it in the summer. Then or in the autumn, everyone will be harvesting and gathering. But we do not have a solitary grain to sow or to reap. Where will we find food for the rest of the year, especially in the cold winter, when everything has been gathered in and nothing is left in the fields?” What would we men do for a single summer if we did not have anything to sow? In fact, if we could not count on having supplies for a two-week period, how desperate the whole world would become, as if we were all starving! Now summer and winter the little birds keep on flying in the air, singing and frolicking, without a worry or concern in the world, even though they do not know where their next meal is coming from. But we greedy bellies are so wretched that we cannot stop worrying, even if we have our barns and granaries filled and see the grain growing abundantly in the fields.
You see, He is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men, and daily should emphasize this to our eyes and ears, as if he were saying to us: “Look, you miserable man! You have house and home, money and property. Every year you have a field full of grain and other plants of all sorts, more than you ever need. Yet you cannot find peace, and you are always worried about starving. If you do not know that you have supplies and cannot see them before your very eyes, you cannot trust God to give you food for one day. Though we are innumerable, none of us spends his living days worrying. Still God feeds us every day.” In other words, we have as many teachers and preachers as there are little birds in the air. Their living example is an embarrassment to us. Whenever we hear a bird singing toward heaven and proclaiming God’s praises and our disgrace, we should feel ashamed and not even dare to lift up our eyes. But we are as hard as stone, and we pay no attention even though we hear the great multitude preaching and singing every day.
Look at what else the dear little birds do. Their life is completely unconcerned, and they wait for their food solely from the hands of God. Sometimes people cage them up to hear them sing. Then they get food in abundance, and they ought to think: “Now I have plenty. I do not have to be concerned about where my food is coming from. Now I have a rich master, and my barns are full.” But they do not do this. When they are free in the air, they are happier and fatter. Their singing of Lauds and of Matins to their Lord early in the morning before they eat is more excellent and more pleasant. Yet none of them knows of a single grain laid away in store. They sing a lovely, long Benedicite and leave their cares to our Lord God, even when they have young that have to be fed. Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher. He exhorts you with this Gospel, not with mere simple words but with a living deed and an example. He sings all night and practically screams his lungs out. He is happier in the woods than cooped up in a cage, where he has to be taken care of constantly and where he rarely gets along very well or even stays alive. It is as if he were saying: “I prefer to be in the Lord’s. kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and He Himself is the cook and the host. Every day He feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of His hand. For He does not have merely a bag full of grain, but heaven and earth.”
Now Christ says: “Every day you see before your very eyes how the heavenly Father feeds the little birds in the field, without any concern on their part. Can you not trust Him to feed you as well, since He is your Father and calls you His children? Shall He not be concerned about you, whom He has made His children and to whom He gives His Word and all creatures, more than about the little birds, which are not His children but your servants? And yet He thinks enough of them to feed them every day, as if they were the only thing He is concerned about. And He enjoys it when they fly around and sing without a care in the world, as if they were saying: ‘I sing and frolic, and yet I do not know of a single grain that I am to eat. My bread is not baked yet, and my grain is not planted yet. But I have a rich Master who takes care of me while I am singing or sleeping. He can give me more than all my worries and the worries of all people could ever accomplish.’ ” Now, since the birds have learned so well the art of trusting Him and of casting their cares from themselves upon God, we who are His children should do so even more. Thus this is an excellent illustration that puts us all to shame. We, who are rational people and who have the Scriptures in addition, do not have enough wisdom to imitate the birds. When we listen to the little birds singing every day, we are listening to our own embarrassment before God and the people. But after his fall from the word and the commandment of God, man became crazy and foolish; and there is no creature alive which is not wiser than he. A little finch, which can neither speak nor read, is his theologian and master in the Scriptures, even though he has the whole Bible and his reason to help him.
To this first analogy He now attaches a saying based upon our experience, which shows that our concern is useless and unavailing. “Who is there among you,” He says, “who can add one cubit to his stature, even though he may be concerned about it? If the only way for a man to grow up were for him to be concerned about it, how tall would any of us grow? Or what good does it do a little dwarf to worry himself to death about becoming taller? What do you accomplish with your concern about your food and clothing, about where your food and clothing are coming from, as if it lay in your power to make your body as big and as tall as you pleased? The length and width of your body with all its members has been allotted to you; you cannot do anything about it, and He dares you to make it taller by a hair’s breadth. What a fool you are then! You are concerned about something that does not lie within your power, whereas God has already allotted its duration and size to you and has specified how long your body and life is to endure. And you cannot trust Him to provide you with both food and clothing as long as you have to live here!”
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:196). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MATTHEW 6:25 (Luther)

Matthew 6:25. Therefore I tell you, do not be concerned about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

The Lord expands and enlarges His vigorous sermon against this dangerous vice, because, as we have said, it usually intrudes violently alongside the Gospel and attacks not only the world but also the Christians. It is especially fierce against those who are supposed to preach the Word of God and who are surrounded by all sorts of dangers on its account. They suffer contempt and oppression from the world, and as far as the flesh is concerned, they would have reason enough to be concerned. Anyone who wants to be a Christian and to confess his Lord arouses the hostility of the devil, his enemy. The devil is a prince of this world (John 16:11), who therefore opposes and attacks Him, not through the Word and faith, but through that which is subject to the devil’s own kingdom and authority. Now our good-for-nothing body, our flesh and blood, is still in his kingdom. He can really plague this, he can throw it into jail, he can deprive it of food and drink and clothing. And so this danger continually surrounds us, together with everything we have. Meanwhile flesh and blood is trying to figure out how much it can get for its security and how it can avoid danger. This is the origin of the temptation called “concern about making a living”; of course, the world does not regard it as a temptation but as a virtue, and it praises the people who set their sights on great property and honor.
Listen now to what serving Mammon means. It means being concerned about our life and our body, about what we should eat and drink and put on. It means thinking only about this life, about how to get rich here and how to accumulate and increase our money and property, as though we were going to stay here forever. The sinful worship of Mammon does not consist in eating and drinking and wearing clothes, nor in looking for a way to make a living and working at it; for the needs of this life and of the body make food and clothing a requirement. But the sin consists in being concerned about it and making it the reliance and confidence of your heart. Concern does not stick to clothing or to food, but directly to the heart, which cannot let a thing go and has to hang on to it. As the saying goes, “Property makes a person bold.” Thus “being concerned” means clinging to it with your heart. I am not concerned about anything that my heart does not think about, but I must have a heart for anything about which I am concerned.
You must not tighten this text too much, however, as if it prohibited any kind of concern at all. Every office and station involves taking on certain concerns, especially being in charge of other people. As St. Paul says about spiritual offices in Christendom (Rom. 12:8): “He who rules, let him be careful.” In this sense the head of a household has to be concerned about whether his children are being brought up properly and whether his servants are doing their duty; if he neglects this, he does wrong. Similarly it is the concern of a minister or preacher to carry on his preaching and to administer the Sacrament properly, to comfort the sorrowing and the sick, to denounce the wicked, and to pray for needs of every kind; for he has the command to wait upon souls and to guide them. Thus princes and others in government have to be concerned about the proper administration of the secular realm, as their office requires. And subjects, in turn, should be concerned about loyally showing and performing their obedience. Servants should be concerned about serving their masters well and saving them from any damage.
Christ is not talking here about this sort of concern. This is an official concern, which must be sharply distinguished from greed. It is not concerned for its own sake but for the neighbors sake; it does not seek its own interests (1 Cor. 13:5), but even neglects them and forgets them in order to serve somebody else. Therefore it may be called a concern of love, something divine and Christian, not a concern devoted to its own advantage or to Mammon, militating against faith and love, and even interfering with the official concern. The man whose money is dear to him and who is on the lookout for his own advantage will not have much regard for his neighbor or for the office that involves his neighbor. This has been evident until now in our clergy. They were not the least bit concerned about how to take proper care of souls. They concentrated everything on making the world bring them enough donations. Whoever did not bring them any money was simply left standing; none of them would even say an Our Father for somebody else without being paid for it. But a pious preacher is concerned about properly carrying out the duties of his office for the good of souls. It does not bother him that he is not getting very much for it, in fact, that he has to endure all sorts of things for it, letting serpents bite him and bearing the hostility of the world and the devil. He leaves in God’s hands the matter of where he will get his food, and he comforts himself with the prospect of another treasure in another life, a treasure so great that all the misfortune he has to suffer here is too tiny even to be compared with it (Rom. 8:18). It is for this treasure that he is doing all this.
Christ has forbidden this greedy concern and worship of Mammon as an idolatry that makes men enemies of God. Now He goes on with many statements, examples, and illustrations, intended to make greed so repulsive to us and to give it such an odious appearance that we will feel like spitting on it. First of all He says: “Is not life more than food? That is, you can and you must entrust your life, your body, and your soul to God. It does not lie within your power to preserve this for a single hour. What fools you are, then, if you do not entrust the needs of your body to Him, too, for Him to provide you with food and drink! It would be the greatest foolishness imaginable to be scrupulously concerned about getting food and drink but to be unconcerned about getting body and life or preserving them for an hour. That would be like being concerned about the beautiful decoration of your house hut not knowing who was going to live there, or being concerned in the kitchen about the preparation of a big, expensive meal but not having anybody to eat it.” That is how we behave in our greed: we are concerned about the little things, and we never think of the big things. Such concern is really unnecessary and superfluous, in fact, foolish. Even though we were to be deeply concerned about our body and its life, this would not accomplish a thing, since it does not lie within our power even for a moment, any more than grain growing in a field where we did not do the planting, or silver in a mine where we did not put it.
We have to get rid of care, then, throughout all of our lives, since these are being preserved every hour by God, and that without any thought or action on our part. So what is the point of our foolish concern about the little things, as though He neither could nor would give us food and shelter? We should be ashamed of ourselves, giving anyone a chance to say that we are this foolish. Yet foolish is the only word for the way we live, especially the great, rich bellies. All they are ever concerned about is having their kitchens filled and their pantries generously stocked, and yet they have no tables or guests. Or they have many luxurious beds all made up, but with no one to sleep in them. Now, if a shoemaker did nothing all his life but fill his shop with lasts, without even giving a thought to where he would get the leather for making a shoe, he would be called crazy and foolish and would be driven out of the country.
Thus, you see, Christ is showing us what foolish people we are, to make us want to spit on ourselves. Yet we go along in our blindness, although it is obvious that we should not be concerned about our body and life. Even if we were concerned, that in itself would have to make us become Christians and think: “You see, not even for a moment do I have my life in my own hands. Now, since I have to entrust my body and life to God, why should I have any doubts and concerns about my belly and about how it is to be fed for a day or two?” It is like having a rich father who would be willing to give me a thousand guldens, and then not trusting him to give me a groschen when I need it.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:192). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, July 19, 2010

MATTHEW 6:24 (Luther)

Matthew 6:24. No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.

This is a horrible judgment that He pronounces here upon greedy people, and primarily upon His Jews. Like our priests and clergy, they were the real greedy bellies; yet they claimed to be doing God a great and holy service. What He wants to say is: “You think that you are all right and that you are serving God with great sincerity. And yet at the same time you are greedy scoundrels, who are doing everything for the sake of Mammon even while you are serving God. But here is the rule: No one can serve two masters at the same time. If you want to be servants of God, you cannot serve Mammon.” He is referring to two masters that are opposed to each other, not to those that govern together. There is no contradiction involved if I serve both God and my prince or emperor at the same time; if I obey the lower one, I am obeying the highest one as well, since my obedience moves in an orderly fashion from the one to the other. When the head of the family sends his wife or children to the servants with orders what the servants are to do, there is only one master, not several, and all the orders come from one master. But “two masters” means two that are opposed to each other and that issue contradictory orders, the way God and the devil do. God says: “You shall not be greedy, and you shall not have any other gods.” But the devil contradicts this and says: “You may be greedy and serve Mammon.”
Reason itself teaches that serving two opposing masters at the same time is an intolerable situation. Still the world is quite skillful at doing it, what we call in German “carrying water on both shoulders”33 or “blowing hot and cold at the same time.” Sometimes a nobleman will serve one prince and accept remuneration from him, but will doublecross him and betray him to another and accept money there, too. Then he will watch to see how the weather comes out, whether there will be rain here and sunshine there. So he will betray and doublecross both of them. But such people do not serve anybody, and even reason has to say that they are traitors and villains. Suppose you had a servant who accepted wages and remuneration from you but kept looking with one eye at someone else without caring about your affairs. And suppose that something went wrong today or tomorrow and he scampered off to the other master and left you sitting there. How would you like that?
That is why it is correct to say that whoever wants to be a loyal servant and to do his work faithfully dare not adhere to two masters but must say: “This is the master that feeds me, and I will serve him as long as I am with him. I will work for his best interests, and I will not be diverted to somebody else.” But if he wants to filch something here and steal something there, that is business for the executioner. The hens that eat at home but lay their eggs elsewhere deserve to be killed. The Jews also had the idea that God should regard them as great saints and be satisfied so long as they sacrificed in the temple and slaughtered their calves and cows. Meanwhile they did their grasping wherever they could. They even set up shop and erected their money-changing tables in front of the temple and in it, to make everything convenient so that no one would have to leave without having made his sacrifice.
It is in opposition to these people that Christ now sets down the maxim that no one should make up his mind to be the servant of both God and Mammon. Since to serve God means to cling to His Word alone and to subordinate everything else to it, you cannot continue this service in the way in which He has instituted it if you want to be greedy for Mammon. if you want to live according to His Word and continue in it, you must immediately repudiate Mammon. This much is sure: as soon as a preacher or minister becomes greedy, he becomes useless, and his preaching becomes worthless. He has to be cautious; he does not dare to denounce anyone; he lets the donations come in till they stuff up his mouth; he has to let the people do as they please; and he refuses to anger anyone, especially the great and powerful. Thus he neglects his duty and his office, which require him to denounce the wicked. Similarly, any burgomaster or judge or other official who wants to pay attention to his office and wants to have it run properly must not give much thought to getting rich or making any profit from it. But if he is the servant of Mammon, he will let himself be bought off with presents, till he becomes blind and no longer sees how people live. He will think: “If I punish this person or that one, I will make enemies, and it may cost me what I have.” Though he may have a fine position and occupy the office that God has commanded and given him, still he cannot carry it out and exercise it. All this is accomplished by Mammon, who has taken possession of his heart.
Such is the way of the world everywhere now. It imagines that Mammon is a mere trifle and not very dangerous, while it deceives itself into accepting the sweet and lovely idea that it can serve God nonetheless. But this is a miserable disease, with which the devil blinds a person to keep him from perceiving his official duty any longer and to ensnare him in greed, simply by making him worry that otherwise people will not give him honor, gifts, and donations. Christ makes His judgment so strict, as we have pointed out, to keep anyone from deceiving himself with such thoughts and supposing that it does not really matter very much. He makes it clear that whoever fails to do his duty as he should on account of Mammon—money or pleasure, popularity or favor—will not be acknowledged by God as His servant but as His enemy, as we shall hear presently. But whoever wants to be found in the service of God and to do his duty properly, should make up his mind to stand up like a man and to despise the world and its Mammon. This does not spring up from within, however, but comes down as a gift from heaven. It is a response to the petition that the God who has given and assigned this office to you may press it down (Luke 6:38) and also give you the capacity to carry it out, persuading you that there is nothing nobler or better on earth for you to have and to do than the service that you are to do for Him. You need not worry very much about whether you suffer a loss on account of this or get into difficulty. You can console yourself with the realization that you are serving a greater Master, one who can easily requite you for your loss. This is certainly better than losing the eternal treasure for the sake of a tiny temporal possession that cannot help you anyway. If you are to choose a master, would you not much rather serve the living God than a helpless and dead scamp?
That, you see, is what every Christian does when he has the Word of God. He honors and keeps it, regardless of whether this irritates the world or whether it costs him his success. This is his attitude: “There is my wallet and money bag, my house and home. But here is my Christ. Now, if I have to forsake and surrender one of them, I will let it all go in order to keep my Christ.” That is what Christ means with the words: “No one can serve two masters.” Eventually they will come into conflict, and one will have to yield to the other. Therefore it is vain for you to persuade yourself of the idea that you will keep them both as your masters, but you simply have to make up your mind to forsake one of them.
Thus the emphasis here is on the little word “serve.” It is no sin to have money and property, wife and children, house and home. But you must not let it be your master. You must make it serve you, and you must be its master. As it is said of a fine, upstanding gentleman: “He is master of his money”—not its subject and its prisoner, as a stingy, greedy belly is, who would be willing to surrender the Word of God and everything else, doing nothing and saying nothing, rather than to take any chances with his money. That is the heart of a woman or a child or a slave. Such a person despises and forsakes the eternal treasure for the sake of that scabby Mammon, which he can neither use nor enjoy. Meanwhile he goes his own smug way, supposing that he can get around to the Word of God any time, and grabbing whatever he can. He cannot miss a single heller, for God’s sake! Eventually he sinks deeper and deeper into greed, he gets farther and farther away from the Word of God, and finally he becomes completely hostile to it.
This is harsh language and a very outspoken judgment when Christ says here: “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” That is the same as saying: “The miserable love of Mammon makes people enemies of God.” Thus some of our priests say, even in public: “Such a teaching would be fine, except that it is dangerous.”34 It arouses hostility—and with good reason, according to them, since it is asking for it. But Mammon is a wonderful god! He does not do any damage either in the kitchen or in the wallet. Thus love and friendship come to a parting of the ways here over the words: “He will hate the one and love the other.” For there are two masters who oppose each other, and one heart is too small for both of them, just as one house is too small for two owners. When the conflict comes, therefore, and you have to serve one and be devoted to him, you will have to anger the other and let him go. So it is that a lover of money and property inevitably becomes an enemy of God. This is the precious fruit of serving Mammon. It is especially evident, now that greed has gained such complete control. There is a major epidemic of greed among the nobles, the peasants, the townspeople, the priests, and the laymen. What great holiness and what beautiful virtue, to take the best part of man away from God and to give it to Mammon! The object of your highest devotion is certainly the thing to which your heart has attached its love and desire, the thing for which your whole body and all your organs yearn. As Christ said earlier (Matt. 6:21): “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What a person loves, that he will certainly pursue, that he will enjoy talking about, that will occupy all his heart and his thoughts. Therefore St. Augustine says: “Whatever I love, that is my god.”35 From this you see what kind of people they are whom Christ terms “enemies of God.” They make a great show of serving Him as if they were His dearest friends, but-fundamentally all they are is genuine demonic saints, who hate God cordially and persecute Him, His Word, and His work.
For hating the Word of God is really hating God. This is how it works. You denounce a man for his unbelief and greed, and you hold the First Commandment up to him (Ex. 20:3): “You shall have no other gods before Me.” That is, “You shah not attach your heart, your desire, and your love to anyone else but Me.” And he refuses to hear that denunciation or to stand for it. He starts ranting and raving against it, until in his heart there is bitterness and venomous hatred against the Word and its preachers. That is why the text of the Ten Commandments contains the threat (Ex. 20:5): “I am a jealous God, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children of those who hate Me.” He is talking about these very same greedy bellies and Mammon-servers, for Scripture calls greed “idolatry,” or the worship of idols (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). And yet, as we have said, they lay claim to titles like “the greatest of saints” and “enemies of idolatry and heresy”; and they absolutely disclaim the title “haters of God.” But they are convicted by their inability to hear or see the Word of God when it attacks their greed, and by their insistence that they get off without any denunciation. The more they are denounced and threatened, the more they deride and mock, doing whatever they please to spite God and everyone else.
Now, is that not a horrible disease and an abominable sin, one that should terrify us so that we hate Mammon from the heart, make the sign of the cross against him and run away as from the devil? Who would not be terrified to fall into this and to hear this judgment spoken over him? He will be called “God’s enemy,” one who not only despises God but even wishes that God and His Word did not exist, just so that he could have the freedom to do as he pleases and wills, to insult God and vex Him. Figure out for yourself what the fate of such a person will be. He is saddling himself with a man who will eventually prove to be too heavy for him.
As the text says, they already have punishment enough in the fact that they are such pathetic people, whose heart and desire, whose love and joy are concentrated on the privy, when they ought to be in heaven with the things of God. What could be more shameful for a human being than to turn his trust away from God, who gives him every good thing and who deserves his devotion, and to take a position behind the devil, where he can enjoy his stench and his hell? In fact, he becomes so completely involved in the wickedness of hell that he not only despises the Word of God, but opposes it with the murderous wish that there were no God. This is the gratitude that God gets from these greedy bellies to whom He daily gives body and life, sun and moon, and all their treasures. But what their reward will be, they will find out. They already have part of it in being forced continually to eat the devil’s stench and filth.
That is the first part of the text, referring to Mammon: “Either he will hate the one and love the other.” The second part refers to God: “Or he will be devoted to the one (namely, God) and despise the other.” He does not simply say here: “He will love the one”; but to show what love does and accomplishes, He uses the word “be devoted.” Anyone who intends to love God and His Word will not have an easy time of it. It will often hit him between the eyes, and the love will often become the kind that the devil sours and embitters for him. Hence we need the ability to hold tight and to be devoted to the Word of God. We dare not let ourselves be torn loose from it, even though our own flesh and the example of the whole world, as well as the devil, set themselves against it and make up their minds to take it away from us. Anyone who can oppose so many enemies all by himself and win must really be a man with the bravery of a knight! Indeed, he must be aglow with the fire of love, burning so brightly that he can let everything go—house and home, wife and children, reputation and property, body and life—and can despise it and stamp on it, just to keep a treasure that he still cannot see and that the world despises, but that is presented merely in the Word and believed by the heart.
He does not mean by this that it is wrong to have and to acquire money and property, or if someone does have it, that he should throw it away, as some fools among the philosophers and some crazy saints among the Christians have taught and done. He lets you get rich; but He does not want your love to cling to your riches, as David taught and as he proved by his own example, saying (Ps. 62:10): “If you acquire riches, do not set your heart upon them.” This is an attitude that can keep Ms heart free right in the very midst of the money and property that God has given, something the world cannot do. And if his riches try to seduce his heart and entice it away from the Word of God, as the beautiful guldens and the shiny silver goblets and the jewels smile attractively at him, then he can trample them underfoot and be as contemptuous of them as the world is devoted to them while it despises the heavenly treasure. In other words, as Mammon’s master, a man must make him lie at his feet; but he must be subject to no one and have no master except the Word of God. Now, this is preached to the little flock who believe in Christ and who regard His Word as true. It is meaningless for the others.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:186). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Matthew 6:22,23 (Luther)

MATTHEW 6:22. The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; 23. But if your eye is a villain, your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness itself be!

This is a warning not to let ourselves be deceived by the lovely color and appearance in which the villain greed can be dressed up and disguised. As I have said, among all the physical vices there is none that is more deceptive to people or more harmful to the Gospel and its fruit. This is the kind of fellow that does everything he can get away with to keep the Gospel from being preached and preserved among the people. And even when it is preached, those preachers who have succumbed to greed are worthless. Thus greed wrecks both the people who are supposed to listen and the people who are supposed to preach. Those whose duty it is to support the preachers refuse to do so; as far as they are concerned, the preachers can starve. When the preachers see this, they want to make sure that they do not have to live at the mercy of the people, and thus they become more dangerous enemies than the others. When a peasant becomes greedy and contributes nothing to the support of the Gospel, a preacher can still be provided for, if only very meagerly. But when the preachers themselves succumb to it, they lose their taste for the Gospel. They are not willing to suffer anything or risk anything for its sake. They try to figure out how to keep their belly well supplied, and they will preach whatever is pleasing to their audience and financially profitable to them.
For that reason St. Paul calls this particular vice “idolatry,” or the worship of idols (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5), because it is in direct conflict with faith, which is the true worship or honoring of God. Such a person makes Mammon and the helpless pfennig his god and lord. What it wills, he does; and so he lives and preaches. He is completely its property and its prisoner, and he no longer cares about the Word of God or risks a heller on its account. All that Christ can do about it is to denounce this vice and to issue a warning about it to anyone that is willing to be warned. That is really necessary, for even godly people have a hard time to keep from being taken in by it. But the others go along smugly, as if they had been drowned by it, and they ignore whatever may be preached or said to them. The Jews were such fellows, too, drowned in their own greed. Christ had to keep denouncing them for it; and the prophets had to conclude their sermons about faith with nothing but an outcry and a denunciation of greed, directed against the preachers and the false prophets as well as against the common crowd.24 But it did not accomplish anything, except in the case of the few who were preserved in the faith, on whose account Christ had to preach, and we all still do, letting the others go their own way, since they want to belong to the devil.
Christ used this saying more than once as a proverb,25 applying it not only to greed but also to other issues, especially to doctrine. In their doctrine the schismatic spirits and the lying preachers insist that they are completely sincere and earnest and that their object is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. No one boasts or swears as much as they do. To such people He presents this warning: “Watch yourself. Let your eye be sound and not a villain. That is, let your opinions and your boasts be of the right kind, with no hidden villainy behind them. And do not deceive yourself with false notions and ideas.” It is people like this that tile devil usually bewitches. They are just like a man sleeping and dreaming. He is so enthralled that he cannot see that he is dreaming. As far as he thinks or knows, all this is really happening. He feels nothing as certainly as he feels this, so sure is he of it. And yet it is all just a dream, which vanishes quickly and is all gone when he wakes up. Although sometimes it seems to him that this is a dream or that he is dreaming about a dream, yet he is so enthralled that he cannot get himself loose or recover control of his senses.
In the same way such people are enthralled, who feel so sure that their position is the unadulterated truth that they are willing to pledge everything to back it up. And yet these are just the vain dreams and ideas of crazy people. It is dangerous, therefore, not to maintain the Word of God pure and simple but to let yourself be led away from it to human ideas, which look fine and can quickly take you captive. Once you do become involved with them, you cannot work your way out of them. So far as you know, they are the genuine Word of God. You insist upon it so vigorously that nothing can persuade you to let go of it, as is evident from the fact that some people have even lost their necks for it.
But this is not the place to emphasize this. Here He is applying the saying to the common vice of greed. Although it is a coarse and an external thing, yet there is no vice in matters of doctrine that can dress itself up this way and wear such a beautiful disguise. No one will dare to call it greed, but will look at it and praise it for its vigorous opposition to the vice and for its mildness, gentleness, and mercy. Such a person himself does not see that his own heart is deceiving him and that it has been drowned in greed. Hence we must examine the text a little further and use some rather obvious examples to illustrate it, so that we can learn to be on our guard. It is impossible to imagine the many ways in which this villain can twist26 and manipulate himself. Among Christians, too, this is a common temptation. It is incredible how few people are free of it; for among the heathen and others it takes a coarse form and is easily recognizable.
When Christ says now, “The eye is the lamp of the body,” this is an allusion drawn from the natural body. If this were without eyes, no sun would help it, even though it were to shine a hundred times as brightly as it does. Therefore the body has no other light to lead and direct it except the eye. Because it enables you to see, you do not have to be afraid that you will accidentally miss the bridge and drive into the Elbe or land in the hedges and the bushes or run into a fire or a spear; for the light protects you from danger and harm. But when the man who has no eyes has to go somewhere, he stumbles over sticks and stones until he falls down and breaks his neck or falls into the water and drowns; for he has no light, but total darkness. “So it is,” He wants to say, “in the Christian way of life, especially with greed. See to it that your spiritual body has an eye, that is, a sound insight and a good understanding, so that you know about your faith and your life and do not deceive yourself with the darkness of false ideas.”
For example, you may have an idea like this: “I intend to work and accomplish something so that I can earn enough to support myself with my wife and children in a godly and honest way. And if God makes it possible for me to use it in serving and helping my neighbor as well, I shall gladly do so.” You see, this is the light or spiritual eye from the Word of God, showing you what is appropriate to your station and pointing out to you how you should administer it and live in it. Since the body lives here, it is right and necessary that everyone should do something to support himself and to maintain a household. But be careful that this eye does not become a villain and deceive you. Be sure that you are doing this from a single motivation and with the one purpose of working and doing what your station requires to satisfy your needs and those of your neighbor, and that you are not using it as a pretext to seek something else, namely, the gratification of your own greed. Flesh and blood is a master at abusing such a light and using it as a disguise. But perhaps you have managed to get a means of support that you enjoy, and all you think about is how to keep it and enlarge it, so that if you have one gulden, you would like to have ten more. That, you see, is the competition of the other eye, the villain, which is not concerned only about getting a means of support and the necessities, but also about gratifying its greed. And yet it can put on the lovely disguise that it is not being greedy but is merely doing what God has commanded and is accepting what God gives.
Now, no one can see into your heart and judge you, but you yourself must take care that your eye is not a villain. It can happen very quickly, and it is very attractive, especially in view of the profits and earnings it brings. Love is thirsty and is never satisfied, and nature is inclined that way as it is. So the whores and the rascals conspire, and things go the way they should. As the saying goes, “The opportunity makes the thief,” or “Money makes villains.” That is why Christ warns His own so diligently. The world is one big whorehouse, completely submerged in greed. We, too, have to live in it, being tempted by these examples and allurements. Therefore we are in great danger and have to be very careful not to let the devil ride us.
“Now, if your eye is sound,” Christ says, “your whole body is light.” That is, all your activity and life, your outward conduct in your office and social station, is all upright. It proceeds according to the Word of God and from the correct motives. This makes it shine like the sun before God and man and gives it a good standing before the whole world. Everything you do is worthwhile, and you can use temporal possessions with a good conscience as something you have earned in an honest and God-pleasing manner. On the other hand, if your eye is a villain, you do not behave according to God’s commands and your office, but you step out of line. All you think about is the gratification of your lust and love for money. Then your whole body is dark, and everything you do is damned before God and lost, even though the world may speak of you as a pious man. For in its outward relations and life the body lets itself be led around like a blind man, and the only way it can move or live is the way the eye directs it.
In this way He seeks to warn us and to require of every man’s conscience that he watch the condition of his mind and heart. He must not tell himself the lovely lie that he has a good, honest reason and a genuine right to be so grasping and greedy. He must not try to deceive God,27 to keep Him from noticing the villain. It is as if Christ were saying: “You can dress up all you please; but if you succeed in deceiving God, then you have deceived a man who is wise, intelligent, and experienced besides. But see to it that you are not deceiving yourself and that your light does not become a villainous eye, which will darken and damn your whole life before God. For His vision is clear and sharp, and He will not let you fool Him with the paint you have smeared on.” And He concludes the warning with a threat, to frighten people away from too facile a use of that lovely but fictitious motivation: “If then, the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness itself be!”
That is to say: “Of course you can think up lovely ideas. You can say that you do not intend to make money greedily, the way the others do, but to do it in a way that is defensible in the sight of God and the world, and that therefore you cannot be accused of being greedy. Yet you go on living this way, and you make a light of your own for yourself in your heart. But make sure that this light is not darkness, too. Not only do you have unadulterated greed in your heart, but you try to cover it up with this light and to keep it from being called greed. This makes your darkness a double darkness, much worse than it was before.”
Under the papacy, for instance, there was a great darkness that completely blacked out the light of Christian teaching. All they taught was how works remove sin and bring salvation. But then they went on to defend this, to claim that it was the genuine divine teaching, and to maintain that anyone was a heretic and an opponent of divine worship and good works if he dared to deny it. It really becomes pitch dark when such darkness and error is decorated with the name of truth, and the darkness becomes worse with the addition of such light. If a person knows the devil and recognizes him as such, and then makes a god out of him, that is putting darkness on top of darkness and yet claiming that it is shiny and bright, indeed that it is the sun itself.
Now, Christ reasons this way: “If the opinion and teaching that you regard as light is really darkness, how great will the other darkness be, namely, the darkness that comes along when you practice this teaching and live according to it?” Applying it to this case, a man who has been overwhelmed by greed and who scrapes and scratches already has darkness in his heart. But if he goes on to pretend that it should not be called greed and gets rid of his conscience in order to avoid being denounced, that is really a thick darkness doubled. If a fool claims that he is a smart man, and disavows any foolishness, then he deserves the name “great big fool.” Or if an ugly hag claims that she is beautiful and dresses up in her tawdry finery, she only makes herself blacker and more disgraceful. As a matter of fact, all men are inclined that way. No one wants to have his sin denounced, but they all create a disguise in order to appear praiseworthy and precious. And so out of a single sin they make two.
When this happens in spiritual matters, it really does murderous damage. It is hard to be moderate here. When people first come upon the Gospel, they often become overgenerous in their contributions; on the other hand, once they apostatize from the Gospel, their greed becomes incessant. Until now it was the usual thing that when people began to give, it fairly snowed with gifts for churches, services, and religious institutions. Thus in days gone by emperors and princes voluntarily donated whole territories as endowments for such purposes.28 But now, by contrast, hardly anyone gives a heller. Everyone is so greedy and selfish that you would think he were afraid of starving.
This is the way the monks, priests, and canons have acted until now. They could never get their fill of contributions. If one of them had gathered two, three, or four fiefs, he would have wanted twice as many. And yet they all carried the same screen: “Though I personally would be satisfied with one benefice, parish, or bishopric, still I have to consider what is required for the dignity of my rank as a prince, a nobleman, or a prelate.” This opens up all the doors and windows, and he can take and grasp whatever he can get—everything, of course, for the sake of the dignity of his rank! But now the light is burning: he must not be accused of acting in order to gratify his greed but only in order to preserve the dignity of his rank. It is so easy to find a little excuse to light the devil’s path. And if there is no other solution, one will have to resort to saying: “I intend to accumulate my money in order then to endow Masses and services or to give alms for the support of the poor.” This really kindles a bright and beautiful light. Even as he kills himself grabbing, a man can go right on saying: “My intentions are good. And I have really fooled that old simpleton, our Lord God, and kept Him from seeing or noticing my clever tricks. I will get into His heaven before He realizes what is going on.” But I have also seen many people who have piled up so much that the guldens were just lying around by the thousands. Yet with all their possessions they finally died, and no one knew what had become of it all. It was greed that acquired it, and greed that got to keep it. It was devoured by rust and moths, and it was never properly used.
I mention this as an example to point out how skillfully Sir Greed can dress up to look like a pious man if that seems to be what the occasion requires, while he is actually a double scoundrel and liar. God does not care if you embark on a splendid career as a knight, and this will not persuade Him to enjoy the greed that you oppose to His commandment when you live as though you wanted to grasp everything for yourself. You cannot show off how magnificent and proud you are, and then say that you have done it for God’s sake and for the honor of the church and that you intend to pay for it with benefices and services. This would be as if someone pried open your house door and your treasure chest and took what he found, and then said that he intended to give part of it as alms. Oh, what a precious offering that would be! Here is the rule: If you want to give something to God, give from what is your own. He says (Is. 61:8): “I hate the offering that comes from robbery.” If you have something, give what you please; if you have nothing, then you are excused. But if you are greedy and grasping in order to be able to give, and you claim that is why you are doing it, you are being frivolous; for this is a light that you yourself have ignited from the dark lantern, to fool God and the people.29
In this way I could go through all the social stations, pointing out the decorations and the polish that give to greed the name of a virtue, and to Mammon the praise and honor of a god. But who can recite everything that the peasant does at the market or the citizen in the city or the nobleman in his office and on his lands? The one example that I have cited makes it evident enough and visible that the darkness is so thick you can feel it. The other cases can easily be judged on this basis. What about the bigwigs30 among the nobility? They are planning now to carry on practically every kind of business, including iron and nails. But we are not supposed to use the word “greed” to designate this sort of thing. Since God has given it, everyone has a right to look for a means of support wherever he can, “in order to maintain the dignity of his rank.” This, too, is a little light that blinds them so completely that they cannot see anything at all. Even in secular law it is decreed that everyone should carry on his business in such a way that others can still get along and support themselves.31 But now there is no room for anyone next to these griffins and lions, who monopolize every kind of business. And meanwhile they want to be called pious and honorable people.
As we have said, who could imagine all the tricks of this sort which people in every station and trade are mastering and using? What is the world but a big, wide, and turbulent ocean of inexhaustible wickedness and villainy, all made to look beautiful and good? This is especially true now in this latter time, and it is a sign that the world cannot last much longer and is on its last legs. As the saying goes, “There is no fool so stingy as an old fool.”32 There is so much greed everywhere that hardly anyone can get anything to eat or to drink on account of other people, even though God gives enough of everything. But that is a reward for the ingratitude and contempt shown toward the Gospel. As I have said, apostasy from the Gospel must make a man so possessed by the devil that he simply cannot be greedy enough. And on the other hand, whoever really has the Gospel in his heart becomes mild. Not only does he stop scratching, but he also gives everything away and is willing to risk whatever he can and should.
Well, then, we still have to let the world remain the world. Although it may be greedy and selfish for a long time, it must finally forsake everything and leave something for us. Or even if we have to endure poverty and suffering at its hands, still, like Isaac and Jacob among their brothers, we have received our fair portion. We have made it possible for them to gain worldly possessions as well as complete freedom from the regulations and annoyances of the papacy. They do what they please. This is Ishmael’s portion, the bottle of water that Abraham hung around his neck when he let him go (Gen. 21:14). But we have another portion, called a spiritual possession and a heavenly blessing, and so we are well taken care of. We are perfectly willing to let them have the great possession that they have, and we would not take it if they threw it at us. On the other hand, they want no part of the spiritual possessions that we have. So we shall hold our ground, and the inheritance that belongs to us forever. Let them strut around with their portion, which will disappear today or tomorrow. Let them deprive themselves of our inheritance on this account, though we would still be happy to let them have some. But if they deprive us of their portion, we always have so much that we can quickly regain the loss.
But let us heed the warning and not go along with the world when it succumbs to the false light, the villain’s eye, which extinguishes the true light and turns it into a double darkness. See to it that greed does not take you in with a sweet suggestion and lovely deception like this: that you intend to advance yourself or your children into a higher and more honorable rank and that you want to provide for them generously only in order to improve and exalt their social position. The more you get, the more you will want; and you will always be aiming for something higher and better. No one is satisfied with his position in life. The citizen would like to have a position as a knight, the nobleman would like to be a prince, and the prince would like to travel in imperial style. But if you would like to travel in Christian style, then beware of this idea as the most wretched darkness. If God blesses you and gives you success, do your job in such a way that your neighbor next to you may also be able to make a living and may enjoy your help when you give him a hand. For when you let the villain’s eye deceive you, you have already let the Word of God be lost and expelled by that other light. Thus one thick darkness is added to another, to make you so blind and stubborn that you are beyond help.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:177). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.