Do the Work But Forsake the Anxiety

“I have seen many youths, excellently brought up and very well educated, who nevertheless became completely corrupt once they lost their teachers and came into their inheritance, others, lacking in upbringing and education, were good men.  What are we to do, then? Are we to neglect our children, stop educating them, neglect everything? No.  This book [Ecclesiastes] does indeed give the appearance of teaching that we should neglect things and quit, but nothing is farther from the truth.  Rather, it teaches us to neglect our own counsels and anxieties, by which our heart is troubled. So it is that when the Gospel rejects the righteousness of works, it sets your consciences free, not our hands.  For God has commanded the work, but forbidden the anxiety.  Therefore children should be educated, but the care for the result should be committed to God, just as a farmer ought to do his planting but commit to God the care for what it will yield.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Ecclesiastes [4:13], Luther’s Works, vol. 15, p. 70. (Emphasis added)

Dr. Luther teaches a few significant lessons in this paragraph.  First, the fruit of our good works always ultimately depend on God’s action, not our own effort. Therefore, we should not allow anxiety to trouble our minds.  Even when we seem to do everything in the right way, the results of our actions do not always seem positive.  Second, even though we are free in the Gospel we still work in this bodily life.  Our consciences should not oppress us anymore but now we should carry out God’s commands gladly for the sake of our neighbor.

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