Most mornings, I rise early and prepare for my run through my Austin neighborhood. Before I venture outside, I read from Scripture or a devotional book, then pray. For the past year, my devotional readings are from Saint Augustine’s (354-430 CE) book, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans (translated from Latin by Henry Bettenson, London, UK: Penguin Books, 2003), first published in 426. He wrote the book in response to criticism that Christianity was responsible for the Sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410. Augustine defended Christianity as the truth versus other competing Roman Empire religions.
City of God is a difficult and laborious read. I found it much easier to read a page or two daily as a devotion rather than read Augustine’s book as a novel. By proceeding slowly through this almost 1,100–page book, I found many nuggets of theological wisdom. On pages 203-4 (Book V, Chapter 14), Augustine quotes from the Gospel of Matthew:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven (5:6 NRSV).”
Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.1–7:27). Augustine wrote that the “love of human praise is to be checked, because all the glory of the righteous is in God … The love of human praise itself should be ashamed, and yield place to the love of truth.” Jesus’ intention is not that people see your works as a reflection of your talents, but your works are “converted to him [God], and become what you are.” For we are made in the image of God. Our good works are a reflection of God.
Humility does matter when we work because Christians understand that our talents are a gift from God and reflect God’s glory. Self-boasting is condemned by the Apostle Paul since it points inwardly and not vertically towards God. Our boasting should be about God, the giver of our gifts.
When we do good works, others will see our God-given talents that were developed over years of struggle towards mastering competence. The light of Christ will be seen through our good works. While others may boast or demand public recognition, Christians work with humility who give all praise to God. In a world with many self-promoters (John 12:43), Christians are called to be God-promoters. Christians are a contrast community that exhibit humility.