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Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

I Introduction

Last week we noted from I Peter that our calling in this world is to suffer unjustly. This is explicitly stated in 3:9(Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing). Part of this unjust suffering is the treatment Christians may sometimes get when they do not participate in the sinful activities of their peers, family members, workmates etc. (4:4). But it would be wrong for us to stop there and simply imply that this is all the Christian life is or that suffering is all our calling. Do such texts as I Peter 4 imply that the Christian life is to be lived as an endurance against opposition? Will we constantly be reacting against the wrong that is done to us? Are we to simply get up in the morning and put our armour on knowing that we are going to get a beating from the unregenerate? Surely that is not what the Christian life is all about. No, it is not. Part of Peter’s point in I Peter 4:1-4 is that the reason there is opposition is because we are busy doing other things.

Today I want to focus on the positive side of living the Christian life in the midst of ungodliness of all kinds; in the midst of opposition and persecution; in a world that would not be sad to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ disappear off the face of the earth. (They would miss it if that did happen but they would not know that it was the Gospel that they were missing.) Christians must not get into a defensive mind set. Jesus Christ will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Mt. 16:18, Mt. 11:12.

When I was in grade eight, I arrived at my home room class one morning and took note of the fact that everyone of the 13 and 14 year old students in the room were as grumpy as sin. There was not a smile, a “hello”, a greeting of any kind. And I said to myself “Self, this is wrong. You should not come into the day like this. From now on I am going to enter this classroom with a smile on my face and a cheerful hello to everyone.” And I did. And it worked. It helped me and it cheered up the others. The point? You can grumble along with the rest of the world or you can do something to make your corner of the world a little brighter. You can allow the world to determine how you are going to live or you can resolve to live right, no matter if no on else on the planet goes there with you. You can spend your life reacting to what happens to you or you can resolve to live right no matter what happens. You will not allow yourself to live your life as a response. You will be proactive. You will make the first move and you will make it for the exaltation of a great God. Your life will not be marked by responding to what happens around you. It will be marked by initiative, proactiveness. You will not wait to see what will happen before you decide to do what needs to be done. (This does not mean that you see a need at your work for new furniture so you just go out and buy some , or … or … .)

So, this morning we are in the Sermon on the Mount and we are in the early parts of it where Jesus is setting the foundation of everything else He will say.

General outline of the sermon on the mount
1.5:1-12 – Faith in Jesus Christ
The beatitudes amount to a description of those who know Jesus Christ. We see it in each description of those who are blessed … .
2.5:13-16 – The Mandate of the Faithful
While we live here we are given the task of being salt and light. As salt we act as a preservative upon the decay that sin brings to a culture, a society, a people, indeed the whole world. As light we show the way to God, we demonstrate His glory – we live to declare, from the heart, in word and deed, the magnificent worth of God. It is important to note that this salt and light mandate from God is for those and those only who are described in verses 2-12. To start considering the instructions of this message of Jesus’ without basing it in the foundation of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, is to base the good works of this message in oneself. And that is where most of the world is and that is where very strong elements of the Church in the west are as well.
3.5:17-20 – Jesus, the Fulfilment of the Law
Jesus takes great pains to point out that the purpose of all the OT Law was to point to Him. He is the fulfilment of all that the Law was about. From Genesis 3:15 onward the whole OT Law is pointing us to Christ. The whole OT points us to Christ. Christ is the point of the calling of Abraham and all that we see unfolding in the OT story. Since Christ is the fulfilment of the Law we had better listen to Him. We do not look back to the OT Law to see how we are to live. We look to Christ. We hear Christ. The Pharisees are trying to keep themselves in God’s good graces by obeying the Law. And Jesus points out here that the righteousness of the Pharisees does not even begin to allow anyone the right to live with God forever. So, the beatitudes are about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And this section is about obedience to Christ – see verse 19. (“These commands” = the commands of Christ.) The people He was preaching to would think that being salt and light meant keeping the OT Law. “No, no” Jesus says, “I am the point of the Law. Here is what it means to be salt and light”, and He starts explaining what citizens of His Kingdom live like. That is the salt and light.
4.5:21-7:12 – Fulfilling the Mandate Given by Christ
After Jesus points out that His commandments are to kept, He starts giving them. Here are the commandments of Christ. Here is what the OT Law was really about. Here is the One in whom we dwell telling us how we are to live. Its foundation, its basis, its power to obey, is all found in Christ and the salvation that He so graciously grants all those who have faith in Him.
5.7:13-27 – Closing invitation and Exhortation

Having said all that by way of introduction to the Sermon on the Mount we go back to the verses that we are focussing on this morning – verses 14-16.

II Salt and Light

Verse 14 & 15 – You are the salt of the earth/light of the world

1) “You” is the word that gets the emphasis in the Greek. YOU – and no one else are the salt and light. You only … You who are persecuted for righteousness sake; you who are poor in spirit and meek .. When the world says be the opposite … ; you are what this world needs. Dear ones if we sell out there will be no light, no salt. It is up to us. If you don’t preserve the world will rot even faster than it is. If you do not shine then it will be dark. Note that if the salt is not performing its duty of preserving then preserving will not happen. Christianity is the only salt that God provides. Christians are the only salt that God provides. The influence of Christianity on a culture is what keeps that culture from rotting altogether. See the connection here with the piece of Scripture we were in last week. I Peter 4:4 “… they are surprised …”. That surprise is because you are shining your light before men so that they can see your good works and glorify God. See this in relation to I Peter 3:15 … . Why would people ask about your hope? Because you are living and reacting to the circumstances of life in a manner that demonstrates hope. And the point here in verses 14f is that those who know Jesus Christ are the only people on the planet who can make such a demonstration. There is no option here. You cannot have Christ and not be called to salt the society with Christian living. God does not say to those who know Him “Now then, would you like to be salt and light or would you just rather be on your way to heaven while being just like the rest of the world?”

2) Salt is a preservative. No one listening to Jesus this day has a freezer full of food. They do not can things and bottle things and add chemicals to it that keep it from going bad forever. They do one thing – they salt it. And the salt keeps it from going bad. Dear ones, hear the words of the Lord Jesus Christ here. Believers in Him are a preservative on the cultures in which they live. It is believers who keep the society from living in the full demonstration of their depravity.
It is one thing to look with disdain upon a culture that is godless, (and don’t we love to do that), but as we do we need to remember that our job in this decaying culture is to live in it in such a way that it is preserved from decay. If the culture is getting worse and worse it is not our fault – but it should at least make us ask “Have we been the salt and light that we have been called to be?” Has a godless world seen that there is a better way to live? Have they heard from us that there is a loving God who is merciful and forgiving and receiving and comforting and ever present to guide … ? Isn’t it at least worth doing a check to see how well the salt has been acting as a preservative?

3) Jesus is plain here that sometimes the salt may not do its work of preserving – see verse 13 “…if the salt has lost its taste…” How does salt lose its saltiness? Salt can not become less salty. So what does Jesus mean here?
While salt does not lose its property of saltiness it can get so polluted with impurities that it is useless. The salt has so much sand and dirt and poisons in it that it is useless to put it on anything because it will do more harm than good. The application is obvious. You are either a solution to the problem that exists in our culture today or you are part of the problem. And there is no middle ground. You can’t preserve something without remaining free from impurities. Dear ones, we need to take this very seriously.
I want to be useful to the Lord as a servant of Jesus Christ. But hear His words in verse 13 “…It is no longer good for anything …” Useless. Useless because I was so full of impurity and similarity to the world that God called me to preserve that I am only fit to be thrown away and trampled on under their very feet. Dear ones, how we need to hear this very serious warning. How this needs to grip our souls. We are in this community as a church to declare the glories of God to it. We are here to show a marvelous Saviour to a dying community I how we speak and how we live. But if we are marked by its impurities we cannot do it at all. But we shall not just be useless. We’ll be less than useless. We will be a hindrance to the Gospel having any attraction at all to them.

Meat that goes bad is simply behaving according to its nature. When you bring the meat home you know it is your job to put it in the freezer. If you do not it will be unfit for human consumption. Dear ones. You are what this culture needs. You have the Gospel and you have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to bring you to live in such a way that they will want what you have. You have a heart that will not be satisfied at what sin has done to the world. You are here for its good. You will look for opportunity to speak the Gospel. You will get up in the morning eager to alleviate someone’s suffering. You will try to make someone smile. You will show patience and give the benefit of the doubt. You will have a meeting with your spouse and talk about how to have a more God glorifying, Christ exalting, Spirit filled marriage that makes people sit up and take notice – because the glory of God is at stake in this. You will listen to people when they want to talk and you will offer to pray with them. You will make yourself a serious student of the Scriptures because you know that it is what the people you rub shoulders with all day really need. You will not be vengeful. You will be a man of oyur word. You will seek to demonstrate Him and not yourself. You will not chase after money like the rest of our society. You will not ignore your sins while focussing on the sins of others. You will be salt and light.

4) How much salt? How much light? Ezekiel 22:30. God will save the city of Jerusalem from utter ruin if He can find just one man who will be holy and stand in the gap between God and the people. The question is never “are there enough of us?” The question is, will we be faithful and know that God is always the majority?
5) You can’t preserve something without coming in contact with it. We are not called to separate ourselves from a godless world. We are called to separate ourselves from the godlessness of the world. The Christian’s life is not finding a holy huddle of people who are afraid of the dark and singing together until they feel better about how dark it is out there. Not at all. The Christian’s life is marked by faithfulness to Christ in fellowship with other believers and marching in to a world that He came to save without fear and in great holiness and taking it captive for Jesus Christ.

6) But how do we salt the earth? How do we shine the light of ourselves in the world? How do we charge into the world and take it captive for Christ? Those may be well sounding words. They may excite and inspire but there is no substance to them. “Go take the world for Jesus”, the preacher yells – and then he stops!! What are the people to do now? Jesus did not preach this sermon like that He told them See Mt. 5:16 – good works. And what would these be? The rest of the Sermon on the Mount.

7) See in 5:21 – 7:12 how we are to be salt and light in the world.

See the salt and light in:
5:21f – what angers us and how we show our anger
5:23f – how we deal with someone when we have been in the wrong
5:28-30 – how we deal radically with our own sin …
31-32- our marriages
33-37 – being people of our word

All the rest of the sermon that Jesus gave that day is what it means to be salt and light.

It is not difficult to find books and conferences and seminars and seminary courses on how to make the church and individual believers more effective in penetrating the culture with the Gospel and influencing it for good. But the first thing that is needed is not a strategy. It is a commitment to holiness. When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth He does not proceed to talk about getting more political power. He says nothing about forcing whole cultures into the waters of baptism at the point of a sword. He completely neglects to mention that what the church needs is cultural influence. He says “I am the fulfilment of the whole Old Testament, of all the Law. I am the culmination of every jot and tittle. Now then, go out and shine and preserve.” Take up your cross and follow me – and be amazed at how I will use that to bring in even more into the kingdom that you are demonstrating to them.

III Conclusion

Dear ones – this is what glorifies God. See verse 16. People who are saved by grace and prove it by the lives they lead. Being salt and light is not rocket science. It is simple obedience to Jesus Christ.

Dear one – how are you doing? Has your Christian life been a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you so that people see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven? Or have you lost your saltiness?

Are you able to preserve through your obedience to Christ and shine the glory of the Father to the world or have you become so full of worldliness that there is no saltiness there to preserve with.

Is this because you do not really know Christ at all? Have you a faitj that has not changed you? That is not real faith in Christ. It is a horrifying counterfeit. And you don’t have to just have a counterfeit. You can rally know Christ and the power of His resurrection in you and you can have One in you who is greater than he who is in the world. You need the faith reflected in the Beatitudes. And you can … .

You really are a believer, but you have allowed the world to shape you into its image? Isn’t it time to make things right with Him again? He will receive you. He will forgive you …

Let us pray.