RENEW- Chronicles: Rediscovering Who We Are and Why We're Here: Sermon Study Guide #1 - Rediscover

READ 1 Chronicles 1:1-3; 2 Chronicles 36:23

9 Chapters of genealogy!?! When we come to places like this in our reading of the bible, we often skip forward or mindlessly tune out. What’s the point? The point is that genealogies function as links from the past to the present. Chronicles was written to tell us two things about our present lives no matter what time we live in: 1) The present is always a time of great possibility and opportunity for God to work in you and through you 2) The present is always  filled with very real difficulties and discouragements – sometimes so hard, we lose hope and we lose sight of God.

To show us how God can powerfully renew us in the present, Chronicles takes us back to the past. It is a re-telling of the story of Israel (especially the stories of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) that points us to how God has worked in the past – not for us to go backward - but to move us forward with great hope.

 CONTEXT

In order to understand Chronicles, we first need to understand a little bit about to whom it was written. They are called the “post-exilic community.” They were a group of Israelites who had resettled back in Jerusalem after what was the lowest and most tragic point in their history as a people – the exile. During the exile their land was taken over, most people were taken captive to Babylon, and the temple was destroyed. Everything was lost - their homes, their freedom, their entire way of life and the centerpiece of their faith. Having gone through the exile, the people were wondering, “Are we still God’s people? Where is God in all this? What happened to his plan?”

Along come the prophets of the exile. Their message - “This isn’t the end! There is going to be a return from exile! And guess what – all the stories you’ve heard about Abraham, Moses and the Exodus, the great Kings of old… the return is going to be better than all of that combined. It is going to be the most awesome thing God has ever done!!” When we arrive at the end of the book (2 Chron 36:23), the point is clear - you are part of the promised return! It’s here! It’s you. But the problem was that their reality wasn’t awesome. It was actually very difficult. Progress had been made, but rebuilding was hard, results were unimpressive and resettling was dangerous. They were wondering - Who are we, really? Why are we here?

SUMMARY 

The beginning and ending of Chronicles show us three major rediscoveries God uses to renew us:

REDISCOVERING OUR STORY

By starting with the name, “Adam,” Chronicles is telling us where all our stories begin. We all trace our beginnings back to Adam and find that we are made to be in relationship with God and to reflect Him (image Him) in all of life (work/play, relationships, mind, soul, body, marriage, family, on good days, bad days, all days). This means our stories don’t start with us - our story begins in Eden. If we don’t remember that – we won’t know who we are or why we are here. We are created, called and are destined for something great – to know God + to make him known.

With its conclusion, Chronicles highlights another major theme in the story God is writing in history and in our lives. By ending with the return from exile, the message was clear - “the exile wasn’t the end.” The message for us is that what looks like “the end” to us is never THE END - it’s always a gateway into a new beginning; death leads to resurrection. There are many ways we write THE END in our stories, when God says it’s just AN end. No matter the loss, the hardship or the trial, God can renew us with hope and purpose.

REDISCOVERING OUR MISSION

One of the biggest mistakes we can and do make and do make as the church is to evaluate the effectiveness of God’s mission in the world with the wrong metrics - power, popularity, headlines. The genealogies of Chronicles 1-9 remind us that from Adam all the way up until the present day through many years of ups and downs, in and through the sins, stumblings and failures of His people, through the valley of the exile, all the way to today, God is moving His mission forward. Even when we can’t see it, nothing can stop God’s mission to bring renewal to us and through us. God isn’t losing!

The genealogies also show us our place in God’s mission. We see the personal love of God (he remembers names no one knows!) right alongside the big purposes of God (9 long chapters of names!). God zooms in on his people. He knows our names, our situation and our struggles. But he also calls us to zoom out to gain perspective on our place in a much larger purpose/mission than our own individual happiness. We are invited to be a part of his great mission.

REDISCOVERING COMMUNITY

The genealogies of Chronicles also lead us to a rediscovery of community. From Adam all the way until the present God always renews us in the same way – not as isolated, private individuals for our own good but in community; in relationship with others. In these long lists, we find Abraham and Moses mentioned in passing right along with guys named Jobab and Chelub. Each person’s life is a link in the chain of God’s redemptive plan for humanity – everyone is needed, everyone has a place.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.       What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.      How might remembering that your story begins with Adam provide you with renewed perspective on the difficulties/disappointments in your life? What places in your life have you written “THE END” over, where God might be calling you to see it as AN end that leads to a new beginning?

3.      Do you sometimes look at the culture, the world or your own life and feel like “God isn’t winning?” How does it give you comfort and hope to remember God isn’t losing even when we can’t see how?

4.      In the sermon it was said, “Chronicles points us ahead to God’s greatest win in Jesus. What we find from God’s greatest victory is that love loses in order to win. God’s mission moves forward not by seeing things from a win-lose perspective or even a win-win perspective BUT from a lose-win perspective. Through giving up rights, letting go of power, serving of others and sacrificing to bless, God’s mission moves forward and we become more like Jesus.” Do you agree? How does this challenge you?

5.      How might God be calling you to rediscover your need for and place in community? How might this community group be a community that brings renewal to your life?

6.      Read Luke 3:23-38. How does Luke’s genealogy complete the Chronicles? Why is our connection to Jesus (the 2nd Adam) the essential link in the chain for our renewal?

 

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

1. I & II Chronicles (Daily Study Bible) by JG McConville. Great short commentary.

2. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 1-2 Chronicles by Mark J Boda. Longer but readable commentary on the book.

Flourish- The Sermon On The Mount: Sermon Study Guide #5- Cutting Off Lust

READ Matthew 5:27-30

In a culture that has gone through a sexual revolution resulting in the throwing off of sexual boundaries and the freedom of sexual expression, what Jesus says here sounds puritanical, repressive or just unrealistic. It sounds like going backward away from flourishing, not deeper into it. Is lust really something that we need to cut out of our lives to flourish? Jesus says, “Yes, and we need to be ruthless and radical when it comes to cutting lust out of our lives.”

REDEFINING SEXUAL FAITHFULNESS

Jesus’ definition of sexual faithfulness and flourishing goes far deeper than simply refraining from the physical act of sex with another person’s spouse (the technical definition of adultery). Sexual faithfulness is not only a matter of your body; it is a matter of the intentions of your heart; it’s a matter what your heart is looking to and for.

It’s important that we read Jesus’ strong words against lust in this sermon in the larger context of the Bible’s teaching on our sexuality. To be anti-lust is not to be anti-sex. God is the creator and designer of our sexuality. Jesus and the whole Bible are enthusiastically pro-sex. God created something that is intoxicatingly pleasurable and good and he gave it to us as a gift to enjoy in the covenant of marriage and to reveal something of Himself to us. The church has not always done a good job at defining sexual faithfulness - often focusing on preventing its misuse by ignoring its God intended delight and goodness.

With this context in mind, we can more clearly understand what lust is and isn’t. Lust is not the same thing as sexual desire nor is it the same as noticing someone’s beauty and attractiveness. To lust is to covet or desire someone sexually who has not been given to you by God as your spouse. Jesus’ definition combines the 7th commandment with the 10th commandment (you shall not covet your neighbors’ wife). Jesus is so ruthless when it comes to lust because it leads us away from sexual faithfulness and flourishing. Lauren Winner, in her book Real Sex, outlines three purposes of sex. Each shows us lust’s distortion of God’s good gift. 

1.      Unitive – Sex is meant to unite two whole people; lust leads us to objectify people.

2.     Creative – Sex is meant to give life; lust looks only to take and get.

3.     Sacramental – Sex is never meant to be about just sex; lust is only about sex.

TAKING DRASTIC MEASURES

Though many in our culture would say lust is just harmless fun and natural desire, Jesus says if we don’t cut out lust there are grave consequences. The more we indulge our lust, the more we distance ourselves from true sexual flourishing. The more we choose lust, the more we train ourselves to avoid the hard work of love (sex was never meant to be easy but the reward of promises made and kept). Jesus says refusing to cut off lust leads a person to Gehenna (“hell”) – a place absent of life, flourishing and love.

What are the implications of all this? It means we need to start by being ruthlessly honest about where we struggle. Nothing fuels lust like secrecy and shame. In a world saturated in lust-filled images, advertising and pornography, we need to “look at what we look at.” This may mean hard decisions about what we can watch and the kind of filters and protections we need in our use of technology. Though it won’t be easy and may make us seem strange, Jesus says, “Don’t delay!”  

FINDING SEXUAL HOLINESS + WHOLENESS

Though cutting off eyes and hands sounds like Jesus is chopping off pieces of our humanity, the call to sexual holiness is a call to become both holy and whole people. Cutting off lust is just the first step. When we cut off lust the real work can begin toward becoming holy and whole. One of the biggest side effects of the struggle with lust is that it often reduces our relationship to God to a single issue- Have I been sexually faithful or not? This creates an unhealthy obsession over one area of our lives.

The goal of cutting off lust is not to stop lusting. The goal of cutting out lust is the purity of heart that enables us to see God (Matt. 5:8). The more clearly we see God as He is – gracious, holy, whole, loving & compassionate - the more we see other people the way He does; not as objects to use and to look at in lust but as people made in his image to love.

The only thing that can drive out the passion of lust is the passion of a better and more satisfying love. A love that quenches our deep thirst to be fully known and loved - even in our brokenness, sin, shame and guilt. This kind of love can be found only in the gospel. Though we so often refuse to cut off lust and we direct our thirst away from God placing our pleasure over relationship, Jesus was willing be completely cut off and experience an unquenchable thirst for God (Gehenna/hell) – for the sake of relationship with us. This pursuing and passionate love of God is the antidote and the healing power for our lust and all its attendant shame and guilt.

In all our struggles with lust, He loves us still. It’s important that we balance this intense passage with how Jesus dealt with the sexually broken people who came to him – the woman at the well (John 4), the prostitute who came weeping (Luke 7:36-50), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He was so gentle, compassionate and always eager to extend forgiveness. The same is true for us. His grace forgives and changes us so that we can “go and sin no more.”

FURTHER THOUGHTS

Sexual holiness + wholeness for those married – Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-11. Married couples need to continually work on deepening their exclusive sexual passion and delight in their spouse. Those with less desire need to hear this passage tell you thata part of discipleship is your sexual life. It should not be ignored, put off or minimized. Those with more desire than their spouse need to hear that the sexual part of your relationship cannot develop without the other parts of your relationship (emotional and spiritual oneness).  

In the old marriage vows a husband and wife would say to each other: “With my body I thee worship.” The meaning of this vow was that with our bodies we show our spouse that they alone are worthy of our love, devotion and desire. Married couples should be enacting this vow with great pleasure and frequency.

Sexual holiness + wholeness for those who are single – Read 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. Sexual celibacy (temporary or as lifetime calling) is not only extremely difficult in our culture, it is also often devalued by the church (sometimes in an attempt to restore God’s design for sex in marriages). The apostle Paul (who was single) says seasons of singleness should be honored as seasons to develop holiness in both body and spirit; seasons of focused spiritual development (7:34).

Celibate seasons are seasons to learn to live for God’s pleasure alone. Sex is not necessary to be a whole and fulfilled human being. Jesus was the most complete and perfect human being to ever live. Yet the living example of human flourishing was single and did not experience a sexual relationship with any person.

Questions

(Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, group leaders should use their discretion in how to best divide and structure the discussion.)

1.      What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     How did you develop your definition of sexual faithfulness and flourishing? How has that impacted your ability to embrace and live according to Jesus’ definition?

3.     Why is it important to place Jesus’ radical teaching on lust within the whole Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality? How does contrasting lust with the 3 purposes of sex (outlined above) help you to see how lust leads us away from flourishing?

4.     Why do you think Jesus recommends such drastic action against lust? What kind of drastic measures have you taken? What kind do you need to take?

5.     How does the passionate and pursuing love of God shown to us in Jesus have the kind of power to drive out the lust of our hearts?  Why it is important to see how Jesus actually interacted with sexually broken people?

6.     The 3 quotes below were shared as key principles for cutting lust out of our lives. Which is most helpful to you? Why?

·          “Lust is never your most important problem; lust is your favorite solution to deal with your most important problems" (paraphrased Nate Larkin, Samson and the Pirate Monks).

·          “Lust is the craving for salt of a man dying of thirst.” (Frederick Buechner)

·          "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." (The World, the Flesh and Father Smith, Bruce Marshal)

 

 

Flourish- The Sermon On The Mount: Sermon Study Guide #4- Addressing Our Anger

READ Matthew 5:21-26

In his most well-known sermon, Jesus begins with an invitation to the paradoxical flourishing life (5:1-12), a call to be people who live for the common good (“salt and light,” 5:13-16) and a disclaimer that He came not to abolish or relax the Bible’s commands but to bring them to their fulfillment for us and in us. Now Jesus moves into six examples of what all this looks like in practical everyday life. He begins by addressing our anger. According to Jesus, one of the greatest threats to our own flourishing and the flourishing of our neighbors is anger. We should take it as seriously as murder. It can be just as destructive to ourselves and others.

KNOWING THE SYMPTOMS

Though anger is something that everyone experiences, few people would say it’s a major problem in their life. What are the symptoms that we have anger that need to be addressed?

1. Minimizing “I might have a bad temper, but at least I’m not a murderer. I’m angry sometimes but I would never hurt anyone.” Jesus says these kinds of thoughts are symptoms of evading the true intention behind God’s command not to take life. It was never just about taking someone’s physical life but about protecting and guarding the emotional, relational, spiritual and psychological lives of our neighbors - especially the people closest to us.

2. DefendingAnger is not always wrong or sinful in the Bible. Jesus turned over tables and called Pharisees, “Fools!” God is angry and wrathful in his passionate desire to remove anything that stands in the way of his loving purposes for us and the world. When Jesus says “everyone who is angry,” it could be translated “everyone who holds onto anger, carries it around or nurses a grudge.”

There are two types of anger in the Bible – constructive anger & destructive anger. Constructive anger leads to constructive action in light of God’s desires and for God’s reputation. It says, “This is not what God wants! ...in me, in others, in a relationship, in my community, in the world.” It moves us to act for justice and reconciliation. Destructive anger leads to destructive action/inaction in light of our desires and our reputation. Destructive anger happens when something or someone stands in the way of what we desire or think we deserve. Destructive anger only sees obstacles to be removed.

The challenge here is that we are all too quick to defend holding onto our anger. We are eager to come up with reasons why it is justified. But if God is “slow to anger” shouldn’t we be even slower (James 1:19)? Our defensiveness is a symptom we have destructive anger that needs to be addressed.

3. Our Words -  In v22, Jesus says whoever insults someone is guilty of destructive anger and is liable to judgment. These insults include those that we say out loud and those that we say even louder in our heads. Insults destroy and kill a person’s spirit and soul. They damage what is even more valuable and precious than our bodies.

FEELING THE URGENCY

 In addition to showing us the symptoms, Jesus wants us to feel the urgency of addressing our anger.  First, he tells us unaddressed anger always carries a cost. Jesus makes a point in emphasizing the judgement/liability of anger as being the same as murder! Jesus also tells us that unaddressed anger always takes precedence in our lives. In verses 23-24, he shares a hypothetical situation to show us that we should deal with it as soon as possible even if we are about to start the most important thing in the world – even our worship of God. Jesus concludes with a story about settling a case before it gets to court as a way of illustrating the truth that unaddressed anger always escalates conflict. His point - address your anger now before it makes things worse for you.

DEALING WITH OUR ANGER

Instead of venting our anger or letting it seethe within us (both of which harm us and others), Jesus gives us a third option. When we are angry we should ask ourselves 3 questions.

1.      Ask The Why Question Many scholars see echoes of the first murder in this text. Cain’s murder of his brother Abel began with his intense anger. In Genesis 4:6, God came to Cain and asked him, “Why are you so angry?” God knew why. It was an invitation to Cain to see that Cain’s anger at Abel was a cover for his disappointment, envy and anger at God. To get beneath our anger, we need to ask ourselves first, “Why am I so angry?”

2.     Ask the Gospel QuestionHow did God deal with his perfectly righteous and justified anger against me? However I have been wronged, it is nothing compared to how I have wronged God. Whatever it is I believe I deserve, it is nothing compared to the glory/obedience God deserves and I have denied Him. However I am being called to forgive, love, it is nothing compared to the infinite love + forgiveness I have in Jesus.

3.     Ask the Reconciliation QuestionWhen we become aware of our anger (or someone’s anger at us), we ask ourselves, “What’s the first step I can take toward reconciliation?” Instead of focusing on the other person, we focus first on ourselves searching for ways we have contributed to the problem.

Questions

1.      What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions? Do you see any of the symptoms of anger at work in your life now? Where/When are you most struggling with anger? How do you minimize or defend your anger?

2.     Are you attaching words to people (either verbally or mentally) that could be destructive? What would it look like to attach words to this person that honor them as made in the image of God and loved by Him?

3.     In the sermon, anger was compared to a “light on our emotional dashboard.” When your light comes on, how do you deal with it?

4.      New Testament scholar Matthew Elliot, in his book Feel, writes: “When we get angry at personal offenses against us, we lose a chance for others to be amazed at the forgiveness Christ offers, and we lose the chance to suffer graciously, as our beloved Jesus did for us.  We lose a chance to demonstrate to others the power of God’s grace. That is ‘salt’ and ‘light’ to the world around us.”

This means that - our most angry moments can be some of our best Beatitude + Salt and Light Moments!  Read the Beatitudes in 5:1-12 and talk about how our anger can actually be a signal for us live the Beatitudes and be salt and light.

5.     CS Lewis said, “anger is the anesthetic of the mind… [it] gives us someone to blame, fumes away our grief.” How might your anger be a covering for you to avoid/suppress other difficult emotions?

6.     How does asking the “gospel question” put our anger in perspective? How has this worked for you?

7.     Is there someone in your life that you need to take a first step toward reconciliation with? If appropriate, share with the group and pray for wisdom as to what this first step might look like.

 

Flourish- The Sermon On The Mount: Sermon Study Guide #3- The Whole Bible?

READ Matthew 5:17-20

In this passage, we find the thesis statement for the Sermon on the Mount (some would say for the entire gospel of Matthew). Jesus’ thesis is two-fold: 1) The entire Bible – without exception – is the final authority on and the necessary guide to all human flourishing. 2) He came to bring into full reality in His life first and then in ours, everything the Bible says we should do - and in so doing to recover the true and full purpose of the whole Bible.

THE WHOLE BIBLE – ALL OR NOTHING 

By saying that he did not come to abolish the “Law + Prophets,” Jesus was saying, “I have not come to revise the Scriptures. I have not come to reject anything written in the Scriptures. But I have come to reclaim & recover – everything - to bring the whole & every single part, all to fulfillment.” This means that we don’t just need the parts we like, the parts we agree with, the parts we are comfortable with. We need everything. And more than that: Jesus is saying it’s all or nothing. If you take some of it away, you lose it all.

Jesus explains further. Until “heaven and earth pass away” not an iota or dot will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Not even the smallest punctuation mark or detail can be ignored! Jesus rules out selective obedience and acceptance. Though many parts of the Bible are difficult to accept and even more difficult to obey, when we are having a hard time with and disagreeing with the Bible – we take it on Jesus’ authority that it is true and good for us. 

THE WHOLE BIBLE VS THE RELAXED BIBLE  

Jesus says, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” There are two main ways we relax the Bible – we build fences around it or we draw lines through it. We build fences around the Bible when we approach it thinking, “I’m only accepted, if I obey it all.” Jesus is saying that this approach – that of the religious leaders of the day (Pharisees/Scribes) -  actually leads to a relaxing of the Bible. They counted up every command in Scripture, made lists of dos and don’ts and taught people, “Stay on this side of the fence and you are good.” “Just don’t commit the act of murder or adultery.” “Fast at this time and for this long.” “Here’s what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath.” The problem is that these fences create distance from the spirit and purpose of the commands in Scripture by trying to manage the Bible by creating check lists and focusing on externals.

The other way we relax the Bible is when we say, “I’m already accepted as I am, so I don’t have to obey it all. Just relax, what’s everybody so uptight about?” The most common expression of this viewpoint is seen when we divide the Bible into two parts – the Old Testament and Jesus. But Jesus, even in the part of the Bible almost everyone accepts (the Sermon on the Mount) says, “If you want me and want to live this sermon, you have to have the Old Testament. It’s a package deal. Only when you have the whole Bible + surpass the most religious people you know in righteousness can you even enter the kingdom of heaven.”

THE WHOLE BIBLE- ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH  

Jesus’ approach is something entirely different from the legalistic and the lax approach to the Bible. It is not “I obey, so I’m accepted” or “I’m accepted as I am so I don’t have to obey.” It is “I wholeheartedly obey it all because I’m accepted by grace.” The lesson of the Pharisees/Scribes is that exposure + effort = never enough. We need an entirely new approach to the Bible.

In order for us to have a righteousness that exceeds the most serious religious persons, we don’t need a relaxed Bible, we need a fulfilled Bible. Jesus did not say - I came to enforce the whole Bible on you, but “I came to fulfill” the whole Bible for you. Understanding the difference between these two things is the key to the Christian life. The lesson of the Pharisees and Scribes is that exposure + effort is not enough to change us. We need to be changed from the inside to love what God loves and to joyfully surrender full reign over our lives to Him. The heart is changed as we see how Jesus fulfilled the Bible for us - through His perfect obedience, his sacrificial death and His empowering work in us (see Romans 8:1-4).

Questions

1.      What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions? Where do you stand regarding acceptance and submission to the whole Bible? In what ways do you opt for or struggle with selective acceptance and obedience?

Tim Keller writes, “Either it’s an authority over you or you are an authority over it. If there’s anything you dislike about it, it means you’ve put yourself in a position to judge any verse.” Do you filter through the Bible picking and choosing what you will accept or do you allow the Bible to filter you choosing what it will accept and allow?

2.     Jesus’ teaching here means that Christians should be able to say (about all their ethical and moral views), “I hold to this view and seek to live it out because this is my best understanding of what the Scriptures teach us about how to live and what’s best for human flourishing.” Where is this hardest for you? How does it help to take it on Jesus’ authority everything it teaches is true and best for human flourishing – even when we don’t understand?

3.     How do you most struggle with relaxing the Bible? Do you build fences around it? Or draw lines through it?

4.     What’s the difference between a relaxed Bible, an enforced Bible and a fulfilled Bible? How does knowing that Jesus fulfilled the whole Bible for us change us to want to obey and submit to everything it says? How does the Q+A below help us understand what this might look like?

Heidelberg Catechism #114 Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly? A. No.  In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.

5.     How are you currently exposing your life to the whole bible? How can you grow in this area?

Flourish - The Sermon on the Mount: Sermon Study Guide #2 - Salt and Light

READ Matthew 5:1-16

The first 16 verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount function as a two part introduction. In part 1 (v1-13), Jesus invites us to find the paradoxical flourishing and blessed life in ways and in places we would never expect. In the second part of his intro (v13-16), he tells us this invitation won’t make sense if we are only looking to flourish for ourselves. He calls his followers to live for more than their own flourishing but to live so others might flourish. Jesus paints a picture of the impact and influence the Christian community should have for the common good.

CALLING – THREE KEY WORDS

Verses 13 and 14 share an identical beginning. Though seemingly insignificant at first glance, these three simple words are packed with significance for the calling every Christian shares:

1. YOU (Y’ALL) – This “you” is plural. Jesus is speaking to a “y’all,” not to a bunch of individuals separately seeking to live out the call to bring flourishing to the world. A grain of salt won’t be noticed. A speck of light is easily missed. Collectively, salt and light are unmistakable. Every Christian is called. Every Christian is needed. The call is a community project.

2. ARE – Jesus doesn’t say “be the salt” and “be the light.” He says, ”You are the salt and light.” It’s a statement of identity: This is who you are.  What Jesus is saying is that those who are living the life of flourishing described in the Beatitudes (v3-12) WILL influence/impact the world for good. Their presence will be felt. They don’t have to do anything extra except to live the genuine Christian life and be present in the world. The impact will be inevitable.

3. THE – Here Jesus doesn’t say you are “a” salt or “a” light but clearly gives his followers a unique role in the world as the salt/light. The Christian community/church is God’s chosen and appointed vehicle to show others what it looks like to flourish under His rule and to invite them into this blessed and flourishing life. The church is God’s plan A to display his glory to the world. There is no plan B.

INFLUENCE – TWO PICTURES

Jesus provides two pictures of how a Christian influences the world for good – salt and light.

1.  SALT - Salt was very common in the ancient world and was used for many purposes.  Salt is mentioned a number of times in the Bible and is also used in different ways. Two uses that were the most common – as a preservative to keep food from going bad + as a seasoning to give food taste.

TO BE SALT WE MUST BE FULLY PRESENT   In order for salt to have its preserving effect, it has to be rubbed into the food. Frederic Bruner writes about this, “Salt a centimeter away from food is useless; Christians not living for people outside themselves are worthless.” To be salt, Christians need to rub into the life of people in the world around us – especially those places/people that are decaying, deteriorating or breaking down. We can’t withdraw or retreat; instead, we must be fully present.

TO BE SALT WE MUST BE DISTINCTIVE   The one thing that should never be said about the church in a community is, “I don’t taste it. Oh there’s salt in this? I couldn’t tell.” The one thing that should never be said about a Christian on an individual level is, “Oh and you’re a Christian? I never would have known!” To be fully present but not distinctive is to blend in and lose our gospel influence. To be distinctive but not fully present is to be absent and lose all opportunity for influence. Every church/Christian should be both fully present and distinctive.

2.  LIGHT - Light is a rich metaphor which can also mean a variety of things in the Bible. Light reveals what is true and draws people in. As the light of the world, Christians are to be visible but discreet.

TO BE LIGHT WE MUST BE VISIBLE –Jesus teaches that there should be a visible difference between the Christian community and any culture it finds itself in. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount provides examples of what this looks like. Christians should be visibly different with regard to how we handle sex, money, relationships. Our way of life should reflect God’s priorities and draw people in to learn more.

TO BE LIGHT WE MUST BE DISCREET – Jesus says the spotlight is not on us but on God and his glory. We don’t live in such a way to draw attention to ourselves but to God. This also means Christians should not expend energy on denouncing others who live and believe differently. Instead of focusing on things we say “no” to, Christians should focus their energy on living out what God says “yes” to and let others see what this looks like.

 Questions

1.      What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     When you read over verses 3-12 (the Beatitudes), what is your response to Jesus’ declaration that people who live these out are the most powerful force for good in the world? Does this excite you? Does this challenge you?

3.     The Beatitudes shows us that we will often make our most powerful impact when we don’t recognize or see it; not when we are at our best, but when we are at our most broken (poor in spirit, mourning). How does this encourage you?

4.     When it comes to influencing the world for good - Which do you tend to emphasize more – being fully present or being distinctive? Why are both needed? Where in your life might God be calling you to rub in?

5.     What might it look like for you to be more visible about your Christian faith + commitments while remaining discreet?

6.     Why is it crucial we remember that we can only be salt and light to the extent that we go into the world empty-handed (poor in spirit)?