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.
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)?