Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13,14) Part 2

In part two of this study, we return to Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount about how His followers were to live in this world.  He said in Matthew 5:14-16:

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

In Scripture, we read that Jesus declared Himself to be the light of the world at least twice.  Interestingly, in John 9:5 He said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  The implication of that statement is that when He was no longer in the world, someone else would take over as the light of the world.  And we see from Matthew 5:14-16 that the "someone" is us!

Jesus actually uses two metaphors to illustrate the truth that His followers were to be the light of the world.  The first was a city on a hill.  The second was a lamp in a house.  

I can remember times when I was driving in the desert Southwest late at night where the road was pitch black, the terrain on either side of the road was pitch black and the sky was pitch black.  Mile after mile after mile of lonely travel through lonely country, trying to make it to a town with a motel where I could finally stop and get some rest.  With eyes drowsy, I would finally see a slight brightening on the horizon and the mileage sign would tell me that my destination was getting closer.  As I would near the city, the sky grew brighter, there would be more lighted billboards and other telltale signs of civilization until finally I could make out the street lights and building lights of the town.  What a relief!

Isn't that what we are to be in a dark, lonely world?

God wants us to be a welcome sight, a place of rest, a beacon of good news in a fallen world to lost people, weary from the lonely journey in a desert land without a city on a hill that can't be hidden because it is shining so brightly in the darkness.

We are also to be like a lamp in a house.  I don't know about you, but I love lamps.  Forget fluorescent lights.  Give me a small lamp on a bookshelf or a brass lamp on a table with the warm glow reflecting on the wood.  Walking into a dark, cold room and turning on one of these lights changes my mood and the whole atmosphere of the room instantly.  It even feels warmer when there is light.  The uneasiness of coming into a dark area is replaced by the assurance that all is safe.  The anxiety of tripping over something or bumping into furniture dissolves into confidence and security.

Light is warm.  Light is welcoming.  Light brings safety.  Light exposes and dispels darkness.  Light shows the way to walk.  Light enables us to see others as they are.  Light is pure and clean.

Light, in fact, is one of the metaphors the Bible uses of God Himself.  1 John 1:5 says, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all."

And because we have been born again and smuggled out of the domain of darkness into God's kingdom (Colossians 1:13), we are "containers" of God, the Light, and are meant to radiate who He is to a dark world.  

Ephesians 5:8-11 says, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them."

What a significant calling!  Now that Jesus has ascended to heaven, He has placed His mantle of being the light of the world on us!  And now we can let our light shine before men so that they will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.  When you allow God, who is Light, to fill you with His goodness, righteousness and truth, it will overflow in good deeds to people around you.  And you will so radiate the bright, warm, welcoming love of God that people will know that God the Father is real and that He cares.

So don't hide the light!  Tell people what a wonderful Father we have and demonstrate His love by meeting the needs of the needy around you and speaking truth into the darkness you encounter.  And you will shine like a city on a dark night or a lamp in a dark house.

The question is not, "Are you light?"  You are light in the Lord!  The question is, "Will you shine?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13,14)

Today's Scriptural truths teach us a very important concept:  With God's blessings come expectations; with honor comes responsibility.  Let's take a look at what Jesus had to say about us in its context:

"You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).

As you may recall, Matthew 5 is the beginning of our Lord's "Sermon on the Mount".  Prior to today's teaching, Jesus had declared (in Matthew 5:3-12) the character qualities of those in the kingdom of God and the blessings ("Blessed are ...") that result from those qualities...even though in this world, kingdom-livers are likely to be persecuted by men for those very same qualities God commends.

Jesus proceeds then to use two metaphors to describe what His people are to look like and how they are to act, including His expectations inherent with those descriptions...salt and light.  We will look at the first metaphor today and tackle the second next time.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth.  Though you don't hear it much anymore, in bygone days people (especially men) that were looked upon as really good, giving, caring people were referred to as "the salt of the earth," as in, "Hey, there goes Jim, he's the salt of the earth!"  It was clearly a compliment.

Jesus's metaphor would have called a somewhat different, though related, picture to mind in the first century.  First of all, salt was a very valuable substance.  In fact, Roman soldiers at that time were paid in salt, called a salarium (Latin for salt).  That is actually where we get our English word "salary".  Pretty cool, huh?

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying we are very valuable!

Second, covenants or business contracts in the first century were sealed with an exchange of salt, signifying the binding nature of the agreement.  God makes covenants with us and salt beautifully symbolizes that God's covenants, including marriage covenants, are forever.  In a day (both then and now) where people find it very easy to break covenants, promises and contracts, salt reminds us that we are to be people of faithfulness and keep our word, like God does.

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying we are a picture, a reflection, of God's faithfulness to His covenants and promises.

Third, salt was used in the first century to preserve food (especially meat, like fish) from corruption, since there was no refrigeration.  Salted fish didn't rot.  And salted societies don't either.

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying that we have been placed in society as agents of moral and ethical purity that are to stem the tide of sinful our families, places of employment, in our government...wherever we are.  We do that by how we live (and don't live!) and by what we say (and don't say!).

So, as you can see, when Jesus said that we are "the salt of the earth", He was saying a lot more than "he's a great guy".  He was saying that we are of high, high value to Him and to society and that we are to faithfully live as examples of God's faithfulness to His promises, stemming the tide of (or at least slowing down) the rotting of society due to sin!  

That is significant!  Our lives are clearly VERY significant in Christ.

Jesus, however, warned us that our identity as salt can go south pretty easily.  We can lose our saltiness.

How is that possible?  Salt by its very nature is...well...salty.  The only way salt can lose its saltiness is if it gets mixed with other stuff (as it did in the first century), like sand, dust,  and dirt.

Hopefully you get the picture.  When our lives become so infiltrated by the non-kingdom values and practices of the culture around us, we lose our saltiness.  We cease being a good representative of God and His kingdom faithfulness.  We cease being effective in stemming the tide of corruption around us.  We lose our value to God as an agent of preservation in society.

In the first century, such diluted, polluted salt was just chucked into the streets,where people walked all over it.  And isn't it true that un-salty Christians are ultimately devalued, disrespected and disregarded by the people around them, being viewed as hypocrites?

Brother or sister in Christ, you most certainly did not learn Christ that way!  If the Holy Spirit is showing you today that you have allowed the things of this life to dull your saltiness, there is still time to change.  Repentance...a change of your mind leading to a change in your life ...leads to restoration...a return to usefulness in the kingdom of God.   

So, if you are in Christ, the question today is not "Are you salt?"  You are!

The question is, "Are you salty?"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)

When our kids were little, I used a coin to demonstrate a crucial biblical truth, praying that the visual and tactile illustration would help plant the truth deep in their hearts.  I was teaching on John 10:27-30 (NASB) which records the words of Jesus:

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  I and the Father are one."

First, I would take that coin and put it in the palm of my right hand and close my fingers tightly around it.  Then I would invite the kids to try and pry my fingers apart.  Of course, since they were only five or six years old, they couldn't do it, hard as they'd try.  Since they already had trusted Christ, I told them that they were in Christ and that no one, including the devil could take them out of Christ.

Then, I would wrap my other hand around the first, symbolizing the Father's hand around Jesus' hand and again their efforts to pry the coin loose would be futile.  " one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

Finally, I would intertwine my fingers as a picture of Jesus and the Father being one.  A third time they would endeavor to pull my fingers apart and get at the coin, and a third time they would fail.

By that time they were a bit tired and a bit frustrated, but they got the picture.  We are safe and secure in the Lord.  Even the devil himself cannot take us out of Christ.

That is what today's Scripture also teaches, and it is interesting to note that it is by the same author, John.  He wrote in 1 John 5:18-20:

"We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who has been born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.  We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life."

In John's letter, one of the essential marks of a true follower of Christ is that he doesn't sin as a lifestyle (that's what the first part of the verse above means; not that we never sin but that we don't practice it as a lifestyle).  Instead...John continued...Jesus, who has been born of God, keeps us and the evil one does not touch us.

What does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all, we know that it doesn't mean that the devil cannot touch us physically.  In Revelation 2:10 (also written by John), believers were warned that the devil was going to cast some of them into prison.  In the end times, many saints will even be martyred (put to death) for their refusal to worship the "image of the beast" (see Revelation 13:15), a human puppet of Satan.  So certainly the promise of Scripture that "the evil one does not touch him" cannot mean automatic protection from all physical attack and harm.

Secondly, we also know that the devil is the tempter, accuser and deceiver and that we need to put on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the schemes (thoughts, mind games) of the devil (see Ephesians 6:10-17).  Every day we see sincere followers of Christ trapped in bondage, fighting a losing battle for their minds.  So certainly the promise of Scripture that "the evil one does not touch him" cannot mean automatic protection from all psychological attack or harm either.

So what does the Scripture mean when it says, "He who has been born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him"?  Basically, the Lord Jesus (He who has been born of God) keeps us from practicing a lifestyle of sin (because we are now in Christ and we no longer are under the power of the evil one like the world without Christ is) and the evil one (the devil) cannot touch us in the place of our new spiritual union with Christ.  In other words, he can't pry God's fingers open and yank you and me out of Christ and force us back into a lifestyle of sin!  We are "in Him who is true" and that is the place of complete spiritual Christ!

The apostle Paul was basically saying the same thing when he wrote (Romans 8:37-39 MSG):

"None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.  I'm absolutely convinced that nothing -- nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable -- absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us."

You're safe and secure in Jesus.  Sleep well tonight, my brother or sister!