WHAT ARE WE HERE FOR?
It’s very important that we know what our purpose in life is, otherwise we go around in circles. Life is meaningless and unsatisfying unless we know what we’re here for and we pursue that.
At the same time there’s no contradiction between Ikthus’ mission statement and this message because this message is really about discipleship. You’ve heard it said that our only purpose in life is to glorify God and make disciples. But of course one has to be himself or herself a disciple first.
Before we proceed to the exposition proper of the passage we have to know to whom these injunctions are addressed. Who are the “you” who are expected to serve as the salt of the earth and the light of the world? The context shows that being salt of the earth, light of the world, refers to believers – people who have been changed by God’s Spirit, born of the Spirit, and therefore capable of bearing the fruit of the Spirit: poverty of spirit, meekness, purity of heart, hunger and thirst for righteousness (compare Matt. 5:3-8 with Gal. 5:22-23). This cannot be expected of those who do not have God’s Spirit: in our unredeemed state our hearts are deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jer. 17:9). But in Christ God has created in us clean hearts and renewed in us a right spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Only those who are children of God, who have the Spirit, are in view here (John 1:12, Gal. 4:6). It is the children of light who are in view in this passage (Eph. 5:8).
But there’s another implication here following from the fact that it is Christians – born-again and Spirit-filled people – who are in view here, and that is they and they alone are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words they and none else hold the key to the world’s salvation from moral decay and spiritual darkness.
This means Christians have a very important role to play and responsibility to fulfill in the world. If we fail to be who we truly are the result will be that this world will sink more and more into spiritual darkness. In that case we ought not to withdraw from the world but to engage it. Sadly, many of us have a tendency to run away from the world and find refuge in the church. The result is we fail to influence the world for Christ. What use is salt if it is not in contact with the meat? What use is light is you hide it under a bowl? Jesus did not say that we are be the salt and light of the church, but of the world! Moreover, in John 17:15-16, Jesus says we are not of the world, but at the same time he does not ask that we be taken out of the world. Of course, there’s the danger that by engaging the world we end up being contaminated by it instead of us influencing it for Christ. But that’s a sermon for another day.
Finally, by way of introduction, Christ’s teaching on our being salt and light should be considered in the context of weakness, contradiction and persecution, as can be inferred from Matt 5:10-11. If they were strong and mighty they could not be easily persecuted. Just like salt Christ’s people are small and insignificant but their moral influence is of tremendous significance and value, as we shall see.
Christ redeemed us for a purpose: to be salt and light in this world. That’s what we’re here for. But what does this mean in practical terms?
1. WE ARE HERE TO PRESERVE RIGHTEOUSNESS.
In Jesus’ day salt was used to preserve meat (they had no refrigerators then) – to keep it from deteriorating and decaying. In the same way we are here to keep the world from getting worse and worse. The way of the world is to disregard God’s commandments and to pursue its own lusts. The world’s philosophy is if it makes me feel good and it harms no one else I’m free to do it. That’s what the right to pursue happiness is, no matter how depraved or immoral this might look to others. That was the situation in Israel when they had no king: everyone simply did what was right in his or her own eyes (Judges 17:6).
If the world had its way the beautitudes would look very different. It would like something like this: Blessed are the acquisitive, for they shall get what they want. Blessed are the pleasure-seekers for they shall enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Blessed are the assertive for they shall get what they want, etc. This is because the people of this world have no king but themselves. But we have a king and his values are the opposite of what this world value.
The people of this world are ruining this world by setting up their own standards of righteousness. Whether you talk of political corruption or the disintegration and so-called evolution of marriage or economic or environmental disaster or what have you, the root is the same: greed, lust, self-seeking, doing what is right in one’s own eyes. The world’s theme song is: How can it be so wrong when it feels so right.
Our task as salt is to preserve righteousness in the midst of this dying and decaying world. We do this by simply being who we truly are, by living as disciples of Christ by and by bearing the fruit of the Spirit. by being loving towards God and others; by being humble, meek, compassionate, pure in heart, and contented with what we have; by seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness and not worrying about tomorrow. And when we start living out who we truly are, people sit up and take notice because then they’ll see the difference between us and them, and they’ll realize that there’s a better way to live than the way of greed and acquisition, the way of pride and cut-throat competition, the way of lust and unbridled passion. And hopefully they’ll want what we have and turn to Christ too.
To act as a preservative in this world and fulfill our role as salt of the earth we have to take to take seriously the words of Micah 6:8. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
But here’s the catch. To act as salt in the world we’ll have to stand up for what is right and courageously say what’s wrong is wrong. But if we do that, we will be persecuted, just like John the Baptist. In Mark 6:14 up to 29 we read that John the Baptist said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” For this, he was cast into prison, and afterwards beheaded, because Herodias held a grudge against him.
In our country today, we need, as Christians, to stand up for righteousness, especially in the matter of corruption, for this seems to be our besetting sin. A day before the elections, the wife of a political candidate told her high school children, “I hope the day will come when all this vote buying will no longer be necessary.” Of course, she cannot expect things to change by the time her children are old enough to run for political office because, in fact, she was training her children to do the very opposite of what she wished would be the case in the future. If she wants change to happen, it has to start with her. If we want change to happen, it has to start with us. This will not be easy. You will invite persecution if you stand up for what is right. However, this is the price we have to pay if are to be the salt of the earth.
A couple of women decided to take action regarding the prevalent and pervasive corruption in the government agency they were working in. They were swiftly ostracized by their colleagues and branded as self-righteous.
Some of you have heard of Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven. He also wrote a little book entitled The Treasure Principle. He relates in that book how a judge ordered him and his church pay around 8 million dollars in damages as punishment for his having participated in a demonstration against an abortion clinic. That is the price you have to pay when you act as salt of the earth. However, because Randy Alcorn stood up for what is right, he has become a mighty influence for good. His book, The Treasure Principle, became a best-seller. His other books, like Heaven and Money, Possessions and Eternity, are also well known. He has greatly influenced lives for the better but he paid the price.
I am not very fond of tackling controversial social issues in my sermons, but today I’ll make an exception. In the near future, if not now, we will need to make a stand regarding God’s design for marriage. If we don’t do this, then people will find it easier to disregard what God has to say in his Word about marriage. Jesus says in Matt. 19:4, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?'”
I believe that soon enough we will be severely tested in this matter, as to whether we are truly disciples of our Lord and are willing to stand up for what he taught. There will be increasing pressure to conform to the mindset of the world. I remind you that the mindset of the world is this: If it makes me happy and it hurts no one else, I am free to do it, and you let me be! If we oppose this, we will be branded as unloving, intolerant, uncompassionate, discriminatory, judgmental and hypocritical. We might even be sued in court for our adherence to God’s Word.
But if we don’t stand up for what is right the slide into spiritual darkness will be all the more easier and swifter.
One of my heroes is Deitrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Christian theologian who stood up against Hitler during World War II. He paid the price for doing so. He was executed at the age of 39. He exerts a very great influence upon the world today. He is the author of the Christian classic entitled The Cost of Discipleship. All because he paid the price. He was in the US at the time Hitler rose to power. He decided to return to Germany even at the risk of losing his life because he believed he would have no right to preach to his people if he did not share in their sufferings under Hitler.
Finally, we must consider Jesus’ words, “But if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored. It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Jesus is warning us here that if we fail to live differently from the world, fail to live righteous lives, fail to stand up for what is right, and instead we conform to the ways and wisdom of this world, we become useless as Christians and are fit only to be mocked, ignored and disregarded by the people of this world.
It is possible for us to lose our saltiness. It is possible to lose one’s preserving influence by losing one’s credibility. This happens when we fall into scandalous sin or when we conform to the world, so much so that others see no difference between them and us. What is worse is when they see that our lives are not only no better, but even worse, than theirs are.
Our Lord’s words here are quite hard. He seems to be describing here a situation that is beyond recovery. “Good for nothing,” he says. We should take his words seriously even if we don’t know exactly the extent of his full meaning.
I shall refrain from mentiong names or examples. However, speaking generally, there have been numerous tragic instances of disciples of Christ falling into scandalous sin. The result, more often than not, is that it was next to impossible for them to recover the spiritual influence they once had upon others. They could be restored to fellowship with Christ and the church, but their influence was simply gone.
Nevertheless, having said this, I am also reminded of Ecc 9:4, which says, “But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
David failed miserably when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrated the death of Uriah. The Lord was greatly displeased with him
because, according to 2 Samuel 12:14, “by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.”
David’s influence for good certainly suffered a serious blow after his sin with Bathseba. It would now be very difficult for him to stand up for righteousness, to speak out against adultery and murder. Interestingly, however, in Ps. 51, we find him confessing and repenting of his sin. Then in verse 10 he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. In verse 12 he says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” In verse 13 he says, “Then I will teach trangressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”
His influence for good, his being salt for righteousness’ sake, was greatly diminished by his sin. Still, we ought not to underestimate God’s grace in this matter. Even up to now, the life of David and especially his Psalms, continue to change lives for the better, in spite of his sin; but that is because God’s grace is greater than all our sins.
Therefore, the balance of Scripture is this: on the one hand, we should take seriously the Lord’s warning that it is possible for us to completely lose our saltiness and become useless and good for nothing. This will keep us from being careless and complacent. On the other hand, if we find ourselves in a situation of having seriously impaired our spiritual influence by our sin we should not surrender ourselves to despair. We have no right to render an ultimate judgment against ourselves. That prerogative belongs to God alone. While there is life, there is hope. A living dog is better than a dead lion. Dogs though we may be let us continue to hope in God, repent of our sins, return to him and continue serving him, not necessarily in the position we used to occupy, but in whatever position he now chooses to use us in, as long as he continues to use us. Who knows? In his mercy, he will still be able to use us for his glory.
I close with this verse, 2 Timothy 2:21. “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”
Don’t lose hope.