INFLUENCING THE WORLD
We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because it contains a number of our Lord’s commands to us. For the past few weeks, we have been examining the beatitudes which introduce this sermon. We found that the beatitudes are a description of the apostles as representatives of Christ’s present kingdom. His command — which applies throughout the whole section — is the same. He tells them to rejoice because they are blessed. Even if they sometimes seem to be cursed — with poverty, hunger, grief, mistreatment, etc.
That introductory section of Jesus’ sermon primarily focuses on who the kingdom’s citizens are. In today’s section, we will transition to looking at what kingdom citizens do.
McCumber says, “What disciples are is covered in the beatitudes” (34). “What disciples do is expressed under figures of salt and light” (35).
The only command we have seen so far is REJOICE. Believers are expected to rejoice because we have a destiny that will make all our present suffering and searching worthwhile. But our king wants us to do something more than just rejoice. Today’s section explains what it is that he wants us to be doing as we live our lives between his first and second advents.
Matthew 5:13-16 NET
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
Both salt and light influence whatever they touch
In the previous section, Jesus told his followers that they are blessed. In this section, he tells them that they are to bless. It makes sense. In the Old Testament, God approached Abraham and told him that he was blessed, and commanded him to be a blessing to all nations. Jesus is essentially doing the same thing here.
The question that Jesus is answering here is “In what ways are the blessed in his kingdom to bless the nations?” To answer that question, Jesus brings up two metaphors. He says that he expects his apostles (and all of us who follow them by putting our faith in Christ) to bless the nations like salt blesses food, and like light blesses the things that it shines on.
Salt was so valuable in the Roman empire that for a time Roman soldiers were paid with salt. Our English word salary comes from the Latin word for salt (sal). Even today we talk about something being “worth it’s salt.”
Luccock says, “In an age when people have become conscious of how too much salt is harmful to health, it may be difficult to appreciate the importance of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt preserved food and gave it flavor. In the same way, the followers of the Christ would preserve the world and give life its true taste. … When salt grows insipid … (it) become useless” (31).
Salt was a preservative. In the book of Genesis, God told Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if he found enough righteous people in it. He didn’t find enough righteous people in it, so he destroyed it. Salt also enhances the flavor of whatever it touches.
Light exposes what is there. If salt’s purpose is preservation, light’s purpose is revelation. Light is essential in a world of darkness. The apostles were Jesus’ visual aid to show the world how God wanted it to live.
Both of these metaphors describe the fact that people who are part of Christ’s present kingdom are going to be responsible to influence the world around them. We cannot run away from the world, because we are responsible to bless it. We are God’s means of expressing himself to the nations.
Salt and light are not designed to hide themselves
The problem that Jesus suggests is that there will be a temptation for kingdom citizens today to fail to do what he is calling them to do. We will be tempted to keep our salt to ourselves and not salt the earth. Ironside said, “The disciples of our Lord are left in the world to witness against its iniquity and to set an example of righteousness. Savorless salt, like an inconsistent Christian, is good for nothing” (37).
We will be tempted to hide our light under a basket so that it does not shine on our world.
Jesus’ command here is for us to let our light shine before people. But what exactly does it mean. Are we supposed to draw attention to ourselves by acts of religious devotion? Are we supposed to sacrifice all life’s comforts so that the world knows how committed we are? Are we supposed to shine our lights on all the evil things in the world and condemn them, becoming — in effect — the world’s police force?
No, Jesus explained how we are expected to shine our light before people. This is how we are to bless the nations:
Christians are intended to show their influence by good deeds.
We must let our light shine before people, so that they can see our good deeds and give honor to our Father in heaven. Now, this is not legalism. Legalism says that good deeds save you. Remember, Jesus is not telling unbelievers how to get saved here. He is giving believers their job description. Good deeds are not the means of salvation, they are the evidence of salvation.
Now, Jesus does not go into detail here about what kinds of good deeds we are to show. This passage is just a general statement for us all to understand what we are to be doing. The more specific details will come later in his sermon.
So, for example, Jesus tells us that our good deeds have to be better than the legalistic practices of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). We have to do better than just keep from murdering people, we have to stop being angry with them (5:21-26). We have to do better than just avoiding adultery and divorce, we have to stop lusting in our hearts (5:27-32). We have to do more than keep our vows, we have to be honest enough that we won’t need to vow (5:33-37). We have to love not only our friends but our enemies too (5:38-48).
The influence that Jesus expects us to bless the world with is for us to be unlike the world. That is hard. We are born into this world and from the very beginning of our lives, it has been trying to mold us into its image. Jesus challenges us to be different. But the difference matters. If we are not different, then we cannot salt the earth. If we don’t salt the earth it will be a tasteless thing that is only good for destruction. If we hide our light, the light will not expose what it is supposed to expose. What is it that the light is supposed to expose?
Our good deeds are intended to demonstrate our relationship with God
“Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” Jesus is the light of the world, and those of us who have met Jesus have the opportunity to reflect that light. Albrecht says, Jesus “came to overcome the darkness of sin, wickedness, ignorance, and unbelief. Christians are the light of the world in the sense that they reflect the light of Christ, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun” (69).
The good deeds are the direct result of our new relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial atonement Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Because Jesus removed the sin barrier from us, making it possible for the Father to accept us into his family, we can now act differently. The good deeds that we achieve are not to save us, but they can be used to save others. Our good deeds can cause those who are looking for God to find him.
The ultimate goal of our influence is God’s glory
God is glorified when sinners turn from their sin and come back to God. Whenever the nations see us living the life of godliness, we influence them to come to Christ. That is how they will glorify God. That is the mission. As Meier puts it, “The disciples can cause the failure of their mission if they ignore others and live only for themselves” (45). Their mission is to bring people back to God.
Augsburger describes how being the light is our mission: “While light is to be seen, serving as a guide for travelers, it is basically to be of service. The disciples are lights in the world, not calling attention to themselves but pointing the way of God. They obtain their light from the One who is the Light of the world. This visibility and service is expressed by Jesus in two illustrations: the city on the mountain and the candle placed on the lampstand. The light dispels darkness simply by being present. As one has said, “It does little good to curse the darkness; one should light a candle.” And the motive is to illuminate the way of God for others, that by seeing our good works they may glorify God. For this light to be seen we live openly in the midst of the world as disciples of Christ, a visible witness of the rule of Christ or of the presence of the Kingdom of God” (68).
Senior says, “The disciple … is to live now the life that is to be realized fully at the end time, yet, through Jesus, is already breaking into the world” (73). Folks, the life we live now is important. Our witness is more than just telling people about Jesus. Our witness is demonstrating his existence and importance through how we live our lives.
Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996
Augsburger, Myron S. Matthew. , 1982.
Ironside, H A. Matthew. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux Brothers, 1994
Luccock, Robert E. Matthew. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press, 1994.
McCumber, William E. Matthew. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1975.
Meier, John P. Matthew. Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1980.
Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.