Before leaving the world, Jesus commissioned his followers with these amazing words, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John 20:21). By exploring the purpose of Jesus’ mission, we gain insight into what he had in mind for his followers.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46; cf. John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus also reminded his disciples that they are sent with this purpose: “You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14).
With two metaphors, in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus described how his followers stand in relation to the world:
- “You are the salt of the earth…” verse 13
- “You are the light of the world…” verse 14
These are identity markers for those who follow Jesus. They distinguish two communities—two groups of people, and this is the only distinction within humanity that matters to God. But who are the two groups? We have: “You” and “the earth” or “You” and “the world.” The “you” refers to the true followers of Jesus Christ as described in the eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) (the believers). The earth and world refer to the entire sphere of lost humanity (unbelievers)–those who have not trusted in Christ and therefore, remain in darkness.
Here Jesus focused on the intended influence of his followers in the World. Jesus moved from third person address in the beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” to second person address when he said, “You are the salt….” This order reminds us that character (beatitudes) proceeds influence (salt and light);
The Disciple’s Influence (Matthew 5:13-16)
From Character (Matthew 5:3-12) to Influence (5:13-16)
When Jesus shifted to second person address: “You are”, He did not speak in a vacuum. The people described in the beatitudes are the only ones who hold right to the designations “salt” and “light.” A mere professing christianity that lacks these qualities cannot be salt and light to the world.
Temptation – The last beatitude declared blessed those who are persecuted (verses 10-12). This indicates that Jesus’ disciples lead a provokingly different lifestyle. Living for the sake of righteousness or for “Christ’s sake” often invites hostile response from the world. But when the world responds with hostility, the disciple is tempted to run for cover. This is the temptation Jesus addresses in the metaphors of salt and light.
Illustrations – The three illustrations (salt, city and lamp), admonish Jesus’ disciples to face the pressures of discipleship realizing their vital role in the world. (The world has daily need of you!!) Discipleship and mission are inseparable!
Call – Matthew 5:13-16 is the high call for the followers of Jesus to recognize their influential role in the world. Three things emerge about our influence as His disciples. It is DISTINCTIVE in value (as salt from that which it permeates); It is EXTENSIVE in scope; It is VITAL in importance (as salt and light are to daily living). We must view ourselves in this way (see: John 20:21).
- Thought: “A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him.” (D. Bonhoeffer)
Six sets of two
Two communities: (That is the biblical division of the human race.)
- You – Jesus’ disciples as described in the beatitudesMatthew 5:3-12 – Character. Character comes before influence. 5:13-16 – Influence (strategic deployment)
- The earth, the world – used by Jesus to denote the entire sphere of lost humanity or the entire sphere of human existence. The scope of their mission, “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Two metaphors: Jesus attaches to each metaphor an affirmation and a condition.
- Affirmation – “You are” salt, light.
- Condition – Salt must retain its saltiness; light must be allowed to shine. Jesus’ disciples are likened to two common domestic commodities which were indispensible to the everyday lives of the hearers…
- Light (a lamp on a lampstand and a well-lit city on a hill.)
These metaphors communicate a…
Two-fold dilemma of the world
- A corrupt place in need of salt.
- A dark place in need of light.
This communicates a…
Two-fold role of the disciples
- To deter decay and corruption as salt (moral/social)
- Denunciation- We must be a deterrent to social and moral deterioration. “Sometimes standards slip and slide in a community for want of a clear Christian protest.” John Stott
2. To dispel darkness (sin/unbelief) with light.
Proclamation—dispensing the light of God’s truth.
To fulfill this two-fold role…
- Distinction (provokingly different): Salt is effective only because it is distinct from that which it permeates.
- Contact: Salt is of no value apart from the meat it must preserve. Light must shine where the darkness has fallen.
Paralleling the two necessities we have a…
- Seeking to gain distinction through isolation from the world (meet, eat, retreat) or “holy huddle” (us 4, no more, shut the door) Philippians 2:14-15; I Peter 1:15-16
- Seeking influence through accommodation of the world, taking our cue from the culture.
This is our challenge
- Maintaining permeating contact without contamination (cf. James 1:27)
- Living a provokingly different lifestyle in values, morality, attitudes, and speech.
- Yet discerning where to draw the lines of distinction— so as to make a difference for Christ (cf. I Peter 1:15-16).
4 point view of our influence for Christ
- The Church is God’s primary tool for a restraining influence on evil in the world.
- God has ordained two other institutions for this purpose: a. Home (discipline) Ephesians 6:1-4; b. State (punishment of evil, praise of good) Romans 13:1-5; I Peter 2:13-17
- Problem: when these other God-ordained institutions break down, failing to function as restraining influences, thus fulfilling their divine roles
- Challenge: The church will more clearly feel the burden of their “salt/light” role in the world. Imagine removing all the followers of Christ from our nation. (Note: These are not days for playing church—we need to get serious about God’s call on our lives and get our priorities in order. We need to discern between our preferences and convictions.
- Works of relief: Because man is a physical being with bodily needs (hunger, clothing, housing, health care)
- Works of development: Because man is a social being with community needs (agriculture, economy, industry, political structures)
- Works of evangelism: Because man is a spiritual being with eternal needs (regeneration before reformation) God made humans: “bodies and souls in community.” This is the model!
Obstacles to our influence
- Distractions: Matthew 6:25-34
- Disloyalty: James 4:1-3
- Fear: Luke 9:25; Mark 8:38; John 12:35-36; Matthew 10:28; Luke 6:26
- Misdirected love: I John 2:15-17; II Timothy 3:4; Matthew 10:37-38