DUNCAN/The kingdom citizens in the world
Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 5:13-16. Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at the Beatitudes, those blessings with which our Lord opens the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord Jesus wanted his disciples to know at the outset that the life of holiness, the way of Christ, even the way of the cross, even persecution and death is the blessed life. It is the believer who has satisfaction. It is the believer who has true happiness. It is the believer who has fulfillment. It is the believer and the believer alone in Christ who knows and experiences true blessedness. The relationship between the Christian and the world is the theme of Jesus's message. And in verses 13-16, Jesus is telling us how we ought to relate to the world. And he knows that if we understand that the world is in opposition to us that we are going to have one of two tendencies. One tendency is going to be to withdraw from the world. The other tendency is to compromise. So isolation and compromise are both temptations that every generation of Christians face as we contemplate what our proper relationship is to the world. However, Jesus answers our tendencies to withdraw and to compromise by telling us that we are to be salt and light. Thus, Jesus teaches us two lessons from this passage. First, we learn that Christians must be distinct from the world for the sake of the world. Secondly, we learn that Christians must be concerned for the world.
I. Christians Must be Distinct from the World for the Sake of the World.
In verse 13, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” The Lord Jesus' words “you are the salt of the earth” are not only an exhortation, they are an encouragement. We are to be salt of the world. Christians are to be a preservative in a decaying and dying world. We know that salt certainly serves as flavoring, but in this passage, the prime idea is preservative. We are that thing which God weaves into the creation in order to keep it from decaying. In other words, we have a common grace function.
Christians are the salt of the earth. Jesus didn't just say believers were the salt. He said Christians are the salt of the earth. Believers have a function which is beneficial to the world. So friends, how are you to relate to this world that's going to persecute you? You are to relate to them by being distinctive so that you can be a blessing to them. And that means we as Christians must hate the world without hating the world. We really and truly must hate the lawlessness and opposition to God which manifests itself in society and in the hearts of men and women. We should see it for what it is: open rebellion against the living God. And yet we are never given the option to oppose and confront and resist that lawless thinking and behaving without loving. We are distinctive precisely because we want to love them with a tough love, with a real love, with a love that does not gloss over real distinctions, but with a love which acts in their best interest. In fact, we say "no" to the world and to its wickedness, precisely because we want to say "yes" to the world, precisely because we want the world to taste the blessings that Christ speaks of in the beatitudes.
So that is our posture. Even though the world opposes us and persecutes us, we are distinct from the world so that the world might experience blessing. We love the world, but we do not love the ways of the world. And we are not enticed by the desires of the world. And that is going to exhibit itself in a willingness to say that there are distinctions. That all truth is not equal. That all roads do not lead up the mountain. That all lifestyles are not acceptable. If we are going to be salt, we must be distinct. We must not give into the mindset of the world. We must not compromise. God has called us to be the salt of the earth.
II. Christians Must Be Concerned for the World.
In verses 14-15, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Christians must be concerned for the world, showing that concern by manifesting the truth in word and deed. And so the second great principle that we learn is not simply that we must hate the world without hating the world, but we must learn to love the world without loving the world. That's what Jesus is saying here. Our love must be in accordance with truth, and it must be without compromise. We must truly have a concern for people. We must truly love them in the sense of looking out for their best interests. Not simply feeling kindly toward them, but tangibly looking out for their best interests. But even as we do so we must not love at the compromise of truth or else our love ceases to be love.
To love is not to condone sin. It is not loving to say, “God will accept you no matter how you live toward Him, no matter how you relate to Christ.” My friends, it is loving to say, “That way of living is in opposition to God, and I love you so much that I risk your rejection of me to tell you so.” It is not loving to say, “We must embrace every lifestyle because how can we be judgmental about people in the way they choose to live.” Instead it is loving to say, “Your behavior will destroy you, and it is an affront to God, and you must embrace Him if you would find the grace of forgiveness." That is the love that Christ is calling us to in this passage.
Finally, Jesus says in verse 16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” We are God's people. We are salt and light. That's God’s estimation of us. We do not want to see the people of the world consumed by their own self-destructive rebellion against God. As we say "yes" to the world, we say "no" to its ways and call the world to follow the way of Christ because, as believers, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.