Sometimes, as we get older and busier and less willing to make time for basic exercise we find ourselves a little out of shape, and therefore less limber and more inflexible. When that inflexibility leads to injury, we’re unable to do simple things. Suddenly we’re not effective in our role as an employee, a parent, a neighbor, a spouse, or a friend.
It’s possible for our spiritual condition to mirror our physical one. We can get spiritually locked up, spiritually tight. That can lead to injury that locks us up and makes us spiritually ineffective. But not if we make it a point to stretch ourselves to stay spiritually limber.
Matthew 5 gives us a couple of ways to make sure our spiritual flexibility stays intact, even when our human nature might steer us another direction.
Jesus had just returned from being tempted in the wilderness when He noticed a crowd had gathered. His disciples approached Him, and Jesus sat down before them to deliver what we know today as the Beatitudes, or the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus went through a series of truths about actions and attitudes the Lord finds pleasing, things that will be blessed. Then Jesus told them two very specific things about themselves. It’s important to note that both of these are definite statements. Jesus says, “You are,” not “You could be,” and not “You should strive to be.”
Jesus tells His listeners they are the salt of the earth. The salt. Not some salt. Not kind of like salt. The salt.
He also says they are the light of the world. Again, the light. Not a light.
These things are an inarguable part of our identity in Christ. We are the salt and the light.
But what does that mean? And how does that keep us spiritually limber and effective?
Salt had a lot of uses in Jesus’ time. It still does. Scholars believe Jesus called His followers salt precisely because of the breadth and depth of its use and beneficial influence on the world. Most commonly, salt was a preservative, used to arrest corruption or slow down the process of decay.
In the salt shaker on the dinner table, salt’s effectiveness isn’t obvious. Its value isn’t clear. But separated from the shaker and applied to something in decay, its benefit becomes visible and measurable. There’s a visible impact.
Jesus addresses salt that has lost its saltiness. That’s chemically impossible. Salt, sodium chloride, NaCl, is a stable compound. But in Jesus time it wasn’t uncommon for salt to become contaminated with traces of other materials. When that happened, the salt was no longer salty and no longer useful. Jesus encourages us: Stay salty and be used for kingdom business; allow yourself to be mired in impurities and lose the inability to be used for anything. Impure salt doesn’t fight decay. Purity in our walk, in our thoughts, in our theology is important not just for us, but for those we hope to impact. That’s why Matthew 5:8 celebrates the pure in heart, saying they will see God.
Light also had a number of meaning and applications in Jesus’ time. He focused on two aspects of light: the city on the hill and the lamp on the stand. Jesus made it clear light is most effective when it can be seen. It’s ineffective if it’s hidden. It’s of little value in a place that’s already well lit. Likewise, our Christianity makes little difference if no one knows we’re followers of Christ, or if we don’t get out of our Christian circle and interact with those who don’t know Jesus. If we’re surrounded by other light are we there for illumination, or are we there for decoration? But in a dark place, even if our light isn’t all that bright, it makes a tremendous difference.
One aspect of our light is our good works. The goal of good works is that they would be visible, and through that visibility bring glory to God – while being careful not to steal that glory for ourselves.
To be effective, we have to engage those who do not Christ – we do that by being light. And for our engagement to make a difference it has to be distinct – not salt that has been contaminated by impurities, but pure salt that slows down the process of decay.
Ministry is messy. To arrest decay, salt has to come into contact with things that are in decay. To light the darkness, the light has to be brought into that darkness. Doing these things will stretch you. And stretching will keep you spiritually limber. And being limber helps you remain effective.
You are, we are, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let’s not lose what makes us salty or hide what makes us light. Let’s take it boldly to those who need the grace and truth Jesus offers.
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