Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Commands of Jesus: "Let your light shine before men..."

Commands of Jesus: Let your light shine before men… (so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven) Matt. 5:16

Context: This command is from the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7). In Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a new and better Moses. Moses was seen as the Lawgiver in the Hebrew Bible (received the Law on Mount Sinai). What we find in the Sermon on the Mount, is that often, Jesus quotes one of the commandments or one of the other rules from the Torah (or Law, like 5.21, 27, 31, 38) and he expounds on it, revealing the Spirit that God gave the command in. He wanted to deal with our sinfulness (both external and internal).
Jesus is showing how demanding a holy God is. He cares more about our mere external obedience to a few commands, he cares about our heart. He was dealing with religious people who thought they could justify themselves before God on how they observed certain rituals (the Pharisees, that is). Jesus knows that external sinfulness comes from our internal uncleanness (see Mark 7.20-23). Adultery is obviously sinful but it stems from our evil thoughts. We think we are ok if we don’t engage in the external act of adultery (or any sexual immorality) but we can harbor these internal thoughts. These internal thoughts are what lead to the immoral sinful behavior. Jesus is trying to get us to deal with the source of our sinfulness (our hearts).

In Matt. 5:13-16, Jesus calls believers salt and light. If that is the case, then it must mean that the world is corrupt and dark. How so?
Tell me what you know about salt? Why would it be good for followers of Jesus to be salt? Jesus compares the world to meat or fish that, left to itself, will very quickly become rotten. The primary use of salt in His day was to preserve meat or fish by soaking it in brine (salt water) or rubbing salt thoroughly into it. Ever heard the phrase that someone was (or wasn’t) worth their salt? Salt was valuable in those days. A Roman soldier might even receive part of his compensation in salt.

Light is a little more obvious. We can see the metaphor for a follower of Jesus to be light, can’t we? How is this? Lamps need to be lit to avoid danger and damage if we want to be active after the sun goes down. That is the world to Jesus, a room in a house after the sun goes down.

It seems as if the world in which we live can become corrupt and dark. In this sense salt and light can challenge decay and darkness and actually transform them.
If a piece of meat goes rotten, it’s no use blaming the meat. That’s what happens when meat is left out on its own. The question is, “Where is the salt?” If a house gets dark at night, it’s no use blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, “Where is the light?” If society becomes more corrupt and dark, it’s no use blaming society. That’s what fallen human nature does. So often we don’t understand why non-believers don’t act like we do or see things the way we do. That is just the way lost people behave when they are left unchallenged by Christ-like behavior. When this happens, we need to ask, “Where are the believers?” Where are the saints who will actually live as saints in the public square, wherever that is for you? Where are those who see their mission as God’s people to live and work and witness in the marketplace?

How do we rationalize this with Matt. 6.1?
What were the “acts of righteousness” that Jesus is referring to? If we read 6.1-18, we get a sense that the acts of righteousness were giving to the needy, prayer and fasting. These are good things, but the religious people that opposed Jesus were doing these things with two purposes in mind: to attract the attention of other people and to justify themselves before God. These acts they thought were gaining them “holy points” with God.

Now, where is the public square that we live in? What are some practical ways that we can be salt and light in the world? What are things that can become “acts of righteousness” to us as they were to the Pharisees? How do we avoid doing “acts of righteousness” to draw attention to ourselves?

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