Introduction In the 1940s Germany was planning to invade the UK. The prospect of German invasion was met with a variety reactions. Some were prepared to submit or even positively to embrace it. Others retreated to the safety of the other side of the Atlantic. But a final group and the sizable majority of the nation were prepared to stand their ground and resist any Nazi attack and undermine any Nazi influence. These three alternatives, surrender, retreat and resistance are very common responses in conflict situations.
Presentation 17 Introduction Christians also choose from these responses when confronted by a world that will persecute, harass and ridicule them. Surrender involves diluting one’s Christianity so that it is made unrecognisable. To retreat means finding some kind of Christian commune or monastic existence where all contact with the outside world can be kept to a minimum. You do not have to live in a monastery to promote a monastic mentality, you simply refuse to cultivate non-Christian friendships. The third response of resistance involves engaging the world and seeking to influence it for God. How are beatitude men and women to respond to a society that is at odds with their value system? Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt First of all, Jesus says, ‘You are the salt of the earth'. He doesn’t command his people to try and be salt but tells them what they are. They’re called to be what God has already made them. A pinch of salt can seem so small and insignificant. It is cheap but it has unusual properties, which clearly outstrip its value. It has a pervasive influence. Christians functioning as salt will also have a pervasive influence. But how does salt work?
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt First of all salt is a vital preservative. Jesus lived in a world without friges and freezers. Meat was preserved with salt. The salt prevented corruption and decay. Until quite recently salt was used in this way in the U.K., particularly by those who had no regular supply of fresh food. Sailors had their meat steeped in a brine solution to preserve it, providing them with edible meat for months at sea. This illustration needs little application. The beatitude man or woman, functioning as salt, has a preserving influence upon society. Without the influence of Christians, society would decay at a far greater rate. It would become a maggot infested, morally putrid society.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt The influence of salt is taken further in Ez. 16.4. It was Jewish practice to rub new-born babies with salt as a hygienic measure. If hygiene was ignored at the beginning of life, sickness and even death could result, is Jesus therefore saying that you cannot wait too long, to become salt in society. Many young Christians make the mistake of thinking it best to wait until they find their feet, spiritually speaking, before taking a moral stand. Did this kind of thinking infect the minds of some of Daniel’s companions in their Babylonian captivity saying, ‘Don’t rock the boat just now. It will be easier to take a stand once we’re established, respected and valued by the Babylonians’.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt Only Daniel and his three friends saw the importance of being salt from the very outset. And only they made any impact upon Babylonian society! What happens when a Christian takes his stand for God. His presence has a restraining effect upon evil. A church elder shared that when he came into the work canteen, his colleagues language altered, the blue jokes were suppressed. He was having precisely the effect that Jesus intended. Christians sometimes despair over their apparent insignificance but like a small pinch of salt, beatitude men and women can influence the world in a remarkable manner.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt We find this principle again illustrated in Jud. 9v45. Abimelech destroyed the city of Shechem and then scattered salt over it. Why? In order to render that soil infertile in the days ahead. Now this is what the Christian does when he stands up for God in society. His presence means that his friends at school or university or those with whom he golfs or bowls or the neighbours in his street become less fertile soil for ungodly influences. The Christian has a blighting effect upon evil.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt A second characteristic of salt is that it seasons, it brings out flavour. Forget to put a pinch of salt in the potatoes and your family complains, ‘This tastes awful’. A dictionary definition of the word ‘season’ is to ‘give zest to something’. That is what Christians should be doing to a grey and depressed society. The purpose of Christian living is not to evacuate life of all its joy as if God were some kind of spoilsport. God does not intend us to bring a pall of depression but wholesome joy wherever we go - I do not mean the frothy, transient pleasure produced by whipping up emotions but a deep seated pervasive joy.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt Jesus had this zest. His presence raised people’s spirits. There was an attractiveness about his person that made his company enjoyable. So too the presence of God’s people should increase the flavour of life in different ways. Everything about us should reflect the wholesome attractiveness of Jesus. Our speech should be seasoned with salt cf. Col. 4v6. Paul teases out his meaning in Eph.4v29. ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.’ Speech is like salt: too little and we do not taste the flavour of the food; too much and we are left with an unpleasant taste of the salt.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Salt When salt loses its saltiness it is worthless, fit only to be thrown away. Instead of influencing men's taste it is trodden underfoot. There is a searching word here for professing Christians. It can be put as starkly as this; cease to be different and we cease to be Christians. Our ability to influence the world depends upon our being different. Not that we seek to draw attention to ourselves but if we are Christ’s, the differences outlined in the beatitudes cannot be hidden.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light Secondly, Jesus describes Christians ‘the light of the world’. The world in which we live is in darkness. Moral darkness. Man cannot see clearly. He has lost his bearings. In Ch.6v23 Jesus draws attention to this, ‘If then the light within you is darkness how great is that darkness’. Man is morally confused. Let me give an example. Many of those who were found marching on the streets to campaign against nuclear armaments because of their concern for humanity, later took to the streets to campaign for mothers’ rights to abort their children. Do you see the confused and darkened morality? They were marching both to save a future humanity and then to destroy its future!
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light This moral darkness is part of a bigger picture: darkness in relation to God. When we talk of ‘being in the dark’, we mean that there is something we’ve difficulty in understanding. Man’s great problem is that he’s in the dark as far as God is concerned. It’s therefore not surprising that we read in Jn. 1v9 that Jesus came into the world to ‘enlighten men’. Jesus made this very claim for himself cf. Jn. 8v12, ‘I am the light of the world’. Jesus came to make God known.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light Now Jesus also describes his followers as ‘the light of the world’. How can this be so? We said that the beatitudes are spiritual qualities, qualities which are found perfectly formed in the person of Jesus and reflecting both God’s character and value system. And so, when a man or women is converted and the life of Jesus takes up residence in his heart, these qualities begin to shine out of their life. Isn’t this why our children sing, ‘I’ve got a little light, I’m going to let it shine’.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light In the film ‘Pollyanna’, the principle character is fascinated by the effect of sunlight passing through crystal prisms. As the sunshine passes through the prism, the light is refracted, and all the colours of the rainbow dance upon the wall of an otherwise drab and darkened room. The Christian is the prism through which the light of Christ shines. A prism has no light source of its own but it transmits the light shone through it. Christians are the light of the world in this sense, God shines through them and reveals himself to a dark and despairing world. Martin Luther described Christians as ‘little Christ’s to their neighbours’.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light Jesus amplifies his meaning, when he says the Christian is like ‘a city set on hill that cannot be hid’. In the ancient world travellers did not have the benefit of street lights as they travelled in dead of night. What a help it was to come upon a lighted city set up on a hillside, a landmark that could safely guide the traveller home. The town of Clydebank boasts an area known as the Holy City. The flat roofed houses and the series of stepped terraces were thought to be reminiscent of Jerusalem. At night time the holy city was a recognisable landmark for miles around.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light The Christian is likened to such a city, a shining landmark in a landscape of moral darkness; the means God uses to alter the travel patterns of many, ensuring that they find their way home. Sadly, some Christians want to be more than a light on the hill. They prefer the role of a searchlight, that is constantly seeking out sin and purposefully attempting to uncover it in order to embarrass; ‘Wasn’t that you I saw staggering up the street singing last night? Don’t tell me you have spent all the housekeeping on bingo again?’ Lights of this kind estrange others rather than draw them.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light This is not to say that when we shine as we ought sinful men and women will not feel uncomfortable. Of course they will, for light exposes. Jesus constantly had that effect. But he never tried to embarrass. He took no perverse pleasure in the fact that his light made others uncomfortable as they became aware of their sinfulness. As a result many were not repelled but drawn to the light even though for them it meant exposure as it led to repentance.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light Again Jesus does not say to his followers that they are to aspire to become such a city. He tells them this is what they are! We might not be aware of shining for Jesus. Indeed, it is best not to be aware of it lest in our self- consciousness we begin to draw attention to ourselves instead of to Jesus. We are not lighthouses who draw attention to ourselves saying, ‘look at me!’, but those who are steadily irradiating the light of Christ which is silently saying to others, ‘See what God’s grace has done in this life.’
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light Of course it is possible for the Christian to wilfully obscure his light and so we have the exhortation of v15-16. Would a man place a light under a container which he uses to measure grain? No that would be stupid for then the light would not be fulfilling its function. Similarly its is foolish for the Christian to obscure their light. How does he do that? By concealing his or her true Christian identity at home or at work. By refusing to let people see where we stand on certain issues. By refusing to speak for God when we have an opportunity to do so. We can also obscure the light by failing to behave in obedience to God’s word.
Presentation 17 The Christian As Light Think of a window which had been allowed to accumulate dirt and grime over a period of years. Failure to remove the grime permitted only a very faint glow to shine out of the window. When we fail to keep short accounts with God by confessing and repenting of our sin, then the grime begins to build up on the windows of our lives and Jesus does not shine through as he wants. What help are we in that condition to men who are walking in darkness? No use at all. But who will warn the world of its danger if the Christian does not keep his windows well polished?
Presentation 17 Conclusion Being salt in society and light in the world can be a costly business. It is easier to compromise and submit to the world’s standards, it is less demanding to become a monastic escapist but it is only when we engage the world as salt and light that we are fulfilling our God given calling. It is only then that we begin to make the impact upon society which God intends. It is only then that we will effectively contribute to the well-being and growth of the kingdom.