Posts Tagged ‘Follower’

Salt and Light

salt_10990c

Matthew 5:13–16 (NLT)

“You are the salt of the earth…”  “You are the light of the world…”  (Matt. 5:13a, 14a)

 

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus continues teaching about life in the Kingdom of God.  This is the second passage in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the first passage, known as the Beatitudes, Jesus gave us lifestyle and character of a follower of Jesus.

In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  In the ancient world, salt was a valuable commodity.  In fact, Roman soldiers received salt as part of their payment, their salarium from which we get our word salary.  Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings.  Salt was useful as a condiment as it is today, but also useful as a food preservative.  In the Jewish religion, salt was also used for cleansing rituals.  In Leviticus, salt represents the relationship between God and Israel in the grain offering.  (Lev. 2:13)  Salt is a mineral that is essential for life.  And saltiness is one of the basic human tastes.  In fact, salt was so important to the economy of the ancient world that it was used as a medium of exchange throughout the Ancient Near East.  It is likely that Jesus does not have one of these particular properties in mind, but rather saltiness in general.

How can salt lose its saltiness?  In our modern society, we are used to pure salt, but in the ancient world, pure salt was not so easy to come by. Perhaps Jesus had in mind, impure salty rock which was used as a preservative could have the salt leached out of it after a period of time and then it was good for nothing.  Whatever the meaning of salt losing its saltiness, the next statement is clear.  Salt that is not salty is worthless and thrown out into the street.

In the next verse, Jesus uses the metaphor of “the light of the world” for this disciples, “like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.”  The light metaphor continues the salt metaphor and takes it one step further.

“Light” is an important theme in Scripture.  In John 1, Jesus is “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”  (John 1:5)  The physical contrast between the light and the darkness provides a metaphor for the contrast between good and evil, God and the spiritual forces of evil, the Kingdom of God and the world, believers and unbelievers.  Jesus later declared that he is “the light of the world.”  (John 8:12; 9:5)

Jesus’ life and the Good News of salvation bring light to those in darkness (Matt. 4:15-16).  In the same way, his disciples demonstrate the coming of the Kingdom of God and bring light into a world of darkness.  Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden.  You can see the city lights from far away.

In the same way, you wouldn’t hide a lamp under a basket.  Common sense tells you that you put a lamp up where it can be seen and where it can best shed light to the whole room.  In the ANE, the kind of lamp that was used was a small clay pot with a hole at one end, and a hole in the top to fill it.  It looks like a small tea pot.  The wick would come out of the spout.  Since these were very small, they would only give off a modest light.  To best use it, one would place it on a lamp stand, so it would give light to everyone in the house.

Jesus’ disciples are called to be the light of the world.  We cannot be hidden, because the very nature of the eternal life within us is a living testimony to the darkness around us.  Even one candle seems bright in a dark room.  Likewise the church is to be like a city set on a hill.  I like the way that Eugene Petersen puts it, “God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that  I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!”

The passage ends with an admonition, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  The good deeds of the follower of Christ will draw other people to live similarly and to glorify God.

When we share food with the hungry, we are the light of the world!

When we care for those who are homeless, we are the light of the world!

When we offer companionship to the lonely, we are the light of the world!

When we clothe the poor, we are the light of the world!

When we speak up for justice, we are the light of the world!

When we do such things in a weary world, we are the light of the world!

(Laura Jaquith Bartlett, The Abingdon Worship Annual 2017, Feb. 5, 2017)

 

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith

1 Tim 6_12

1 Timothy 6:11–16 (NLT) But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For, At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Before Paul closes his letter, he gives Timothy a charge to live a life beyond approach.  Paul calls Timothy “a man of God.” Oftentimes, we think of this book as a book for all who are in full-time ministry.  Certainly, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have this application, as Timothy is serving as the pastor over the church in Ephesus at this time.

Yesterday was Father’s Day (Sunday, June 19, 2016), there can be no greater title for a human man, than that of father.  But with fatherhood comes great responsibility.  Earlier, Paul admonished fathers as to how to treat your children, “Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”  (Col. 3:21)  In the Roman Empire, fathers and male heads of households had supreme authority over their household even to the point of holding life and death over those under their authority:  their wives, children, and slaves.

Its not so in our culture today, yet, fathers remain an important part of the lives of children.  While the role of father has been somewhat diminished in our society, yet sociologists have demonstrated that when it comes to raising children, children need both father and mother to thrive.  W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia, wrote, “But the view that men are superfluous in today’s families is dead wrong.  While it is certainly true that some children raised without fathers turn out just fine (I did), on average, girls and boys are much more likely to thrive when they have the benefit of a father’s time, attention, discipline and especially affection.  Boys are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law when they grow up with their fathers in the home…Another study foudn that girls whose fathers disappeared before the girls turned six were about five times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers than were their peers raised with fathers in the home.  And we know that kids – especially boys – are more likely to excel in school, and to steer clear of the principal’s office, when they are raised in a home with a father who takes their homework and school conduct seriously.”  (“Children Are Better Off With a Father Than Without One”, NYT, Dec 16, 2013)  Christian parents have an obligation to raise their children in the faith.  How much more should Christian fathers be men of God.

So, as men of God, we should flee from all the things of this world.  (1 Tim. 6:11)  Oftentimes in our culture, it seems that we live our lives as if we are playing a game in which the one who accumulates the most stuff wins.  Many things are permitted, but not everything is beneficial.  (1 Cor. 10:23)  Neil Postman, an educator, wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he says that the contemporary world is reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement.  Although the book was written in 1984, Postman’s premise has become even more true in our society with the rise of the internet.  We should flee from the things of this world as if we were fleeing from a snake.

Instead, we should “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”  Righteousness and godliness describe the right attitude toward God.  Righteousness is the essence of a person who is righteous.  Righteousness fulfills God’s claims of righteousness.  A person who is righteous adopts God’s law for oneself.  Godliness is devotion or piety toward God.  The godly person fulfills their obligations to God.

Faith and love are the fundamental principles of the Christian life.  Rowland has said, “Righteousness is the offspring of faith, and godliness is the offspring of love.”  Patience and meekness express the principles required of those who will successfully resist the temptations and trials of this world.

The Christian church has severely misrepresented the life of faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, wrote about what he calls “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (p.46).  “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (p.47).  We have sold people a bill of goods, as if the life of faith were not costly.  We only have to walk down an aisle and say a prayer, and we are in…a heavenly insurance policy.  But as Bonhoeffer states, discipleship is a following after Christ, which means taking up one’s cross daily and following Jesus.  The way of the cross is the way of suffering and denial.  This is why the church in the United States is so weak.

There is no crown without a cross and no victory without a fight.  So Paul suggests with the admonition, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Muhammed Ali just passed away, probably the greatest fighter of all time.  We think he was just super talented. But the article about his career in Sports Illustrated shows that he began his career as a youth practicing in the gym daily with disciplined struggle.  At the start of his career, he did not demonstrate any particular genius as a fighter.  It was only by learning literally in the school of hard knocks that he became a great fighter.

So we believers must learn to fight the good fight of the faith, like Paul did.  We should not yield at any point.  And so we will win the prize.  We don’t fight for a belt, like Ali did, or any earthly prize, but the prize that we fight for is “the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.”  Paul is asking Timothy to recall his testimony that he shared with the church.

Each of us has a testimony of how we came to the Lord.  In our church, we are learning how to be a witness by answering three questions:  Why God?  Why church?  Why this church?  The goal is to be able to answer those three questions in about 3 min., an elevator speech, so to speak.  One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel is your testimony.  Many people can resist clever and intelligent arguments about the truth of the Gospel, but no one can deny the truth of one’s own experience with the risen Lord.  So we should live into our baptism on a daily basis.

Father, God, help me to live into the covenant of my baptism.  Help me to live into the witness of the eternal life I professed before many witnesses.  Strengthen me to fight the good fight of the faith day by day.  “That being  born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  (UMH 42) Amen.