Posts Tagged ‘Good works’

Salt and Light

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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)

 

The Sheep and the Goats

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Matthew 25:31–46 (NLT)

The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.* 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

In the final judgment, we see the Son of God as the Judge of all the nations.  (v. 32)  The wording echoes Isaiah 66:18.  All the nations points to all humanity. In the final judgment, Jesus will separate the people according to their deeds of mercy.  Those who have demonstrated their righteousness by their good works will are the sheep, those who have not are the goats.
In v. 34, the Son of Man is now called the King.  The King of the Kingdom of Heaven will speak to those on the right hand, and invite them to receive the blessing prepared for them from the beginning.  The reason that they are so blessed by the Father is that they ministered to the King when he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needy, sick or in prison.  The righteous will answer, when did we do any of these things for you?  The King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you were doing it for me!’
Turning from those on his left, the King will command them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!”  (v. 41)  The reason for this terrible judgment is “when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
This parable does not answer the question of our salvation in the way that we have been trained to expect as far as American Christianity is concerned.  The basis of Christ’s judgment as to whether one should be counted as righteous or wicked is based on how a person has treated one’s fellow humans.  Jesus determination is based on “in as much as you did it for one of these little ones, my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me.”
The parable relates to the question of faith and works.  Since the Reformation, Protestants have asserted along with Paul that “salvation is by grace through faith alone.”  James famously says, “Faith without works is dead.”  (James 2:14-26)  Paul has sometimes been said to contradict James, but a close examination of Paul’s letters show that they are both in agreement.  In Eph. 2, Paul says that salvation is by grace through faith…”So that we can do the good things he (meaning God) planned for us long ago.”  (Eph. 2:10)
Jesus is not teaching that salvation is by works.  Rather in all his teachings, he stressed the necessity of repentance from sin and faith in the Gospel.  The Gospel writers summarize Jesus preaching as “Repent and believe the Good News!  For the Kingdom of God has already come near you!”  Salvation is not achieved by good works.
However, our emphasis on salvation by faith alone has often led to a false dichotomy between faith and works.  Salvation is not achieved by good works, but neither should salvation be without good works.  Jesus promises eternal life to those who have lived a life in accordance to God’s will (Matt. 5:3-12).  Righteousness is required to enter the Kingdom of God (5:20-48; 7:21; 22:11-14; 23:3).  But faith that does not result in good works is not saving faith.