Background Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
Quotes of the Week:
The most hateful human misfortune is for a wise man to have no influence. Herodotus
How important is influence? If you watch TV, you will see movie stars and other celebrities paid large sums of money to be spokespeople for commercials. Why do you think it is those easily recognizable by masses of people that are used for peddling products, as opposed to you and I? It's easy to see that recognition among many is useful in marketing.
Then there is the political system we have in America. Every four years, there are several folks who put their name in the hat to become President. There are weeks upon weeks of people slinging mud back and forth at each other, often trying to make the opponent looks worse than themselves. I don't think many of us like that kind of behavior, but I have to admit, it is what seems to draw the ratings and can propel a person to an influential position. As candidacies come to a close, the remaining candidates pine for the endorsements of influential people, believing that if a certain person or organization backs them up, along with that will come millions of votes.
When people are looking for a job, they often try to find others who can use their influence to get them an interview. Knowing somebody on the inside is often a benefit in even being considered for employment. It is obvious that in our society, influence is important. Influence is even important in religious circles. When a religious leader says something, they can move masses of people that seem to want to follow everything they say. Billy Graham has had influence, as well as so many others. Obviously, the Pope has influence over millions of Catholics.
Our world encourages people to drive to have influence on others. In many ways, this is good. An athletic team needs to have a leader who can influence others on the team. To be successful, an athletic team has to be working together with the same goals We need to understand that, while we may have influence in a job or a team, when Jesus spoke of influence, it was nothing of promoting oneself to be a leader, but to have an impact by the way that we choose to live, day to day.
As believers, we are called to live in a way that may be noticeable to others, but without drawing attention to ourselves. In the passages we will see in this study, we read about being salt and light. This has to do with the way that we treat each other, as was seen in the first few verses of Matthew 5, as well as learning to do the right thing. As we live our lives, we see the importance of rules and abiding by them. However, we know that there is not a rule for every single situation that we will face in life, and that our adherence to rules is not what draws us closer to God. The way we deal with circumstances in our own lives will in large part determine the influence that we may have on others.
Today, we see the decay of society and some believers live as victims, unable to have an impact. Just like salt that clumps together, some believers prefer to hang out solely with other believers. Rather than preserving society, many believers constantly critique the society, rather than having an impact. We should have an impact and not allow ourselves to be diluted by the world.
I believe, however, that there is another dangerous extreme using salt. If you have ever tried to use a shaker of salt to season some food, what happens if the top comes off? What value is there when there is more salt than food? I believe that there are some people that promote a very spiritual persona and in some ways they end up drowning others with salt. While it is important that others know that we are believers and that we have faith, if we try and hammer that point over someone, we can defeat the purpose. We can in many ways become the shaker that has lost its top while salting the food.
When we think of light, we think of how light always overcomes darkness. We use light to point the way at night. Lights in our homes help us get around during the dark hours. Headlights on our vehicles help us to drive at night. There are many different types of lights that are useful for their intended purpose. For example, the basement light in your house serves a great purpose but would not be useful as bulbs in your headlights. A spotlight is great to clearly see something in the distant at night, but it would not make a good night light in your hallway.
I can think of some people who are a strong light, but due to restrictions in their workplace, they must keep the light dim. They don't extinguish the light, and without even having to make everyone know what they believe, they are able to have a profound impact on their environment. On the other hand, I can think of some people who are very extroverted and open about their faith in almost every conversation. They are able to reach some people by making it clear what they believe.
Each of us should be some light to the people we are around. I often think that we are really more like mirrors, because in and of ourselves, we have no source for light. However, when we live as we are called to live, we reflect the light of Christ. In many ways, some people may look at us and that may be the closest glimpse that they ever get to what God may be like. Isn't that scary? People watch us when we are successful and joyous, and when we have failed and are downcast. In fact, people often watch us more closely when life is not going so good for us. It is during those times that what is really inside tends to come out. What do people see when you are upset? What do people see when your expectation are not met? Are you sharing the light of Christ at those times as well as when things are going good?
Some people are so focused on what they do, as far as gaining influence. However, when Jesus spoke, He was more focused on who we are. It can be very easy for us to do all sorts of things, thinking that is what we are called to do, while we are at the same time, not focusing at all on who we are becoming. The world wants us to do. You can never "do" to become salt or light. Jesus calls us to be. You can only "be" salt or light.
Certainly people tend to lean towards rules based living. In many ways, it seems easier because it a way that we can grade ourselves. We can grade what we do or don't do, but we have no good way to grade what we are. When we begin to live based on adherence to a set of rules, we tend to lean towards a work based salvation. If salvation was based on a grade of what you do, what would be the 'passing grade'? When we are rules based, we tend to even make it worse by inventing our own rules. The Jews allowed tradition to slip in and they created laws for all sorts of situations. Also, when you base life on what you do, it can lead to grudging obedience. You might find yourself 'doing' only to get, or thinking that it is the key to freedom.
In Jesus' day, the law abiders were the Pharisees. They knew the finite detail of the law, but in knowing this, they seemed to lose the overall intention of the law. Many people today are much like the Pharisees, in that they want to portray to others an external fašade. We have all at one time or another put on a show because we knew others were watching. Once again, we are doing, and not being.
You may recall that there were various blood sacrifices required to receive forgiveness in the Old Testament. The sacrifice would not be the least fit animal, but the one that was without blemish. Even after that sacrifice, the people went right back into the role of sinning, requiring them to continually come back for forgiveness. It is a vicious cycle we know all too well.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, in that he provided the supreme sacrifice. He truly lived a perfect life and paid for our sins through his death, and gave us new life through his resurrection. However, the Law never changed. It is not accurate for someone to accept Christ and then act as if the words of the Law are of no use anymore. Jesus said that neither the smallest letter nor the least stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law until heaven and earth disappear.
Jesus said an amazing thing in that their righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter the kingdom of heaven. As much as they tried to be righteous, the neglected the main thing - that is saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Pharisees were totally basing their righteousness on the Law and they structured their life in such a way as to avoid breaking 'their own version'. Even the most rule toting individual today is not as focused on the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. The bottom line is that if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must rely upon the righteousness of Christ.
We still have some association with the Law. We are called to live by a standard that is not the standard of our world. When we choose to set aside the Law and try to get others to do the same, Jesus says we will be least in the kingdom of heaven. He doesn't indicate that you wouldn't be in heaven, but there is a consequence for not following the Law. For others who live a life that is focused on God's standards, there are great rewards in heaven. It does matter how we live, but our salvation was never intended to be works based.
Jesus has called us to examine our internal self. We are challenged to be disciples. In Romans 12, we can read that we are not to be conformed to this world, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. When your heart and your mind have been given to Jesus, you are lead to humility. You are not promoting yourself anymore, but are given to Christ.
Many people today want the minimum required. Some skate through school by only doing what they have to do to make it. When you become a believer, this is no longer the way to live. Jesus calls us to make a life change. When you are truly seeking God, and less concerned about making sure others know it, you will find that you will naturally become the salt and light that our world so desperately needs. Then, by giving yourself away, you can truly have the influence that we are called to have.