"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to the whole house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven." Matt. 5:13-16
Care for a "Shine," anyone?
A couple of thoughts before I get going on this.
#1. Much of this will come off as a "Dig" against some of my fellow Believers. Some of it will be a bit harsh. (One guy TOTALLY has it coming.) But what I am really trying to do is to get anyone who reads this to think outside the ridiculously tiny box that we "Christians" in the U.S. have constructed for ourselves.
#2. The term for "Good Deeds" here in the Greek is not the word for good as in "Moral" or "Ethical" actions. It actually is better understood as "Attractive," i.e. "That shirt looks good on you! Where did you buy it, because I want one?" In other words, your good deeds should cause people to say, "Yeah, that looks good. I want to BE like that. How do I do it?" The end result is that even the unbeliever praises our father in heaven.
#3. Salt was, and still is in most of the world, a preserving force. It kills nasty germs on food and keeps it safe to eat.
#4. A light on a hill or in a house, is an attraction that cause people to move towards it so they don't fall in a ditch or snag their little toe on the edge of the couch. ("OWIE!")
What I find the most fascinating about this statement from Jesus right after he finishes the Beatitudes is that he simply makes a declaration to anyone who is following him that this IS what they ARE now. He never says that they should try and become salt & light. He says they ARE...because HE says so. (Which is weird, because on most days I really don't feel like a "Salt of the earth" kind of guy.)
My first thought is that this ought to cause a good deal of humility on my part, and everyone else's. Jesus declaration stems from grace. And it comes right after he pronounces YHWH's blessing on all of the spiritual zeros out there. (Which is definitely me.) In other words, Jesus says; "Hey all you losers out there! I've picked you for MY team!!! And now I am making you the preserving force of the world. Yowza!"
Which also means that the church is God's gift to the world, and does not exist for itself. Instead, apparently we are supposed to radically give ourselves away just like Jesus did. (Which makes me rather uncomfortable a good deal of the time.)
So what does it mean to live as Salt & Light in this world?
Well, maybe I should start with what I think it DOESN'T mean
...and I'll offer some examples.
It's not exactly a secret that most of what passes for evangelical "Christianity" in America tends to really bug me. For a people saved by grace, we are incredibly "Religious," and constantly finding various "Works" to do to show that we are born again. A classic example is "Being a Witness" to others, or how we share the Gospel...at least in so far as what I've seen in the U.S. (It's usually strikingly different in other countries)
I shall offer this well intentioned, yet completely misguided cartoon as an example...
Apparently, the authors of this cartoon believe that to "Be a Witness" or "Salt & Light" means to go up to others and point out what is wrong with them.
I am not inferring that this is not a portion of what being Salt & Light is, but it is certainly a complete mis-characterization of what Jesus meant when he said it. You don't have to convince me that people are sinful. But it really isn't your job to convince others either. That would be the job of the Holy Spirit. (John 16: 7 & 8) In fact, it really isn't our business to go around judging the sinners of the world according to 1 Corinthians 5: 12 & 13, either. Paul seems to believe for some crazy reason that this would be God's job.
I tend to hang out with more non-Christians than I do Believers. From what I've been able to suss out, most of them already have an inkling that they are messed up in many, many ways. The last thing they need is for some "Religious" person to come along and tell them what a turd they are, and that they need to be more like them. It's even worse when they are told, as I've seen a few famous pastors say, how much God hates them.
Let me give an example:
Say you are walking down the street. Some stranger comes up to you and begins to try to convince you that you ought to join their political party or club. They then tell you that if you don't, then you are completely on the wrong side of history and will ultimately be a failure for it. When you object or express surprise, this person gets even more adamant about it.
How would you feel about a stranger saying that to you???
Well for starters, if someone tried that route on me, regardless of the subject matter, I would take considerable offense. I don't know this person from Adam. Who are they to offer me advice about ANYTHING?
Now, if a friend, family member, or a person who I had an established "Relationship" with (Hint, hint!) offered me advice, that would be a different matter. I would understand their motivations. I could also evaluate their suggestions based on the pre-existing relationship. And I think that's the whole point...the relationship. (Jesus tended to be big on that.)
Let's move on to something a bit more amusing. I call it, "How NOT to Witness to an Atheist...or anyone else."
<--- Todd Friel is the host of both a radio and TV show called "Wretched." The title is extremely appropriate.
Todd spends most of the show making fun of other christians who do not conform to his theological Jedi master, John MacArthur. ("Wise he is in the way of salvation through dispensationalized "Reformed" theology, yes.") Some times he is spot on. Most of the time, he is just mean spirited.
An example: For some odd reason, Todd chose to criticize Rick Warren for daring to use the Arabic name for Jesus (Isa) during his prayer at President Obama's inauguration. He said it sounded too "Islamic." (Honestly, criticizing Rick Warren for stuff is like criticizing Vanilla for being too spicy.)
Well, Todd likes to think himself a clever fellow. He seems to fully believe that the best way to get people into heaven is to berate and argue them into it. Often times a favorite trick (And I do mean "Trick.") among Todd and folks like him, is to try a little game called "What If?" Essentially you get into a semi-debate with someone and ask them "What if...there is a God, you've ever fallen short & sinned, etc." Your goal is to get them to agree with your line of perfect reasoning, and then at the end to be magically convicted & converted.
For the record, God uses anything he wants to use...even really bad evangelistic tactics and Jack Chic tracts. So this approach can actually work. However...
So Todd decides to play this game on his show with Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is a militant Atheist who wrote the book, "God is not great." While I completely disagree with his militant Atheism, I respect him and also fully admit that he is brilliant man with a mind & tongue like a razor blade. Friel, on the other hand, seems to have a mind like a butter knife and a tongue like a spatula.
There is only audio to these two links. However, take a listen to what happens when a completely unprepared man, with a sophomoric approach to being Salt & Light goes up against someone who freakishly knowledgeable and actually prepared...
You don't take on a man like Hitchens or Richard Dawkins...or even Penn Jillet, if you are not fully versed in your adversary's knowledge, tactics and abilities. Even with the best of intentions, odds are that you will look like a fool. Ridiculous word games come across as condescending at the best of times. I can't believe I'm defending a Atheist who has no love for me or my position, but what Friel tried was downright disrespectful of a man like Hitchens.
(Next time, maybe Todd will take Chris out for beer and a pizza, and try to get to know him first.)
Is this what passes for being "A Witness?"
Is this how were are Salt & Light in this dark world?
Why do "Christians" so often try to become something that they already are declared to be? Actually, maybe it's more accurate to ask why so many of us try to be the salt shaker, or the one who is shaking it, instead of simply concentrating on being the salt.
It seems that we think it is our job to dump the salt on whatever piece of food is in front of us. Usually, we end up dumping way too much on that piece of meat and it tastes horrible. Too much salt is never a good thing, and we never seem to know how much so we over compensate. It isn't our job to shake the shaker.
Next time you get a chance, run out to your garden. Find a slug and empty your salt shaker on it and watch. You'll get the picture of what happens when we think it's our job to do God's.
What a "Outsider" needs...in my opinion & experience anyway, is for a Believer to come along side them and just BE. That Believer should just be who Jesus declared them to be. By this I mean that the Believer should give themselves away to that person as a genuine friend with no ulterior motives. Don't worry about "Saving" them, which isn't your job in the first place. If your ulterior motive is to befriend a person so that you can "Save" them, then you are starting off on the wrong foot...and it's dishonest!!!
I know it sounds like some weird Zen-like statement ("What is the sound of one hand clapping?"), but if we would to just BE who Jesus declared us to be, then we wouldn't have to go to some On/Off switch and become a witness. Honestly, if you have to go out, flip a switch and get to work, then you are doing something that is unnatural to you.
Let go of that shaker. Let Jesus worry about how much salt a person in your life needs. Let go of that flashlight, and stop blinding people with it. Let Jesus worry about putting the light at just the right angle so it leads to him. Be willing to radically give yourself away in love. Not because you are trying to do or prove something to another person so they will bend to your will. Give yourself away in love with no expectation of return. Do it because you love Jesus more than anything else. Let go and let Jesus use you as he will, where he will, with whom he will...and in just the right amount. It's called "Faith."
Be willing to BE. Sit in the background as God does whatever it is that he does, and enjoy the mystery of it all.
Just BE who you already ARE.