Monday, June 18, 2018

The Salt of the Earth

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” (Matthew 5:13).

What does it mean to be the salt of the earth? Salt was used in various ways in the ancient world, and today we will consider three of the most important.

First, salt adds flavor and spice. If that says anything to me, it says that the Christian life should not be dull, and Christians should not be dull people. Christians should possess hope and joy, even in the midst of trial, and communicate that salty spice to those around them.

Second, salt acts as a preservative. One of the problems that arose in some of the churches of the first century was that some Christians were looking for Christ to return in their generation and dropped out of society. This was a particularly acute problem in the Thessalonian church. So Paul wrote to them and told them that there were a number of things that would have to happen before Christ returns, and sent them back to work.

Paul predicted an outbreak of wickedness under the leadership of the “man of lawlessness.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:6, Paul speaks of a restraining force that was holding back the powers of wickedness and thus preserving the world. I believe that this refers, in part at least, to the salty work of Christians as they influence society for good and restrain the self-destructive influences of evil.

Third, salt was used by conquering armies to punish a defeated people. The soldiers would trample salt into the soil, thereby preventing crops from growing for many years. Jesus says that if the salt loses its flavor, and cannot be used positively, it will be used negatively to punish the world. In the process, the salt itself will be trampled underfoot.

Suppose Christ said to you, “You were supposed to be the salt of the earth, but you were good for nothing, and so I’m going to trample you and make you a curse to the world.” Surely this is a terrifying warning!

The church exists not for her own sake, but for the glory of Christ and to minister to the world. We dare not isolate ourselves from our salty tasks in society. What are some of the ways your church is salting the community in which you live? What can you do to help?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Slander versus Kindness

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11).

Slander is one of the most vicious and destructive of all sins. Jesus promises us that if we are faithful to Him, there will be times when destructive lies will be told about us. He tells us to “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12). He promises that sooner or later, God Himself will vindicate us, if not in this world, then in the next.

The opposite of this kind of viciousness is kindness, a virtue that is not talked about enough. I can think of no more godly virtue in all creation than personal kindness. What greater compliment can you receive than to be known for your kindness?

One of the things that hit me about Pope John Paul I, who only held office for a month or so, was his evident kindness. After he was elected pope, he presented himself before the throng in Vatican City, and he was smiling. It was a smile of delight, and it captured the world because he was so evidently a kind and approachable man.

The kind person does not have his head in the sand but is characterized by the “philosophy of the second glance”—the glance of charity. Before he jumps to the conclusion that what you are doing is malicious, corrupt, wicked, or irredeemable, the kind person gives you the benefit of the doubt. The kind person says, “Yes, I know his behavior is unacceptable, but I wonder why? I wonder why he is so angry?” The kind person knows that the sinner’s behavior is evil but that does not mean that he is irredeemable.

Every Christian is a victim of slander, but every Christian is also a recipient of God’s kindness. If God would judge us as we judge each other, we would all be damned. One of the reasons we listen to Jesus is that He is kindness, even though He is also intolerant of sin and uncompromising in His allegiance to the righteousness of God.

How kind are you? Write out a list of the people who have alienated you. Have you given them the “second glance”? Perhaps you have, and you have finally given up on them. God may not have given them up, though. We are to be kind to all people, and this takes effort. Make the effort today. Pray over each name on your list.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Peril of Peacemaking

Blessed are the peacemakers,, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

The Bible makes a distinction between godly and carnal peacemaking. There are those who will make peace at any price, including the price of the truth and the Gospel. They seek to reconcile God and the world by selling out God. Some of the most visible “peacemakers” in Israel were the false prophets, who cried “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).

The peacemakers that receive the blessing of God are those who get to the root of animosity and bring authentic The peacemaker is a mediator who tries to bring two people, two groups, or two nations together.

I’ve done some work in the area of marriage counseling, and whenever I would speak to a wife, I would hear (from time to time), “Oh, you’re pro-husband.” On the other hand, when I would speak to the husband, I would often hear, “Oh, man, you’re pro-wife.” I was happy to hear those statements because it meant that I was communicating the wife’s concerns to the husband, and the husband’s concerns to the wife.

A mediator tends to be a lightning rod. Anytime you step between two people who are fighting you risk a broken nose because what happens inevitably when you step into the breach is that the hostility that had been directed against the other person is for a time directed against you. The peacemaker has to be prepared to take the flak that comes with being a mediator.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was the great Peacemaker, who reconciled God and humanity. On the cross, He was the target of concentrated human hostility against God. And on the cross, He became the God-ordained target of God’s unmitigated wrath against defiant humanity. As a result, He accomplished peace with God for us—not a guarded truce, but an everlasting peace. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

True peacemakers are called sons of God because the Son of God was the Supreme Peacemaker, who never compromised the truth of God, or negotiated the holiness of God, to attain peace. As Christians, we must never compromise truth, but we must always seek peace. Strive to maintain peace and truth in your circle of friends and contacts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mourning and Selfishness

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

For the past several days we have been surveying Luke’s version of Jesus’ most famous sermon. For the next two weeks, we will examine Matthew’s version of that same sermon. Like any teacher, Jesus probably gave this same sermon, which we call the Sermon on the Mount, more than once. Possibly Luke and Matthew provide us with versions of His message as preached on two different occasions. In any event, in Matthew, we have a much more detailed version of this sermon.

Let’s begin with the second beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn.” Some have tried to restrict this to mourning for sin. It is certainly true that those who mourn for sin will be refreshed by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Jesus is being more general here. He is speaking of the faithful when they undergo genuine grief.

True grief is one of the godliest emotions we can have. We don’t always recognize this because self-pity often masquerades as grief. Self-pity arises from a self-centered heart, but grief occurs when we lose something we love deeply.

Jesus was acquainted with grief. His grief in the face of death arose not simply from a sense of personal loss, but primarily from His sensitivity to the fact that God’s glory had been diminished, that something holy and precious had been lost. Jesus wept for Lazarus, even though He knew He was going to raise him from the dead. And Jesus always had a special place in His heart for widows.

There’s a vicious myth with Greek stoic roots that permeates Christianity. The myth maintains that when a loved one dies, we aren’t supposed to cry because to cry or grieve would somehow indicate a lack of confidence in God. On the contrary, the Scriptures teach us that refusing to grieve is what shows an unwillingness to trust God. To refuse to grieve is to deny God’s love for His people.

Christianity involves the full range of emotions including joy, peace, love, anguish, grief, and anger. Each is legitimate under certain biblical conditions and each was displayed in our Savior’s life. Don’t arbitrarily stifle what might be a genuine emotion prompted by the Spirit.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Intimacy and Obedience

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Toward the end of Luke’s version of Jesus’ sermon, he records a probing question from the lips of our Lord. In Matthew’s version of this sermon, we find a more extended statement along the same lines: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord,’ did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matthew 7:21–23).

We might miss the strength of these statements unless we realize that repeating a person’s name is a Hebrew expression of intimacy. When God speaks to Abraham at Mount Moriah, as he is about to plunge the knife into the breast of Isaac, He says, “Abraham, Abraham.” Or when God encourages Jacob in his old age to take the trip to Egypt, He says, “Jacob, Jacob” (Genesis 22:11; 46:2).

Compare the call of Moses from the burning bush: “Moses, Moses,” or the call of Samuel in the night, “Samuel, Samuel” (Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:10). Or consider David’s cry of agony, “Absalom, Absalom,” and Jesus’ cry of desolation on the cross, “My God, my God” (2 Samuel 18:33; Matthew 27:46). When Jesus comforted Martha, when He warned Peter, and when He wept over Jerusalem—in each case we find the word repeated for intimacy’s sake (Luke 10:41; 22:31; Matthew 23:37).

Some pretend to have a deep relationship with Christ, but this claim is not borne out in their lives. There are many who say, “Lord, Lord,” while in fact, they live in contempt for Christ’s commandments. “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” said Jesus (John 14:15).

God does not accept those who merely hear. He requires obedience. He does not accept a profession from the lips but demands also a commitment to submit and obey.

Often we talk as if we are closer to God than we really are. How much of this is mere “Lord, Lord” talk? Ask yourself seriously: Do my lips run ahead of my life? Am I projecting a relationship with Christ that I don’t really enjoy?