August 23, 2017

Shaped By Jesus II

By Chaplain Mike

“Shaped By Jesus” is a series of sign-posts pointing to Jesus’ teaching and acts as the soil from which Christlike discipleship grows. We are shaped by Jesus and we are shaped to be like Jesus in his character and mission.

The Spirit enables us to be with Jesus today as we live our daily lives in the context of the Biblical story. As we contemplate our Lord’s words and acts, and as we live in a conversational relationship with him, our minds and imaginations discover that Jesus is the Way—not only the Truth we believe and the Life we receive—but also the pattern of life which shapes ours.

In our first post, we examined the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), concluding that the way of being shaped by Jesus involves:

  • Living in and by Jesus’ grace alone.
  • Joining Jesus in living among and ministering to the poor.
  • Living now in the light of the new creation Jesus is making.

Today, our text is Matthew 5:13-16, known as the “Similitudes”—

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Observations about the Similitudes
The first question we must answer is, “Who is Jesus addressing in this passage?” “You” are salt and light. Who? In context, it must be those upon whom Jesus pronounced his eschatological blessings (5:1-12). Those whom the world has rejected, and yet those whom Jesus has blessed through grace. These now become the very ones who bring glory to God and influence the world for God’s Kingdom.

Another observation involves the imagery used in these similitudes. The term, “light,” has an obvious First Testament referent. In Isaiah 2:1-5, it is God’s mountain from which the nations see his light and are drawn to worship him. In Isaiah 42:6, it is God’s Servant (Jesus himself, who fulfilled Israel’s calling) to whom he says,

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

“Salt” is more of a cultural reference. Salt was used to flavor and preserve foods in an age without refrigeration. Salt cannot technically “lose its taste,” but if it becomes mixed with other substances, its flavor can be diminished. The image of “salt,” like “light,” emphasizes something that does not function for its own advantage, but for the benefit of that which it influences.

I also observe that in both cases, Jesus is saying something about the nature of the world. The world is dark and in need of light. The world, left to itself, will decay unless a preservative is applied. Furthermore, he emphasizes that God’s blessed ones must not succumb to the temptation of keeping God’s blessing to themselves. Salt must not only remain pure, it must be applied to the food. Light must not be isolated from the darkness, but placed in a prominent location so that the darkness may be dispersed.

Finally, the last part of Jesus’ saying clarifies what he means by being salt and light in the world. It consists of doing “good works” that are visible and which point people to God, prompting them to give him glory.

Our Jesus-Shaped Mission
What does this succinct text say to us about pursuing a life shaped by Jesus?

First, it reminds us that our life with Jesus is a life that remains fully involved in the world. Though there is a renewed emphasis on developing a “missional” mentality in the church today, traditional evangelical culture has been and remains, to various degrees, a separatistic community. Rather than grasping the heart of Jesus as expressed in the prepositions of John 17:14-18, American Christians have sought a spiritual life that is “of the world but not in the world.”

We have created an entire evangelical subculture that encourages people to read Christian books bought in Christian bookstores, listen to Christian music and watch Christian media, wear Christian apparel, patronize Christian businesses, support Christian causes and vote for Christian candidates, enroll our children in Christian sports leagues, get fit by doing Christian aerobics at church recreation centers, decorate our homes and offices with Christian art, rock out at Christian concerts and laugh at Christian comedians, send Christian greeting cards, quote Christian slogans and join Christian groups on Facebook, visit Christian creation “museums,” take Christian vacations on Christian cruises, and freshen our breath with Christian mints.

In far too many situations, we who say we follow Jesus have lost the ability to relate to our neighbors as fellow human beings in the context of real-life situations. Salt preserves nothing as long as it remains in the salt box. Light hidden under a bushel helps no one see. Receiving Jesus’ word “blessed are you” leads us automatically and fully into a Kingdom that exists to bless others. Accepted by grace alone, we are immediately enlisted in the Missio Dei, God’s mission in the world. The life of a Jesus-follower is missional by nature: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men'” (Mark 1:17, NASB).

Second, it reminds us that no special qualifications are necessary in order to bless the world. If someone who is “poor and spirit,” “meek,” and “mourning” can be called the salt of the earth and light of the world, then anyone can.

This is part of the radical social and ecclesiastical vision of the New Testament. It is not those who lord it over others from positions of power that enlighten the world, but the simple ones who take up the towel and serve. It is not the wise and impressive, but children who exemplify the kingdom and preserve the world from decay and corruption. The qualified, the privileged, the wealthy, the well-connected, those with great stores of resources—these are not the ones Jesus looks to for the fulfillment of his mission. Rather, it is you—plain old ordinary you. And me. Us, together.

It’s the pastor of the small church who visits the sick, the sorrowing, and the shut-ins. It’s the housewife who takes soup to her elderly neighbor. It’s the carpenter, plumber, and painter, who take their work seriously and pursue excellence in their crafts. It’s the single woman who reads stories to kids at the library. It’s the grandmother who prays for her family every day. It’s the husband and wife who are struggling in their marriage, but who decide to stick it out. It’s the nurse who does the little things to make her patient feel cared for. It’s the employer who pays fair wages and cares about those who work for him. It’s the worker who refuses to cut corners. It’s the funeral home director who leaves a flower on the bed after removing a loved one’s body from the home. It’s making an anonymous gift to a friend who’s out of work.

It’s extending cup of cold water, speaking a kind word, knowing when to keep quiet, dropping by to say hi to a lonely friend, writing an encouragement note, sitting with grieving parents, saying, “I’m sorry,” asking forgiveness, and looking the other way when you are wronged. It’s the Samaritan stopping, the widow dropping her last penny in the box.

This is not rocket science. There is no spiritual technology to be mastered. No degrees are required. This is all about love, kindness, generosity, sensitivity, honesty, diligence, and unselfishness, all practiced right out there in the real stuff of daily life. It’s about good works done from a heart of love for the glory of God for my fellow human beings. It’s about watching Jesus at work, and allowing him, by his Word and Spirit, to work through us.

To summarize:

To be shaped by Jesus:

  • We recognize our calling to live and serve in God’s mission in the world.
  • We allow Jesus to perform simple good works of love through us in our daily lives.

Comments

  1. Chaplain Mike, is it the situation that Michael Spencer/s Internet Monk site is now your site?

    Bob

  2. Thanks, Chaplain Mike, and your fellow-laborers, for carrying on Michael Spencer’s internet ministry for him. This message today was a great blessing.

  3. “This is not rocket science. There is no spiritual technology to be mastered. No degrees are required. This is all about love, kindness, generosity, sensitivity, honesty, diligence, and unselfishness, all practiced right out there in the real stuff of daily life”

    Excellent, excellent thought here.

    Brad

  4. Amen chaplain Mike. I am reading Michael’s book now. It speaks to me in many ways and I want to live a life of service even though I am retired from my professional job.

  5. Scary to think that there can be Christians who can be rendered useless due to them being so apathetic and comprimised…..

  6. Small technical note here:

    “Salt” is more of a cultural reference. Salt was used to flavor and preserve foods in an age without refrigeration. Salt cannot technically “lose its taste,” but if it becomes mixed with other substances, its flavor can be diminished.

    The salt of Jesus’ day was not the refined salt that we have today. It was already mixed with other things like sand. So it would have been the case that the salt in the mixture would have been used up leaving behind the unsalty mixture.

  7. B. L. Zebub. says:

    “Ye are the MSG of the earth…”

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    We have created an entire evangelical subculture that encourages people to read Christian books bought in Christian bookstores, listen to Christian music and watch Christian media, wear Christian apparel, patronize Christian businesses, support Christian causes and vote for Christian candidates, enroll our children in Christian sports leagues, get fit by doing Christian aerobics at church recreation centers, decorate our homes and offices with Christian art, rock out at Christian concerts and laugh at Christian comedians, send Christian greeting cards, quote Christian slogans and join Christian groups on Facebook, visit Christian creation “museums,” take Christian vacations on Christian cruises, and freshen our breath with Christian mints.

    “And only drink milk if it comes from a Christian cow.”
    — Steve “Meltdown at Madame Tussaud’s” Taylor

    Either Jollyblogger or Totem to Temple calls this “Christian Bizarro World.” (DC Comics reference.)
    Slacktivst calls it “Dig a Really Really Big Hole and Hide in it untl The Rapture.”
    Somebody else (maybe the original IMonk) called it “hide in your Christian fortress, only coming out for drive-by prosletyzing sallies.”
    I call it “inside the Christian (TM) Event Horizon.”

    It is probably THE biggest problem in the Evangelical Subculture, and the root cause of many of their other problems. (There’s an analogy to the root problem of “one of the freakier Internet subcultures — Fanboy Tunnel Vision.) As a starting-out SF writer of Christian bent, I’ve encountered this a LOT and am good for an hour-long rant on the subject.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    It’s extending cup of cold water, speaking a kind word, knowing when to keep quiet, dropping by to say hi to a lonely friend, writing an encouragement note, sitting with grieving parents, saying, “I’m sorry,” asking forgiveness, and looking the other way when you are wronged. It’s the Samaritan stopping, the widow dropping her last penny in the box.

    It’s spending two hours each week on the phone as a lifeline to someone you know on the East Coast, someone so destroyed by 30+ years of psychological abuse and guilt manipulation that he’s willing to burn the phone lines across a continent for two hours each week just to have someone listen to him.

  10. But what is light?

    According to so many in today’s pelagiaized evangelical and emergent wasteland it is the anouncement that deep down you really are good enough, smart enough, and devoted enough to meet the demands of God’s perfect and holy law.

    But thats not what we see in scripture. In scripture light represents revealing the truth, particularly the truth about who we really are deep down, and what is really flowing out of our “heart of hearts”, which might best be described as flith, cess, or even rancid menstral blood(is64).

    And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John3)

    To be light to our neighbor, we must be bold enough to proclaim the law which convicts them of their sin (even if it gets us beaten and thrown in prison). It is only when someone exposes their sin to the light in confession, that they can be reconciled to God. The fact that the church is widely voicing its approval of sin, means that the church will be neither salt nor light to the culture and that our culture will continue its Romans-1 ladder of depravity into wanton cruelty.

    If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.(1Jn1)

    I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.(Ps32)

    God did not die to save the righteous, and yet the church seems to spend all of its time offering therapy to convince people that they are righteous in the midst of their sin.
    And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Mark2)
    I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.(Gal2)

    • I don’t see that anyone here is advocating what you are suggesting. Furthermore, if the “light” metaphor has a referent in Israel being a light to the nations it means more than simply justification by faith alone.

      • Light exposes and convicts us of sin. God’s light is the ultimate example, because it destroys us.

        “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”(Is6)

        But the American church welcomes and approves of sin. From sexual sin, to greed, to gossip to murder, the American church cannot be salt and light while approving of sin.

        Your own ELCA is constitutes example. They welcomed wealthy, publicly unrepentent murderer-for-hire George Tiller as a deacon (after his excommunication from other Lutheran bodies). George Tiller murdered 65,000 children in utero, because they were less desireable. Most of these were late enough term to survive outside the womb. To alleviate the guilt of his sin, he published that he would baptize the bodies of the dead babies and hold a service for them before he incinerated them. Wanton cruelty will always be the inevitable result of the Church’s approval of sin.

        The Lutheran Church of Nazi Germany was no different in its public approval of sin, but instead of approving the murder of babies, it approved the public persecution and oppressioin of Jews and dissenting Christians. If we hold fast to God’s word as the standard and not the wisdom of men, there will always be a cost, because the cultural zeitgeist which demands approval for the popularly approved sins of the age will be against us.

        • Ok, Beon, you’ve made your point, though I would argue there is a world of difference between the American church and the Lutheran (non-Confessing) Church of Nazi Germany. Be careful with such comparisons—they overstate your case and you lose credibility for the correct things you do say.

          By the way, it’s not “my ELCA.” Right at this moment, I am a member of a local congregation that happens to belong to the ELCA. But I’ve made the point many times that I am not settled in my long-term church affiliation.

          • I know there are lots of gray areas when it comes to war, particularly if you a foreign or semi-foreign operative against your own country. But I have often enjoyed the intellectual excercise of contrasting Dietrich Bonhoeffer against George Tiller’s murderer. Not to justify the murder of George Tiller, but to show Bonhoeffer’s want in this particular area.

            I can never bring myself to fault him, but I find the way that he counselled Nazi officer in the breaking of their oathes and the betrayal of their government facinating. I would never advocate it, but I feel a similar moral sympathy for Tiller’s murder. Here is a man who put down the biggest personal mass murderer in the history of western civilization. He would have used legal means, but the murders were government sanctioned. It is not so different from Bonhoeffer really. Both have failed to obey Romans 13 in their own way, and both have done so misguidedly in the cause of protecting the innocent.

            Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

            Romans 13 isn’t about good leaders that we all love and approve of, but the Caligula and Nero, some of the most depraved leaders in the history of civilzation. Who else in history has burned Christians as candles at their garden parties?

  11. Might I suggest that both “salt” and “light” are representative of Christ “in” me, of an actual Third Person of the Trinity who comes forth, at times, through that vessel surrendered unto Him; and I yet believe that to be so in spite of what many within my own denomination of Pentecost have claimed to be representative of such statement. As John puts it: Jesus “needed not that any should testify of Him, for He knew what was in man”. Not saying that preachers, teachers, and witness are not called and appointed, I just believe it should all work by me “decreasing so that He may increase”…