“Emmanuel’s Agenda, Part 1” – Matthew 5:13-16

January 4th, 2015

Matthew 5:13-16

“Emmanuel’s Agenda – Pt 1”

 

Service OrientationTo the extent that Christians are living the beatitudes, they are salt and light to a dark and decaying world.  If we complain that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, we are confessing our ineptitude in being for the world light showing the way to true life and salt by preserving them from a degenerative or putrefying course.

 

Perhaps the most blatant example of this perverse bias toward compromise was the World Council of Churches’ dictum in 1966, “The world must set the agenda for the Church.” Three decades later, it is hard to believe that such an advance warning of preemptive capitulation could have been trumpeted as a lofty and self-evident principle.   But it is also worthy checking to see whether there are similar inanities in the church-growth movement today.  (Os Guinness; No God But God, 167) (bold orange emphasis Pastor Keith)

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week“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.”  — Matthew 5:13-14

                                                                                                               

Background Information:

  • It is a biblical truth that the more earnest we become about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and the more devoted we become to reaching the unreached peoples of the world, and exposing the works of darkness, and loosing the bonds of sin and Satan, the more we will suffer. (John Piper, Future Grace, 342)
  • (v. 13) Jesus said, “You [emphatic: you alone] are the salt of the earth.” (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 82)
  • (v. 13) Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, the basis for the word “salary.” (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 68)
  • (v. 13) The Romans held that, except for the sun, nothing was more valuable than salt. Often Roman soldiers were paid in salt, and it was from that practice that the expression “not worth his salt” originated.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 241)
  • (v. 13) We use “taste” to speak of an aesthetic rather than an intellectual quality, but “tasteless” perhaps goes some way toward catching what may have been a more obvious double entendre in Hebrew and Aramaic, where the verb tāpēl can mean both to be tasteless and to be foolish. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 175)
  • (v. 13) Notice that he said, “You are the salt of the earth.” The mood of the verb is indicative (a statement of fact), not imperative (a command to be something).  Jesus is not urging his disciples to become something they are not; he is telling them what they are as kingdom people.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 56)
  • (v. 14) The word “light” in Greek is phōs, from which we get the word “photo” in English. We are God’s photos to display Him to the world.  (Edward Hindson and James Borland, Matthew: The King is Coming, 53)
  • (v. 14) It is generally agreed that Matthew‘s Gospel is, of all four Gospels, the most “Jewish” in character. Yet, notice the sphere of the church’s influence and witness.  It is not restricted to the covenant community (the Jews).  The disciples are to be the light of the world.  They are not to hide or restrict the light of God, but to let it shine to all.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 65)
  • (v. 15) The word for “bowl” (modios) comes from the Latin modius, the basic unit of measure for dry goods, equaling 16 sextarii, or about 2 gallons (7.5 liters). Lamps were essential for finding one’s way in enclosed areas during the night and would be placed under a measuring bowl only to extinguish the light.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 37)
  • (v. 16) In Greek there are two words for good. There is the word agathos which simply defines a thing as good in quality; there is kalos which means that a thing is not only good, but that it is also winsome and beautiful and attractive.  The word which is used here is kalos.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 125)
  • Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine. (Pliny, Natural History 31.102)

 

The questions to be answered are . . . What does Jesus mean when He says you are the salt and light of the world?   Is He serious?

 

Answers:  When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” He is saying that without Christian influence the world would rot and degenerate in its own self-absorbency.   When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world” He is also saying that Christians light the way to true life and expose evil and illustrate true good.   He is so serious that Jesus emphasizes the word “You” in both statements indicating that Christians and Christians alone are able to accomplish these two essential missions in preserving and guiding the world.

 

The idea, therefore, is, that it is the nature of evil to diffuse itself.  This is true with regard to individuals and communities.  A single sin, however secret, when indulged, diffuses its corrupting influence over the whole soul; it depraves the conscience; it alienates from God; it strengthens all other principles of evil, while it destroys the efficacy of the means of grace and the disposition to use them.  It is no less true of any community, that any one tolerated evil deteriorates its whole moral sense. (Charles Hodge; Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 86 {1 Cor 5:6})

 

Until you can confidently state your values, every philosophy, every behavior and every desire known to humankind is a potential substitute.  Your values become the filter through which you determine right from wrong, value from worthlessness and importance from insignificance.  If you do not specifically identify your values, they will be defined for you by the whims and influences of the world. (George Barna; Turning Vision, 91)

 

The Word for the Day is . . . influence

 

Power is nothing unless you can turn it into influence.  —Condoleezza Rice

 

“Our influence on others for good depends greatly on what they see in us.  The children of the world measure Christianity quite as much by their eyes as by their ears.  The Christian who is  always at a standstill, to all appearances the same man, with the same little faults and weaknesses and besetting sins and petty infirmities, is seldom the Christian who does much good.   The man who shakes and stirs the minds, and sets the world thinking, is the believer who is continually improving and going forward.  Men think there is life and reality when they see growth.” (J. C. Ryle; Holiness, 84-5)

 

What Christians need to realize to rock our world the way Jesus intended:

  1. Christians living out the beatitudes are the salt of the earth. (Mt 5:13; see also: Nm 18:19; Lv 2:13; 2 Chrn 13:5; Job 6:6; Col 4:6)

 

One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad.  It cannot do anything else.  The real question to ask is:  where is the salt?  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 65)

 

So when we look at this metaphor of salt, we want to consider the primary function of salt in the ancient world.  Salt was used to give zest or tang to food, just as it is today.  More importantly, salt was used as a preservative.  People in the ancient world did not have refrigerators, so if they wanted to keep their food from spoiling, they had to cover it with salt.  Salt was used also to provoke a sense of thirst.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 96)

 

The real salt is the true exposition of Scripture, which denounces the whole world and lets nothing stand but the simple faith in Christ.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 66)

 

The trouble is that the salt has lost its saltiness in so many instances; and we are not controlling our fellows by being “saints” in the way we should.  Though the Church makes her great pronouncements about war and politics, and other major issues, the average man is not affected.  But if you have a man working at a bench who is a true Christian, and whose life has been saved and transformed by the Holy Spirit, it does affect others all around him.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 136)

 

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF HUMAN RELATIONS:

  1. Speak to people.
  2. Smile at people.
  3. Call people by name.
  4. Be friendly and helpful.
  5. Be cordial.
  6. Have a genuine interest in people.
  7. Be generous with praise.
  8. Be considerate of the feelings of others.
  9. Be thoughtful to the opinions of others.
  10. Be alert to give service. (John C. Maxwell, The Power of Influence)

 

Strictly speaking salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound.  But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities.  The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 138)

 

Jesus is here speaking of an influence, not an activity.  He did not say “ye scatter salt,” but “ye are salt.”  Though often unseen, unnoticed and despised, the Christian minority exercises a potent and purifying influence in society, altogether out of proportion to its numbers.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 28)

 

“Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” — George Washington

 

More Reaganesque were the stories he told to describe the rot that was the Soviet Union.  There was the one about the Russian Communist official who asked a collective farm worker about the potato crop.  “Oh, Commissar, if we could put the potatoes in one pile, they would reach the foot of God.”  But, replied the commissar, “This is the Soviet Union.  There is no God.”  “That’s all right,” the farmer said, “There are no potatoes.”  (Reader’s Digest, December 2004, 119)

 

Sodium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form with another element.  It always links itself to another element.  Chlorine, on the other hand, is a poisonous gas that gives bleach its offensive odor.  When Sodium and Chlorine are combined, the result is table salt.  The substance we use to preserve meat and to flavor our food.

Love and truth can be like Sodium and Chlorine.  Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to compromise and combine with various doctrines.  On the other hand, truth by itself is offensive, sometimes even poisonous.  Spoken without love, it can turn people away from God and the Gospel.

When truth and love are combined in an individual or a church, however, then we have what Jesus called “the salt of the earth,” and we are able to preserve and bring out the beauty of the earth.

 

Now, as I see it, that is a most serious misunderstanding of scriptural teaching.  I would challenge anybody to show me such teaching in the NT.  “Ah,” they say, “but you get it in the prophets of the OT.”  Yes; but the answer is that in the OT the Church was the nation of Israel, and there was no distinction between Church and state.  The prophets had therefore to address the whole nation and to speak about its entire life.  But the Church in the NT is not identified with any nation or nations.  The result is that you never find the apostle Paul or any other apostle commenting upon the government of the Roman Empire; you never find them sending up resolutions to the Imperial Court to do this or not to do that.  No; that is never found in the Church as displayed in the NT. . . . .

. . . .As Christians we are citizens of a country, and it is our business to play our part as citizens, and thereby act as salt indirectly in innumerable respects. . . .

. . . If the Christian Church today spends most of her time in denouncing communism, it seems to me that the main result will be that communists will not be likely to listen to the preaching of the gospel.  If the Church is always denouncing one particular section of society, she is shutting the evangelistic door upon that section.  If we take the NT view of these matters we must believe that the communist has a soul to be saved in exactly the same way as everybody else.  It is my business as a preacher of the gospel, and a representative of the Church, to evangelize all kinds and conditions and classes of men and women.  The moment the Church begins to intervene in these political, social and economic matters, therefore, she is hampering and hindering herself in her God-appointed task of evangelism.  She can no longer say that she “knows no man after the flesh,” and thereby she is sinning.  Let the individual play his part as a citizen, and belong to any political party that he may choose.  That is something for the individual to decide.  The Church is not concerned as a Church about these things.  Our business is to preach the gospel and to bring this message of salvation to all. . . .

. . .  I think it is true to say that during the last fifty years the Christian Church had paid more direct attention to politics and to social and economic questions than in the whole of the previous hundred years.  We have had all this talk about the social application of Christianity.  Pronouncements have been made and resolutions have been sent from Church Assemblies and the General Assemblies of the various denominations to the governments.  We have all been so tremendously interested in the practical application.  But what is the result?  No one can dispute it.  The result is that we are living in a society which is much more immoral than it was fifty years ago, in which vice and law breaking and lawlessness are rampant.  Is it not clear that you cannot do these things except in the biblical way?  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 134-36)

 

“Ye are the salt of the earth!”  The metaphor wants very little explanation, however much enforcement it may require.  It involves two things:  a grave judgment as to the actual state of society, and a lofty claim as to what Christ’s followers are able to do to it.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 179)

 

Jesus may be citing a well-known proverbial saying.  When rebuffing a trick question, Rabbi Joshua ben Haniniah (A.D. 90) apparently alludes to a proverbial saying when he asks, “Can salt lose its flavor?”  The context of the saying implies that it is impossible for salt to lose its flavor, because he parallels the saying by asking, “Does the mule (being sterile) bear young?”  (b. Bek. 8b).  Sterile mules can no more bear young than can salt lost its flavor.

Thus, Jesus may be using this expression to describe an equally impossible characteristic of his disciples.  As they go out into the world as salt, the proof of the reality of their profession is in the nature of their lives.  True disciples cannot lose what makes them disciples because they have become changed persons, made new by the life of the kingdom of heaven.  However, imposter disciples have only an external flavoring.  They cannot be made salty again, because they never had that kingdom life in the first place.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 36)

 

Salt is the foe of insipidity.  The true disciple will not be a pale and insipid character, but will manifest His Lord’s distinctiveness.  His speech will be pungent and aseptic.  His moral influence will cause unsavory talk to wither in his presence.

Salt is also the foe of corruption, destroying germs and harmful bacteria.  It imparts its own wholesomeness to whatever it touches.  But to fulfill its function, salt must make contact with the food it is to season or preserve.  The disciple must make meaningful contact with non-Christians.  Evangelical Christianity often fails here.  Jesus ate with sinners while yet being “separate from sinners.”  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 29)

 

 

A-  Salt flavors

 

The good deeds of the Christian must be not only good; they must be also attractive.  There must be a certain winsomeness in Christian goodness.  The tragedy of so much so-called goodness is that in it there is an element of hardness and coldness and austerity.  There is a goodness which attracts and a goodness which repels.  There is a charm in true Christian goodness which makes it a lovely thing.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 125)

 

Even after Constantine had made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, there came to the throne another Emperor called Julian, who wished to put the clock back and to bring back the old gods.  His complaint, as Ibsen puts it, was: “Have you looked at these Christians closely?  Hollow-eyed, pale-cheeked, flat-breasted all; they brood their lives away, unspurred by ambition: the sun shines for them, but they do not see it: the earth offers them its fullness, but they desire it not; all their desire is to renounce and to suffer that they may come to die.”  As Julian saw it, Christianity took the vividness out of life.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”  Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary, as if he was recording an extraordinary phenomenon, “I have been to Church to-day, and am not depressed.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 120-1)

 

According to this statement, therefore, life without Christianity is insipid.  Does not the world today prove that?  Look at the pleasure mania.  Clearly people are finding life dull and boring, so they must be rushing out to this entertainment or that.  But the Christian does not need these entertainments because he has a savior in life–his Christian faith.  Take Christianity out of life and the world, and what an insipid thing life becomes, especially when one gets old or is on one’s deathbed.  It is utterly tasteless and men have to drug themselves in various ways because they feel their need of a savior.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 133)

 

When salt is applied to food properly, it is not so that one can taste the salt, but so that the food itself tastes more authentically as it should.  As salt makes the food more “foodier,” the disciples as the salt of the earth makes the earth more authentically as it should be.  Our role in society is not to be over against it so much as it is to enrich or purify the social order, making it more truly a realm of blessing for humanity.  Such enriching persons are the salt of the earth.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 68)

 

Our Lord uses this metaphor for His disciples, and by extension for us, to show that they are to be people who add zest to the world.  We are to be the tang that makes life more delicious.  Christians are not called to withdraw from the world.  We are not salt merely of the earth, but we are salt for the earth, that we may add this tasteful zest to life itself.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 96)

 

Enthusiasm is contagious—so is whatever else you may have.

 

Marx, you’ll recall, called religion “an opiate” for the people.  Yet Marx had it exactly backwards, at least as far as his words pertain to Christianity.  Opium deadens the senses; Christianity makes them come alive.  Our faith can infuse a deadened or crippled marriage with meaning, purpose, and–in what we so graciously receive from God–fulfillment.  Christianity doesn’t leave us in an apathetic stupor–it raises us and our relationships from the dead!  It pours zest and strength and purpose into an otherwise wasted life.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 151)

 

Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people.  It’s more like the smelling salts.  (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 113)

 

My best friend in college and in seminary was a young man who had been born and raised in the mission fields of Sudan and Ethiopia.  His father was a pioneer missionary for fifty years among primitive tribes, for many of which he was the first white man they had ever seen.  One day my friends showed me a photograph of a group of natives from an animus tribe to which he had ministered. “There are twelve natives in this picture who are Christians.  See if you can identify them,” he said.  There was nothing distinctive about those in the picture.  They all looked and dressed the same way.  Nevertheless, choosing the twelve was an easy task–they were the ones who were radiant.  The joy and life of Christ was written plainly on their countenance.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 99)

 

B-  Salt preserves

 

Now the Bible has always taught that, and it is put perfectly by our Lord when He says, “Ye are the salt of the earth.”  What does that imply?  It clearly implies rottenness in the earth; it implies a tendency to pollution and to becoming foul and offensive.  That is what the Bible has to say about this world.  It is fallen, sinful and bad.  Its tendency is to evil and towards.  It is like meat which has a tendency to putrefy and to become polluted.  It is like something which can only be kept wholesome by means of a preservative or antiseptic.  As the result of sin and the fall, life in the world in general tends to get into a putrid state.  That, according to the Bible, is the only sane and right view to take of humanity.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 131)

 

It seems to me that the first thing which is emphasized by our Lord is that one of the Christian’s main functions with respect to society is a purely negative one.  Now what is the function of salt?  There are those who would say that it is to give health, that it is health- or life-giving.  But that seems to me to be a serious misunderstanding of the function of salt.  Its business is not to provide health; it is to prevent putrefaction.  The principal function of salt is to preserve and to act as an antiseptic.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 133)

 

Salt, then, has especially a negative function.  It combats deterioration.  Similarly Christians, by showing themselves to be Christians indeed, are constantly combating moral and spiritual decay.   How often does it not happen that when a believer suddenly steps into a crowd of worldly individuals the off-color joke by which someone was about to entertain his companions is held back, the profanity is left unspoken, the wicked plan remains unexecuted?  To be sure, the world is wicked.  Yet God alone knows how far more corrupt it would be without the restraining example, life, and prayers of the saints (Gn 18:26-32; 2 Kgs 12:2).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 282-3)

 

In many ancient societies salt was used as a mark of friendship.  For two persons to share salt indicated a mutual responsibility to look after one another’s welfare.  Even if a worst enemy ate salt with you, you were obliged to treat him as a friend.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 241)

 

  1. V. Morton has described the making of “biltong,” the dried meat of South Africa: “The meat, having been cut and trimmed to the required size, is well rubbed with coarse salt…If properly cured, it will keep indefinitely.” (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 58)

 

Sacrifices were accompanied with salt, described as “the salt of the covenant of your God” (Lv 2:13).  This salt of the covenant was a symbol of faithfulness.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 60)

 

C-  Salt disinfects/purifies

 

Salt was often used to purify wounds because it was the closest agent to a disinfectant in ancient Palestine.  Gangrene often set in when wounds were not cleansed with salt.  (Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students, 87)

 

God’s wrath is the antisepsis by which moral putrefaction is checked and the health of the creation maintained.  When God warns of His impending wrath and exhorts men to repent and avoid it He puts it in a language they can understand: He tells them to “flee from the wrath to come.”  He says in effect, “Your life is evil, and because it is evil you are an enemy to the moral health of My creation.  I must extirpate whatever would destroy the world I love.  Turn from evil before I rise up in wrath against you.  I love you, but I hate the sin you love.  Separate yourself from your evil ways before I send judgment upon you.”

“O Lord,…in wrath remember mercy” (Hb 3:2).  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 111)

 

Salt does its work by being brought into close contact with the substance upon which it is to work.  And so we, brought into contact as we are with much evil and wickedness, by many common relations of friendship, of kindred, of business, of proximity, of citizenship, and the like,–we are not to seek to withdraw ourselves from contact with the evil.  The only way by which the salt can purify is by being rubbed into the corrupted thing.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 180-1)

 

I am among those who believe that our Western civilization is on its way to perishing.  It has many commendable qualities, most of which it has borrowed from the Christian ethic, but it lacks the element of moral wisdom that would give it permanence.  Future historians will record that we of the twentieth century had intelligence enough to create a great civilization but not the moral wisdom to preserve it.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 49)

 

The glory of God is a person fully alive.  — Irenaeus

 

  1. Christians living out the beatitudes are the light of the world. (Mt 5:14-16; see also: Ps 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; Isa 42:6; 49:6; 60:1; Mt 6:22-23; Lk 2:32; Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46; 17:15-19; 2 Cor 4:6Eph 5:1-20; Col 1:13 )

 

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.   -Erasmus

 

What is dark?  It is nothing but the absence of light.  You cannot add darkness to light and get less light.  Light is what it is.  Darkness is nothing more than a lack of light.   The reason you are in the dark is because you lack the light.  You need more light to shed the darkness.  Darkness MUST disintegrate in the presence of light.  It can do nothing but disintegrate because it is nothing on its own.  Its only exists when Light is not present.  — Pastor Keith

 

Man is so completely surrounded by his moral darkness that he cannot see his moral and spiritual foolishness.  If only he lived within a hundred miles of a city, it might light up his night sky, and he might see his profound spiritual need and repent?  You, Jesus says, are the city that man needs.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 64)

 

When Jesus commanded his followers to be the lights of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like himself.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 122)

 

What does science and technology and medicine have to say about death?   What does science and technology and medicine have to teach us about broken relationships?   What does science and technology and medicine tell us about finding purpose and meaning in our lives?  We are hell-bent on living longer and more empowered, but to what end?  Who cares?  What will it matter?  Only the Light of the Gospel can shed light on these ultimate questions.   — Pastor Keith

 

Light is the emblem of purity as well as the emblem of knowledge, and if we are Christians we have within us, by virtue of our possession of an indwelling Christ, a power which teaches and enables us to practice a morality high above the theories and doings of the world.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 192-3)

 

Light is a universal religious symbol.  In the OT as in the NT, it most frequently symbolized purity as opposed to filth, truth or knowledge as opposed to error or ignorance, and divine revelation and presence as opposed to reprobation and abandonment by God.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 139)

 

Christians are never a light in and by themselves.  They are light “in the Lord” (Eph 5:8).  Christ is the true, the original “light of the world” (Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 36, 46; 2 Cor 4:6; cf. Ps 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; Isa 49:6; 60:12; Lk 1:78, 79; 2:32).  Believers are “the light of the world” in a secondary or derived sense.  He is “the light lighting” (Jn 1:9).  They are the light lighted.  He is the sun.  They resemble the moon, reflecting the sun’s light.  Apart from Christ they cannot shine.  The electric bulb does not emit light all by itself.  It imparts light only when connected and turned on, so that the electric current generated in the power-house is transmitted to it.  So also as long as Christ’s followers remain in living contact with the original light they are a light to others (cf. Jn 15:4, 5).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 284)

 

Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.—  Albert Schweitzer

 

Light in Scripture indicates the true knowledge of God (Ps 36:9; cf. Mt 6:22, 23); goodness, righteousness, and truthfulness (Eph 5:8, 9); joy and gladness, true happiness (Ps 97:11; Isa 9:1-7; cf. 60:19).  It symbolizes the best there is in learning, love, and laughter, as contrasted with darkness, that is, the worst there is in dullness, depravity, and despair.  When light is mentioned, sometimes one quality–for instance, revealed knowledge–is emphasized; then again another, depending on the context in each case.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 284)

 

John tells us that the proof that we are walking in the light is that we have “fellowship with one another” (1 Jn 1:7).  If you’re not having regular fellowship with other believers you should seriously question whether or not you are really walking in the light. (Rick Warren; The Purpose Driven Church, 339)

 

Seeing that we are light, how can we shine more?  Consider this:  a man returning from a journey brought his wife a matchbox that would glow in the dark.  After giving it to her she turned out the light, but the matchbox could not be seen.  Both thought they had been cheated.  Then the wife noticed some French words on the box and called a friend to translate.  And this is what the inscription said:   If you want me to shine in the night, keep me in the light.

So it is with us!  We must expose ourselves to Jesus, revel in His Word, and spend time in prayer soaking up His rays.  As Paul wrote, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).    (R. Kent Hughes; Are Evangelicals Born Again, 141)

 

Fundamentally, our Lord’s message was Himself.  He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel.  He did not come merely to give bread; He said, “I am the bread.”  He did not come merely to shed light; He said, “I am the light.”  He did not come merely to show the door; He said, “I am the door.”  He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, “I am the shepherd.”  He did not come merely to point the way; He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” —J. Sidlow Baxter

 

Our knowledge has been a knowledge of things, mechanical things, scientific things, a knowledge of life in a more or less purely biological or mechanical sense.  But our knowledge of the real factors that make life life, has not increased at all.  That is why the world is in such a predicament today.  For, as has often been pointed out, in spite of our having discovered all this great and new knowledge, we have failed to discover the most important thing of all, namely, what to do with our knowledge.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 139-40)

 

At the very time when we have been boasting of our enlightenment and knowledge and understanding, there is this tragic breakdown in personal relationships.  It is one of the major moral and social problems of society.  Observe how we have multiplied our institutions and organizations.  We have to give instruction now concerning things about which people were never instructed in the past.  For instance, we now have to have Marriage Guidance classes.  Up to this century men and women were married without this expert advice which now seems to be so essential.  It all proclaims very eloquently that as regards the great momentous questions of how to live, how to avoid evil, and sin, and all that is base and unworthy, how to be clean, and straight, and pure, and chaste, and wholesome, there is gross darkness.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 140)

 

The greatest thinkers and philosophers are completely baffled at this present time and I could easily give you many quotations from their writings to prove that.  I care not where you look in the realm of pure science or philosophy with regard to these ultimate questions; the writers are completely at a loss to explain or understand their own century.  This is because their controlling theory was that all man needed was more knowledge.  They believed that if man had knowledge he would inevitably apply it to the solution of his difficulties.  But, patently, man is not doing that.  He has the knowledge, but he is not applying it; and that is exactly where the “thinkers” are baffled.  They do not understand the real problem of man; they are not able to tell us what is responsible for the present state of the world, and still less, therefore, are they able to tell us what can be done about it.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 140-1)

 

Many of us today have never known anything other than this modern world of electricity.  But some of us remember how the wick had to be given special attention.  Once it began to smoke, it did not give the light, so the wick had to be trimmed.  And a very delicate process it was.  What does this mean in practice of us?  I think it means that we constantly have to remind ourselves of the Beatitudes.  We should read them every day.  I ought to remind myself daily that I am to be poor in spirit, merciful, meek, a peacemaker, pure in heart, and so on.  There is nothing that is better calculated to keep the wick in order and trimmed than just to remind myself of what I am by the grace of God, and of what I am meant to be.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 154)

 

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph 5:11).  When you expose and confess your sins, they no longer are in darkness (secrecy).  When light is turned on in a dark room, darkness becomes light.  So also, when you bring your sins out of darkness and expose them to light, they vanish in God’s forgiveness; they become light.   (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 113)

 

However, our minds are darkened and corrupt, and we are ever battling the natural man, or the flesh.  Clearly, we are told, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (2 Cor 2:14 NKJV).  In other words, our flesh fights things that are not explainable.  (Ron M. Phillips, Awakened by the Spirit, 33)

 

The human heart was deemed to be in need of instruction in moral uprightness.  There needed to be a renewing of the mind.

Today, however, such sentiment has been angrily and mockingly denounced in academia; laden down by our technology, we crawl to our halls of fame like Alexander, desperately wanting the world to believe that we, too, are immortal.  How revealing it is that in the bloodiest century of history we deny human depravity.  The relativism of ancient Greece has worked its way into modern America, though the Greek philosophers themselves, even in their day, warned that relativism would be suicidal.  To her credit, early America knew that this was not merely a philosophical problem, as real as that was.  This was a problem of the soul, and the heart of humanity was in need of redemption.  (Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture, 40)

 

In the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found that I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense.  Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.  If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 42)

 

A sunbeam has no more power to shine if it be severed from the sun than a man has to give light in this dark world if he be parted from Jesus Christ.  Cut the current and the electric light dies; slacken the engine and the electric arc becomes dim, quicken it and it burns bright.  So the condition of my being light is my keeping unbroken my communication with Jesus Christ; and every variation in the extent to which I receive into my heart the influx of His power and of His love is correctly measured and represented by the greater or the lesser brilliancy of the light with which I reflect His radiance.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 191)

 

Any person who knows the history of mankind, even the history of the past hundred years, and thinks that man is evolving upward is “deceiving and being deceived,” just as Paul said.  Man has increased in scientific, medical, historical, educational, psychological, and technological knowledge to an astounding degree.  But he has not changed his own basic nature and he has not improved society.  Man’s knowledge has greatly improved, but his morals have progressively degenerated.  His confidence has increased, but his peace of mind has diminished.  His accomplishments have increased, but his sense of purpose and meaning have all but disappeared.  Instead of improving the moral and spiritual quality of his life, man’s discoveries and accomplishments have simply provided ways for him to express and promote his depravity faster and more destructively.  Modern man has simply invented more ways to corrupt and destroy himself.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 238)

 

Man’s knowledge is increasing by quantum leaps, but his increased knowledge is mechanical knowledge, inanimate knowledge, lifeless knowledge, knowledge that has no bearing on the inner man (cf. 2 Tm 3:7).  His knowledge does not retard his corruption but rather is used to intensify and defend it.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 238)

 

III.  “Christians” who fail to preserve (salt) a rotting world or who fail to be light (shine) to a dark and lost world are useless(Mt 5:13-16a; see also: Mk 9:49-50; Lk 8:16; 11:33; 14:34-35; Rom 1:18-32; Eph 4:29; 2 Tm 3:1-9; Jas 3:3-12; 1 Jn 1:5-7)

 

If we Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians, we are useless.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 60)

 

In the immediate context Jesus seems to be saying that those who live out the qualities listed in the Beatitudes will permeate the world and retard its moral and ethical decay.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 42)

 

A holy life curbs evil, ashamed to show itself in that pure presence.  A good man or woman reveals the ugliness of evil by showing the beauty of holiness.  More converts would be made by a Christ-like Church than by many sermons.  Oh!  if you professing Christians knew your power and would use it, if you would come closer to Christ, and catch more of the light from His face, you might walk among men like very angels, and at your bright presence darkness would flee away, ignorance would grow wise, impurity be abashed, and sorrow comforted.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 199)

 

The Arch Bishop of Canterbury William Temple, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.”  (Chuck Colson; Loving God, 191)

 

The Christian cannot withdraw from the world, but he must, as James said, keep himself “unstained from the world” (Jas 1:27).  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 119)

 

It has been said that the intellectual history of the Western world was saved by the intellectual contributions of the apostle Paul, in particular, and of Christianity, in general.  It has also been said that the advent of Christianity is what saved Western culture from pure barbarianism.  If we look over the influence of the Christian church, particularly in the West from the first century to the present day, we will see that the Christian church more than any other institution has been responsible for the inauguration of higher education.  The university system was the brainchild of the Christian church.  It was the Christian church that brought in the arts–music, painting, and literature.  Many of the world’s greatest artists have been Christians, and the same is true in the realm of music, with Christians such as Bach, Mendelssohn, Handel, and Vivaldi.  Additionally, the Christian church began the hospital movement in the West.  It was the Christian church, following the mandate of Jesus to care for orphans, that ushered in orphanages. Although the NT was written at a time when slavery was still in vogue, John Murray once made the observation that all the seeds for the abolition of slavery were sown in the pages of the NT.  So, in a very real sense, the church of Christ has been the preservative that God has used to keep Western civilization from imploding from internal corruption.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 97)

 

We hide our light by

 

•  being quiet when we should speak

•  going along with the crowd

•  denying the truth

•  letting sin dim our witness for Christ

•  not explaining the truth to others

•  ignoring the needs of others

Be a beacon of truth–don’t shut off your light from the rest of the world.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 85)

 

Nothing is left once it loses the essential quality and purpose for which it has been made.  The same is true of light.  The essential characteristic of light is that it is light, and gives light, and it really has no other function whatsoever.  In other words, the moment it ceases to act as light it has no value.  Its essential quality is its only quality, and once it loses that, it becomes entirely useless.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 150)

 

The words of 5:13-16 show both how totally different from the world and yet how closely related to the world believers are.  Worldly-mindedness or secularization is here condemned, but so is also aloofness or isolationism.  Salt is a blessing when it remains truly salt; light, as long as it is really light.  But salt must be sprinkled over, better still, rubbed into, the meat.  Light must be allowed to shine into the darkness.  It must not be put undercover.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 282)

 

People living in the dark want everybody to be in the dark.   People who deny the Light are threatened by people who have seen the Light.  (Steve Brown message, “Kingdoms in Conflict” from Matthew 2)

 

To be thrown out and trampled underfoot means that unless the disciples maintain their role as salt in the world they will become useless and will be rejected.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 42)

 

A Galilean peasant, with a few of his rude countrymen who had gathered round him, stands up there on the mountain, and says to them, “You, a handful, are the people who are to keep the world from rotting, and to bring it to all its best light.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 178)

 

You do not salt a living thing.  You salt a dead one that it may not be a rotting one.  And, Christ says by implication here, what He says plainly more than once in other places:–“Human society, without My influence, is a carcass that is rotting away and disintegrating; and you, faithful handful, who have partially apprehended the meaning of My mission, and have caught something of the spirit of My life, you are to be rubbed into that rotting mass to sweeten it, to arrest decomposition, to stay corruption, to give flavor to its insipidity, and to save it from falling to pieces of its own wickedness.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 179)

 

If their lives conform to the norms of verses 3-12, they cannot help but be an influence for good in society.  (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 31)

 

You cannot put it upon the soil; there is no fertilizing virtue in it.  You cannot even fling it into the rubbish-heap; it will do mischief there.  Pitch it out into the road; it will stop a cranny somewhere between the stones when once it is well trodden down by men’s heels.  That is all it is fit for.  God has no use for it, man has no use for it.  If it has failed in doing the only thing it was created for, it has failed altogether.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 186)

 

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness, which mankind now enjoys…Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government–and all blessings which flow from them–must fall with them.  (Jedediah Morse: Patriot and Educator, called “The Father of American Geography)

 

“People are like stained glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”  (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)

 

A Christian must be a sign of contradiction in the world…A Christian is one who all his life chooses between good and evil, lies and truth, love and hatred, God and Satan….Today more than ever there is a need for our light to shine, so that through us, through our deeds, through our choices, people can see the Father who is in Heaven.” — Jerzy Popieluszko

 

This is exactly the point of Jesus’ prayer in Jn 17:15-19.  He does not pray that we will be taken out of the world (how, then, could we be his witnesses in it?)  Instead, he prays that we will be kept holy so that when we are sent into the world, we will show Christ to it.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 62)

 

If we are not salting the world, the world is making us rot.  The great tragedy is that often the world does us more harm than we do it good.  (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 81)

 

The most obvious general characteristic of salt is that it is essentially different from the medium into which it is put.  Its power lies precisely in this difference.  So it is, says Jesus, with His disciples.  Their power in the world lies in their difference from it.  The Christian is as different from other men as the salt on a plate is different from the food into which it is placed.  Moreover, another primary function of salt is to preserve, to arrest decay, to act as an antiseptic, so that the germs latent, for example, in meat may be rendered ineffective when salt is rubbed into it.  The disciples, accordingly, are called to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or non-existent.  But they can discharge this function only if they themselves retain their virtue–and this calls for much self-discipline–note last in speech, for, as Paul said, a Christian’s speech must be “always with grace, and seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6).  As Jesus goes on to point out, if a disciple has lost his “virtue” he is like salt which has lost its saltiness and so becomes a wholly useless commodity, fit for nothing else except to be thrown out on the street and trampled on by passers-by.  In the Lucan version of the saying it is implied that it would be a waste of time and energy to scatter it on the land or put it on the compost heap (Lk 14:35).  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 64)

 

The disciples must not hide themselves, but live and work in places where their influence may be felt, and the light that is in them be most fully manifested to others–not for their own glorification, but that others may see that the light of real Christian goodness, finding expression in practical acts of loving-kindness and service, is a light not of this world but coming from God, and may in consequence be led to give honor and praise to its Giver.  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 64)

 

I wonder how many of us Christian men and women have buried their light under the flour-bin and the bed, so interpreted?  How many of us have drowned our consecration and devotion in foul waters of worldly lusts, and have let the love of earth’s goods, of wealth and pleasure and creature love, come like a poisonous atmosphere round the lamp of our Christian character, making it burn dim and blue?  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 1-8, 196)

 

Of course God has set other restraining influences in the community.  He has himself established certain institutions in his common grace, which curb man’s selfish tendencies and prevent society from slipping into anarchy.  Chief among these are the state (with its authority to frame and enforce laws) and the home (including marriage and family life).  These exert a wholesome influence in the community.  Nevertheless, God intends the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be his own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 59)

 

Whenever Christians are conscientious citizens, they are acting like salt in the community.  As Sir Frederick Catherwood put it in his contribution to the symposium Is revolution change?  “To try to improve society is not worldliness but love.  To wash your hands of society is not love but worldliness.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 67)

 

The purpose of salt is to fight deterioration, and therefore it must not itself deteriorate.  (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 32)

 

It seems to me that only barbarians would slaughter their unborn children at the rate of one-and-a half million per year.  A nation that tolerates that kind of corruption cannot last.  The church is trying to be salt to help preserve our culture while the culture is doing everything in its power to remove the influence of the church from the mainstream of American life.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 97)

 

When the settlers came to this country and were met by Native Americans, a war broke out.  The Indians were subdued.  They were allowed to live in America but only under restrictions, and they were relegated to reservations, which isolated them from the mainstream of cultural life.  I fear that is similar to the lot of the Christian church in our day:  we are allowed to exist as long as we stay on our reservation.  If we were salt like the disciples were salt, if we ventured as boldly into the public square as Paul did in the early church, we would experience jail and beatings and persecutions.  We have been taught to keep the salt in the saltshaker, where it will do no harm.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 97-8)

 

The point is that, if Jesus’ disciples are to act as a preservative in the world by conforming to kingdom norms, if they are “called to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing or non-existent…they can discharge this function only if they themselves retain their virtue.”  (Tasker)  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 139)

 

We always need something to show us the difference, and the best way of revealing a thing is to provide a contrast.  The gospel does that, and everyone who is a Christian does that.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 144)

 

Every difficulty in the world today can be traced back, in the last analysis, to sin, selfishness and self-seeking.  All the quarrels, disputes and misunderstandings, all the jealousy, envy and malice, all these things come back to that and nothing else.  So we are “the light of the world” in a very real sense at this present time; we alone have an adequate explanation of the cause of the state of the world.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 145)

 

He seems to be saying, “I have made you something that is meant to be like a light, like a city set upon a hill which cannot be hid.  Are you deliberately concealing it?  Well, if you are, apart from anything else, it is something which is completely ridiculous and foolish.”  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 150)

 

The next time I find myself with any sort of tendency to cover over the fact that I am a Christian, in order, maybe, to ingratiate myself with somebody else or to avoid persecution, I am just to think of the man lighting his candle and then covering it with a bushel.  The moment I think of it like that and see how ridiculous it is, I shall recognize that the subtle things which offered me that bushel is the hand of the devil.  I shall therefore reject it, and shine still more brightly.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 152)

 

Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter.  —Bono

 

Godliness is the ability to let your light shine after your fuse is blown.  -Barbara Johnson

 

Getting Used to Decadence:

The Spirit of Democracy in Modern America

By William J. Bennett

William J. Bennett is Distinguished Fellow in Cultural Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He spoke on December 7, 1993, at a special meeting of The Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Heritage Foundation. ISSN 0272-1155 01993 by The Heritage Foundation.

 

It is an honor to be with you this evening to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Heritage Foundation-America’s most distinguished and consequential public policy organization. This institution has made an enormous contribution to the political and intellectual life of the nation.

During the last two decades, The Heritage Foundation has done much to elevate the public debate and to shape public policy in Washington. And had it shaped more, we would all be better off. Under the watchful eye of its president, Ed Feulner, it has labored to keep conservative Administrations on a straight and principled path. During liberal Administrations,

The Heritage Foundation has provided much-needed sunlight and scrutiny.  It is probably the foremost institutional critic in Washington. And just as important, Heritage consistently points to the better way.  It never curses the political darkness without also lighting a candle of good sense. Its work has never been more needed, and there is no institution with which I am more proud to be associated.

 

America through Foreign Eyes:

We gather in a spirit of celebration.  But tonight I speak out of a spirit of concern–for this evening my task is to provide an assessment of the social and cultural condition of modern American society. And while many people agree that there is much to be concerned about these days, I don’t think that people fully appreciate the depth, or even the nature, of what threatens us. Therefore, we do not yet have a firm hold on what it will take to better us. We need to have an honest conversation about these issues.

Tonight I offer my contribution to the conversation.

A few months ago I had lunch with a friend of mine, a man who has written for a number of political journals and who now lives in Asia. During our conversation the topic turned to America specifically, America as seen through the eyes of foreigners. During our conversation, he told me what he had observed during his travels: that while the world still regards the United States as the leading economic and military power on earth, this same world no longer beholds us with the moral respect it once did. When the rest of the world looks at America, he said , they see no longer a “shining city on a hill.” Instead, they see a society in decline, with exploding rates of crime and social pathologies.  We all know that foreigners often come here in fear.   And once they are here, they travel in fear.  It is our shame to realize that they have good reason to fear; a record number of them get killed here.

Today, many who come to America believe they are visiting a degraded society. Yes, America still offers plenty of jobs, enormous opportunity, and unmatched material and physical comforts. But there is a growing sense among many foreigners that when they come here, they are slumming.  I have, like many of us, an instinctive aversion to foreigners harshly judging my nation; yet I must concede that much of what they think is true.

I recently had a conversation with a D.C. cab driver who is doing graduate work at American University. He told me that once he receives his master’s degree he is going back to Africa. His reason? His children. He doesn’t think they are safe in Washington. He told me that he didn’t want them to grow up in a country where young men will paw his daughter and expect her to be an “easy target,” and where his son might be a different kind of target–the target of violence from the hands of other young males. “It is more civilized where I come from,” said this man from Africa. I urged him to move outside of Washington; things should improve.

But it is not only violence and urban terror that signal decay . We see it in many forms.  Newsweek columnist Joe Klein recently wrote about Berenice Belizaire, a young Haitian girl who arrived in New York in 1987. When she arrived in America she spoke no English and her family lived in a cramped Brooklyn apartment.  Eventually Berenice enrolled at James Madison High School, where she excelled.  According to Judith Khan, a math teacher at James Madison, “[The immigrants are] why I love teaching in Brooklyn.  They have a drive in them that we no longer seem to have.”  And far from New York City, in the beautiful Berkshire mountains where I went to school, Philip Kasinitz, an assistant professor of sociology at Williams College, has observed that Americans have become the object of ridicule among immigrant students on campus . ‘There’s an interesting phenomenon.  When immigrant kids criticize each other for getting lazy or loose, they say, ‘You’re becoming American,”‘ Kasinitz says.  “Those who work hardest to keep American culture at bay have the best chance of becoming an American success stories.”  Last year an article was published in The Washington Post which pointed out how students from other countries adapt to the lifestyle of most American teens.  Paulina, a Polish high school student studying in the United States, said that when she first came here she was amazed by the way teens spent their time.  According to Paulina:

In Warsaw, we would talk to friends after school, go home and eat with our parents and then do four or five hours of homework.  When I first came here, it was like going into a crazy world, but now I am getting used to it.  I’m going to Pizza Hut and watching TV and doing less work in school.  I can tell it is not a good thing to get used to.

 

Think long and hard about these words, spoken by a young Polish girl about America: “When I first came here it was like going into a crazy world, but now I am getting used to it.” And, “I can tell it is not a good thing to get used to.

Something has gone wrong with us.

This is a conclusion which I come to with great reluctance.  During the late 1960s and 1970s, I was one of those who reacted strongly to criticisms of America that swept across university campuses.  I believe that many of those criticisms–“Amerika” as an inherently repressive, imperialist, and racist society–were wrong then, and they are wrong now.  But intellectual honesty demands that we accept facts that we would sometimes like to wish away. Hard truths are truths nonetheless.  And the hard truth is that something has gone wrong with us.

America is not in danger of becoming a Third World country; we are too rich, too proud, and too strong to allow that to happen.  It is not that we live in a society completely devoid of virtue.  Many people live well, decently, even honorably.  There are families, schools, churches, and neighborhoods that work.  There are places where virtue is taught and learned.  But there is a lot less of this than there ought to be.  And we know it.  John Updike put it this way: “The fact that… we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling that we no longer live nobly.”

 

Empirical Evidence of Social Regression:

Let me briefly outline some of the empirical evidence that points to cultural decline, evidence that while we live well materially, we don’t live nobly.  Earlier this year I released, through the auspices of The Heritage Foundation, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, the most comprehensive statistical portrait available of behavioral trends over the last thirty years. Among the findings:  since 1960, the population has increased 41 percent; the gross domestic product has nearly tripled; and total social spending by all levels of government (measured in constant 1990 dollars) has risen from $142.73 billion to $787.00 billion-more than a five-fold increase.

But during the same thirty-year period, there has been a 560 percent increase in violent crime; more than a 400 percent increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorces; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200 percent increase in the teenage suicide rate; and a drop of 75 points in the average S.A.T. scores of high-school students.

These are not good things to get used to.

Today 30 percent of all births and 68 percent of black births are illegitimate.  By the end of the decade, according to the most reliable projections, 40 percent of all American births and 80 percent of minority births will occur out of wedlock.

These are not good things to get used to.

And then there are the results of an on-going teacher survey.  Over the years, teachers have been asked to identify the top problems in America’s schools.  In 1940, teachers identified them as talking out of turn; chewing gum; making noise; running in the hall; cutting in line; dress code infractions; and littering.  When asked the same question in 1990, teachers identified drug use; alcohol abuse; pregnancy; suicide; rape; robbery; and assault.

These are not good things to get used to, either.

Consider, too, where the United States ranks in comparison with the rest of the industrialized world.  We are at or near the top in rates of abortions, divorces, and unwed births. We lead the industrialized world in murder, rape, and violent crime.  And in elementary and secondary education, we are at or near the bottom in achievement scores.

 

The American Ethos:

These facts alone are evidence of substantial social regression.  But there are other signs of decay, ones that do not so easily lend themselves to quantitative analyses (some of which I have already suggested in my opening anecdotes).  What I am talking about is the moral, spiritual, and aesthetic character and habits of a society-what the ancient Greeks referred to as its ethos.  And here, too, we are facing serious problems.  For there is a coarseness, a callousness, a cynicism, a banality, and a vulgarity to our time.  There are just too many signs of de-civilization–that is, civilization gone rotten. And the worst of it has to do with our children.  Apart from the numbers and the specific facts, there is the on-going, chronic crime against children:  the crime of making them old before their turn.  We live in a culture which at times seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the young, to assuring the loss of their innocence before their time.

This may sound overly pessimistic or even alarmist, but I think this is the way it is.  And my worry is that people are not unsettled enough; I don’t think we are angry enough.  We have become inured to the cultural rot that is setting in.  Like Paulina, we are getting used to it, even though it is not a good thing to get used to.  People are experiencing atrocity overload, losing their capacity for shock, disgust, and outrage.  A few weeks ago eleven people were murdered in New York City within ten hours; as far as I can tell, it barely caused a stir.

Two weeks ago a violent criminal, who mugged and almost killed a 72-year old man and was shot by a police officer while fleeing the scene of the crime, was awarded $4.3 million. Virtual silence.

And during last year’s Los Angeles riots, Damian Williams and Henry Watson were filmed pulling an innocent man out of a truck, crushing his skull with a brick, and doing a victory dance over his fallen body.  Their lawyers then built a successful legal defense on the proposition that people cannot be held accountable for getting caught up in mob violence.  (“They just got caught up in the riot,” one juror told The New York Times.  “I guess maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”)  When the trial was over and these men were found not guilty of most counts, the sound you heard throughout the land was relief.  We are “defining deviancy down,” in Senator Moynihan’s memorable phrase. And in the process we are losing a once reliable sense of civic and moral outrage.

Listen to this story from former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly:

A number of years ago there began to appear, in the windows of automobiles parked on the streets of American cities, signs which read: “No radio.”  Rather than express outrage, or even annoyance at the possibility of a car break-in, people tried to communicate with the potential thief in conciliatory terms.  The translation of “no radio” is:  “Please break into someone else’s car, there’s nothing in mine.”  These “no radio” signs are flags of urban surrender.  They are hand-written capitulations.  Instead of “no radio,” we need new signs that say “no surrender.”

And what is so striking today is not simply the increased number of violent crimes, but the nature of those crimes.  It is no longer “just” murder we see, but murders with a prologue, murders accompanied by acts of unspeakable cruelty and inhumanity.

And from pop culture, with our own ears, we have heard the terrible debasement of music.  Music, harmony, and rhythm find their way into the soul and fasten mightily upon it, Plato’s Republic teaches us. Because music has the capacity to lift us up or to bring us down, we need to pay more careful attention to it.  It is a steep moral slide from Bach, and even Buddy Holly, to Guns ‘n Roses and 2 Live Crew. This week an indicted murderer, Snoop Doggy Dogg, saw his rap album, “Doggystyle,” debut at number one.  It may be useful for you to read, as I have, some of his lyrics and other lyrics from heavy metal and rap music, and then ask yourself, “How much worse could it possibly get?”  And then ask yourself, “What will happen when young boys who grow up on our streets, without fathers in their lives, are constantly exposed to music which celebrates the torture and abuse of women?”

There is a lot of criticism directed at television these days–the casual cruelty, the rampant promiscuity, the mindlessness of sitcoms and soap operas.  Most of the criticisms are justified. But this is not the worst of it.  The worst of television is the daytime television talk shows, where indecent exposure is celebrated as a virtue.  It is hard to remember now, but there was once a time when personal failures, subliminal desires, and perverse taste were accompanied by guilt or embarrassment, at least by silence.  Today these are a ticket to appear as a guest on the Sally Jessy Raphael show, or one of the dozens or so shows like it.  I asked my staff to provide me with a list of some of the daytime talk-show topics from only the last two weeks.  They include: cross-dressing couples; a three-way love affair; a man whose chief aim in life is to sleep with women and fool them into thinking that he is using a condom during sex; women who can’t say no to cheating; prostitutes who love their jobs; a former drug dealer; and an interview with a young girl caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle.  These shows present a two-edged problem to society.  The first edge is that some people want to appear on these shows in order to expose themselves.  The second edge is that lots of people are tuning in to watch them expose themselves.

This is not a good thing to get used to.

Who’s to blame?  Here I would caution conservatives against the tendency to blame liberals for our social disorders.  Contemporary liberalism does have a lot for which to answer; many of its doctrines have wrought a lot of damage.  Universities, intellectuals, think tanks, and government departments have put a lot of poison into the reservoirs of national discourse.  But to simply point the finger of blame at liberals and elites is wrong.  The hard fact of the matter is that this was not something done to us; it is also something we have done to ourselves.  Liberals may have been peddling from an empty wagon, but we were buying.

Much of what I have said is familiar to many of you.  But why is this happening?  What is behind all this?  Well, again, intelligent arguments have been advanced as to why these things have come to pass.  Thoughtful people have pointed to materialism and consumerism; an overly permissive society; the writings of Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche; the legacy of the 1960s; and so on. There is truth in almost all of these accounts.  Let me give you mine.

Spiritual Acedia:

I submit to you that the real crisis of our time is spiritual.  Specifically, our problem is what the ancients called acediaAcedia is the sin of sloth.  But acedia, as understood by the saints of old, is not laziness about life’s affairs (which is what we normally think sloth to be).  Acedia is something else; properly understood, acedia is an aversion to and a negation of spiritual things.  Acedia reveals itself as an undue concern for external affairs and worldly things.  Acedia is spiritual torpor, an absence of zeal for divine things.  And it brings with it, according to the ancients, “a sadness, a sorrow of the world.”  Acedia manifests itself in man’s “joyless, ill-tempered, and self-seeking rejection of the nobility of the children of God.”  The slothful man hates the spiritual, and he wants to be free of its demands.  he old theologians taught that acedia arises from a heart steeped in the worldly and carnal, and from a low esteem of divine things. It eventually leads to a hatred of the good altogether.  nd with hatred comes more rejection, more ill-temper, sadness, and sorrow.

Spiritual acedia is not a new condition, of course.  It is the seventh capital sin.  But today it is in ascendance.  In coming to this conclusion, I have relied on two literary giants–men born on vastly different continents, the product of two completely different worlds, and shaped by wholly different experiences–yet writers who possess strikingly similar views, and who have had a profound impact on my own thinking.  It was an unusual and surprising moment to find their views coincident.

When the late novelist Walker Percy was asked what concerned him most about the future of America, he answered:

Probably the fear of seeing America, with all its great strength and beauty and freedom… gradually subside into decay through default and be defeated, not by the Communist movement… but from within by weariness, boredom, cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems.

 

And here are the words of the prophetic Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (echoing his 1978 Harvard commencement address in which he warned of the West’s “spiritual exhaustion”):

In the United States the difficulties are not a Minotaur or a dragon, not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment and censorship; but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference.  Not the acts of a mighty all-pervading repressive government but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright.

What afflicts us, then, is a corruption of the heart, a turning away in the soul.  Our aspirations, our affections, and our desires are turned toward the wrong things.  And only when we turn them toward the right things–toward enduring, noble, spiritual things–will things get better.

Lest I leave the impression of bad news on all fronts, I do want to be clear about the areas where I think we have made enormous gains:  material comforts, economic prosperity, and the spread of democracy around the world.  The American people have achieved a standard of living unimagined fifty years ago.  We have seen extraordinary advances in medicine, science, and technology.  Life expectancy has increased more than twenty years during the last six decades.  Opportunity and equality have been extended to those who were once denied them.  And of course America prevailed in our “long, twilight struggle” against communism.

Impressive achievements all.

Yet even with all of this, the conventional analysis is still that this nation’s major challenges have to do with getting more of the same:  achieving greater economic growth, job creation, increased trade, health care, or more federal programs.  Some of these things are desirable (greater economic growth and increased trade); some of them are not (more federal programs).  But to look to any or all of them as the solution to what ails us is akin to assigning names to images and shadows, it so widely misses the mark.

If we have full employment and greater economic growth–if we have cities of gold and alabaster–but our children have not learned how to walk in goodness, justice, and mercy, then the American experiment, no matter how gifted, will have failed.

I realize I have laid down strong charges, a tough indictment.  Some may question them.  But if I am wrong, if my diagnosis is not right, then someone must explain to me this:  why do Americans feel so bad when things are economically, militarily, and materially so good?  Why amidst this prosperity and security are enormous numbers of people-almost 70 percent of the public saying that we are off track?  This paradox is described in the Scottish author John Buchan’s work.  Writing a half-century ago, he described the “coming of a too garish age, when life would be lived in the glare of noon lamps and the spirit would have no solitude.” Here is what Buchan wrote about his nightmare world:

In such a [nightmare] world everyone would have leisure. But everyone would be restless, for there would be no spiritual discipline in life …. It would be a feverish, bustling world, self-satisfied and yet malcontent, and under the mask of a riotous life there would be death at the heart.  In the perpetual hurry of life there would be no chance of quiet for the soul …. In such a bagman’s paradise, where life would be normalized and padded with every material comfort, there would be little satisfaction for the immortal part of man.

During the last decade of the twentieth century, many have achieved this bagman’s paradise.  And this is not a good thing to get used to.

In identifying spiritual exhaustion as the central problem, I part company with many.  There is a disturbing reluctance in our time to talk seriously about matters spiritual and religious.  Why?  Perhaps it has to do with the modern sensibility’s profound discomfort with the language and the commandments of God.  Along with other bad habits, we have gotten used to not talking about the things which matter most–and so, we don’t.

One will often hear that religious faith is a private matter that does not belong in the public arena.  But this analysis does not hold–at least on some important points.  Whatever your faith–or even if you have none at all–it is a fact that when millions of people stop believing in God, or when their belief is so attenuated as to be belief in name only, enormous public consequences follow.  And when this is accompanied by an aversion to spiritual language by the political and intellectual class, the public consequences are even greater.  How could it be otherwise?  In modernity, nothing has been more consequential, or more public in its consequences, than large segments of American society privately turning away from God, or considering Him irrelevant, or declaring Him dead.  Dostoyevsky reminded us in The Brothers Karamazov that “if God does not exist, everything is permissible.”  We are now seeing “everything.”  And much of it is not good to get used to.

 

Social Regeneration

What can be done?  First, here are the short answers:  do not surrender, get mad; and get in the fight.  Now, let me offer a few, somewhat longer, prescriptions.

1) At the risk of committing heresy before a Washington audience, let me suggest that our first task is to recognize that, in general, we place too much hope in politics.  I am certainly not denying the impact (for good and for ill) of public policies.  I would not have devoted the past decade of my life to public service and I could not work at The Heritage Foundation if I believed that the work with which I was engaged amounted to nothing more than striving after wind and ashes.  But it is foolish, and futile, to rely primarily on politics to solve moral, cultural, and spiritual afflictions.

The last quarter-century has taught politicians a hard and humbling lesson:  there are intrinsic limits to what the state can do, particularly when it comes to imparting virtue, and forming and forging character, and providing peace to souls.  Samuel Johnson expressed this (deeply conservative and true) sentiment when he wrote “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure!”

King Lear was a great king–sufficient to all his political responsibilities and obligations. He did well as king, but as a father and a man, he messed up terribly.  The great king was reduced to the mud and ignominy of the heath, cursing his daughters, his life, his gods.  Politics is a great adventure; it is greatly important; but its proper place in our lives has been greatly exaggerated.  Politics–especially inside the Beltway politics–has too often become the graven image of our time.

2)We must have public policies that once again make the connection between our deepest beliefs and our legislative agenda.  Do we Americans, for example, believe that man is a spiritual being with a potential for individual nobility and moral responsibility?  Or do we believe that his ultimate fate is to be merely a soulless cog in the machine of state?  When we teach sex-education courses to teenagers, do we treat them as if they are young animals in heat?  Or do we treat them as children of God?

In terms of public policy, the failure is not so much intellectual; it is a failure of will and courage.  Right now we are playing a rhetorical game:  we say one thing and we do another.  Consider the following:

  • We say that we desire from our children more civility and responsibility, but in many of our schools we steadfastly refuse to teach right and wrong.
  • We say that we want law and order in the streets, but we allow criminals, including violent criminals, to return to those same streets.
  • We say that we want to stop illegitimacy, but we continue to subsidize the kind of behavior that virtually guarantees high rates of illegitimacy.
  • We say that we want to discourage teenage sexual activity, but in classrooms all across America educators are more eager to dispense condoms than moral guidance.

 

 

• We say that we want more families to stay together, but we liberalize divorce laws and make divorce easier to attain.

  • We say that we want to achieve a color-blind society and judge people by the content of their character, but we continue to count by race, skin, and pigment.
  • We say that we want to encourage virtue and honor among the young, but it has become a mark of sophistication to shun the language of morality.

 

3)We desperately need to recover a sense of the fundamental purpose of education, which is to provide for the intellectual and moral education of the young.  From the ancient Greeks to the founding fathers, moral instruction was the central task of education.  “If you ask what is the good of education,”  Plato said, “the answer is easy–that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly.”  Jefferson believed that education should aim at improving one’s “morale’ and “faculties.”  And of education, John Locke said this:  ‘Tis virtue that we aim at, hard virtue, and not the subtle arts of shifting.”  Until a quarter-century or so ago, this consensus was so deep as to go virtually unchallenged.  Having departed from this time-honored belief, we are now reaping the whirlwind.  And so we talk not about education as the architecture of souls, but about “skills facilitation” and “self-esteem’ and about being “comfortable with ourselves.”

4)As individuals and as a society, we need to return religion to its proper place.  Religion, after all, provides us with moral bearings.  And if I am right and the chief problem we face is spiritual impoverishment, then the solution depends, finally, on spiritual renewal.  I am not speaking here about coerced spiritual renewal–in fact, there is no such thing–but about renewal freely taken.

The enervation of strong religious beliefs–in both our private lives as well as our public conversations–has demoralized society.  We ignore religion and its lessons at our peril.  But instead of according religion its proper place, much of society ridicules and disdains it, and mocks those who are serious about their faith.  In America today, the only respectable form of bigotry is bigotry directed against religious people.  This antipathy toward religion cannot be explained by the well-publicized moral failures and financial excesses of a few leaders or charlatans, or by the censoriousness of some of their followers.  No, the reason for hatred of religion is because it forces modern man to confront matters he would prefer to ignore.

Every serious student of American history, familiar with the writings of the founders, knows the civic case for religion.  It provides society with a moral anchor-and nothing else has yet been found to substitute for it.  Religion tames our baser appetites, passions, and impulses.  And it helps us to thoughtfully sort through the ordo amoris, the order of the loves.

But remember, too, that for those who believe, it is a mistake to treat religion merely as a useful means to worldly ends.  Religion rightly demands that we take seriously not only the commandments of the faith, but that we also take seriously the object of the faith.  Those who believe know that although we are pilgrims and sojourners and wanderers in this earthly kingdom, ultimately we are citizens of the City of God–a City which man did not build and cannot destroy, a City where there is no sadness, where the sorrows of the world find no haven, and where there is peace the world cannot give.

 

Pushing Back:

Let me conclude.  In his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner declared, “I decline to accept the end of man.”  Man will not merely endure but prevail because, as Faulkner said, he alone among creatures “has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

Today we must in the same way decline to accept the end of moral man.  We must carry on the struggle, for our children.  We will push back hard against an age that is pushing hard against us.

When we do, we will emerge victorious against the trials of our time.  When we do, we will save our children from the decadence of our time.  And when we do, we will be able to sing confidently again about the country we love, in those beautiful words of old:

O, beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness

And every gain divine!

We have a lot of work to do.

Let’s get to it.

 

  1. In order for Christians to be effective salt and light, they really do not have to “do” anything special, they just have to be. (Mt 5:13, 15-16; see also: Mk 4:21; Lk 11:33; 18:16; 2 Thess 2:1-12; Jam 1:27; 1 Pt 2:9)

 

We must be different if we want to make a difference.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 84)

 

I pray that unbelievers will say of you, “You know those Christians are weird.   But it is a good kind of weird.” — Pastor Keith

 

The true Christian cannot be hid, he cannot escape notice.  A man truly living and functioning as a Christian will stand out.  He will be like salt; he will be like a city set upon a hill, a candle set upon a candlestick.  But we can also add this further word.  The true Christian does not even desire to hide his light.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 151-2)

 

We all know there are certain people in whose presence a filthy story is naturally told, and there are others before whom no one would think of telling such a story.  The salty Christian is not self-righteous or condemning, but his or her life makes ungodly conversation seem shabby and inappropriate.  (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 79)

 

Wherever I may find myself, immediately that “something different” about me should have its effect; and that in turn ought to lead men and women to look at me and to say, “There is something unusual about that man.”  Then, as they watch my conduct and behavior, they begin to ask me questions.  Here, the element of “light” comes out; I am able to speak and to teach them.  Far too often we Christians tend to reverse the order.  We have spoken in a very enlightened manner, but we have not always lived as the salt of the earth.  Whether we like it or not, our lives should always be the first thing to speak; and if our lips speak more than our lives it will avail very little.  So often the tragedy has been that people proclaim the gospel in words, but their whole life and demeanor has been a denial of it.  The world does not pay much attention to them.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 143)

 

If you want to be culture leaders and have a huge influence in the world in which you live. . . bear more pain than you inflict.  — Richard Mouw

 

The business of salt is to be salt, just that.  The characteristic of salt is saltiness.  It is exactly the same with light.  The whole function and purpose of light is to give light.  We must start there and realize that these things are self-evident and need no illustration.  Yet the moment we put it like that, does it not tend to come as a rebuke to us all?  How prone we are to forget these essential functions of salt and light.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 149)

 

The way to understand this is to grasp our Lord’s teaching concerning the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 where He says, in effect, “The result of His coming will be this:  My Father and I will take up Our abode in you; We will be in you and you will be in Us.”  God, who is “the Father of lights,” is the light that is in us; He is in us, and we are in Him, and thus it can be said of the Christian, “Ye are the light of the world.”  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 142-3)

 

The apostle Paul paints a grim picture at the end of the first chapter of his Roman letter of what happens when society suppresses (out of love for evil) the truth it knows by nature.  It deteriorates.  Its values and standards steadily decline until it becomes utterly corrupt.  When men reject what they know of God, God gives them up to their own distorted notions and perverted passions, until society stinks in the nostrils of God and of all good people.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 65)

 

Have we grace?  Then it must be seen.  Have we the Spirit?  Then there must be fruit.  Have we any saving religion?  Then there must be a difference of habits, tastes and turn of mind, between us and those who think only of the world.  It is perfectly clear that true Christianity is something more than being baptized and going to church.  “Salt” and “light” evidently imply something special both in heart and life, in faith and practice.  We must dare to be unusual and unlike the world if we mean to be saved.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 28)

 

The Greeks had long believed that the very concept of human excellence could be pursued only if man’s purpose was first known.  Purpose and performance had to be tied together.  But purpose had been lost, and technique and pleasure had replaced truth and morality.  The pragmatic plague of “how to build” became more important than “how to be.”  (Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil, 38-9)

 

The devil can traffic in any area of darkness, even the darkness that still exists in a Christian’s heart.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 15)

 

Let us recognize before we do warfare that the areas we hide in darkness are the very areas of our future defeat.  Often the battles we face will not cease until we discover and repent of the darkness that is within us.  If we will be effective in spiritual warfare, we must be discerning of our own hearts; we must walk humbly with our God.  Our first course of action must be, “Submit…to God.”  Then, as we “resist the devil…he will flee” (Jas 4:7).  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 16)

 

God can never entrust His kingdom to anyone who has not been broken of pride, for pride is the armor of darkness itself.  (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 17)

 

There is no despair because the group is small:  a pinch of salt is effective out of all proportion to its amount.  There is no hermit strategy:  the disciples are to stay in the world, touching even its unworthy life, if they would redeem it.  There is no call to a sensational witness:  salt is inconspicuous, ordinary, and admixed with common things.  The proposal is for a day-by-day witness for Jesus; the implied promise is that again the city shall be saved by ten righteous men (Gn 18:32).  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 289)

 

There are many people in this world who have not the moral strength and courage to take a stand by themselves, but if someone gives them a lead, they will follow; if they have someone strong enough to lean on, they will do the right thing.  It is the Christian’s duty to take the stand which the weaker brother will support, to give the lead which those with less courage will follow.  The world needs its guiding lights; there are people waiting and longing for a lead to take the stand and to do the thing which they do not dare by themselves.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 124)

 

Prison reform, medical care, trade unions, control of a perverted and perverting liquor trade, abolition of slavery, abolition of child labor, establishment of orphanages, reform of the penal code–in all these areas the followers of Jesus spearheaded the drive for righteousness.  The darkness was alleviated.  And this, I submit, has always been the pattern when professing Christians have been less concerned with personal prestige and more concerned with the norms of the kingdom.  (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 33)

 

Woodrow Wilson told the story of being in a barbershop one time.  “I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room.  A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me.  Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him.  And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D. L. Moody was in that chair.  I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop.  They talked in undertones.  They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.”  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 236)

 

The world cannot do anything but get worse, because it has no inherent goodness to build on, no inherent spiritual and moral life in which it can grow.  Year after year the system of evil accumulates a deeper darkness.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 237)

 

Mother Teresa has been one of the most influential people on the earth because she has served perhaps more than anyone.  Tony Campolo describes Mother Teresa’s appearance at a Harvard University chapel service.  She didn’t pull any punches.  At one point she said, “I understand there are lots of you students in this school who are doing things that displease God.  You are harming yourselves and offending God.  Some of you are drinking alcohol and taking drugs.  Others of you are engaged in sexual sin of many sorts.  I have a message for you from God:  Repent, turn away from what you are doing.”

The result of Mother Teresa’s exhortation was amazing.  The entire auditorium full of people rose to their feet and applauded thunderously for several minutes.  They gave this simple woman a standing ovation for calling them to repentance!  Her credibility as a servant gave her authority as a speaker.  (Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, 114)

 

  1. When we live out the beatitudes and become salt and light we glorify our Father in heaven because we imitate Him. (Mt 5:16; see also: Isa 9:1-7; 60:19; 1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 2:14-16; 3:18; Phil 2:14-15; 1 Pt 2:11-12; 4:11-14) 

 

The Christian calling to be salt can be done without attention, but light will be noticed.  However, the purpose of being light in the world is not to bring attention to ourselves, but to bring praise to our Father in heaven.  (Roger L. Hahn, Matthew: A Commentary for Bible Students, 88)

 

Bearing the light of the gospel in both message and life will bring people to know that the kingdom of heaven truly is in the world, and they will glorify their heavenly Father.  The Beatitudes hinted at this direction, but the metaphors of salt and light are the first explicit indication that the presence of the kingdom produces changed lives.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 216)

 

You remember how the Apostle Paul addresses a word about it to the Philippians.  He reminds them that they are to be a luminaries in the heavens, they are to ‘do all things without murmurings and disputings:  that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life’ (Phil 2.14-16).  What a tragic thing it is that Christian people can be miserable and murmuring instead of rejoicing in Christ Jesus.  It is an outcome of the fact that they have forgotten that everything is of grace.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, 127)

 

In an attempt to steer clear of works for gaining righteousness, good works are often neglected in church life today.  But clearly the Bible supports the importance of doing good (see Eph 2:8-10; 4:12; 1 Tm 5:10; 6:18; 2 Tm 2:21; 3:17; Ti 3:1, 8, 14; Jas 1:22; 2:14-26; 3:13).  Good works are important not only as a witness to others but as a continuation of the work Christ began on earth.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 85-6)

 

Don’t you see when Jesus died, the minute He died, Lk 23:45, it says darkness was over the whole land for the sun stopped shining.  What does that mean?  The darkness came into him.  He took the darkness.  He took the consequences of what was done.  He took the darkness. . . . He died in the dark, the ultimate dark, so we could live in the light.  So we could have the light that never goes out.   (Tim Keller sermon, The Hour of Darkness)

 

Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God.  And when we are honest, we have to admit that it isn’t very fulfilling or joyful to us, either.  But the solution isn’t to try harder, fail, and then make bigger promises, only to fail again.  It does no good to muster up more love for God, to will yourself to love Him more.  When loving Him becomes obligation, one of many things we have to do, we end up focusing more on ourselves.  No wonder so few people want to hear from us about what we ourselves feel is a boring, guilt-ridden chore!  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 103)

 

The fact is, I need God to help me love God.  And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans.  Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 104)

 

It was very simple, but it was one of those profound revelations that only God can induce.  What happened was that I realized I was not alone in my own surroundings. I’m not talking about ghosts or angels or anything; I’m talking about other people.  As silly as it sounds, I realize, late that night, that other people had feelings and fears and that my interactions with them actually meant something, that I could make them happy or sad in the way I associated with them.  Not only could I make them happy or sad, but I was responsible for the way I interacted with them.  I suddenly felt responsible. I was supposed to make them happy.  I was not supposed to make then sad.  Like I said, it sounds simple, but when you really get it for the first time, it hit hard.  (Donald Miller; Blue Like Jazz, 9)

 

We must realize that whenever we dabble with evil in the slightest way, our love is spoiled.  If we fudge truth just a little in talking to a friend, the relationship is marred.  The community is made unclean by the slightest bit of gossip.  The smallest trace of games, pretensions, or manipulations in our care for others makes our love less than whole or holy.  We want to hate with a perfect hatred all those little jabs that puncture our love.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 151)

 

“Would you like your light to shine?” Asks the prophet, “Then do away with oppression” (see Isa 58; Amos 8:4-10).  In a time of frustration when the Lord did not seem to hear the cry of Israel, another prophet asks, “What does the Lord require of you?”  It is to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8) (Tony Compolo; 101 Ways Your Church Can Change the World, 166)

 

Worship Point:  Do you realize the significance of what Jesus is saying about authentic Christians who are born again and live out the beatitudes in the Light of God?  Could there be any more greater significance to one’s life than this?  Worship the God who empowers you to truly make a difference in the world in which you live.  (Ps 36:9; 97:11; 119:105; Jn 8:12; Col 1:12-13)

 

We must never give in to Satan’s lie that we can be effective only when we have large numbers and a show of strength.  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 58)

 

“Ye,” said our Lord, looking out upon those simple people, those entirely unimportant people from the standpoint of the world, “Ye are the light of the world.”  It is one of those statements which should always have the effect upon us of making us lift up our heads, causing us to realize once more what a remarkable and glorious thing it is to be a Christian.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 138)

 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?   You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.   There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.   We are born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.   As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.  (Nelson Mandela)

 

When you have pursued God in repentant helplessness, you will have worshiped.  And every time you sense his embrace, your soul will shine the slightest bit brighter with his reflected glory, and you will be the slightest bit more ready to face what this life has in store for you.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 122)

 

Gospel Application:  Being salt and light is not something we muster up on our own.  It is what we are and become when we are born again and realize Who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

 

What man needs is not more light; he needs a nature that will love the light and hate the darkness–the exact opposite of his loving the darkness and hating the light.  Man needs to be taken hold of, and he needs to get back to God.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 146-7)

 

What the world needs is not knowledge; it is not teaching; it is not information; it is not medical treatment; it is not psychotherapy; it is not social progress; it is not punishment, even.  It is none of these things.

What men and women need is a new heart, a new nature, a nature that will hate darkness and love the light, instead of loving the darkness and hating the light.  They need an entire renovation, and, blessed be the name of God, it is the very thing that God offers in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The Son of God came and took unto himself human nature.  He united it to himself in order that he night give us that nature. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; God’s Way, Not Ours: Isaiah 1, 67)

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Ask about Jesus.  Seek Jesus.  Knock on every door you need to knock on in order to know Jesus as He really is and thus fall head over heels in love with Jesus.  Then the beatitudes will naturally be evident in your life and you will become salt and light to a dark and decaying world.

 

God is in the business of bringing you to the end of yourself; and the darkness and the doubt is His methodology.   (Steve Brown message, “The Tears of Jesus – Pt 01″)

 

When we love Christ only for what He brings us, including spiritual feelings, we are loving ourselves, not loving Him, regardless of the sacrifice we think we are offering.  The dark night of the soul purifies our motivation and keeps us from becoming like the crowds in the NT who followed Jesus, not for His teaching, but for the miraculously supplied bread.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 193)

 

“To be sure, if the church rather than Christ becomes the center of our devotion, spiritual decay has begun.”  (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, 15)

 

In the dark? Follow the Son.

 

 

Quotes to Note:

Here we come to what is, in many ways, the crucial problem of this twentieth century, undoubtedly one of the most interesting periods that the world has ever known.  I do not hesitate to claim that there has never been a century which has so proved the truth of the biblical teaching as this one.  It is a tragic century, and it is tragic very largely because its own life has completely disproved and demolished its own favorite philosophy.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 130)

 

It seems that “good works” is a general expression to cover everything a Christian says and does because he is a Christian, every outward and visible manifestation of his Christian faith.  Since light is a common biblical symbol of truth, a Christian’s shining light must surely include his spoken testimony.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 61)

 

Christ:

the Light

of the

World

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