Expository Summary - Matthew 5:13-16
The following is a concise and expository summary of Matthew 5:13-16 by BT Burke on Pilgrim's Toolbox. For more scripture summaries and spiritual growth resources visit www.pilgrimstoolbox.com.
My family and I have lived in a small Eastern European country for the last year and a half and have had to get used to some odd differences between life here and in America. One of the first things we noticed here was how dangerous it was to be on a sidewalk. Where we come from a sidewalk is a nice safe place to walk or ride a bike in order to avoid traffic. But in this country a sidewalk can be a parking space, a turning lane, or a passing lane for fast moving traffic. In America we taught our kids they don’t have to hold our hands when they are on the sidewalk. Here we had to re-teach them that the most important place to hold our hand is on the sidewalk.
Sidewalks are made for a purpose. It’s a place that’s on the side of the road and out of the way where pedestrians can walk safely. But where we live it isn’t being used for the purpose for which it was created. To the pedestrian it is a complete waste.
Salt and Light
When things are created for a purpose, they should fulfill that purpose. Jesus is making this point about us in Matthew 5:13-16. God has called those of us who believe and follow Jesus to be holy; to live by a different standard than everyone else. As his people, as his chosen race, as a holy nation we are “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which (we) have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
Jesus first illustrates this in Matthew 5 by calling his followers the salt of the earth. In talking about salt, Jesus makes the point that salt is only useful when it is salty. If the salt does not have a salty taste then it is no longer of any use and should be thrown out.
Then Jesus uses another illustration by calling his followers the light of the world. If you light a lamp, you don’t hide the lamp to conceal the light. That would defeat the purpose of its creation. You light the lamp to put it on a stand and to illuminate the house. Light is meant to be seen; it is never made to be hidden.
Jesus makes his point in the end of this passage that just like in the illustration of the light, our lives need to be on display before men, fulfilling our purpose, shining out the good works God has prepared for us for the glory of the Father.
Becoming Salt and Light
Before we talk about living as salt and light on the earth I think it is important to make sure we remember how we became that way. We are salt and light because we have been made salt and light by God. God chose us before the foundation of the world, predestining us to be adopted into the family of God through Jesus, redeeming us from our sins through his blood according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1). We are salt and light not because we made ourselves salty and bright or because we in ourselves had the potential to be so, but because God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy made us salt and light.
Living Salty and Bright
It is clear that Jesus wants us to be a salty salt in this earth and a bright light that others can see. With no immediate context we could probably still come up with many explanations as to what it means to be salt and light on the earth for God based on other passages throughout Scripture that deal with how we are to live on the earth. But we really don’t need to do too much searching to figure out what Jesus is talking about. This passage about being salt and light is built right into a larger sermon from Jesus about how a person should live. When we think about what type of people we need to be to be salt and light in this world, we need to think about Jesus’ very words in this sermon.
Jesus has just taught his followers (Matthew 5:2-11) that the life of a true child of God is a life of self-denial and of service to others. It is a life of lowliness and humility filled with sorrow over their sinful condition. It is a life that denies itself the shiny, fragrant beauties that the world offers to instead pursue the true hidden treasures of righteousness and purity. It is a life that puts the needs of others in front of their own. It is a life willing to accept slander, reviling, and persecution because of their uncompromising devotion to Jesus.
These are the characteristics of those whose light is shining on the hill for all to see. Lives of humility, self-sacrifice, and devotion to Jesus.
I love how Jesus expresses the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Each of the statements explains a manner of living that is difficult and unnatural for fallen men that is wedged right into the middle of unparalleled blessings. In case we are tempted to think that the Christian life is nothing but mundane duty and self-denial, Jesus infuses blessing after blessing. The poor in spirit are blessed with the kingdom of heaven, the mourners will be blessed with comfort, and the meek will inherit the earth. On and on the rewards are promised to the people of God.
What God is calling for us to do as salt and light will not come naturally and will not always be easy. I would think that regardless of how many times the Apostle Paul was beaten or imprisoned for the sake of the kingdom, it continued to be difficult to live out. However Paul believed in and understood the promised blessings from Jesus. That is why Paul was able to say, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9,17). Paul was encouraged and motivated in the most difficult times by the great promises of blessing. He didn’t ignore the difficult task that God had called him to on earth, but rather accepted it, knowing the awesome riches that awaited him after death.
As Jesus concluded the beatitudes he commands us to “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” We shouldn’t trudge through our life mission of being salt and light in the world. Instead we should remember our reward, and live in obedience rejoicing in our Savior Jesus Christ.
The Glory of God
The bottom line for God making us into salt and light and commanding us to shine in the world is the same reason that God has in everything he does: the glory of God. This truth couldn’t be any clearer than it is in verse 16. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
We were made salt and light for the glory of God. We were given the beatitudes for the glory of God. When we live in obedience to what God has commanded us, the world sees our good works and give glory to God. When we rejoice and are glad in living in ways that show our love for God and for others above our love for ourselves, the world sees and gives glory to God.
We were made for a purpose. Ultimately that purpose is to glorify God. In order to glorify God we need to be salt and light in this world, living in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
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