In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He states, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” Often, well-meaning believers invoke this passage as a means of encouragement and prodding others to step up to the plate and affect the world.
In this study, I desire to provide you with a greater understanding of the Greek verb that Jesus uses: “You are.” It is not an imperative command; it is an indicative verb. This is a very important and necessary distinction to make as we seek to better understand what the Bible means by what it says. Such precision leads to proper, God-glorifying application to one’s life.
My prayer is that the meaning of this passage will become increasingly clear as you study what follows.
In the three-chapter Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus denounces the legalism of the Pharisees; in contradistinctive juxtaposed alliteration, the thesis of the sermon is this: one cannot be saved by keeping the law of Moses.
In that the Pharisees presented themselves as the astute spiritual gurus of Israel, habitually staking out the moral high ground (with their accompanying odious scent of superiority), Jesus’ objective in the three-chapter sermon is to pop their bubble. He begins His sermon with pithy, short statements intended to contrast their posturing. These Beatitudes (“a declaration of a specific condition for being blessed or gaining a kind of bliss”) are all direct opposites to pharisaical arrogance and ideology. In other words, Jesus is saying (my paraphrase), “You think your ways will change the world? You’ve got it backwards!”
That summation of Jesus’ sermon should give a hint as to how this all relates to the topic of this Bible study: How to Maximize Your Influence on the Hill. By the time one arrives at Jesus’ conclusion in the Beatitudes (vss. 13- 14, point V. in this outline) the formula for an effective, God-honoring life that impacts the world has been laid, and the two “You are” statements serve as apt summaries of the aforementioned — indicative of the prior beatitudinal attitudes in action! Conversely:
FOR ONE TO ISOLATE JESUS’ SALT AND LIGHT STATEMENTS AND UTILIZE THEM AS IF HE WERE COMMANDING HIS FOLLOWERS TO BE “SALT AND LIGHT” WITH NO REFERENCE OR CONSIDERATION TO WHAT PRECEDES THE SUMMARY STATEMENTS IS TO MISS THE CRUX OF THE PASSAGE
It is to state the summations without the method. Such would be like commanding a staff member to achieve a certain function without instruction: a speechwriter must first know how to write; a webmaster must first know HTML; and a scheduler must first know Microsoft Office in order to be effective in their vocations. In a similar fashion, the Public Servant must first know what will make him into a preserver and illuminator (salt and light respectively) while serving in office. This point is both simple yet profound: Jesus’ summation of being salt and light is a codification of all He has previously taught. The preceding seven Beatitudes need be thoroughly examined and understood in order to be this. Here then are insights for maximizing one’s influence on the Hill.
II. SEVEN REQUIRED ATTITUDES 5:1-9
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying . . .
During the time of Christ there were four prevalent religionists that focused on things other than what Jesus mentions here: an emphasis on the inner man, one’s attitudes. Notice these four groups and their parallels to today:
This is the expanded competitive theological landscape wherein Jesus spoke the following seven attitudinal descriptors that are blessed: pleasing to self, God, and others. As we study what follows, pay special note to the progression and how each builds on the former: There is a definite accumulation of thought here. That’s to say the Beatitudes which follow are not a buckshot scattering of somewhat unrelated nice sayings.
A. IF YOU BREAK OVER PERSONAL SIN
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
True spirituality in God’s sight, and the first necessary component for long-lasting influence, is humility. The Greek word Matthew selects and is translated into English as Poor (ptochos) was used in association with a beggar, connoting the idea of material poverty. Here, Jesus uses it in a spiritual context: being spiritually poor: one who is begging God for his salvation. Foundational to one’s relationship to self, God and others is the need for one to come to grips with his abject spiritual poverty — one’s inner realization of his lost hopelessness apart from God’s intervention. Fundamental to effective influence is attribution to God (versus self ) and His divine enablement. This stands in opposition of one who possesses a spirit of being self-strong, the seedbed of personal pride.
Paul reflects on this attitude in Philippians 3:7-9 when he describes his personal righteousness in comparison to God’s as rubbish. Isaiah 64:6 puts it this way: And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. Summarily, counter intuitively, Worthiness in this world cannot be attained without a sense of personal unworthiness. One need take his eyes off of self and regard one another as more important (Philippians 2:3). Without genuine humility others will rightfully conclude “it’s all about me,” which vastly diminishes one’s influence. Such was the wrap on the Pharisees. The poor in spirit (akin to being repentant) are blessed because they’ve concluded after taking personal inventory a need to depend on God for their salvation; Jesus concludes, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
B. IF YOU MOURN OVER PERSONAL SIN
Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The contextual progression of thought pertaining to mourning (pentheo) has to do with sorrowfulness over personal sin. It is a present participle meaning this outlook should be one of continuous action — reflective not only of personal repentance leading to salvation, but an ongoing attitude of nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Romans 7:18). The person who is poor in spirit realizes his personal bankruptcy — which necessitates personal mourning, grief and agony over one’s plight before a Holy and all-righteous God. James underscores this perspective on self when he writes, Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and
He will exalt you (4:9-10). Mourning, longing for a life free from sin, and to be with one’s Maker (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2, 8) in turn, per this passage, implores God’s attention, empowerment: “for they shall be comforted. “
CONTRARY TO THE WAYS OF THE PHARISEES, IT IS THE EMPTYING OF SELF THAT ENABLES THE FILLING OF GOD:
For when I am weak, then I am strong is the similar counterintuitive paradoxical promise of 2 Corinthians 12:10. It is spiritual bankruptcy (poor in spirit) that leads to personal continual mourning that in turn facilitates Jesus’ conclusion of this Beatitude: comforted (parakaleo) (“to call alongside”) (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3), the same word used elsewhere for the Holy Spirit, which can be translated “Helper.” Paraphrased: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall inure to themselves the help of God. Do you desire greater influence on the Hill? Here is the biblical prescription: Sober to your abject personal spiritual poverty. Once you realize you’re not so great, you position yourself for effective service; it is at this point God aids you.
Whereas the first two Beatitudes focus on one’s proper assessment of self, the following two pertain to a proper assessment of one’s self to God.
C. IF YOU DESIRE GOD’S APPROVAL
Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”
If being poor in spirit and mourning over sin means one has forsaken personal merit in exchange for the economy of God’s gracious impartation, then it follows that one will possess a humble, gentle spirit in view of the holiness of God.
Gentleness (also translated in other English Bibles as “meekness”) has as its object the awe and respect of God. It means not self-strong. The Greek word for gentleness (praos) carries the idea of focus on the holiness of God. Contextually then, this is not so much about being gentle with others; it is about being humbled by and in the presence of the reality of who God is! I am meek when I compare my sinfulness to God’s holiness. In contrast the Pharisees were full of hubris and boastful of their personal merit whereas the redeemed are full of meekness in awe of God’s majesty and holiness.
Resultant is the fact they shall inherit the earth. In terms of being salt and light today, the existence of “not being self-strong” being desirous of God’s approval is an indispensable component of one possessing an inherited-from-God influence on the Hill.
D. IF YOU SEEK AFTER GOD’S WAYS
Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Having given one’s self a vote of no-confidence, it follows that one will not only be awestruck, i.e., meek in view of His holiness, but will also pursue hunger and thirst after His righteousness. Voiding self, one desires to be filled with God’s ways! Show me a Member who hungers for God’s righteousness and I will show you a Member who is effectuating change in society; the inverse is true also.
Hungering and thirsting connote a strong passion in the soul. Herein is proper ambition: Not zeal to be famous or create a brand, but first be directed to know God! The more one crucifies and empties self (Galatians 2:20; the first two Beatitudes), the more one will desire and have the ability to be filled with God’s ways. One cannot grab hold of God’s pearls until they release the plastic pop-beads of self.
Such is the means of ultimate satisfaction in this life and such are the foundational ingredients of those who will be effective agents of preservation and illumination in culture.
To be effective in influencing others in a positive way, the aforementioned four prerequisites must first be in place.
E. IF YOU HELP OTHERS
Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Mercy (eleemon) (from which the English word eleemosynary is derived) means “beneficial or charitable.”
It follows that one who has received much mercy via the pardon of sin on the Cross should, in their realization, display mercy, or charity, to others.
ONE WHO IS DESPONDENT OVER HIS SIN, RESULTING IN A WHOLEHEARTED PURSUIT OF GOD, WILL SHOW MERCIES TO HIS FELLOW MAN
Mercy carries the idea of “not giving somebody that which they deserve.” God is merciful to the sinner in this way; He pardons the sinner. In this same way, the beatitudinal believer displays mercy toward his fellow man. Such teachings by Jesus flew in the face of the smug Pharisees who were condescending, void of mercy toward those who failed to measure up to their standards. One’s amount of influence on the Hill will be largely calculated by his willingness, attempts, and successes to personally bless the lives of others.
States Jesus, the specific result of one’s characteristic mercifulness is that he will receive mercy. James 2:13 states this same promise in an opposite fashion: For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy (cf. Matthew 6:14-15). This is not to suggest that one gains salvation by being merciful; such is accomplished not by personal merit, but by God’s grace through trust in Christ. Rather, the idea is this: to the degree the believer is merciful to his or her fellow man is the degree to which God is merciful to him in daily living. What goes around comes around. The idea is one of sowing and reaping: The one who sows mercy will reap mercy.
F. IF YOU ARE GENUINE WITH OTHERS
Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
When Jesus spoke these words in the Sermon on the Mount, Israel was in desperate straits. With a ripe history of disobedience to God, they found themselves under the control of an occupying foreign country (Rome) and an economy in shambles. They were under the religious misguidance of the religionists previously mentioned in the introduction. In that light, Jesus stating the above must have been liberating for those to whom He preached. The Pharisees in particular were not pure in heart — rather, they were pious in heart — toward their fellow man. Theirs was a guilt-trip religion of never-ending proportions.
Given these insights and the contextual progression of the passage, Jesus was proclaiming in a positive way, “Don’t be pious toward your fellow man!” Pure (katharos) means “cleansing from dirt and contamination.” The Greek word is the basis of the English word “catharsis,” which means to purge, evacuate the emotions. To be pure in heart means to be real in every way — especially emotionally! Don’t coat your relationships with a thick morass of pharisaical super-spirituality as though you are perfect when everyone, including yourself, knows that you are not! Be authentic with others! It is the person who truthfully communicates a sense of and transparency regarding personal brokenness over sin, but who is nonetheless passionate toward God and manifestly loving vis-à-vis others, who is most attractive and influential in life! Genuine people become the greatest preservative and illuminative people in a nation. This is the kind of person others want to be around versus phony spiritual know-it-alls with plastic spirituality who act like they have it all together! Ugh!
The result is intimacy with God: they shall see God. This phrase is in the future indicative tense and in the middle voice. Translated, that means: they shall be continuously seeing God for themselves. Herein then in the respective order of the Beatitudes is intimacy and blessing with self, God and others. What more could anyone desire?
G. IF YOU RECONCILE OTHERS TO GOD
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The third aspect of personal relationship skills listed in the progression of the Beatitudes is that of being a messenger of peace to others. In that the believer himself has made peace with God, such is the ambassador of God’s peace to and for others. Every believer is an evangelist sharing God’s salvation with others: He is a peace maker in the vertical sense. Again, note the progression: within the confines of horizontal relationships where one helps and is genuine, comes the ability to effectively share Christ. This represents the ultimate in cultural preservation and illumination, reconciling people to God in an eternal sense.
The Greek word used here for sons (huios) “expresses the dignity and honor of a child to his or her parents.” Synonymous with being an ambassador for Christ as depicted in 2 Corinthians 5:20, is the idea in this passage of being a son of God: both are descriptors of being God’s honorable representatives.
ONE WOULD THINK THE PREVIOUS SEVEN BUILDING-BLOCKS OF VIRTUE WOULD RESULT IN GREAT PRAISE BY OTHERS HARDLY
What results is just the opposite reaction by the world.
III. TWO RESULTING ACCUSATIONS 5:10-11
The biblical litmus test relative to effective beatitudinal execution is this: To the degree one is being persecuted and falsified is the degree one is beatitudinal. If one is living an effective Christ-centered life characterized by the seven preceding indicators, it is guaranteed, given the progression of this passage, that one will be persecuted and falsified. Expect nothing else, my friend. This will be the world’s response (as well as the response of Tares in the Church) to your godly living. If what follows is not your experience, then how spiritual — according to Jesus’ definition — are you?
A. THEN YOU WILL BE PERSECUTED
Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
2 Timothy 3:12 stereophonically under-scores this same idea: all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Persecution is the evidence of true salvation and beatitudinal living. There will always be reaction, resentment and jealousy for those who live godly in Christ Jesus. Come to expect it; it is the believer’s badge of authenticity. Don’t be surprised!
B. THEN YOU WILL BE FALSIFIED
Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”
Expect abusive words behind your back. If it was said of Jesus, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19), should you or I expect anything less? It follows that being falsified for Christ’s sake is a badge of authenticity.
IV. ONE RESPONSIVE APPROPRIATION 5:12
Matthew 5:12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11 and 12 do not state that one who is persecuted and falsified for living beatitudinally should endure it. No, it says you should feel blessed. This is worth underscoring! Note in the beginning of this passage the same idea: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great . . . .” Tune your emotional response in times of persecution and falsification to align with how God sees the matter! Don’t be down! God views you as honorable! Commentator Pink states adroitly, “It is strong proof of human depravity that men’s curses and Christ’s blessings should meet on the same persons.” The believer is to be glad (agalliao), which is an imperative command meaning “to be overjoyed” in response to persecution. The KJV perhaps better captures this when it translates “Rejoice and be glad” as “be exceedingly glad.” The believer is commanded to respond not with doubt or sorrow over persecution, but rather he or she is to skip and jump with happy excitement! Such actions surrounding your life are indicative that you are building eternal rewards.
Reacting maturely to others’ negative responses to your godly living should be the norm in your life as illustrated by the prophets who were before you. What great company to keep!
V. TWO RESULTING ASSESSMENTS 5:13-14
A. RESULTING IN PRESERVATION TO SOCIETY
Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
Salt is an appropriate metaphor in an ancient, non-refrigerated society. Salt was applied to meat in order to cure it and keep it from spoiling. In a similar sense, summarily indicative of the believer who lives godly will be his influence for good
to others and society. Spirit-filled Christians retard moral and spiritual spoilage by their measured maturity in Christ. Their character, actions, and policies are for the betterment of all in this world in the here and now.
What follows in this passage, “but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again . . . .” is a reiteration and summation of the failure of the aforesaid beatitudinal progression we have just studied. Said another way, if you are not beatitudinal, in reality you are not a preserver of society.
B. RESULTING IN ILLUMINATION TO SOCIETY
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;”
The second indicator of one’s spiritual maturity, beatitudinal living, can be measured by one’s luminal output. I.e., how much light do you cast on your surroundings? In that salt works to preserve behind the scenes, light openly illuminates. It “cannot be hidden.” Indicative of a beattitudinal believer is his conspicuous presence! The believing Public Servant need be about proclaiming the excellences of Him who called him. States 1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Illumination of God’s ways is normative behavior for Christ’s ambassadors. Many more are needed in D.C.!
I read an article that quoted the Pew Research findings regarding Congress, since the November 2016 elections, being composed of 91% Christians. The article concluded, “Then why aren’t things different?” While the definition of “Christian” may include many who do not really follow Christ, the point remains, could it be that the believers on the Hill are not living out the progressive order of Jesus’ Beatitudes? If they were, it would be indicated in the preservation and illumination of America! The influence of salt and light are an indication and equal to the beatitudinal maturity in the life of the believer. Pray the Holy Spirit will impart the progressive order of beatitudinal characteristics in your life so as to Maximize Your Influence on the Hill. To the degree you are beatitudinal is the degree you are influential.