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Seasoning and Illumination

by Alex Wilson

During World War II my Dad was stationed in Hawaii for a while. Someone there once gave him some apples. But yuck! They had no taste at all. Yet he didn’t want to throw them away, lest the giver ask how he liked them. Finally he solved the problem. He bought a bottle of apple butter to spread on them. That’s the only way he could stand them.

Apples without flavor are like salt without saltiness. Do we ever seem like yuck! to God and to people around us? Jesus had something to say about this. In the Sermon on the Mount He gave His disciples nine Blesseds. Then He gave them two You Are’s’ “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. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

What Is He Telling Us?

Salt adds flavor. And we Christians by our love, joy and purpose in life should add flavor — tang and zest — to a community.

But in Jesus’ day of no refrigeration, salt’s main use was to prevent meat from decaying. Like beef that sits around too long, human society will naturally deteriorate and become rotten morally. By our lives we can help prevent that process. And our society is not like ham–already salty. Our land and community need all the salt they can get. We Jesus-people should provide that saltiness.

Light illuminates, makes things brighter and clearer. Jesus implies that this world is naturally dark –very dark with evil, meanness, dishonesty, exploitation, gloom and despair. Jesus is the light of the world, like the Sun. But we, like the Moon, are to reflect His light and blessings into the very deep darkness.

How Can We Do It?

By living the beatitudes we studied the past two months: Compassionate mourning, mercy and meekness, peace-making, willingness to suffer, etc. In other words, by our Jesus-like character and action. That’s how we bring God into our life and community.

Salt never stops decay while still in the salt-shaker. Till salt is applied to the meat, it has no effect at all. Christians who want to stay in a holy huddle with fellow-Christians and never mix with unsaved folks are like salt which wants to mingle only with other salt — or at most with ham or bacon! We need to penetrate society, not withdraw into caves like hermits, or into monasteries like monks. (I’m preaching to myself here.)

On the other hand, if we go into society but also think and act just like our society–conforming to its selfish lifestyles–we won’t make any impact either. (See the quotation from John Stott inside our front cover.)

Let’s Apply All This:

Let’s apply this to our children in school: Be friendly, not aloof or stand-offish from others. But also “dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone,” to be different in values, standards, and conduct.

For example, Do not cheat and give other students answers during tests. But do offer to help them with their studies at other times–and take time to do it. Do not cuss and tell dirty jokes, but do have some good, clean ones to tell! Do not adopt immodest dress, or indulge in alcoholic drinks or do drugs. But do–as much as possible–be positive and avoid a holier-than-thou attitude. Don’t put down other people, but do turn down the harmful effects of sin.

As an example, here’s a letter I sent to Louisville’s liberal newspaper, the Courier-Journal, during a several week’s period of intense debate about “gay marriage rights.” The paper ran numerous articles and letters on this.

Several recent letters claim that gay unions are “no threat to marriage.” Yet facts indicate that gay unions are indeed a clear threat — to gays themselves. Homosexual persons ﺅ though just a small per cent of our population, have about 50٪ of the Syphilis cases and 60٪ of AIDS cases in the U.S. Gay men get Hepatitis-B 20 times more than straight men. The average gay’s life expectancy is about 42 years, contrasted with 74 for straight men. The average lesbian lives 45 years, while the average straight woman lives to 79. So on average those who practice homosexuality die over 30 years sooner than straights! These facts are not publicized as they ought to be. They are not just cold statistics, but people. I heard a speaker say, “We hate homosexual practice because we love homosexual people”.

By sending that letter we tried to oppose sin yet love sinners. But sadly, though I emailed it to the CJ three times, and snail-mailed it once, they never published it.

Some Positive Examples of Salt and Light

This article was originally a sermon to the Portland Avenue congregation. Faithful shepherds of God’s flock should rebuke the sheep’s faults when necessary, but also commend and encourage their virtues when possible. We don’t want to just toot our own horn, but there are many praiseworthy attitudes and activities. The same is true in any church which seeks to please our Shepherd. So here are some samples of God-inspired ways to be salt and light to others.

A few years ago, Jill Warner spear-headed a Saturday-morning “Portland Pride” community cleanup group. Some of our other members plus additional folks participated. This was a good effort and example, though its impact was not so great as desired because people who were helped were too irresponsible to get involved and help themselves (much less help others).

Linda Gregson ran for the Louisville city council. Though she was not elected (that’s often the case), she called attention to needed changes in the neighborhood, and made helpful proposals for improvement. Jackie Hert, by volunteering to be our main van-driver, almost single-handedly resurrected our children’s classes in Sunday School and also mid-week Bible Club.

For 20 years Ruth Wilson led a Girl Scout troop sponsored by our church. Many of the Scouts were not members here, but she taught them the Gospel as well as practical and social skills–and tried to reach parents (mostly moms) too. Several of our sisters participate in a home Bible class for neighborhood women. Others regularly meet to pray at length, and also are part of a telephone prayer-chain for emergencies.

Ernie Balsley goes weekly to the Portland Health Clinic to assist elderly patients in filling out forms, making phone-calls, etc. He also investigates and assists people who ask the church for financial help in emergencies. Tim Crabtree is an active volunteer in several community agencies and activities. Some of them are “secular” (helping in the annual Portland Festival), and some are Christian (a ministry that gives food, clothes, and the Gospel to homeless people on a weekly basis). Gary Butts heads up the Kentucky branch of the Christian Coalition, which promotes righteous laws and godly practices in our state and community.

For over 80 years Portland Christian School has provided education from a Bible-based perspective. This was provided tuition-free for decades, and even now its tuition is adapted to the financial needs and abilities of the families. This has been a godsend to many.

Von Allmen’s Grocery and also Heid Printing are just two of several family businesses that have ministered to people of this community by honesty in business, plus very generous caring for customers and others, and providing jobs, etc.

Several other examples could be given as well. But the point is already clear: All Christians can and should be salt and light in some way or other. Christ’s Spirit enables us as salt to retard evil, and as light to spread loving care and joy. But remember that to do any good, salt must remain salty–and we Christians must remain Christiany! Satan not only tries to stop us from influencing unbelievers for the Lord. He also tries to lure us into evil, harmful ways. Don’t let him. Stay salty. Stay close to the Lord. Stay in the Light, and reflect Him!

A Contradiction?

Verse 16 says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” But contrast the opening verse of the very next chapter: “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness [or of devotion] before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” How do we resolve that seeming contradiction?

By realizing that our Lord is warning us about opposite types of failure. 1) Fear or cowardliness tempts us to deny we are Christians, to keep our faith secret because of shame. In 5:16 Jesus is telling us, Don’t be ashamed of Me, don’t deny your faith in Me but be willing to do good things in My name so I and My Father will get the glory. Don’t hide your light under a bowl.

2) On the other hand, pride and self-righteousness tempt us to show off our religion so that we will get glory. So Jesus tells us, Examine your motives. If you pray, fast, give donations, etc. in order to build your reputation–then it means nothing to God. Some teacher put the bottom line this way: When tempted to hide your faith, show it. When tempted to show off your faith, hide it.

Motivation

Speaking of motives, note three of them in verses 1-16. Live according to these teachings, Jesus says, and 1) You will be Blessed: “O the bliss,” the fulfillment you will receive! In John 10:10 He called it “abundant life.” 2) Society will be Helped–enlightened–and its corruption decreased or at least slowed down. And 3) God will be Glorified for these virtues and their results.

Vision and Faith

Last, note Christ’s vision for His followers, and strong faith in His Father. At this time He was popular with the crowds. Yet his closest followers (then and later) were mostly a rag-tag bunch of men fishermen, maybe some farmers, carpenters and other everyday guys plus a despised tax-collector or two. Later he chose twelve from them to be his most intimate trainees, and at times sent them out on preaching-and-healing missions. Sometime after that he had about seventy other Bible School students (we might call them) to whom he gave special instructions and then sent out on an evangelistic trip two by two.

Here’s the point: To such folks (plus others including women) — most of them very ordinary — Jesus here says, “You are the salt of the EARTH, the light of the WORLD!” The Greek word here translated “world” is the word from which we get “cosmos.” He is granting these “common folks,” though they could not have understood it then, a cosmic significance!

He knew that by His divine power these humble people had gigantic potential! He had a world-wide perspective for them. And indeed, by God’s grace and enabling, they, His “little flock,” changed world history.

What about us, here and now? Christ’s power has not diminished. Neither have His vision and goal for His people in every generation. May we trust Him more and more, and by His enabling be salt and light to the world!

Alex Wilson lives in Louisville, KY. He is  the  Minister of the Portland Avenue Church of Christ and  Editor of “Word and Work.”

 




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Philippians 4:13