Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:13–16

Matthew 5:13–16
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.”
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Vibrant lives convey a powerful message!

If you watch any television, you receive steady bombardment from advertising claims. Our special plan will let you lose 40 pounds in 40 days! Our technical training will put you in a high-paying job for life! Buy our car and circulate among the elite! We have a constant challenge in trying to separate what has eternal value from what does not.

Jesus wants his disciples to demonstrate authentic kingdom values to a watching world. Do you have the right stuff?

Our Bible text for today has been the subject of great analysis, some of it needlessly subtle. R.T. France seems to have the right idea when he says, “It is important that disciples should both be different and be seen to be different.”[1] Keener adds that Jesus has just explained the appropriate lifestyle for his disciples and now says that any alleged disciple who does not live the kingdom lifestyle is worth about as much as tasteless salt or invisible light.[2]

Putting matters positively, Jesus uses a metaphor when he flatly states, “You are the salt of the earth” (5:13a). It is quite clear that salt was critical to the function of the ancient world, largely as a food preservative and for flavoring food. A world without adequate salt would have been much more primitive.

Jesus next describes a hypothetical situation in which salt loses its distinctive qualities or flavor. Then he asks a question: “By what will it be re-salted?”[3] (5:13b). Jesus answers his own rhetorical question by saying such material is good for nothing! The implication is that a disciple who is not living for the kingdom will similarly be cast aside. By whom? This is again a divine passive; such a disciple will be cast away by God.

Before we go on, you must know that we are not speaking here about loss of salvation. Instead, we must recall that huge crowds are following Jesus, and even among his disciples are those of varying commitment. Always remember the presence of Judas, and you will realize that it is easy to make false assumptions about Jesus’ disciples. Jesus never made that mistake! Judas later sold his master for 30 silver coins (Matt. 26:15), but that did not buy him any new friends (Matt. 27:4).

The second metaphor Jesus uses is much easier; he calls his own the light of the world (5:14). Jesus stresses visibility in two further images: a city set on a hilltop (5:14) and a lamp placed on a lampstand in a home (5:15). These metaphors are about the effect which the life of Jesus’ disciples will have on those around them. R.T. France says, “The ‘job description’ of a disciple is not fulfilled by private personal holiness, but includes the witness of public exposure.”[4]

Of what does this light consist? Matthew 5:16 makes it clear that good deeds seen by others are the essence of what Jesus expects from his disciples. It is interesting that Jesus credits unbelieving people with the insight to honor God for the good deeds performed by the disciples.

Do you have the right stuff?

Sometimes we Protestants lean so hard on grace that Christians begin to think that the phrase good works is a contradiction in terms! Turner goes so far as to say, “A so-called disciple without good works is of no more value than tasteless salt or an invisible lamp.”[5]

Jesus taught and worked miracles in all types of public settings. Like salt we must be distinctive. Like light we must engage the dark watching world. In doing so, we are following the example of our Lord!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 173.

[2] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999), 172.

[3] My translation, following BDAG-3, tis, “what?” q.v.

[4] France, Matthew, 176.

[5] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 156.

 

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!