Passage: Matthew 5:13-16
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by describing the character of the Christian community (Matt. 5:2-11). In the section that follows, Jesus describes the mission of this community, and the impact that it is called to have in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
As Christians, we are called to be different, for the sake of the world—a “counterculture for the common good”. If we lose our distinctiveness, we won’t be of any benefit to the world. On the other hand, if we maintain our distinctiveness, but isolate ourselves into a Christian bubble, we won’t be any good for the world either!
Jesus captures this calling we have, using the images of salt & light. First, we are “the salt of the earth” (5:13). In Jesus’ day, salt was used both as seasoning and as a preservative for meats, to keep them from decaying. Like salt, we are to “rub ourselves into” places and situations where there is decay and brokenness, where things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Rather than complaining about the decay of a fallen world, we are to engage with it meaningfully, so that we might enrich it because of who we are in Christ.
Jesus also says we are the “light of the world” (5:14-16). Light isn’t something we look at directly so much as it’s something that illuminates everything else around us. If we simply live out our lives in Christ, and do not seek to hide who we truly are, we will emanate hope and clarity and guidance to all who are around us.
Jesus recognizes that Christians will be tempted either to lose their distinctiveness (like “salt losing its saltiness”), or to maintain the distinctiveness of their faith, but keep it hidden (like “putting a light under a basket”). He warns us, then, against both of these mistakes, and we would do well to consider which is more of a temptation for us, so that we can take a step towards greater integrity.
Ultimately, the power to be “different, for the sake of the world” only comes from looking to Jesus. Jesus himself was more different—more “set apart”, or holy—than anyone who has ever lived. And yet, he was also more involved in the mess and suffering of the world than anyone who has ever lived. These two qualities in Jesus were not in tension, for the very thing that made Jesus the most holy one was his utter willingness to go right into the middle of suffering of our world and give himself up for it in love. This is the Jesus we have the privilege of representing together!
• Called to Be Salt (5:13)
• Called to Be Light (5:14-16)
• The Power to be Salt & Light
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage(s): Matthew 5:13-16
Called to Be Salt (5:13)
Q) Re-read Matthew 5:13. What does Jesus mean when he says that Christians are “the salt of the earth”? How would you explain the significance of this imagery to someone who has never read the Sermon on the Mount?
Q) Can you think of some recent examples of Christians you know who lived as “the salt of the earth”? What did they do? What was the impact?
Q) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby shared this quote from John Stott: “God intends us to penetrate the world. Christian salt has no business to remain snugly in elegant little ecclesiastical salt cellars; our place is to be rubbed into the secular community, as salt is rubbed into meat…we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach the non-Christian world; but should we not rather reproach ourselves? No-one blames unsalted meat for going bad! It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: where is the salt?”
What is your reaction to this quote? Is there an area where the church has been known to bemoan the “decay” of the world, without fully “rubbing ourselves in” as the salt of the earth? Where have you yourself done this?
Q) Where and how do you sense that God is calling you to be “the salt of the earth” in this season of your life? What would this practically look like? What would keep you from doing so?
Called to Be Light (5:14-16)
Q) Re-read Matthew 5:14-16. What does Jesus mean when he says that Christians are “the light of the world” and “a city set on a hill”? How would you explain the significance of this imagery to someone who has never read the Sermon on the Mount?
Q) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby said that living as the “light of the world” is not about being someone we’re not, but about simply not hiding who we are in Christ—not putting our light “under a basket”. In what settings do you find yourself tempted to hide who you are as a follower of Jesus? Why do you think that is? What would it look like to “let your light shine before others” in that particular setting?
LEADER NOTE: Some in the group might be in work situations where they feel as if they “can’t” be open about their faith. It might be helpful to dive into this a bit. What does it look like to “let your light shine” in a setting like this?
Q) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby mentioned two types of Christians who need to hear Jesus’ call to be “different for the sake of the world”. Each of us leans towards being one of these two types:
• “Bubble Christians”—those Christians who live distinctly as Christians, are clear about their beliefs, are biblical orthodox…but who live largely in a “Christian bubble”. Most of the people they socialize with are Christians, they work with Christians, most of their activities revolve around the church etc. These Christians haven’t connected the call to be different with the call to be “in, but not of” the world.
• “Private Christians”—those Christians who are very involved in the world, who are serving throughout the community, who have ample friendships people who aren’t Christians, etc…but who more or less keep their faith hidden. These Christians haven’t connected the call to be involved in the world with the call to be different as they do so.
Which one of these kinds of Christians are you more tempted to live like? What would it look like to take one step towards greater integrity in this area?
The Power to be Salt & Light
Q) How was Jesus the ultimate example of being “different, for the sake of the world”? How does recognizing this about Jesus empower us to live as salt and light?
Q) What was your one main takeaway from this week’s sermon and passage? It might be:
• A thought to consider
• An attitude to embrace
• An action to take
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.