Message: Happily Different – Pt. 1 | Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What were your main takeaways? What, in further reflection, have you thought about regarding the sermon or the passage? Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
- Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
- Perhaps in how you let your feelings, emotions, sinful desires determine who you are/how others perceive you (or maybe in how they shape who you really are)?
- Perhaps in how you struggle with an assurance of faith because you do not believe in the promises or God or because persistent, unrepentant sin hinders your confidence?
- Perhaps in how you feel God challenging you to be salt to certain individuals in your life (and how it really is up to you to be that to them)?
- In your own words, what does it mean to be the salt of the earth?
- Something I didn’t touch too much on in my sermon is the question of why it is significant that Jesus uses salt to describe who the Christian is and who/what he is to be in the world. Does the choice of salt give us insight into how God accomplishes his plans in history (think of common vs. uncommon substances used in Scripture, unexpected vs. expected things, and small vs. big things in the Bible–which of these categories usually prevails and is often the instrument(s) to accomplish God’s purposes–can you give examples)? Why is our answer to this question significant to understand our own ability to contribute and participate in God’s plans for the preservation and salvation of others?
- What were humans made to be? Why aren’t we that now/why don’t we do what we’re supposed to do now? How might we go back to being what we’re supposed to be and thereby doing what we’re supposed to do?
- Based upon Scripture, do you believe that the world, through Christian effort, is getting better or worse? Based upon your answer to the preceding question, why do we continue to persist in that effort anyway? Can you think of other examples in human history where Christians, though unable to prevent society’s complete and inevitable decay, have slowed the decay to the glory of God (e.g. William Wilberforce)? Do you ever think that you can be used to this end? Why/why not?
- What is the ground/foundation/reason for why we can persist as salt in the world?
- What are common, practical, everyday things that extract our saltiness from us to make us increasingly useless as Christians?
- Would you call yourself a boring Christian? AND do you often become bored with your own Christianity? Why/why not? Remember, the Christian life is meant to be enthralled by its faith (increasingly so). Furthermore, when Christians are taken out of the world, the world is supposed to become increasingly lifeless and tasteless, which is why people have to drug themselves in other ways/with other addictive things in order to find flavour. Do you find this to be true?
- The primary task of the Church is to create disciples by the preaching the gospel of God’s Word and by its evangelization to the world. Does this describe our church? Do you do this in your own life? Why/why not? Can we say that we are salt if we are not doing this? Why/why not?
- The world is getting worse, in part, because we are not being salty enough (because we’re not being saintly enough). True or untrue? Why?
- Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
- Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
On October 18, 1967, Walt Disney Productions released a movie entitled The Jungle Book, which is a story about a human boy named Mowgli who was abandoned by his parents and found and raised by a pack of wolves. Now, the boy knows he’s different, but he’s convinced, despite what he looks like, that he is a wolf, and he lives his life in that fashion until a danger presents itself to the whole jungle—a danger that hates and vows to destroy any human life within the jungle. It’s from that moment on that the rest of the movie becomes a mission to convince Mowgli, against what he thinks to be true of himself and against his own discontentment to leave the jungle, that he is, in fact, not a wolf, that he does not belong with his wolf pack, and that he should return and be reunited with his common folk in order to protect everyone, especially himself, from the looming threat to his life.
And what’s absolutely baffling about this as I describe this movie to you is that it’s a work of fiction—a fiction that seems to have prophetic properties because it describes circumstances that are taking place in our world today! A movie that depicts through the most absurd circumstances to teach us that who we are ought to determine how we function—how we live, and not the other way around. We do not get to determine what we are based upon what we want to be or do. Yet, we live in a world today where who we are is entirely determined by what we want to be or do. I recently watched a documentary where there was a man who thinks he’s both simultaneously a woman and a wolf. The Jungle Book is now a reality in our world.
It’s this sort of absurdity that becomes normalized in a world that has lost its way, where the Sermon that Christ gives upon the Mount in Matthew 5 becomes nothing but nice sayings—things that we should want, but that have no lasting or transformative effect upon our lives. Words that have no determining power to say who we are, and thus, how we are to function in light of what they say about who we are.
But my hope is that we’re here this morning, in this church, as the gathered people of God, to hear how our Saviour’s words still apply to our situation if not even more so now than they ever did before—to stabilize, restore, and redeem us—to tell us first who we are, and then, in light of who we are, how we are to function. We’re to be happy people, Jesus tells us, but that happiness is to be effectively and transparently different than what we see in the world—a wholehearted happiness not predicated upon how we think we ought to be but in what the Bible—in what God says we are—what He created us to be, and more importantly, in what He saved us to be. And then, it is within that biblical definition that we are to live—a defined life that gives way to a full life—a full life rooted in God’s eternal goodness over the temporary pleasures of the world.
This morning, we’re talking about being different from the world because our hearts, as Christians, aren’t in the world—they’re setup, being maintained and perfected, and anticipating something far greater to come. We are to wholeheartedly embrace who we were made and saved to be—to rejoice and be glad in it as those who know the One who made us and saved us, and who has set us apart. We are to be salt and light to a world that, without us, would be rotting and in the dark. And that’s what I want to dig into this morning—what it means for us to be these things definitionally (who we are—ontologically) and functionally (how we live out who we are).
So, would you follow along as I read Matthew 5:11-13 to you. TWoL: [Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.] You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
My initial question to you today from our text is what does it mean to be salt? Well, it means first to rejoice.
For those of you who have listened to my past couple of sermons, you’ll know that we’ve been going through the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount—seven plus one statements on what it means to be blessed—or better translated, to be happy in a definite sense. This kind of happiness stays with you and sustains you even in the greatest affliction, and it belongs to those who have been given spiritual eyes as they’ve been confronted with the person and work of Jesus to see their own sinfulness and their need to be emptied of it.
It’s as they’re emptied that they become hungry and thirsty to be filled with what we’ve seen in the Messiah—that we might display, like him, a righteousness worthy of the favour of God, and as we yearn for it, God satisfies us. He brings us out of our spiritual bankruptcy—out of death and lifelessness—into new life with him with new desires for the things that he desires, and we become merciful, pure hearted, and peacemaking. We can wade into man’s war on sin and give of ourselves to others and show them this Saviour without any agenda for ourselves because we’ve already received everything as those whom God calls his children.
Yet, what we must know is that when we wade out into war as peacemakers, oftentimes we will suffer the consequences of others’ brutality and unwillingness to accept the terms of peace that we offer. We find this to be the case especially in those who desire to cling to their sin, to justify it, and to attack anyone who threatens to take it from them. It’s when people are unwilling to see their spiritual bankruptcy that their only natural reaction is to persecute those who do.
It’s these persecuted people whom Christ calls happy. More than that, it’s in the promise for happiness as they’re being persecuted that he offers his most exasperating and staggering statement yet, namely, that as persecution comes—as Jesus is laying out for you the probability and expectation that it will cost you your life as you go out and display him in the world—he tells us in that circumstance that we ought to rejoice and be glad. If I can be a little bit more literal, he says rejoice and rejoice exceedingly.
Why? Because your fate is not tied to this world. In fact, persecution is evidence that you are quite separate from it—that your heart is so set in heaven—that your character is so grounded in your identification and unification with Christ’s suffering—that no man nor situation on earth is worthy, any longer, of your fear. All the other beatitudes speak of how you are conformed to Christ, but this last one gives proof that you’re of Christ. You can rejoice because you are securely happy. While the world falls more in love with its sin and its attack of those who preach against their sin, you stand as a diamond that is being refined and made increasingly purer the more the world exerts its pressure upon you.
Nevertheless, even though all of that is true (despite the fact that you rejoice exceedingly because your heart and hope are securely fastened in heaven), Jesus adds these statements about being salt and light so that you do not get lost in ignorant contentment while the temptation of the world builds around you. So often you find Christians who live their lives caught up in the promises of heaven and the rewards therein that they become useless here on earth. This is why there are so many lethargic and ineffective people who say with their mouths that they believe the words of Jesus all while proving with their lives that they do anything but. They show up to their jobs, leave, eat with their families, see their friends, show up to church on Sunday, rinse and repeat. There’s no desperation or urgency. There’s no real pursuit for holiness. There’s simply the shallow belief that they can waddle through life, die, and end up in heaven.
But this addendum in verses 13-16 about salt and light exists to remind us—to remind you—that such people will not only be absent from heaven, but that its residents will be those whose lives will reflect the thorough transformation that Christ’s words are meant to bring about. Remember, verse 11 changes the subject focus from third person to second person—from they and them to you. Jesus, in verses 3-10, is speaking generally of what a disciple of God is.
But then, in verses 11-12, he gets specific, and he tells us that you who profess to be this happy, satisfied person must also not be a carefree person. True happiness—those who possess an exceeding joy—belongs to those who have not just a knowledge of the kingdom, but who understand the responsibility of being citizens of that kingdom. They are people who have a heart for it, as well as a heart to go to those who remain outside of it.
This is what Jesus means when he says that the happy, rejoicing, exceedingly glad person is the salt of the earth because unless you exist and are set apart—unless there are true Christians distinguishable by word and deed in the world, there is no hope for the world. As most of you know, salt is a basic, essential ingredient for human life. To state the obvious, one study says that the lack of salt in the human body can lead to shock, coma, and death. It is salt that helps with vital functions like facilitating nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles, and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals. It is on and in every layer of the earth as its most pervasive, preserving substance.
Without salt, the world cannot exist. It would rot and decay. And in the same way, humans were made to preserve the earth. We were made to image God and his happy, glorious disposition in everything we do. Yet, we spurned that purpose. We neglected our distinctiveness as the pinnacle of God’s creation. We gave way to our own corruption, and if it were up to us, we would pursue that corruption to the point of being irredeemable.
Where we were made to be the salt of the earth, we became the very thing that promised to kill it. This is, in fact, thematic throughout Scripture. Think of Babel, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Exile, and so many other events in history not recorded in Scripture. It’s when we fall away from the purpose of our creation that the world not only becomes rotten but increasingly so to the point of utter despair and inevitable destruction.
But this is why Christ has come—to save us and thereby restore us to what we ought to have been from the very beginning. This is why we are called Christians—the new salt of the earth. It is because we are meant to help preserve the world in a better, more effective way than ever before from the decay and poison of sin’s effects. There is, now, no other type of people that can provide this kind of prevention. There is none in the world who can do what is good—it is you, and you alone, as ambassadors of the blessed kingdom that can apply the salve to stave off further infection and prevent the spread of the disease of human corruption.
Consider the man, William Wilberforce, and his advocacy for the abolition of modern slavery. His was a monumentally difficult task for which even he became often tired and frustrated over. Yet, he believed with all his might that God had raised him up to help oppose and destroy this terrible practice. It’s by his resilient effort and his reliance upon the calling that God had given him in government—not as an evangelist, not as a pastor, but in his own vocation—in his job—as he turned to Scripture and rested upon the goodness of his Holy Spirit—by his Christian effort, he prevented greater evil from flourishing in a world predisposed to doing evil.
And this is the lesson we learn from his life, Christians are meant to help preserve the world, even as it withers away, knowing that it is not an easy task. Just because we know what is morally right, and just because we help others see that rightness in their wrongness, does not mean that they will accept it easily. We have to persevere in it, even if it costs us everything.
And we see this most evidently in the cross, don’t we, just as Christ warns us of it in these beatitudes? Persecution awaits those who act as preservatives of God’s good creation, and it’s fitting because this is inherently a part of salt’s nature, in that, as it is applied and rubbed into the object it’s supposed to affect, it naturally dissolves, and it becomes, in a sense, no more. So, too, might be your life as salt in the world, but make sure as you go out that the effect of your perseverance lingers, just like the effect of the dissolved salt lingers to preserve rotting meat. Make sure they know your rejoicing. Make sure they see your exceeding gladness as you cling to the reward that awaits you in heaven and in the promised fellowship of God himself. To this day, Wilberforce’s effort is not only remembered but revered for its lasting effect to rid ourselves of at least one more great evil before Christ comes again.
Yet, more than being a preventative for decay and moral sickness, the saltiness of Christians is also meant to provide a type of flourishing and flavour. What I mean by this is that you who are blessed, rejoicing, and exceedingly glad due to the satisfaction you’ve received in your hungering and thirsting for righteousness—you are now able to facilitate that same blessedness, rejoicing, and exceeding gladness in others who hunger and thirst. You have the recipe not only for heaven’s feast but for their amazement and wonder in it. You are able to not only turn people away from the polluting effects of their corruption, but also to turn them towards the gratifying solution for their corruption in the majesty of Jesus.
It is as Christians do, not only, Christianly things, but as they proclaim the Christian message of Christ and his cross that the world might turn ever so slightly from something disgusting and self-destroying to something enjoyable and hopeful.
Church, as those who have been given the happiest hope, we are meant to be useful like salt in the earth so that others might taste and see the goodness of this hope as well. As those who have been once-and-for-all changed from sinful to righteous creatures, we’re meant to function as a preservative from society’s own moral decay and provide it with flavour as we proclaim and display the life-giving news of the gospel.
And the warning of the passage must be conveyed, because the Christian who is neither preserving or flavouring the world—a Christian who rejects his saltiness having been saved, himself, from his own spiritual bankruptcy and restored as the righteousness of God through our Saviour’s blood—that man or woman who rejects his or her saltiness cannot, now, be made salty again because to do so is to reject the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s life upon that cross. You can’t say you believe and go on living life your way.
In fact, the precise word that’s used for the person who is passive or negligent with his or her saltiness is where we get the word moron from. A moron is someone who doesn’t even know that they’re being a fool, and this describes the world, doesn’t it? They don’t know their own foolishness. They can’t see the cross.
But we as Christians can! We, as Christians, ought to know when we are playing the world’s part—when we’re making fools of ourselves because in those moments our happiness shifts. We aren’t rejoicing in the reward awaiting us in heaven, nor is the foundation of our lives upon the cross, rather our happiness becomes grounded in the praise we receive from man, in the pleasures of the flesh, or in the hope we have in fleeting things. Christians aren’t meant to be moronic. We’re meant to be informedly and transformatively happy—informed and transformed from our own sinfulness, informed and transformed in our own desperation, informed and transformed by God’s grace, and informed and transformed by Christ’s reward that awaits those who have a heart to proclaim and live his righteousness.
So, don’t forget and don’t go back to a state of unhappiness. Don’t forget who you were in your poverty of spirit. Don’t forget the sorrow laid upon your soul as the consequence and effect of your sin was exposed to you. Don’t forget that you were only ever worthy to be something trampled upon like useless garbage on the street, and yet, God breathed life into your desperate lungs—not once but twice—once in your creation, and a second time in your salvation. Don’t forget what he’s done and who he’s made you and saved you to be as you live in a world still trapped in its corruption and that needs you to bear the Truth. Rejoice and be glad as you represent the kingdom of which you are now a part by grace alone and do so wholeheartedly, embracing who you now are as the salt of the earth.