A Commentary by John Stott

MATTHEW 5:1-16. Lessons to learn.

The salt and light metaphors which Jesus used have much to teach us about our Christian responsibilities in the world. Three lessons are prominent.

a). There is a fundamental difference between Christians and non-Christians, between the church and the world.

True, some non-Christians adopt a deceptive veneer of Christian culture. Some professing Christians, on the other hand, seem indistinguishable from non-Christians and so deny their Christian name by their non-Christian behaviour. Yet the essential difference remains. We might say that they are as different as chalk from cheese. Jesus said that they are as different as light from darkness, as different as salt from decay and disease. We serve neither God, nor ourselves, nor the world by attempting to obliterate or even minimise this difference.

This theme is basic to the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is built on the assumption that Christians *are* different, and it issues a call to us to *be* different. Probably the greatest tragedy of the church through its long and chequered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture.

b). We must accept the responsibility which this distinction puts upon us.

It is when in each metaphor we bring the affirmation and the condition together that our responsibility stands out. Each affirmation begins in the Greek sentence with the emphatic pronoun ‘you’, as much as to say ‘you and only you’ are the earth’s salt and the world’s light. And *therefore* – the condition follows with inexorable logic – you simply must not fail the world you are called to serve. You must be what you are. You are salt so you must retain your saltiness and not lose your Christian tang. You are light, and you must let your light shine and not conceal it in any way, whether by sin or by compromise, by laziness or by fear.

This call to assume our Christian responsibility, because of what God has made us and where he has put us, is particularly relevant to young people who feel frustrated in the modern world. The problems of human community are so great, and they feel so small, so feeble, so ineffective. ‘Alienation’ – a term popularized by Marx – is the word commonly used today to describe these frustrated feelings.

What message do we have, then, for such people who feel themselves strangled by ‘the system’, crushed by the machine of modern technocracy, overwhelmed by political, social and economic forces which control them and over which they have no control? They feel themselves victims of a situation they are powerless to change. What can they do? It is in the soil of this frustration that revolutionaries are being bred, dedicated to the violent overthrow of the system. It is from the very same soil that revolutionaries of Jesus can arise, equally dedicated activists – even more so – but committed rather to spread his revolution of love, joy and peace. And this peaceful revolution is more radical than any programme of violence, both because its standards are incorruptible and because it changes people as well as structures. Have we lost our confidence in the power of the gospel of Christ? Then listen to Luther: ‘With his single word I can be more defiant and boastful than they with all their power, swords and guns.’

So we are not helpless and powerless after all! For we have Jesus Christ, his gospel, ideals and power, and Jesus Christ is all the salt and light this dark and rotten world needs. But we must have salt in ourselves, and we must let our light shine.
Tomorrow: More lessons.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.