A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 5:1-16. c). We must see our Christian responsibility as twofold (continued).
Christian salt takes effect by deeds as well as words. We have already seen that God has created both the state and family as social structures to restrain evil and encourage goodness. And Christians have a responsibility to see that these structures are not only preserved but are also operated with justice. Too often evangelical Christians have interpreted their social responsibility in terms only of helping the casualties of a sick society, and have done nothing to change the structures which cause the casualties. Just as doctors are concerned not only with the treatment of patients but also with preventive medicine and public health, so we should concern ourselves with what might be called preventive social medicine and higher standards of moral hygiene. However small our part may be, we cannot opt out of seeking to create better social structures, which guarantee justice in legislation and law enforcement, the freedom and dignity of the individual, civil rights for minorities and the abolition of social and racial discrimination. We should neither despise these things nor avoid our responsibility for them. They are part of God’s purpose for his people. Whenever Christians are conscientious citizens, they are acting like salt in the community. As Sir Frederick Catherwood put it in his contribution to the symposium *Is revolution change?* ‘To try to improve society is not worldliness but love. To wash our hands of society is not love but worldliness’.
But fallen human beings need more than barricades to stop them becoming as bad as they could be. They need regeneration, new life through the gospel. Hence our second vocation to be ‘the light of the world’. For the truth of the gospel is the light, contained indeed in fragile earthenware lamps, yet shining through our very earthiness with the more conspicuous brightness. We are called both to spread the gospel and to frame our manner of life in a way that is worthy of the gospel. (cf. Phil.1:27).
So then, we should never put our two vocations to be salt and light, our Christian social and evangelical responsibilities, over against each other as if we had to choose between them. We should not exaggerate either, nor disparage either, at the expense of the other. Neither can be a substitute for the other. The world needs both. It is bad and needs salt; it is dark and needs light. Our Christian vocation is to be both. Jesus Christ said so, and that should be enough.
In the United States one of the ministries which has been described as being on the edge of the so-called ‘Jesus movement’ is known as the ‘Jesus Christ Light and Power House’. It is a Christian commune in Westwood, administered by Hal Lindsey and Bill Counts, who give biblical teaching to the residents. ‘Light and power’ are a fine combination, and both are to be found in Jesus Christ. But when will somebody in America establish a ‘Jesus Christ Salt and Light Company Inc.’?
In the United Kingdom there has arisen in recent years an almost spontaneous movement known as the ‘Festival of Light’. I thank God for the courageous and exuberant witness of the young people (as they mostly are) who belong to it. It seeks to combine protest against pornography and a campaign for the moral law of God in public life with a clear testimony to Jesus Christ. Perhaps it should become even more self-consciously a ‘Festival of Salt and Light’.
At all events, we should not be shy of our vocation to be salt as well as light, or we shall be guilty of separating what Jesus has united.
A Christian’s character as described in the beatitudes and the Christian’s influence as defined in the salt and light metaphors are organically related to one another. Our influence depends on our character. But the beatitudes set an extremely high and exacting standard. It may be helpful, therefore, as a conclusion to this chapter, to look back over both paragraphs and note the incentives to righteousness which Jesus gives.
First, this is the way we ourselves will be blessed. The beatitudes identify those who God declares to be ‘blessed’, those who please him and who themselves find fulfilment. True blessedness is found in goodness, and nowhere else.
Secondly, this is the way the world will best be served. Jesus offers his followers the immense privileges of being the world’s salt and light if only they will live by the beatitudes.
Thirdly, this is the way God will be glorified. Here towards the beginning of his ministry Jesus tells his disciples that if they let their light shine so that their good works are seen, their Father in heaven will be glorified. At the end of his ministry, in the supper room, he will express the same truth in similar words: ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. (Jn.15:8)
This then, is the great desirability of the good and Christlike life, and so of the Christian counter-culture. It brings blessing to ourselves, salvation to others and ultimately glory to God.
Tomorrow: Matthew: 5:17-20. A Christian’s righteousness: Christ, the Christian and the law.
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.