Friday, April 27, 2018

You Are the Salt of the Earth

In the Sermon on the Mount we read, “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.” We are helped in our understanding of our Lord’s words here by remembering two ways that salt functions. First, salt seasons. Think about the food you ate recently. Did you shake a little salt on it? Why? Because salt adds some season to the food! Second, salt preserves. Before the days of refrigeration salt was used to preserve food. It was rubbed into meat, for example, as a means of preserving the meat for later consumption. We could elaborate on why it is that salt adds savor or how it actually functions as a preserving agent, but the main point of the two uses of salt cited above is this: salt is different from the thing it comes in contact with.[1] Therefore, at the most rudimentary level, to be the salt of the earth is to be different from the world. In other words, there is a marked distinction between people who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and those who have not. Those who have been transformed by the powerful working of God now see life through a new lens and live in a way that is different than before (Col 3:1-4).

When followers of Christ fail to live in such a way that is distinct from the world, our witness is compromised, and we fail to live with purpose. The disciples were being reminded of the necessity of living the new life they’d been given in Christ. Although there is not a command explicitly given in Matthew 5:13, there is certainly a command implied: Be salty! In other words, live out your identity as a disciple of Christ. 

How do we function as the salt of the earth today? Let us consider several ways. 
First, we function as salt through the words we speak. Paul wrote in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” If indeed our hearts have been transformed by the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, our speech will reflect it. Indeed, our speech may be used to bless others (see Eph 4:29)! We speak words of kindness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our family members, and to those in community and in so doing we function as the salt of the earth.

Second, we function as salt in the way that we work. Again, Paul wrote in Colossians 3:22, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” We have the tremendous opportunity to be salty in the workplace by working hard, with integrity, and with excellence for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). 

Third, we function as salt in the way we treat others. When we remember the enormity of our sin against a holy God and the full forgiveness that has been extended to us through the cross of Christ (Col 2:13-14; Ps 103:12), we acknowledge that any suffering we incur at the hands of others pales in comparison to the suffering we deserve for our treason against King Jesus, and we show mercy to others as a result (Rom 12:14, 17).

Finally, we function as salt by living upright, pure lives. 1 Peter 2:11-12 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (See also Titus 2:11-14).

If we’ve been washed by the blood of the Lamb our lives will be different. The words we speak, the way we work, the way we treat others, and the purity of our conduct bear witness that we are indeed the salt of the earth.

Blake Gerber

[1] See David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2001), 132.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Get Back Up!

In the Christian life there are times where we each fall and go back to our sin… This weird thing we hate and yet pursue (see Rom 7:1-20). The question that many ask themselves in those times though is, "What do I do after I've sinned yet again?" From my own life and that of others I've talked with it often seems our first instinct and common tendency is that of "wallowing" for lack of a better term. We tend to have this self pity-party consisting of faux-sorrow and leading to statements like, "I can't believe I did that again," or "how could God still love me and forgive me again for this," or other such things. What I've come to recognize is this reaction is in itself sin. It's my pride that I failed again. It's my pride thinking I ever could meet God's perfect and holy standard on my own. It's my pride thinking I had actually been acting good enough in such a way as to have earned God's forgiveness and love. I have failed to believe and return to the gospel… the only hope for a sinner like you and me.

Proverbs 24:16 sates, "
For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity." I'm called to get back up, to rise again. However, instead of embracing this truth I often reject the righteousness offered to me that allows and calls me to get back up. God is clear in Rom 8:33, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies." The righteousness I need has been given and it is from God, not my actions. Yet, for some reason I tend toward a heart of pride that would still want to reject God's righteousness and instead wallow in a lack of my own. How foolish is this though. It is not as if God is surprised by my wayward heart and sin. 1 John 1:8 states, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." To think any differently than that I might sin again is simply wrong, but the passage goes on to God's solution for these still unsubmitted actions in v.9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Rather than staying down with my face and proud heart firmly planted in the mud of my sin, I am instead called to look up once again to the cross at Calvary where my Savior died for me and recognize by His work I am still saved, loved, and free to live for Him and not for me. I must remind myself of the truth that the Christian life is not about being perfect. It is about growth in the pursuit of perfection. I must get back up! I must bring my sin to the cross, repent of it confessing and turning away AND THEN I must remind myself of the grace that is present for me, the Holy Spirit Who lives within me, and the empowering hope that I am not enslaved, I AM FREE. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36)! I must rise once again!

I should not be surprised by this hard work either. Over and over the Scripture talks about living this life for Christ and against sin as a battle (Ephesians 6:11-18, 2 Tim 2:3-5, 4:7). I must remember that the war is already won. "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." (1 John 5:4) and "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57). These present battles are chances for me to reflect what has already been done through Christ for me. Therefore, I must rise again! The King has conquered! I want to reflect His glory and this truth in both the times I choose to pursue Him over sin and the times I fall and fail by getting back up! I must look to Christ.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin (Hebrews 12:1-4).

Get back up! For the glory of the King and by the power of the King, RISE! He has risen from the grave (Mat 28:6). Your victory is won (John 16:33). You stand perfect before God (Col 1:22). You have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). Rise once again dear brother and sister! Take hold of the promises that are yours in Christ! May we press on, living for the King and in His power. In our greatest successes and in spite of our darkest failures may we continually look to Him and get back up!

As a note of encouragement, I have always found this song by Shane & Shane extremely encouraging in the dark times of despair over sin…

Phil Smith

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Paul and the Advancement of the Gospel

In first century letter writing, the author always included near the beginning of the letter what is called the thanksgiving or the prayer section.  It is in this section of the letter that the purpose of the letter was found.  This is important to know when we read the epistles in the New Testament, for the authors of the New Testament were, in some ways, a product of their culture.

When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he discussed much in this introduction portion of the letter.  This has caused scholars to debate what motivation was behind Paul’s letter to this church that he loved dearly.  The following are themes found in the thanksgiving/prayer section, as well as in the body of the letter: Christ and the gospel, the language of servanthood and ‘fellowship,’ the relational basis of this ‘fellowship’ (this section shows Paul’s deep love and affection for the Philippian Christians), Paul’s ‘chains’ (thus the motif of ‘suffering’), the future orientation of present life in Christ, and the need for love and fruitful living in the present.[1]

Here is the thanksgiving/prayer section, and I have underlined the language used that highlights all of these themes.

Philippians 1:3-11 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

It is easy to see why this is debated in the Christian community.  So what is the main point of Philippians?  Many scholars think joy.  Many think suffering.  Many think unity.  Some think it is a missionary thank you letter.  Others think it is a letter of encouragement.  All of these words/concepts are used much throughout the letter.  But Paul’s purpose in everything is to preach the gospel.  The gospel is the central focus of the letter; it puts all things into perspective.  It brings unity, we suffer for the advancement of the gospel, and we have joy because of the gospel.  And he is grateful for the Philippians because of their fellowship in advancing the gospel.

Paul’s first and foremost concern, at all times, is preaching Christ and advancing the gospel.  He stated in Romans 15:18-20, I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation."

So, does this describe our lives?  You and I need to ask ourselves: Do I spend more time talking about everything else in life than I do the gospel?  I’m guilty of this.  If my friends and family were asked, would they know that the gospel and its advancement is the most important thing in my life?  I have experienced joy as a result of the gospel, but if I am called to suffer for it, am I willing?  Is it important enough to me to endure hardship and trial for its advancement?  Later in the letter, Paul told the Philippians that they, too, would suffer for the gospel.  We are no exception today.

If we want to experience the joy of Christ, we have to be willing to suffer for His name.  But when we put our focus wholly on the advancement of the gospel, these other issues, which we sometimes emphasize more than we should, become secondary issues…because our focus is on Jesus, not on ourselves.

Kurt Smith

[1] Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 59.