“Uncle Sam Needs YOU: To Be Salt & Light” (Matthew 5:13-16 sermon)

We’ve all seen the famous recruiting sign, “Uncle Sam needs YOU!” The truth is, IMG_0820Uncle Sam DOES need you: our country is in desperate need of you today. NOT necessarily to sign up for the military — though we do always need good men to do that, and we should all be thankful for those who have. But even though not all of us can serve in the military, all of us CAN be what our country needs the most right now: and that is to be the salt & the light that Jesus said we need to be to impact our country.

Jesus said here: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Here Jesus tells us that what our country, and our world, needs most from us, is to be “salt” and “light.” What does that mean?

 

I. OUR PURPOSE AS DISCIPLES: to glorify God by our presence in the world

First of all, we need to remember the context here. Jesus isn’t just speaking to everybody; He is speaking to His disciples, and He has just described in :3-12 the character that He wants to see built into their lives: poor in spirit, depending on God; mourning over sin; submitting to God’s will; hungry for righteousness; showing mercy as they “see needs, feel compassion for people, and do something about it”; who have pure hearts and are peacemakers, bringing man and God together. It is THESE people, Jesus’ disciples, to whom He says, “YOU are the salt of the earth; YOU are the light of the world.”

And He tells His disciples that our purpose is to glorify God in this world:
He says here in :16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, AND GLORIFY YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.” Here He tells us our purpose as Christians; as disciples of Jesus: we are here on earth to glorify God.

The Biblical purpose of every Christian is to glorify God:
— Jesus says here in :16 that we are to let our light shine so that we may “glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
— I Corinthians 6:20 says we are to glorify God with our body.
— II Corinthians 9:13 that we are to glorify God by our obedience
— I Peter 2:12 says we are to glorify God by our behavior
— I Peter 4:16 says we are to glorify God even in our suffering!
— Then I Corinthians 10:31 says: ”Whether then you eat or drink or WHATEVER you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The Bible tells us there that EVERYTHING we do — “whatever” — is to glorify God! We are going to see in a few minutes that that word “whatever” is really important, because there is nothing we are to do, in which we are not to glorify God. That is the purpose for each one of our lives, as Christians. As a Christian, you don’t have to go around aimlessly, like a lot of people do, asking “What am I here for; what is the purpose of my life?” No, if you are a Christian, you KNOW what the purpose of your life is: you are here on earth to glorify God.

We hear about a lot of people who are trying to “make a name for themselves” or “leave their mark” here in the world. I think about how they have talked about how the last several Presidents have been concerned about “their legacy” — what is their Presidency going to be remembered for — and many times, their actions have been driven by their concern for their name, and how they will be remembered.

But as Christians, we are not primarily to be concerned with OUR legacy. We aren’t here to glorify our own name. In fact, we are to be content if our name is left out of it entirely. We are here to glorify GOD — in everything we do. That is our purpose as disciples. Each of us could write our own personal “purpose statement” as Christians, and they will all begin the same:
— One person could say: “I exist to glorify God by teaching God’s truth to children, and by modeling right behavior to them with my life.”
— Another might say: “I exist to glorify God by serving as a minister in a church, teaching His word and caring for His people.”
— Still someone else might say: “I exist to glorify God by providing business services with honesty and integrity, reflecting God’s holiness.”

And we could go on and on with examples, but they would each begin the same way: “I exist to glorify God by …” — because although we each differ in our own particular vocation and our calling, our ultimate purpose is the same. Christian disciples exist to glorify God. Especially in a nation like ours, in which so many care only about their own fame and glory, we as Christ’s disciples are to bless our land by pointing the people around us to GOD instead of to ourselves.

Now the question is, HOW do we do that? Jesus tells us here that we are to glorify God in two ways, by being both “salt” and “light” in the world around us.

 

II. OUR ROLE AS DISCIPLES: SALT & LIGHT

In this passage Jesus says that as His disciples, we are to glorify God in a couple of specific ways: by being “salt”, and “light.” These are obviously symbolic; we are not literally going to “turn into salt” or “light”. They are symbolic. So what do they represent?

Scholars have suggested a number of different things about what Jesus meant by “salt” here, but Chuck Quarles of our Southeastern Baptist Seminary points out that salt was used in at least 11 different ways in Jesus’ time. It preserved, it was used for flavor — though not as much as we do. But he quotes Diogenes Laertius, an ancient writer, who advised placing salt on a table in one’s home “to remind us of what is right; for salt preserves whatever it finds, and it arises from the purest of sources.”

So “salt” here symbolizes purity, and the beneficial effect that it has on what it comes in contact with. And that makes sense. Just like salt keeps things pure, and preserves, and has a good effect on whatever it touches, so as disciples of Jesus, our LIVES are to have a good effect on the people we come in contact with, and the society in which we live. You may have heard it said of someone “they’re just the salt of the earth” — what they’re saying is, this is a good person, who has a good impact on the world around them, and you wish there were more like them. That’s how Christians are to be, Jesus says here: we are to be “the salt of the earth”, impacting the world around us for the better with our lives.

“Light” is a little easier to understand. Light helps us see what is really there. It reveals the truth. So Christians are to be a “light” by showing the truth of God to individual people, and throughout the nation in which we live.

Jesus says to His disciples: I want you to glorify God by being salt and light in the world in which I have providentially placed you. He wants our lives to be a blessing to everyone we come in contact with, like salt, and He wants our lips to share His truth, as lights in the world.

Acts 16 tells us that Paul & Silas were “salt & light” like that in Philippi. They were on the first mission trip to Europe, but had been thrown into prison for sharing the gospel. Here they were, in one of the worst kind of situations you can imagine: being cast into prison, unjustly, in a foreign country, with no certain hope of release. And what did they do? Acts says at midnight they were praying and singing praises to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Their lives impacted those around them like salt. And then when the earthquake hit, and the jailer thought they were escaping, and he desperately cried to them, “What must I do to be saved?”, it says they shared the gospel verbally: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” They were “salt” with their lives, and they were “light” with their words.

And that’s God’s purpose for each one of us as His disciples today, too. He wants our lives to impact those around us for good, like salt; and for our words to tell others the “light” of the truth of the gospel, that although we have sinned and separated ourselves from God, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and He will save whoever will repent of their sins and call on Him.

So Jesus has called us as His disciples to be a blessing to the nation in which we live, and to the individual people around us, both with our LIVES as salt, and with our WORDS, as light. That’s a big responsibility — and too often we don’t live up to it — which is just what Jesus addresses next:

 

III. OUR FAILURE AS DISCIPLES

Jesus wants us as His followers to glorify Him by being salt & light in the world, pointing others to Him. But Jesus warned us here that there are at least two ways that we as His disciples can fall short of that:

— First, He said as salt, which should enhance those it encounters, we can instead lose our savor;
— And second, we can put our light, which should shine His truth, under a basket.

These symbolize two kinds of ways that our effectiveness as Jesus’ disciples can be diminished in the world:

— A. We can fail through personal compromise

Jesus said that we are to be “the salt of the earth”, but He said we fail when our “salt” loses its savor — that is, when we fail to be the pure, preserving, godly influence that He has called us to be in the world.

HOW many people have we heard of, who have been turned away from the Lord and His church, by people who claimed to be Christians, but whose “salt had lost its savor” — whose lives did NOT impact others for good, but actually turned them AWAY from the Lord?

Some of us like to say things like: “What I’m doing isn’t hurting anybody else; it’s just my own choice.” But you can’t be that foolish; you know what you do DOES impact others. “No man is an island.” Your family is impacted by what you do; you better believe your KIDS are impacted by it; your neighbors are impacted by it; your work associates — everyone who knows you. If you claim to be a Christian, you are representing the Lord in the world, and what you do impacts many others either for or against Him.

Last week I read through one of the most delightful little books I have ever read, by Lillian Parks Leighton, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and worked as a maid at the White House for many years. In it she tells the story of how her brother Emmett had run off and joined the army during World War I. He was under age, but he sneaked in without his mother’s permission, because he was big for his age and he told them he was 18. When he came home that night in full uniform, Lillian said her mother at first turned pale, but then she looked at Emmett and said: “Don’t ask me to get you out, and never disgrace that uniform.” (P. 53)

That’s a big deal, isn’t it — not to disgrace the uniform of the Armed Services of the United States. But those of us who are Christians need to realize, we are not merely representing our nation when we go out into the world, we are representing our Lord. If you claim to be a Christian, you are “wearing His uniform”!

Now I think a lot of us would say we “know” that, but here’s the thing: WE DON’T REALIZE THAT WE ARE ALWAYS IN UNIFORM! You are not just “in uniform” when you are sitting in church; you are not just in “uniform” when you are on a mission trip; or when you are wearing a church tee-shirt; you are “in uniform” all the time, wherever you are:

— You think you’re not “in uniform” when you’re just getting a meal at the restaurant, but you are! And the servers, and the people around you know you are.
We had a great discussion in our adult VBS class last week, about the poor witness that so many of us Christians are, when we go too restaurants — being ugly to servers; not leaving good tips. I shared how once a Christian waitress put up a post on Facebook, encouraging Christians to leave good tips, not just tracts, and to be kind to the servers, because, she said, Christians have SUCH a bad reputation in the restaurant business — “oh, here come those church people; they treat us so badly; they don’t tip well …”. And I was amazed as DOZENS of servers from restaurants responded to that post, saying, “YES, that is exactly how it is here; our restaurant HATES to see the Christian tour bus come in, because we know they aren’t going to tip well.”

And while we were discussing that, a woman in our class said that she used to have a catering business, and the so-called “Christian” people were often the most mean-spirited ones to work for!

FOLKS THIS OUGHT TO CAUSE US TO FALL ON OUR FACES BEFORE GOD AND WEEP!
This is reputation we have in the world?! This is how we are treating people? This is what we are doing with the reputation of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, who is so generous, and loving, and merciful to us — and this is how we treat the world? We need to repent! Better for us never to go to a restaurant than to turn people towards hell when we go! “Better that a heavy millstone be hung around our neck and that we be drowned in the depths of the sea than we cause one of these little ones to perish”!

— Now don’t go home and say “Bro. Shawn preached on not being cheap tippers today” — because this is not just about tipping and restaurants. It’s about EVERYTHING we do!
What we’ve got to understand is that you don’t just come to church and put on your little “Christian uniform”, and take it off when you leave. You have your “uniform” on ALL THE TIME. You have your uniform on in that restaurant — don’t disgrace it by your stinginess and meanness. You give the biggest tip whether they deserve it or not; you are representing Christ! You be gracious to them whether they are gracious to you or not — you have your uniform on — you are representing HIM!
— You have your “uniform” on when you’re making that business deal, and people know you are Christians, and they are watching!
— You have your “uniform” on when you are talking to your neighbors.
— You have your “uniform” on when you are in line at WalMart.
— You have your “uniform” on when you are relaxing at home with your family.
You’ve got to understand: you are ALWAYS “in uniform” as a Christian; you are NEVER “off duty.” Acts 16 said that in that prison, “the prisoners were listening to them.” You are representing your Lord everywhere you are, in everything you do, and everything you say.

That’s why I Corinthians 10:31 said “WHATEVER you do, do ALL to the glory of God.” You are always “in uniform”; everything you do reflects on your God. And If you do not live as the Christian disciple that Jesus describes in these Beatitudes, people see and know, and our “salt has lost its savor” and people are turned away from our Lord — and that is EXACTLY happens in too many cases.

You know one of the biggest problems we have in evangelism right here in Burke County, and all through the South? It’s that people around here have seen SO many people who claim to be Christians, but who dishonor God with their lives, and now they’re totally closed to the message of the gospel, because of the compromised lives of the people they’ve seen.
If we want to reach people, if we want to be the blessing that the people in our country need us to be, we’ve got to start LIVING our faith outside these walls. We must not be salt that has lost its savor.

 

— B. We also fail in our role as disciples through personal apathy

Jesus also said we can fail as His disciples by putting our light — which is supposed to shine God’s truth to people around us — under a basket instead.

— when many of us go week after week and never share any kind of verbal witness for Christ with anyone, we are putting our light under a basket.
— when surveys show that over 90% of professed Christians have never led anyone to faith in Christ; we are putting our light under a basket.
— when polls indicate that 42% of evangelical Christians did not even vote for President in 2012 — and far fewer vote in any of the state and local elections — we are putting our light under a basket.

Listen, the world is coming “out of the closet” — they had the headline on CNN yesterday, that some celebrity “came out” as “queer” (her words, not mine). These people are saying things like: “I’ve been ‘in the closet’ too long; I’m ‘coming out.’ I’m not keeping quiet any longer.”
But for some reason, at the same time, over the past several years, many of us as Christians have gone INTO the closet, and now we’re hiding what we should be sharing about God’s light to the world.

You know what? It is time for some of us as Christians to COME OUT. Let people know that you are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ; share His word, His truth, His “light” with those around you who need to hear it. Come “out of the closet” and shine the light of the truth God gave you!

Now let me clarify something: just as we talked about a minute ago, “coming out” as a Christian does NOT mean you should be rude and ugly to people. It doesn’t mean be hateful. That is NOT the real character of a Christian disciple of Jesus Christ. We saw last week what the character of a real Christian is: it’s humility, because we know we ourselves are only saved by the grace of God, not our own good works; it’s mourning over our OWN sin, not getting in other people’s faces about theirs; it’s being merciful to other people: seeing their needs, feeling compassion for them, and DOING something about it. It’s LOVING people enough to help them make peace with God through Jesus Christ — THAT is how we need to “come out” — we need to “come out” by letting the character of Jesus Christ in the Beatitudes, SHINE through our lives into the world around us, letting them know that He is real, He is alive, and He can touch and change their lives too.

 

CONCLUSION
In that book by Lillian Parks Leighton about serving in the White House, her mother Maggie talked about how wonderful a person Woodrow Wilson’s wife was. When Mrs. Wilson came to the White House with her husband, Maggie came home and told Lillian, “An angel has moved to the White House!” Mrs. Wilson truly CARED about the servants, asked them about their living conditions, actually came to visit them at their home, and saw that they had sufficient wages. She was greatly loved by the servants, but sadly passed away due to illness while Wilson was President, and all the servants mourned her death.

But one of the Wilson’s daughters was a singer, and while Woodrow Wilson was still President, she received an invitation to sing at a concert hall, and she received a $1000 check for it. Maggie said she wondered what the daughter would do with the money: go on a trip around the world, or what? But instead, young Miss Wilson gave all the money to a local charity in Washington. And Maggie said: “It was like Mrs. Wilson was still alive.” It was like she had never left — because they could see in her daughter that same love and care that First Lady Wilson had for others.

That is how it should be with US, too, as followers of Jesus. Unlike Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Jesus Christ is NOT dead; He is alive! And we SHOW the world He is alive, when we let His shine His light through us by loving and caring for people, and living like Jesus did when He was here. And when the world sees that, God is glorified, because we are “shining our light” like Jesus did. He said “while I am in the world; I am the light of the world.” But here he points to us as His disciples, and he says “YOU are the light of the world”! When people see that we are like Him, we are shining His light in the world.

This is what our country needs today more than anything else. America today needs for God’s people like you & me to live lives that are like “salt”, and to share the truth will be the “light” for our world.

I know many Americans remember how President Ronald Reagan used to call America “a city on a hill” and a light to the world. What many people don’t realize, however, is that President Reagan was actually quoting Puritan pastor John Winthrop, who shared a message to the pilgrims while they were still on the ship that was about to land in this New World in 1630. He said that this new community they were about to establish would be like “a city on a hill” (quoting Matthew 5 here) that would shine the light of the gospel to the whole world, and that they always had to remember their responsibility to be that light to the watching world.

Many of us still hold to that old fashioned notion about America. But here’s the thing: if America is to be the light of the world, Christians must be the light of America. If our nation is to really bless our world, we’ve got to have a revival of Christians who are being salt and light in our nation.

This is what our country needs us to be, more than anything else. More than good voters, more than good taxpayers, even more than good soldiers — though all of these are important — Uncle Sam needs you more than anything else to be the salt and the light that Jesus called you to be for your country. And it’s not just for your country’s sake, but to fulfill the purpose God made you for: to “glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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2 Responses to “Uncle Sam Needs YOU: To Be Salt & Light” (Matthew 5:13-16 sermon)

  1. M R Charles says:

    Great article!

    Thank you for sharing this amazing truth.

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