In the sermon on the mount Jesus called us salt and light, then condemned whoever sets aside the least of God’s commands. Does that mean that Christians should put to death idolaters, Sabbath breakers, adulterers and those who dishonor their parents, sacrifice animals, be circumcised, rest farmland every seventh year, observe the new moons, build leafy huts for the feast of tabernacles, pay wages daily and use no leaven at Easter?
Let’s learn that we already are salt and light, and what our relationship to the old law is.
Let’s examine Matthew 5:13-20, salt, light and the law.
Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Matthew 5:13 Salt versus Salt
Can salt lose its saltiness? Bible critics could reveal their ignorance of history by assuming that it means the same thing by salt as we do. We define table salt as sodium chloride. However, what Jesus meant by salt cannot be explained in our cultural terms. It was probably a mixture of calcium sulfate and our table salt. Calcium sulfate is gypsum and used to make plaster of Paris. This mixture could lose the salt component and thus its “saltiness.” All this reveals a very important step in studying the Bible: get our definitions right. Careful research rather than jumping to hasty conclusions helps us understand the Bible so much better.
Matthew 5:14 What are We?
Jesus said his disciples are the salt of the earth and are the light of the world. This was encouragement to be what they already were. We too are the salt that gives the world a good taste and the light that brightens this dark planet. When we are not, our communities suffer. Salt preserves. When we fail to live up to our calling, our world rots from the inside out and is not preserved. Light helps us see. When we fail to rise up and be the light of the world, others cannot see God in us. Let’s wake up and be who God says we are. Let’s be ourselves.
Matthew 5:15 Covert Christians
Have you ever heard of covert Christians who hide their faith? Some Christians are closet Christians and it contradicts what Jesus taught. He told his disciples that they were a city on a hill that cannot be hid. The followers of Jesus Christ are a light that is meant to be seen, not hidden away in secret. What exactly of Christ’s disciples must be seen? Is it our fancy buildings, our church music, our fancy clothing, our wonderful arguments or something else? Jesus specifically mentioned that we are to let our good deeds be seen, not to show off, as he later explained, but so that others may glorify God.
Matthew 5:16 Evangelism of Good Works
Jesus encouraged his disciples to do good. Christianity is more than worshiping, singing, and hearing sermons about Jesus. It includes doing good things. Do-nothing Christianity is incomplete and weak. Believing alone is not enough. Worship is only a start. Jesus said to go do. What are good works - obedience to the law or helping our neighbor? Jesus’ description is not limited to either of these conditions. It can mean being honest in our business dealings, using appropriate and inoffensive language, being commendable in our charity, honorable in the way we speak of others and praiseworthy in our community life. One of the most effective forms of evangelism is doing good deeds.
Matthew 5:17 Jesus & the Law
Old Testament law is explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He did not say that obedience to the law is no longer required because of faith, but will explain how some of those laws should be applied. Jesus did not divide his explanation into arbitrary ceremonial, civil and moral laws? Like Paul, he spoke of the law as a unit, and that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Until heaven and earth disappear, the law applies. How can our righteousness be greater than that of devout believers, followers of the Hebrew Scriptures? We begin to understand the spirit of the law (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
Matthew 5:18 Letter or Spirit?
How literal was Jesus’ approach to the Old Testament law? Was he persnickety, insisting that not one smallest pen-stroke of the law would disappear as long as heaven and earth exist? Is the law now even more binding? Did he break the law against collecting food on the Sabbath or was he obedient to a higher principle? He often showed how the spirit surpasses the letter of the law. The rest of the New Testament carries that discussion further and perhaps the most poignant example is the law of circumcision, whereby a literal interpretation is no longer relevant for the Christian, but a higher spiritual interpretation, a circumcision of the heart.
Matthew 5:19 Jesus and the Ten Commandments
Did Jesus demand we obey the Ten Commandments? The word commandments does not mean the Ten Commandments alone. It means all God’s commandments. Deuteronomy expands the Ten Commandments with many more commandments. Nobody keeps the Ten Commandments in the letter, not even those who practice the original Sabbath day. If they did, they would put to death idolaters, Sabbath breakers, adulterers and those who dishonor their parents as the letter of the law demands. Jesus explained how we keep the spirit of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Christians fulfill the law in spirit not the letter. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Jesus Introduces the Spirit of the Law
Deuteronomy expounds the Ten Commandments (#1 6-11; #2 12; #3 13:1-14:21; #4 14:22-16:17; #5 16:18-18:22; #6 19-21; #7 22:1-23:14; #8 23:15-24:7; #9 24:8-16; #10 24:17-26:15).1 Do Christians keep both the letter and the spirit? No, the letter kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). The only option left is keeping the law in spirit. For example, circumcision is no longer required in the flesh for Christians, but in the heart (Romans 2:29); there remains a Sabbath rest in Jesus for eternity (Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4) and love fulfills the whole law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14).
1Hill, Andrew E. & Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. Zondervan Publishing House. 1991. 58.
We Christians fulfill the law via Jesus’ law of love. We don’t need to put to death idolaters, Sabbath breakers, adulterers, homosexuals and those who dishonor their parents. We don’t need to sacrifice animals, get circumcised, observe the new moons, build leafy huts for the feast of tabernacles, pay wages daily or use no leaven at Easter. The law can teach us, but it is the shadow of things to come. The cross is the reality. Love fulfills the law, all of it.