ON BEING SALT AND LIGHT

One of my Christmas gifts (that I requested) was a book by Gordon T. Smith entitled Wisdom from Babylon. It is a discussion and consideration about how the Church and Christians can relate to Secularity.

In two of the twelve chapters Smith explores “Four Contemporary Responses to Secularity” borrowing from Richard Niebuhr’s 1951 book Christ and Culture. Simply stated, secularity refers to the non-Christian part of the society in which Christians live. Option A is labeled “The ‘Go Along to Get Along’ Response,” Option B is “The Monastic Response,” Option C is “The Culture Wars Response,” and Option D is “The Response of ‘Faithful Presence’.”

Of the four options, it is clear that the preferred response is Option D: “The Response of ‘Faithful Presence’.” Option D is in tune with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to his followers in Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Faithful Presence means more than just influence, but it certainly does mean influence. Influence, either for good or bad, is not necessarily intentional. Like both salt and light, much of Christian influence is simply the result of the presence of Christians. As Smith reminds us, “We are not merely the church gathered; we are also the church dispersed and present in the world” (p. 140).

The starting point of the metaphors Jesus gives his followers to be salt and light is the example they set. And good examples are to be seen both in the church gathered as well as in individual members when the church is dispersed. Such examples often lead to opportunities to go further with those who have taken notice.

I’ve always been encouraged by the Apostle Peter’s words in I Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The implication is that the way Christians act and live may create interest from those who observe how they conduct themselves.

Peter’s next instruction in how to respond is something all of us need to make sure we do when we talk about our faith: “do this with gentleness and respect.” It is not about being argumentative, preachy, pushy, judgmental, or condescending; none of which is setting much of an example.

Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world is both a privilege and a responsibility for Christians. It begins with our example and often results in opportunities to share our faith, as long as we do so with gentleness and respect.

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photo credit: symphony of love Albert Schweitzer Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. via photopin (license)

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ON BEING DIFFERENT

When people say someone is different we only know what they mean by it if we know the context in which they say it. To be different can be a good thing, a bad thing, or neither. There are times when most of us don’t want to be different and other times when we do want to be different.

I recently watched a short video of John R.W. Stott talking about an important biblical teaching that he said we “tend to neglect.” If you don’t know who Stott is, he was a great evangelical leader and Bible teacher who was also the Rector of All Souls Church in London. He was also a prolific writer whose books are well worth having and reading. What he said we tend to neglect is the Bible’s call that the people of God be different.

He noted that in the book of Leviticus God told his people not to do as the Egyptians did or as the people in the land they were entering did. A favorite verse is Leviticus 11:45 where God says, “I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.”

Without citing any specifics, he noted the frequent challenges of the prophets that the Israelites be different from their neighbors. The problem too often was, however, that God’s people were not different.

In moving to the New Testament Stott cited Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:5 cautioning his followers “not to be like the hypocrites.” In the preceding verses Jesus warns about the practice of the hypocrites who do good things “in front of others to be seen by them” and to “to be honored by others.”

The same basic call to be different is repeated and emphasized in the New Testament letters to those who are Christians. The best known instruction is from the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2a, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Stott didn’t mention the verse, but I also thought of I Peter 2:9 and what I’ve always considered a less than ideal rendering in the King James Version, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I guess technically Christians are to be peculiar, but I much prefer the word different.

How is this call to be different to be carried out by Christians today? If we are honest I think we must admit that on occasion Christians have done more harm than good in terms of their witness by being different. I don’t like the KJV word peculiar, but neither do I like the words odd or strange.

I’m not sure I fully understand what he was saying, but I go back to Jesus’ instructions to his followers in Matthew 10:16 when he told them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes but as innocent as doves” (NIV). I also like the rendering in the New Living Translation, “So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves,” as well as the Message, “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.”

What I am suggesting is that as Christians we are to be different, but there is a way to be different that is not harmful to our witness, but is hopefully helpful. What do you think?

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