Jesus gives us a list of blessings known as the beatitudes. He quickly transitions from these blessing to challenging us to change the world around us. In essence he is telling us to go into the world and be those kinds of people so that we can saturate the communities and societies around us with a Godly presence.
He does this by correlating spiritual influence with the kind of change salt makes as it is added to food. In the same way salt enhances the flavor of food, we as followers of Christ should enhance the people around us.
The Analogy Of Light
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 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. 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.
– Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus makes the leap from telling us we should be changing and shaping the culture around us to telling us that as a group, those that are followers of Christ, we have been set apart. We are meant to live with our lives on display for the whole world to see.
He first uses the analogy of a light emanating from a city on a hill. Such a city can be seen from all around. No matter which way a traveler would be traveling to the city, there would be no obstruction and the light from this city could be seen clearly in the day or in the darkness, but especially in the darkness.
Jesus then uses the analogy of a lamp used for illuminating the home. The light is not hidden, he says. As it would not do anyone a bit of good. Instead, you put it on a lampstand, a high point , so that the lamp will give its light to the whole house.
The spiritual correlation that is drawn, is that we live our lives on display for other people to see. However, we are to live differently. We are to live God’s way. Then, when people see us living in a way that is separate from the world, they will know there is a God in heaven. Not only that, but they will also be drawn to our way of life as an alternative to where they are.
One of the distinctions made here, is that to live God’s way means we will live doing good deeds in the name of Christ. It is this good that we do, this selfless service we give to our fellow man that will be one of the defining factors for those that follow Jesus.
Does Jesus Contradict Himself
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:1-6
In these verses, Jesus confronts those that pray in public and those that do their acts of righteousness in public. The distinction here is that the reference in both instances is directed towards people that make a public spectacle so that they can receive some type of recognition. The are looking to be puffed up when others recognize what they do, Jesus is asking for our motives to be in contrast to selfishness and self-centeredness.
Jesus asks us to do good deeds so that we can point people to our Heavenly Father. Since prayer is mentioned in Matthew 6, let us look at prayer for just a moment. It is one thing to have a public prayer in a Sunday gathering to call people to worship. It is another thing all together, to want to pray publicly so that you can dazzle everyone with your eloquence.
Jesus also mentions giving to the poor in Matthew 6. This too can be used for posturing and self-serving motives. “Oh, look at me,” is the message Jesus is speaking against. We should not feel a sense of pride to meet the basic needs of people. We should feel a sense of obligation. People cannot hear the message of Christ when they are hungry; when they do not know where they are going to sleep; when they are cold; when they worry where there child’s next meal will come from, when they don’t have clean clothes to wear; when they haven’t had a bath in days, or perhaps weeks, when they cannot meet any of the basic needs for their children; or when they feel demoralized about any of their circumstances.
The defining difference as Jesus makes these statements in Chapters five and six, is who gets the praise for the work that is done. Do you get praised and rewarded? Or, does God get the glory and people get pointed towards Him?
As a follower of Christ, you have been set apart. Your walk with Christ is personal, but never private. The world is watching. However, this is the way God intended for it to be.
The question that is being asked by those that watch your life, is why? Why do you behave and speak the way you do? Why do you value the things you do? Why do you treat your kids the way you do? Why do you not participate in certain things? Why do you spend money the way you do? Why do you go to the places you go to? Why do you hang around the people you hang around with?
If the answer to that question, points people somewhere other than to Christ, your motives are out of alignment with where God wants you to be.