Opening thought: Citizen Christians act right, love what is right, and seek to walk rightly by following Christ without looking for the platitudes of man (Micah 6:8). God calls His people to engage the secular culture with scriptural truths. We are disobedient when we keep our faith to ourselves. Jesus said we are to be “salt” and “light” (Matthew 5:16). We must let our faith season all we are and all we do, including our participation in the market place as well as in the dialogue of thoughts and ideas in the public square. In America, we have more than a right to let our faith shine forth; we have an obligation.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has said, “Whether or not America has a future worth having doesn’t depend on what happens in Washington, D.C., or what happens in the Supreme Court or in the Congress. It depends on what happens with you, and people just like you; and your family, and families just like yours; and your church, and churches just like yours, with godly pastors after God’s heart and church members thirsting for God’s Word. Our future is in His hands (Psalm 121:1-2).”
There are a lot of ways we can look at the passage we have before us today, but one of those ways is in terms of being a citizen Christian, an important part of what it means to be a believer and to be an American.
Pray and Read: Matthew 5:13-16
Contextual Notes: Christ had just called them “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Now in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, he calls them the salt of the earth and light of the world to show them what he expects from them in their lives. Salt here is an image that is internal, preserving and flavoring, and light an image that is external, radiating outward.
Key Truth: Matthew wrote Matthew 5:13-16 to teach believers that they should be preservers of civilization and reflectors of Christ in government and society.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the Christian citizenship.
Sermon Points: Citizen Christians are called to be
- Preservers of Civilization (Matthew 5:13)
- Reflectors of Christ in society and government (Matthew 5:14-16)
Exposition: Note well,
a. “You are the salt of the earth.”
i. Jesus was affirming and clarifying Old Testament theology regarding the image of salt. In Numbers 18:19: An everlasting covenant was called a covenant of salt. In Leviticus 2:13, every sacrifice was required to have salt added to it. In Ezekiel 43:24, Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly temple includes salt in every sacrifice.
ii. Flavor: Christians add a sanctifying influence and a reminder that there is a Greater Sovereign over all our activities and interests than ourselves. No believer should be ashamed to be a believer in the public arena. The reason believers feel pushed out of many places in government and society is because we did not make our flavor, our presence known.
iii. Preservative: Christians, by their lives and instructions, are to keep the world from entire moral corruption. By bringing blessing through their prayers, and by their influence and example to save the world from universal vice and crime.
iv. Cleansing, Healing agent: The American founders viewed churches as a central institution within American life, because religion provided the moral foundation of self-restraint and community awareness necessary for the success of republican self-government. Many believed that the American experiment would not succeed without the moral training churches provided to citizens. Churches provide valuable contributions to communities in the areas of direct economic contributions, social services and community volunteering, education and civic skills training, and reduced levels of deviance. In a comprehensive study of Philadelphia scholars valued community services at $115,009 per congregation and $230,018,400 for all the religious congregations in the city. Churches provide significant economic and social benefits, helping improve communities and public health. The average religious individual lives seven years longer than the average nonreligious individual, and this increases to fourteen years for African American individuals. Research by Johns Hopkins scholars shows that nonreligious individuals have increased risks of dying from cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, and suicide. Religious attendance has also been shown to decrease alcohol abuse and drug use. Religious attendance has been shown to decrease stress, increase self esteem, and give individuals hope and a greater sense of life purpose. Increased religious practice also is associated with decreased levels of depression and suicide. In sum, church involvement has been shown to improve mental health, and having strong mental health makes individuals more productive and less at risk for committing crimes.
b. What do Southern Baptists believe about Christian citizenship? “…RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention … encourage all Christians to fulfill their God-given responsibility to engage in the public life of the nation; …”
c. “But if the salt loses its savour . . .”
i. Albert Barnes: In eastern countries, however, the salt used was impure, or mingled with vegetable or earthy substances, so that it might lose the whole of its saltness, and a considerable quantity of earthy matter remain. This was good for nothing, except that it was used to place in paths, or walks, as we use gravel. This kind of salt is common still in that country. It is found in the earth in veins or layers, and when exposed to the sun and rain, loses its saltness entirely.
ii. Not one’s salvation, but departing from the distinctiveness and attractiveness of being Christian in the public arena.
iii. Robertson: Lost its savour (mōranthēi). The verb is from mōros (dull, sluggish, stupid, foolish) and means to play the fool, to become foolish, of salt become tasteless, insipid.
d. ILLUSTRATION: “You are called to wherever God has placed you…You are placed in a position to minister around you, and anybody can do it.” This is the perspective that Dana Gallahair takes to her job as case manager for the neonatal intensive care unit and well-baby nursery at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery, Alabama. After watching her own newborn taken away in an ambulance to spend seven weeks in a hospital eighteen years ago, Gallahair developed a growing compassion to help teach new mothers what to expect, how to prepare for the baby, and what resources are available to help. Gallahair, a member of Harvest Fields Church in Deatsville, AL, not only sees them through their hospital stay, but also makes sure they have all they need even after their discharge by connecting them with ministries in the area to help with supplies and encouragement. “I want people to look back at the end of the day and say they were glad that I crossed their path—to see a little bit of Jesus in me,” she said. “And any kind of impact, however small it may be on you personally, can impact somebody else for good.” (FFV, 2009, Issue 1).
a. APPLICATION: What are you doing to be salt among those with whom you work and live? Do you keep up with the news? Do you take the newspaper? Do you know what is going on in your community? Are you registered to vote? Do you vote? Do you know the name of the persons who represent you in Raleigh, in the Congress and the Senate?
b. Sticking your head in the sand or ignoring what is going on in Washington or in your county government is irresponsible for a Christian. You should be calling your Congressman and Senators to let them know, respectfully and humbly, where you stand as a Christian on particular issues before them and to let them know you are praying for them for wisdom as they balance many voices and pressures in their work.
c. Is there a particular issue in which you can be salt and express a Christian citizen point of view based on Scripture? It is your responsibility as a Christian to represent biblical views in the marketplace of ideas. Perhaps you have a calling to work in an election for a Godly candidate. That is entirely appropriate for a Christian. Some of you should answer the call of God to run for public office, whether on a local board or in a legislative capacity. Others of us have the privilege bequeathed to us by our Founders to contact our leaders and respectfully and succinctly let them know how we believe they should vote. It is entirely appropriate to talk with an aide, to ask questions at a town hall, to contact a leader’s office when an important piece of legislation is being considered or a vote is being taken. Always tell the politician what decision you want him or her to make. It is entirely appropriate not only to tell the politician you want a “Yes” or “No” vote, but also to ask the person what decision he or she plans to make or what vote is expected to be cast.
2. CITIZEN CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO BE REFLECTORS OF CHRIST IN SOCIETY AND GOVERNMENT (Matthew 5:14-16).
a. Verse 14: We are the means God uses to illumine the minds of those around us who flounder in the darkness of sin.
i. Ephesians 5:8
ii. Philippians 2:15
e. Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona: Daniel Webster’s admonition to all of us is so appropriate. He said: “Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what has happened once in 6,000 years may never happen again. If the American Constitution should fall, there will be anarchy throughout the world.” The United States of America has been and continues to be the base of Gospel outreach in the world, and a beacon of freedom and hope to all mankind. However, we have reached a day in history when a monumental struggle for our culture and the hearts of our children is taking place in the public square. And that struggle is raging as never before. Christians and conservatives have been deliberately targeted through legislation crafted to eliminate their First Amendment rights and thereby, their ability to engage the culture.
b. Verse 15: Christians are not to hide the source of their hope, Jesus Christ, nor their talents or gifts in the public arena, but they let them shine, nor neglect it through laziness.
c. Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said this about Christian citizenship: “The Apostle Paul instructs us that as Christians we have the responsibility to be good citizens of the state “for conscience sake” because God has ordained government to punish and restrict evil-doers and to reward and protect moral behavior (Romans 13:1-7). Christians are to support the civil government unless the authorities require a believer to support or to do evil in the direct contradiction to their ultimate allegiance to their Heavenly Father. Yet the responsibilities of Citizen Christians include not just obedience to the state, but involvement in society. Our forbearers intended—and the Constitution of the United States provides for—a balance between morality and public virtue and a separation of the institution of the church and the institution of the state. The First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom and separation of church and state—an oft confused concept in our day—were not intended to restrict the civic participation of people of faith or to disqualify their religious convictions and beliefs from consideration in the public arena of ideas.
d. Verse 16: Light is not for your own private use, but it is for all the world to be blessed by. Light shines to see others by, not to call attention to itself. The Light of Christ in your zeal, your openness, your genuineness, your integrity, your sincerity, your faithfulness, your courage, your diligence, your dependability, your work ethic, your regard for truth, your kindness to others who cannot help you, your genuineness.
e. ERLC: Authentic followers of Christ are marked by their love for people. It is more important now than ever that Christians re-energize and challenge themselves to engage their communities with biblical truth expressed humbly through their own ministry to others. Love is an action word. To say you love someone but fail to demonstrate that love is disingenuous. To say you are a follower of Christ but fail to demonstrate your love for others reveals an empty faith that is devoid of power. We are to act differently than those who are not in Christ. While those of us who are in Christ are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom to come, we are not excused from caring for others while we are living in this temporal world. Our model is Jesus Christ, and our concern for others flows out of our relationship with Him. Our service is motivated by His love for all men. Because God loves them, we must love them as well—even if their lifestyles are confusing or offensive to us, and even if they spurn our advances. When we forsake our identity as the people of God, we bear witness to a weak Gospel and defame the author of our faith.
f. ILLUSTRATION: “If the church isn’t going to help people like this, who is?” said Tony Redden, a remodeling contractor in Charlotte, NC, who had seen people taken advantage of when they could not afford the work they needed. Redden had been awakened eight nights in a row at precisely 3am sensing a strong call from God to help these kinds of people, so thought it would involve three or four of his construction buddies. But God had something more visible planned. He now oversees over 200 volunteers at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, as they do handyman projects for people who have no other resource. The Hearts and Hammers ministry has done everything from change a light bulb to a remodel a house. “The Lord has given us all these abilities, and we’re just trying to use them for Him,” Redden said. “I can’t sing or preach but I can use my hands. If we proclaim to be Christians and have love, Scripture clearly tells us to show that love to others,” Redden said. (Biblical Recorder, April 28, 2008).
a. EVANGELISM - “that they may . . . praise your Father in heaven.” Shining forth the person and work of Christ in your life leads and loves people to Jesus.
f. Albert Barnes: We learn here:
i. that one’s relationship with Christ, if it exists, cannot be concealed.
ii. that where it is not seen in one’s life, it does not exist.
iii. that those who claim to be Christians, who live like other people, give evidence that they have never been truly converted.
iv. that to attempt to conceal or hide our Christian knowledge or experience is to betray our trust, injure the cause of piety, and to render our lives useless. And,
v. that good actions will be seen, and will lead people to honor God. If we have no other way of doing good - if we are poor, and unlearned, and unknown yet we may do good by our lives. No sincere and humble Christian lives in vain. The feeblest light at midnight is of use.
a. APPLICATION: We reflect Christ’s light for conscience sake (Romans 13) and Christ’s sake and for the sake of those who have not known Christ. A citizen Christian in the voting booth is thinking not just about what is good for her/himself but what will benefit our children and grandchildren. We are to approach citizenship with a view that secures these blessings and liberties for ourselves and our posterity, as the Preamble of the Constitution says.