I queried an older man who has become a dear friend with a pointedly stark question: what is your purpose in life? He is advanced in years. He ought to know by now. The question struck home, and he teared up trying to answer it.
He failed. He had nothing much to say. And he felt the pain of the emptiness that lingered in the air as he tried. He seemed not to like what fumbled out and admitted he was unable to answer satisfactorily. I appreciated his honesty.
Imagine what it means for anyone, young or old, to exist for a precious few years on planet earth, staring at eternity during his or her only trip through, without any noble purpose. Imagine coasting in neutral to hell. I once read the final statement of a person of notoriety in journalism who had taken his life. He wrote, “I might as well have played ping pong all my life.”
At the time I had this revealing discussion, I had been meditating and discussing concepts from the Sermon on the Mount with a friend every week who lived many States away. We had recently discussed that section containing the often misused and unfortunately worn words, “salt and light.” You remember it, don’t you?
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out to be trampled under foot 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 lamp stand, 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. (Mt 5:16-18, LSB)
We noted in our reflections that there is purpose here. You recall, I’m sure, that Jesus began his sermon with what is called “the beatitudes,” which is a kind of portrait of the blessed follower of Christ. This was the formula Christ used: “Blessed are the ________, for they will ___________.” The word “blessed” is followed by a descriptive name for those blessed (for instance, “the pure in heart,” meaning those focused singularly on God) and a statement concerning the specific way the blessing will be realized (“for they shall see God”). The specific blessings are those promised throughout Scripture for every believer and the descriptive name of such people is characteristic of each of those believers as well. Therefore, it has a portraiture quality for those who follow Jesus. The last beatitude is about something done TO the believer who has been described (he may be persecuted) which brings about reward in the future, making persecution something to be joyful about.
Why mention the above? Because this portrait is in mind when Jesus calls his followers “salt” and “light.” Salt comes out of the earth (“you are the salt of the earth”) as something distinctive from the earth. If that which is made to be distinctive from the earth has no distinctiveness, it is of no benefit. Just return it to the earth and let it be trampled like the ground. Perhaps Christ is meaning either that some professing to be salt are not except in name only, or that some professing to be salt are by the admixture of the earth made bland by worldliness so as to have no distinctiveness. The end consequence is that such persons are not different but are just like the earth itself. Hence, they are worthless to God. This was the story of the Jews but will not be of Christ’s followers.
Do you see the purposefulness in being salt in the world? Apart from any specific ministries he may have for you to fill that out, the purposefulness found in this attribution will always be ours. We exist to be distinct. We are purposeful because of who we are, and secondarily we are purposeful related to what we do. What we do comes out of what we are. We ARE salt and light.
It is one of the mistaken pursuits of some churches to daringly attempt to become so much like “the earth” that they dangerously risk not being known as distinct. Being in nature and practice as the beatitudes describes you will make you unlike the rest of those around you. This distinctiveness will appeal to those God is calling, who, in fact, do not want to be like they have been, but to be something much different.
We are not only distinctive as salt, but we are illuminating as light. We exist to be illuminating as light in a room and light on a hill. That is, as light, we open the minds of those around us about Christ through our clarity or the lucidity of our words and actions. We let this light shine by being faithful to God in our works, which include words as well as actions. For instance, Jesus said that they will know that the Father sent Christ into the world by the unity that believers have (John 17:23) and outsiders will know that we are disciples of Christ by our love for each other within the family of God (John 13:35). That is, we are illuminating to the world as we live in love.
We must not think that being salt and light makes everyone love us. Men love darkness rather than light, Jesus said (John 3:19). We have all felt the jabs and innuendos from relatives and friends who think we are strange in our devotion for Christ. Yet, to those whom God is calling, our distinctiveness and brightness is appealing and instrumental in their right view of the blessedness of being in Christ.
These two, salt and light, provide the great purposes of our lives as believers. God will bring you into certain ministries or callings or activities that will give structure to this, but remembering constantly that we have been made to be distinct in the world and illuminating is enough to give you that reason for living you desperately need.
In the sick room or the board room; as the least, or the notable; as the youngest or the venerated elderly; as the untutored or the erudite — you are salt and light, distinctive and illuminating. This is your purpose. Believe that, for it is true, and the emanating works and words will bear it out.
We are soon to release our latest book written by Steve Burchett. It is the second in our Bristol Series. Here are the words on the back of the book:
Released: Inspiration from the First Local Church Venture into Worldwide Missions explores the compelling story of the Antioch church’s Spirit-led involvement in missions. Though the Jerusalem church had breached the barrier of the Gentile world, a new chapter in world missions begins at Antioch. This story is meant to strengthen believers and stimulate churches and missionaries today.
Have you “traveled” with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey? In this book Steve Burchett takes you along with Antioch’s first missionaries through Acts 13-14 interpreting and applying this text in a way that will make you more confident in the Savior of the world, more eager to tell others about him, and more prepared to fulfill your role in advancing his name to the nations.
We hope this book will make an amazing impact on you and your church. Please write us for a free copy if you will promise to read it with interest. Your promise to read it rather than store it will assure us that the investment of the money God gives us will be well spent. We want to send one to you as our gift. Please send us your address now (write firstname.lastname@example.org)