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Every nation or kingdom has a set of rules for its citizens to live by. So too does the kingdom of heaven. Citizens who desire to honor their heavenly Lord will seek to follow these rules in his service. Our passage for devotions this month, Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5–7, provides an instructive summary of what God requires of heavenly citizens. Here Jesus is speaking to the crowds and his disciples, explaining what characterizes such people. We could sum up the whole sermon with this phrase: you are salt and light in this world (5:13–16). But what does that even mean?

In Bible times, people didn’t have refrigerators. Salt is a preservative that kept their food from going bad. Salt removes moisture, which stops the growth of microorganisms that cause rotting and can make one who eats them sick. So why does Jesus call us salt? Part of his point is that the witness of his heavenly people repels the evil of this world like salt repels rot and decay. We are the salt in the evil culture around us. By the grace of God, this is what we are and who he has made us to be, for the power of spiritual salt is Christ.

Salt is also a seasoning. You can tell when salt is missing in a recipe, even if it was just a small amount. The recipe just isn’t right, and everything tastes a bit flat. In the world today, we see plenty of examples of nations that lack a Christian presence or history.  These societies are spiritually flavorless without the influence of the gospel. Without Christ and his kingdom, the world is a dark and tasteless place. The world needs spiritual flavor, and according to Christ, his people are the salt that provides it. However, salt does no good if it is kept in the shaker. The flavorful purpose of salt is only realized when it leaves the shaker and reaches our taste buds. So too for the citizens of Christ’s kingdom, who are called to be in the world but not of it. When elect unbelievers come into contact with a true citizen of the heavenly kingdom, they may wonder, “What am I missing?” The gracious work of the Spirit using that salt gives them a thirst for living water. Not everyone will experience that desire (you aren’t sugar, you are salt!), but by God’s grace your saltiness will bring others to a living faith in the same Lord who loves you.

Being a light in the world carries similar meaning. Even the smallest flame is seen in a dark room. That is what disciples are in this very dark and sin-filled world—shining lights. The purpose of that light is to give glory to our heavenly Father. God’s intention is for the world to hear your confession and to see your acts of love for God and your neighbor. You are not to hide this light. Hiding this light means you aren’t showing your love for God and are instead trying to hide in the shadows of darkness. We need to shine our light so brightly that even the darkest of places become brightened to the glory of God.

So, what are the attributes of human “salt and light”? The beatitudes provide a good place to start. We are to be poor in spirit (5:3), meaning we are completely dependent on God for salvation and we refuse to rely on our own merits. Our sin causes us to mourn (5:4), and God comforts us by telling us we are forgiven by the blood of his Son. Meekness (5:5) does not equal weakness. Just like a “broken” horse controls its power and uses it for another’s will, so too does the meek disciple in relationship to Christ. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness (5:6) and to pray that this thirst is evident in our lives. God has been merciful to us, so we must be merciful (5:7) to those around us! One who is pure in heart (5:8) is wholly devoted to God in heart, mind, and soul. Peacemakers (5:9) speak with their words and actions that God’s message of reconciliation through Jesus is the only means to bring peace where there is mayhem caused by sin. The response to people with these traits is often negative; thus we will be persecuted (5:10–12). However, we have peace with God, knowing he loves us and will richly bless us in heaven.

The spiritual standard that Jesus teaches in the sermon on the mount continues to build through chapter 5. Unlike the teaching of the Pharisees, who emphasized the outward keeping of the law so others would see them, Jesus is focused on the heart. The phrase “but I say unto you” illustrates this difference. Jesus indicates through his teaching that he was not rejecting the Old Testament law but was rather come to fulfill every aspect of the law and the prophets. He ends chapter 5 by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (v. 48). We can be thankful that Christ came to fulfill the law of his kingdom, for it is a standard we certainly cannot maintain by ourselves. As a reflection of his own perfect character, this law points us to Christ and the cross for complete fulfillment.

Having been saved and made righteous before God in Christ, we are freed to pursue a life of thankful obedience to the Lord of our heavenly kingdom. This sort of thankful living is reflected in our pursuit of other teachings from the sermon on the mount, which include Jesus’ instructions on giving to the needy (6:1–4), prayer (6:5–13), forgiveness (6:14–15), and fasting (6:16–18). By living in this way, we glorify God as shining lights in a world that is full of darkness and evil.

A person focused on kingdom work and the things of heaven will see God’s work more clearly in his or her own life. Conversely, if you are living a life that is focused on the darkness, it will be much harder to see that source of light that you have been given (6:22–24).  Continue to work as a kingdom citizen and strive to see God more and more through a life of kingdom work. Build your life on the Rock that is Jesus Christ (7:24–27). When the rains, floods, and storms come, he will keep you steady. Others will see your peace in the storm and look to see where your strength is coming from. Live a life that makes the Rock on which you stand visible to every eye that sees you. Live a life that makes people hunger and thirst for the living water. Don’t build your life on the sand that is yourself; when the storm comes, you will fall. Cling to the Rock that is higher than you.

 

Date Read Study Question Sing or Pray
Sept 8 Matthew 5:1–3; Isaiah 61:1-3 When was the last time you realized you were not in control and needed God’s help to even breathe? Psalter #81
Sept 9 Matthew 5:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10 Have your sins ever caused you to weep, or are you so comfortable that you are no longer astonished by them? Psalter #12
Sept 10 Matthew 5:5; Psalm 37:11 Are you using your power for your own personal gain or in service to the living God? Psalter #90
Sept 11 Matthew 5:6; John 7:37–38; John 4:1–45 Do you crave to read the Bible and to become more like Jesus as much as you crave status or human relationships? Psalter #48
Sept 12 Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:21–35 Do you regularly judge others in pride? Do you ever stop to think of the mercy God has shown to you in Christ and change your attitude toward others? Psalter #94
Sept 13 Matthew 5:8; 2 Timothy 2:22 It is so easy for us to follow God’s laws just so men will see our works. What can you do to guard yourself from this sin? Psalter #26
Sept 14 Matthew 5:9; James 3 What are some ways to be a peacemaker? Psalter #341
Sept 15 Matthew 5:10–12; 1 Peter 3:8–22 Instead of a study question, look up churches that are persecuted in the world and pray for them specifically. Psalter #187
Sept 16 Matthew 5:13–16; Ephesians 5:1–21 Are you letting your light shine? Is your salt coming out of your shaker? Talk with your family and friends about how you can be better salt and light. This Little Light of Mine
Sept 17 Matthew 5:17–20; 2 Timothy 3:10–17; Romans 9:30–10:4 Jesus followed the law perfectly because he loved God with all his heart. Is your heart in it, or are you living the way the Pharisees lived? Psalter #40
Sept 18 Matthew 5:21–26; James 4:1–12 Do you struggle with anger? What other sins does anger cause like a domino effect in your life? Psalter #301
Sept 19 Matthew 5:27–30; Psalm 19:14 Do you hold yourself and fellow members of the body accountable by calling out the sin of lust? Are you helping your fellow members to fight and flee from this sin? Psalter #334
Sept 20 Matthew 5:31–32; Deuteronomy 24:1–4 Can you explain why you don’t believe in divorce and remarriage? Are you able to be a peacemaker with others who disagree with you? Psalter #360
Sept 21 Matthew 5:33–37; Proverbs 10:19 Are you known for your honesty? Or are you known for being a good liar? Do people believe you when you make a promise? Psalter #21
Sept 22 Matthew 5:38–42; Luke 6:32–36 How do you resist the urge to retaliate against someone who has hurt you? What is the right way to flee revenge? Psalter #91
Sept 23 Matthew 5:43–48; Luke 10:25–37 Do you pray for those who hurt you? How does this affect your ability to forgive and respond in love? Psalter #113
Sept 24 Matthew 6:1–6; Matthew 23:5–7 Are you motivated to serve others to hear the praise of men, or because you love God and seek to glorify him? Psalter #19
Sept 25 Matthew 6:5–15; Luke 18:9–14 How can you keep yourself from just offering up prayers of repetition? Psalter #434
Sept 26 Matthew 6:16–18; Psalm 35 Have you ever fasted? Is this still a good practice for the child of God in the twenty-first century? Psalter #184
Sept 27 Matthew 6:19–24; Matthew 19:16–30 Are any of your possessions an idol to you? Are there any of them (maybe a phone?) that you can’t live without? Psalter #428
Sept 28 Matthew 6:25–34; Philippians 4:10–20; Job 38–40:2 What point is Jesus trying to make with the two pictures of nature he uses to explain anxiety? What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God first? Take It to the Lord in Prayer
Sept 29 Matthew 7:1–6; Proverbs 9:7–12 How can you guard from the sin of pride in judging others?

Who are the dogs and pigs that Jesus is describing in verse 6, and what are the holy things and pearls?

Psalter #69
Sept 30 Matthew 7:7–11; Hebrews 11:6; 1 Peter 5:6–7 Do you trust that God’s will is truly best for you? Do you pray that God’s will be done in your life? Psalter #48
Oct 1 Matthew 7:12; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:37–40 Is there anyone in your life who makes the “Golden Rule” hard to follow? Why is this? Psalter #13
Oct 2 Matthew 7:13–14; Psalm 119:105–12: Psalm 16:11 How do these passages give God’s people comfort? Psalter #292
Oct 3 Matthew 7:15–20; Matthew 24:3–28 Are you able to identify false prophets? What are the “fruits” that you should be looking for? Psalter #21
Oct 4 Matthew 7:21–23; Romans 2:12–29 Have you ever benefited from the teaching of a person who turned out to be a false prophet? Is this possible? Psalter #10
Oct 5 Matthew 7:24–27; Ezekiel 13:10–14; Psalm 118:22–23 What are some examples of the rain, flood, and wind that threaten to knock down the spiritual houses of modern-day Christians? Psalter #36
Oct 6 Matthew 7:28–29; 2 Timothy 3:16–17 Jesus’ audience was astonished at his teaching. What part(s) of the sermon on the mount astonished you as you studied this month? Psalter #14
Oct 7 Matthew 5–7 How often do you turn to the sermon on the mount to remind you of what it means to be a kingdom citizen? Psalter #428

 

Originally published September 2021, Vol 80 No 9

Habakkuk is the eighth book of the minor prophets and is mostly written as a conversation between God and his servant Habakkuk. The book begins immediately with the prophet’s sad and angry evaluation of the state of Judah around him. He sees God’s chosen people behaving in wicked ways. He sees violence, greed, and injustice happening in the nation. He has been crying out to God asking for help, but God isn’t answering him—or so he thinks. Habakkuk wonders why God seems to be turning a blind eye and letting his chosen people get away with such terrible sins.

God graciously answers Habakkuk’s plea in chapter 1:5–11 with one of the most fearfully comforting and beautiful texts in the Bible. The second half of verse 5 points to the sovereignty of God, who says, “For I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” God was raising up the Babylonians (Chaldeans) and would use them to take Judah into captivity as chastisement for her sins. The Babylonians were the next world power of their time, one that God describes as a bitter and hasty nation (v. 6). They were an evil people who destroyed, devoured, and took what wasn’t theirs. Their own strength was a god to them. So, while verse 5 is comforting to us, it was terrifying to Habakkuk. He didn’t understand God’s answer. God is so holy (v. 13), Habakkuk thought, how could he send this wicked nation to judge Judah? How often don’t we ask the same question! Why does it have to be this way?

Habakkuk knows God will use his counsel for judgment and correction of Judah (Hab. 1:12), but he still questions the means (the Babylonians) God is going to use. Through all this wrestling, Habakkuk is still clinging to his covenant God, whom he calls “Oh Lord, my God.” He is confused, but he trusts that this will not be the end for Judah. He has that confidence and knowledge because the promised Savior has not been born yet. He knows that the Messiah must come from Judah. Habakkuk clings to this truth. He stands on the solid Rock that is God and his promises. Habakkuk trusts God as his covenant Father, so he says in chapter 2:1 that he is going to wait for God to bring an answer to his questions. He trusts God will answer him—and God does.

God’s answer comes to Habakkuk in the form of a vision of divine judgment on the Babylonians, whom God would eventually punish through the Medes and Persians. Though it would seem to the people of Judah that this vision was slow in coming, God proclaims that it will come at the perfect time. God’s timing is always perfect! In verse 4, God tells Habakkuk to live by faith. By faith, he and the people of Judah need to patiently wait for deliverance. God commands Habakkuk to write down the vision along with the five woes against the sins of Babylon (Hab. 2:6–19). This is so that the elect in Judah may know and live by faith that this judgment will come. The Lord cannot lie!

In chapter 3, Habakkuk responds to God with a prayer of faith and humility that is meant to be sung. He knows Judah deserves her punishment, so he says, “In wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). “Lord, we deserve this punishment. Forgive us because of thine own mercy, God. Remember mercy and let this punishment serve our good. Let this destroy the wicked in Judah and preserve the faithful in her.” Habakkuk goes from fear to faith over the course of just a few verses (3:16–19). He says that although bad things are coming in the form of the Babylonians, yet he will rejoice in the Lord. He trusts God, even without seeing the actual plan of salvation come to pass. Trust brings joy not in circumstances, but in Jehovah God. The joy of the Lord is Habakkuk’s strength!

Does the voice of Habakkuk in chapter 1 not sound like us today? “God, I see abortion, shootings, hatred, greed, and fighting in the world! And the church is no better! There is anger and hatred, murder with words, violence, and many other terrible sins in her. Lord, please do something! We are sinning against each other and against thee!” We wonder if the wicked will be held accountable and whether sin will be justly punished. Friends, God’s answer to Habakkuk is the same as it is to us! He is doing a work that we wouldn’t even believe if he told us (Hab. 1:5). While we wait for him to reveal his plan to us, we need to be patient. We need to trust him! We need to bring our sorrows and worries to him in prayer. Tell your soul to be still, for your heavenly Friend is leading you through thorny ways and will bring you to a joyful end.

Our God is always working. He doesn’t start working on something when we start praying about it. Rather, he is always working. He had Judah’s story and yours planned out for eternity. His plan and promise for you and for me is the same: to work everything—the good, the bad, and the downright ugly—for our good and to conform us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:28–29). Live in this promise. Trust your Father in heaven. He loves you and he always keeps his promises. He is always with you even in the challenging trials and times of questioning in your life. Ask him for wisdom in your circumstances. Pray that God will show his plan to you. But if it is not his will to do so, pray fervently that he will uphold you and give you patience. Heavenly Father, give us the grace to trust in thee!

 

Date Read Study Question Sing or Pray
Aug. 8 Habakkuk 1:1–4 When was the last time you felt as if God wasn’t hearing your cries? Pray or sing Psalter #123
Aug. 9 Habakkuk 1:5–11 Do you remember a specific time when God gave you a very clear answer? Have you talked about this wonderful gift with others? Pray or sing Psalter #241
Aug. 10 Habakkuk 1:12–2:1 Has God ever answered your prayers with a plan you would not have chosen? Have you yet seen how his answer worked out in your life? Pray or sing Psalter #87
Aug. 11 Habakkuk 2:2–4 Are you living by faith in God or faith in yourself (pride)? Pray or sing Psalter #99
Aug. 12 Habakkuk 2:5–8 Have you ever had so much greed that you stole from someone? Have you repented from that sin? Pray or sing Psalter #216
Aug. 13 Habakkuk 2:9–11 Are you more focused on wealth than you are on Christ and his church? Repent and ask God for grace to escape that sin. Pray or sing Psalter #156
Aug. 14 Habakkuk 2:12–14 Bullies make others low with their actions and words to bring themselves higher. Does this describe you? Pray or sing Psalter #13
Aug. 15 Habakkuk 2:15–17 Have you pressured others to commit sins (drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.) with you? Pray for forgiveness from God and ask those whom you pressured to forgive you as well. Pray or sing Psalter #151
Aug. 16 Habakkuk 2:18–20 Do you put your own idols (self, money, your phone) before God? Remember God is in his holy temple, and he alone deserves the honor we give to the silent gods in our lives. Pray or sing Psalter #20
Aug. 17 Habakkuk 3:1–16 Do you use the history of the church of old to praise God? If not, do so! He is ever faithful! Pray or sing Psalter #121
Aug. 18 Habakkuk 3:17–19 Are you able to rejoice in the Lord even in times of hardship? Pray or sing Psalter #374
Aug. 19 Deut.
28:45–52
Are you serving the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart (v. 47)? Pray or sing Psalter #122
Aug. 20 Psalm 13 Do you feel as though your enemies are exalting over you? Sing to the Lord with David because God deals bountifully with us! Pray or sing Psalter #22
Aug. 21 Psalm 5 Are you asking God daily to make his way straight before you? Pray or sing Psalter #10
Aug. 22 Psalm 110 Do you have confidence that our great God will keep his promise to destroy the wicked? Pray or sing Psalter #302
Aug. 23 Habakkuk 1 This is the second time you have read through Habakkuk 1. Is there anything you missed that you are just seeing now? Pray or sing Psalter #224
Aug. 24 Habakkuk 2 Focus on verses 14 and 20. Do you live in the confidence that the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God? Pray or sing Psalter #5
Aug. 25 Habakkuk 3 Find the passages in which Habakkuk talks about Israel’s history. Do you have a history that shows God is faithful? Pray or sing Psalter #20
Aug. 26 Job 13 Focus on verse 15. When God brings you low, do you say with Job, “Yet I will trust in Him”? Pray or sing Psalter #87
Aug. 27 Hebrews 10:24–25 The OT church in Judah was failing at holding one another accountable. Are you seeking to keep fellow saints accountable? Are you gracious when they come to you? Pray or sing Psalter #369
Aug. 28 Hebrews 11 Note the amount of time between the promise and the fulfillment for each of the heroes of faith. God’s plans sometimes take lifetimes to be complete. Are you patient as God fulfills his promises in your life? Pray or sing Psalter #381
Aug. 29 Psalm 17 God protects and provides for his people because he loves them. Do you trust this promise in the lowest valleys of life? Pray or sing Psalter #7
Aug. 30 Romans 1 In verse 17, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4. How do you show that you live by faith? Pray or sing Psalter #27
Aug. 31 Psalm 90 Life is short. Are you living in God’s ways or are you wasting your life away on things of this world? Pray or sing Psalter #247
Sept. 1 Psalm 33 The Babylonians trusted their own strength. Psalm 33 says that a warrior is not delivered by strength. Do you have confidence that God will avenge you without your help? Pray or sing Psalter #87
Sept. 2 Psalm 16 Do you look forward to everlasting life in God’s presence? Or are you like Judah and focused on this world and its pleasure? Pray or sing Psalter #29
Sept. 3 Habakkuk 1 God welcomes boldness and honesty when his children come to him in prayer. Are you living in the blessing and praying to him daily, even with your seemingly small questions? Pray or sing Psalter #9:1
Sept. 4 Habakkuk 2 It can be so easy to see others in the woes to the Babylonians while missing our own guilt. Do you know your own sins? Are you bringing these to the cross of Christ daily? Pray or sing Psalter #9:2
Sept. 5 Habakkuk 3 Have you ever known you were being chastised by God? Did you praise him through it even though it was hard, or were you angry with him? Think like Habakkuk and worship God! Pray or sing Psalter #9:3
Sept. 6 Psalm 46 Is the God of Jacob your refuge, or are you your own refuge? Pray or sing Psalter #128
Sept. 7 Read all of Habakkuk What is the biggest thing you have taken away from your study of Habakkuk? Talk about it with a friend. Pray or sing Be Still My Soul

 

Originally published August 2021, Vol 80 No 8

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

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