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?
|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