(Matthew Chapter 5, Verses 13-30)
We see in verse 13 it says, “You are the salt of the earth.” How often do we hear this said as a description of someone who is considered a good person in some way? And yet today salt is often condemned as causing high blood pressure and other cardio-vascular problems. However this is due to the excesses of salt used in our modern highly over-processed foods. But this was not so in the Lord’s day and it would not be an issue today if salt were used sparingly. At one time salt was very precious, and indeed it was sometimes used to pay people for their work, which is where the word “salary” is derived. Salt was precious and highly regarded. Even under the old covenant they spoke of a “covenant of salt” which was an eternal covenant and binding. Jesus was saying in this section that those people who followed him were like salt. As a light sprinkling of salt can turn some food from dull and bland to a taste sensation, so too those who hear and do Gods will “season” mankind and bring life in God’s eyes where there is none. In God’s eyes those who follow Jesus are like salt as it was viewed in Christ’s time: they are both valuable and precious to Him.
Again in vs. 14-16 Jesus says of his followers, “You are the light of the world.” Light infers insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom and life. Those who choose to follow his path will find these things in his teachings and shine as beacons of hope and light to the rest of the world. He says, “Let your light so shine before men,” and in truth it would be hard not to do so. Those who follow Christ’s ways will be perceived as being different from those who do not for they live by a different set of standards and principles. In the world men live by such adages as, “Greed is good,” and “What’s in it for me, ” and “Take care of number one,” and “Dog eat dog,” and so on. But in Christ we live by the teachings of, “Love thy neighbour,” with a focus on compassion, giving, care for others and attitudes of humility, love, peace, faith and hope. This is often the opposite of what the world is like and so a Christian will stand out for their light will shine forth.
Jesus begins to speak in verses 17-20 of the law and our relationship to the new covenant. He came to fulfil the law not to abolish it and yet through Christ we can have freedom from the law. It was necessary that he fulfil the law for to be the perfect sacrifice so we could be set free from the law and sin, he had to be without sin. The only way a person can be without sin is to fulfil the law, and no man is capable of that. Although he has set us free from law in his death, the law is still in effect for it was a covenant of God and is thus in place until God says it is not. But Jesus provides a mechanism to be able to pass out from being under law, which is achieved in his death and will be explained in greater detail when we review Romans and other writings of Paul. Finally he says that our righteousness needed to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They strove after a self-righteousness through keeping the absolute letter of the law, but as he says elsewhere, they missed the mark regarding Justice, mercy and truth. Self-righteousness is no righteousness at all. The only righteousness that matters is that given by God through Jesus Christ. It is possible to lead a good life under the law, and many people did then and do today, but righteousness can only come as the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is much written about this in Romans and Galatians and will be discussed in depth then.
In verses 21-26 Jesus is seen to be lifting the standard for Christians above the requirements of the law under the old covenant. While the law forbade killing another man, Jesus forbids even insulting another person or calling them fools or even being angry with them. What he is seeking is a people who are perfect as he is perfect. Now we might say this is an impossible thing to ask. Everyone gets angry at times and upsets or insults others in some way. But Jesus also provided a way by which we could learn this way of life and gave us a teacher, counsellor and guide whose specific job is to work this transformation in us so that we can live this perfect life. I am of course referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit and it is his role to lead us to the perfect place. When we learn how to walk in the Spirit using the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the weaknesses in our flesh, such as anger, insults and so on, then we can be perfected and be transformed into the image of Christ. More of this though when we get to Romans, Galatians and Corinthians.
Verses 27-30 continue this required transformation and define the perfect life from one that is not. It is easy to see that the standard set is much higher than the law. The law spoke to things of the flesh and the physical aspects of life. But Jesus speaks to the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of life. The law was meant to curtail the excesses of the flesh of man, but the standard Jesus sets is meant to change the heart, mind and spirit of a man through the working of the New Covenant and the power of the Holy Spirit.