MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD

 

Week of August 20, 2006

 

Bible Passages:  Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.

 

Biblical Truth:  God wants to use believers to transform people and cultures.

 

Separate Yourself from the World: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.

 

[14] Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? [15] Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? [16] Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. [17] Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. [18] And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. [1] Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.   [NASU]

 

The biblical teaching that the ultimate and radical division of persons before God is that between believers and unbelievers, between those who are in Christ and those who are not, is strongly taught here. But it would be a serious mistake to conclude that Paul is here condemning all contact with non-Christians [1 Cor. 5:9-11]. The metaphor of the yoke [bound together] and the nouns [partnership … fellowship … harmony … agreement] which he uses here shows that he is thinking of close relationships in which, unless both parties are true believers, Christian harmony cannot be expected to flourish and Christian consistency cannot fail to be compromised.  Five rhetorical questions, set out in balanced pairs, and each requiring a negative reply, are now asked. The point of each question is that God’s people are to be distinct and separate from the characteristic beliefs and practices of unbelievers. These pair of opposites illustrate the absolute and ultimate antithesis that exists between the believer and the unbeliever. The unbeliever's life is centered on self, the believer's on Christ; the treasure of the one is here on earth, of the other in heaven; the values of the one are those of this world, of the other those of the world to come; the believer seeks the glory of God, the unbeliever the glory of men.

 

The fifth question [16a] is the most critical. This key exhortation is now undergirded with Old Testament promises. God lives in the temple or congregation of the living God and walks among His people as their God [16b]. This promise of God requires positive action on the part of His covenant people [therefore, come out … be separate … do not touch]. They must take steps to separate themselves from all that is unclean and to be free from unholy compromise.  It is no idle injunction, therefore, that they who were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord, should walk as children of light do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness [Eph. 5:8,11].  Calvin points out that we who have been redeemed and rescued from the pollutions of the world are not meant to turn our backs on life, but only to avoid all participation in the world's uncleanness. 

 

The promises which Paul has cited are not vague and general in their application; they are specific and wonderful promises attached to God's everlasting covenant, and as such they belong to the Christian believer as his own proper possession and heritage [Gal. 3:22,29]. The logical consequence of possessing such promises is that Christ's followers should make a complete break with every form of unhealthy compromise. The necessity for a thorough cleansing is emphasized both by declaring that it should be from all defilement and also by the addition of the words of flesh and spirit, that is, all defilement of every possible kind, both external and internal, both seen and unseen, both public and private.  Not only are our members not to be presented unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but they are to be presented as instruments of righteousness unto God [Rom. 6:13].  We are intended to press on towards the goal of perfection [Heb. 6:1]. And this is to be done in the fear of God, that is, in reverence and devotion towards Him to Whom we owe everything. Thorough cleansing from defilement involves also continual progress in holiness. 

 

Let God Use You: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

 

[26] For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; [27] but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, [28] and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, [29] so that no man may boast before God. [30] But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, [31] so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”   [NASU]

 

[26] In verses 26-31 Paul calls attention to the composition of the Corinthian church. In verse 26 Paul shows the paradox of God’s method among the socially despised membership in Corinth. He indicates that few who were wise by human standards were in the membership at Corinth. The “calling” of the Corinthians was their divine call to salvation, not to a vocation in the present sense of the term.

 

[27-28] God’s choice is reiterated three times for emphasis with the threefold use of chosen. The objects God has chosen are the opposite of the wise, mighty and noble of verse 26. The threefold of the world means in the world’s estimation. God chose the weak not to make them strong, but to invert and convert human values. God chose the foolish because the wise thought the cross was sheer folly as a means for saving the world, the weak because the strong thought they were powerful enough without God, and the low [base] and despised because the high and mighty did not care to debase themselves by attaching themselves to a crucified God. Throughout the biblical narrative God consistently chooses the most unlikely figures, and Paul maintains that God has continued this pattern in choosing the believers in Corinth. 

 

[29] God’s ultimate goal in choosing the foolish, weak, and despised was not simply to shame the wise and strong and to nullify the somethings, but to preclude all human boasting. “Boasting” can be good or bad, depending on the object of the boast or the attitude behind the boasting. It is used in a negative sense of those who boast of their special relationship to God [Rom. 2:17]; in the law [Rom. 2:23]; in works that they assume earn salvation [Rom. 3:27; 4:2]; in human birth or accomplishments according to human standards, which Paul characterizes as foolishness [1 Cor. 1:29; 4:7; 13:3; 2 Cor. 10:15-16; 11:12, 16-18; 12:1; Gal. 6:13; Eph. 2:9]; in outward appearances [2 Cor 5:12]; and in human leaders [1 Cor. 3:21]. It is used in a positive sense of Christians who boast in their future hope [Rom. 5:2]; in God, who has saved them [Rom. 5:11; 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17]; in Christ [Phil. 3:3]; in the cross of Christ [Gal. 6:14]; in the working of God in oneself [Gal. 6:4; Rom. 15:17] or in fellow Christians, which is closely related to joy [1 Cor. 15:31; 2 Cor. 1:12; 5:12; 7:4, 14; 8:24; 9:2; Phil. 1:26; 1 Thess. 2:19]; in sufferings [Rom. 5:3] and weakness [2 Cor. 11:30; 12:5-6, 9]; in the salvation of other Christians on the day of the Lord Jesus [2 Cor. 1:14; 9:3; Phil. 2:16]; and in authority given by God [2 Cor. 10:8, 13]. In the present context, God eliminates all human boasting by conferring His salvation on those who are too foolish, weak, base, and contemptible, and hence too humble, to take any credit for their new exalted position in Christ. 

 

[30-31]  In verses 30 and 31 Paul again reminds the Corinthians that the gospel is a message designed to enhance the glory of God. All spiritual possessions are due to Him alone. Paul begins verse 30 with a reminder that God is the source of the new spiritual life available in Christ Jesus. The terms righteousness, sanctification and redemption denote aspects of the wisdom that believers find in Christ. Righteousness in this context stands for that righteousness which Christ makes available for men. Sanctification is progress toward perfect holiness, and redemption points to the consummation of redemption on the final day. Paul’s final words in verse 31 remind men that they cannot boast of themselves, but they can boast only in Christ through Whom they have all things.

 

Be Salt and Light in the World: Matthew 5:13-16.

 

[13] You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. [14] You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden; [15] nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. [16] 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.   [NASU]

 

If the beatitudes describe the essential character of the disciples of Jesus, the salt and light metaphors indicate their influence for good in the world. The world will undoubtedly persecute the church, yet it is the church’s calling to serve this persecuting world. The basic truth which lies behind these metaphors and is common to them both is that the church and the world are distinct communities. The metaphors tell us something about both communities. The world is evidently a dark place, with little or no light of its own, since an external source of light is needed to illumine it. The world also manifests a constant tendency to deteriorate. It cannot stop itself from going bad. Only salt introduced from outside can do this. The church, on the other hand, is set in the world with a double role, as salt to arrest – or at least to hinder – the process of social decay, and as light to dispel the darkness. God intends the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be his own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people. The disciples are to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or non-existent.

 

What did Jesus mean when he said that Christians are salt? The mood of the verb is indicative (a statement of fact), not imperative (a command to be something). Jesus is not urging His disciples to become something they are not; He is telling them what they are as kingdom people. The implication is that they are to be what God has thus made them. Jesus is speaking in the context of the persecution of His disciples. Like salt, Christians may seem small and insignificant, powerless in a power-mad society. Yet they have the ability to influence every segment of it and to permeate the whole. Salt is cheap; its value is minimal. But salt has unusual properties that far exceed its value. So it is with the members of God’s kingdom. In Jesus’ day salt was a vital preservative. Christians whose lives exhibit the qualities of the ‘blessed’ will have a preserving impact upon a society that, if left to itself, will rot and deteriorate. Without the influence of the gospel, society will suffer moral decay and become putrid, unfit for the consumption of good men and women. It is important, if our lives are to make a moral impact on others, that we live as Christians among them and take our stand right from the very start. Jesus’ illustration of salt is an encouraging reminder that the apparently cheap and insignificant can influence its environment out of all proportion to our expectation.

 

We are familiar with another property of salt: it not only preserves, but it also seasons. One meaning of the word ‘season’ is ‘give zest to.’ Christians should have zest. The presence of God’s people should increase the flavor of life in many different ways. Everything about us should express the attractiveness as well as the holiness of our Lord. Jesus Himself had this zest. By His very presence He raised the spirits of people. Jesus’ attractiveness did not draw attention to itself. It did not need to, because it was genuine. You do not need to draw attention to real quality, it speaks for itself. Paul tells us that our speech in particular should be seasoned with salt [Col. 4:6]. He explains what he means in the parallel passage [Eph. 4:29]: Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Interestingly, it is in this context that Paul urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Why in this context? Because our speech is one of the best measurements of the condition of our spirit. Speech is like salt: too little, and we do not taste the flavor of the food; too much, and we are left with the unpleasant taste of the salt. Like salt, our lives and our speech are to bring out the flavor of Jesus Christ.

 

The effectiveness of salt, however, is conditional: it must retain its saltness. Salt can become contaminated by mixture with impurities, and then it becomes useless, even dangerous. Christian saltiness is Christian character as depicted in the beatitudes, committed Christian discipleship exemplified in both deed and word. For effectiveness the Christian must retain his Christlikeness, as salt must retain its saltness. If Christians become assimilated to non-Christians and contaminated by the impurities of the world, they lose their influence. Jesus emphasizes that our ability to preserve the world in order that it may see Christ in us depends on our being different. Not different in a way that draws attention to ourselves, but different in a way that draws attention to Christ. If we have no moral ‘bite’ in the different quality of our lifestyle, then we are no longer salt in the world.

 

Jesus Himself is the light of the world [John 8:12], the great light Who has come to the people living in darkness [Mt. 4:16]. Those who belong to Him are brought out of the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of light [Col. 1:12-13]. As a result, we, too, have become light in the Lord and are to live as children of the light, having nothing to do with the deeds of darkness [Eph. 5:8-14]. Instead, we are to expose such deeds by the light that our own lives shine on the moral darkness around us. Few things are more important for the Christian in this world than to realize the extent of its darkness. The problem with living in the darkness is the effect it has on one’s ability to see clearly. It becomes difficult to distinguish one object from another. If a person loses direction, he has lost his bearings. That is true morally, also. We live in such a world today. Men have lost their sense of moral bearings and are blind to the terrible consequences. Man is so completely surrounded by his moral darkness that he cannot see his moral and spiritual foolishness. The Christian, who has become light in the Lord, should shine for his Lord. His holiness, or good works, will then be seen, and others will be drawn to glorify God through his witness. It is our responsibility to live the new life in order that others may be challenged by it. It is our responsibility to shine for Jesus Christ so that others will see His salvation expressed in the flesh-and-blood reality of our daily lives. This is the point Jesus is making: we have a responsibility to show the Christ-like life of light to those around us.

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.    Why is the issue of “boasting” so important for the believer? How does God remove any possibility of human boasting concerning our salvation?

 

2.    In 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, Paul quotes God calling on the believer to come out and be separate from the world. In Matt. 5:13-16, Jesus tells His disciples that they are salt and light to the world. But in order to be salt and light we must be out in the world and not isolated from it. How are we to live a life separate from the world yet not isolated from it? How are we to be “in the world” but not “of the world”? What insight do you gain from these two passages that warn you when you have crossed the line and are now identified more with the world than you should be?

      

 

References:

The Sermon on the Mount, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, InterVarsity Press

1 Corinthians, David Garland, Baker.

1 Corinthians, Curtis Vaughan, Founders Press.

Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes, NIC,  Eerdmans.