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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
 www.frcsr.com
 
Title:Christ's word about the church as the salt of the earth.
Text:Matthew 5:13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2001-01-28
Added:2004-01-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading : Mt. 5, 1-16
Text : Mt. 5,13
Ps. 122 : 1,2
Ps. 119 : 13
Ps. 12 : 4
Ps. 86 : 4
Ps. 87 : 1,2,3,4,5
Ps. 36 : 3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The subject matter I would like to deal with in this morning's sermon is: the task of the church in a secular society. As church do we have some-thing we can offer to the people around us? We surely have! Yet the problem often is how to go about it? If I just think of the Australian scene - we are a small bond of churches living in a vast country, a congregation small in numbers in the midst of a big city. So what are the opportunities, the possibilities? What does the Lord require of us?

For a simple answer I could refer to the text chosen for this morning's sermon, where the Lord Jesus Christ speaks about the church as "the salt of the earth," meaning that the church functions a preservative agent - for that's what among others salt is used for: to preserve, e.g. fish or meat > well, that now is the task the church has been given in the midst of a soci-ety where people more and more turn their back upon God. People, who perhaps when you speak with them still have some appreciation for the way we live, but who at the same time take the attitude: don't bother me with it. Nowadays religion is regarded as something personal. Don't come and say that faith should have impact also on the way others live, impact on politics and other areas in society. Keep what you believe to yourself, but don't bother others with it. Don't try to convince others who are quite happy with the way they live. That's the attitude we meet. Which brings us back to the question: what can we do?

The answer, Br. & Sr., is very simple: be what you are: salt of the earth, i.e. live your faith; in all that you do show that you love the Lord and that because you love Him it is also your desire to serve Him. In other words, make sure that the salt of faith does not loose its flavour in your life. That's in a nutshell the message I would like to pass on to you this morn-ing. I do this under the following heading,

CHRIST'S WORD ABOUT THE CHURCH AS

THE SALT OF THE EARTH

We will see that this is

1) on the one hand a word full of grace

2) yet it also has serious consequences

I The text chosen for this morning's sermon is taken from Christ's Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon Christ points His listeners to the ba-sic law of the Kingdom of God. The first question we have to tackle here is: who are these listeners? Whom is Christ addressing with this sermon, only His disciples or more in general the multitudes following Him? Af-ter all, both are mentioned in Ch. 5,1.

When reading the entire sermon, it's evident that the Lord Jesus had in mind surely also these multitudes. They too were listening in to this rabbi, who unlike the scribes they were used to, taught them "as one having au-thority." Yet because Christ preached with authority it also meant no one could remain neutral, uncommitted. Christ makes this quite clear at the end of this sermon. First in Ch. 7,21, "." In other words one can make all the right noises, but if in the end there is no change in life, if there is no willingness to obey, one will not share the riches Christ speaks of in this sermon: "Then - as Christ says - I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness." Summing it all up in the parable of the house on the rock and on the sand Christ says, you should be not only hearers but also doers of My Word.

Well, also in those days this was not the case with everyone. Many were following Jesus, but only some had become true genuine disciples. It is this distinction between the multitudes and these genuine disciples, which we meet in Ch. 5,1. The Lord Jesus separates Himself somewhat from the crowds to find a spot from where He can address them. And then it says, vs. 1a, "When He was seated His disciples came to Him." They come somewhat closer, since they don't want to miss out one word of what Je-sus is going to say. As regards these disciples, it is not just curiosity that causes them to listen in, but a genuine desire to learn more about the kingdom of God. And so this small circle of disciples distinguishes itself somewhat from the multitudes, which at the same time were also listening in. Christ surely does not exclude them in His teaching.

Nevertheless you could speak of certain levels. There is already a small group of keen listeners, who have separated themselves from the multi-tudes and who are now seated at the feet of the Lord Jesus. This small group could be called the start of the NT church.

It's on purpose, Br. & Sr., that I pay some attention to this element, since it has a bearing also on our text when Christ says, "You are the salt of the earth." For the point now is: whom is Christ addressing when He says, "You ." From what I've said before it can be clear that with these words Christ is addressing first of all that small circle of disciples that had come to sit at His feet, which I called earlier on the start of the NT church. In other words in our text it is the church which is referred to as the salt of the earth.

In this context it also noteworthy that referring to the church Christ does not say you must be or you must become the salt of the earth, but He says, you are! That's the position the church has in this world: salt of the earth.

The next question now is what does the Lord Jesus mean by using this image. Salt, Br. & Sr., is something well known to us. It is used in the kitchen or at the table to season food. In the food industry it is also used as preservative agent to prevent rotting. I think it is in particular this ele-ment we have to think of here when Christ speaks about the church as the salt of the earth. It refers to the position/the task, which the church has in the midst of an ungodly society.

To make this more clear, for a moment I would like to go back to Gen. 1, where we read that God created this world good. But then - Gen. 3 - sin came, which caused all kind of corruption. The apostle Paul refers to this in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans. People suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, even worse they gave themselves up to all kind of impurity: "sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, (man became) full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness." Says Paul, "They are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to their parents, undiscern-ing, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful."

These words, Br. & Sr., could have been written for today. It serves as fit-ting description of today's society as well. The church now has received a place in the midst of this society. We live in the midst of the world, where we have a role to play, a task to fulfil. What is that task? To be salt! Through the church God is putting salt in a society, which because of its sins is rotting away. In His grace God still wants to counter this rotting process. How? Through the church!

"You are the salt of the earth," Christ says in our text. Salt - a product that counters decay. It does so especially - as I read somewhere - where life already has been cut off. I think here of the meat- and fish industry. Meat of a dead animal soon rots away. Yet salt can counteract this rotting process. That's why meat and fish are salted.

Taking this analogy now towards what Christ says about the church being the salt of the earth, then we see a sinful world fallen into corruption. But in the midst of that sinful world God now places His church to counter this corruption.

As I said before this first of all points us to God's grace. This world still continues to exist. There still is opportunity to live and work in the midst of a world, which due to sin is subjected to futility. How come? How is this still possible? The answer is, Br. & Sr., because in the midst of a world which is rotting away because of sin > in the midst of this world God placed the church to function as salt. That's God's grace, but at the same time this also shows what high calling the church has. God put her in this world as salt.

This brings us to the next question: how now has the church to fulfil this salting task? After all, also the members of the church are affected by sin and the consequences of sin. So how can they -being sinful themselves as well - still fulfil this salting function?

To answer this question I would like to refer to a certain aspect of the OT sacrificial service. As to some of these sacrifices salt was added. A grain offering, for example, had to be seasoned with salt. By this symbol the LORD wanted to teach His people that man cannot stand before God without the salt of God's grace, which counters corruption. Drawing the line through to the NT this means we are only acceptable to God through the work of Jesus Christ. And thus it is only through Christ's accom-plished work that the church can be salt.

After all, as I said before, also the church is made up of sinful people. Which raises the question: how can the church ever fulfil a salting func-tion in a corrupt society. This is only possible, Br. & Sr., since God has given His Word to the church; God's Word which points to life in and through Jesus Christ. It's this Word entrusted to the church, which can counter the corruption and decay resulting from sin. Therefore, even though the church does not consist of sinless people either, nevertheless it is in the church that the salt of God's Word and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit call corruption to a halt. New life breaks through, the good works mentioned in vs. 16 of Mt.5.

So how we are salt? The simple answer is: by being Christ's and having the desire to live for Him. We are salt by being a living member of Christ's church.

Well, that's how Christ addressed that small group of disciples who had come to sit at His feet, the start of the NT church, "You are the salt of the earth." And, beloved, that's how Christ addresses also us today. You, members of Christ's church here in West Kelmscott > you are the salt of the earth.

From what has been said, it can be clear that this gives us no reason to boast. For from ourselves we are not any better than those who live in the world. It's God's grace only that we are allowed to be salt. Allowed - for we became salt only by the power of Christ's Word and the renewing work of His Spirit.

Thus far we have focussed merely on the aspect of being salt. Yet we are not just salt, but Christ speaks about being the salt of the earth. With these latter words He wants to refer to the task given to the church, and to each individual member of the church: "You are the salt of the earth!" We thus have been given a salting task. How now are we to go about this task?

Simply, Br. & Sr., by radiating your life in Christ! As Christ Himself says it in vs. 16, people should see our good works (the salt that counters cor-ruption) - other people should see this in your life, beloved, so that they may glorify your Father in heaven. People should see this salt/the good works - as the Lord Jesus mentions them in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes - by being meek, by hungering and thirst-ing for righteousness, by being merciful, pure in heart, by seeking peace and not to worry when you are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Summarizing, when speaking about good works Christ is not first of all referring to something special, something spectacular, but simply to being a faithful disciple of His in our whole life. That's how we are salt; when daily we find it a joy to obey God's commandments, since they have been given for our good. And then we make also sure that this salt does not loose its flavour in our life.

One may ask is this possible, doesn't salt always keep its flavour? Isn't this just one of the characteristics of salt? For an answer to this question we have to bear in mind that in Jesus' day salt was taken from the Dead Sea, generally in a fairly careless way. Often it was mixed with all kind of contaminants, which at times made this salt unfit for use.

Well, beloved, that's the salt the Lord Jesus is speaking about. Salt that due to contaminants can loose its flavour. I hope you see the analogy. For how easily can this not happen also to the church, as well as to the indi-vidual members of the church.

You are the salt of the earth, says Christ. Make sure then, beloved, that this salt does not loose its flavour, but that instead it permeates your whole life. Then impure elements will disappear more and more and the fruits of the Spirit will get the upper hand in your life. The fruit of the Spirit, as the apostle Paul mentions them in his letter to the Galatians, "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle-ness, self-control." Being salt means: these fruits must characterize our life. It is only in this way that the church can fulfil its salting function in the midst of a corrupt society. Only, when we as members of Christ's church do away with all impure elements in our life, otherwise the salt looses its flavour.

We must do away with all impure elements. Do I really have to fill this in, beloved, what this means in practical terms? Then we make sure that worldliness does not enter our homes, be it via saltless TV programs or by listening to saltless music, or via all kind of saltless magazines. And then I think you all know quite well, what I mean when in this context I use the word 'saltless'.

Beloved, you are the salt of the earth. Take care then that this salt does not loose its flavour. Be aware of the high calling your Saviour has given you. Speak about this high calling also with your children, so that the salt of God's grace may permeate also their life: not only by going to the catechism class and the Bible Study Club, but also in their entertainment and in spending their leisure time.

Young people, you too should make sure that that you do away with all impure elements in your life; impure elements that cause the salt to loose its flavour. And then you too know quite well, what is meant by this. The point now is: to be honest.

Thus this morning's text addresses all of us, old and young alike. Christ says to all of us: you are the salt of the earth. Be then also salt, beloved! Only then you can also have a salting function in the midst of a corrupt society. A salting function: when we let our life be guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. For also here applies: in own strength we cannot do this. But when the power of the Spirit becomes visible in your life, who knows, beloved, what God wants to do through you in the station He has given you in life.

After all, not always is a great deal of salt necessary. In Sodom ten right-eous people would have been enough to stop God's judgment and to spare the city. Thinking of this, it brings home the more what it means when we neglect the high calling to which Christ has called us!

In the second part of our text Christ makes clear what will happen when we forsake this calling, "If salt loses its flavour, how shall it be sea-soned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled un-der foot by men." This brings me to my second thought, in which we will see that the word Christ speaks in our text is not only a word full of grace, but it also has serious consequences.

II I already noted that in Jesus' day salt that was taken from the Dead Sea often contained contaminated elements and because of it could loose its flavour. The result was that it no longer could fulfil its salting function either. It was good for nothing. People threw it out. Men treaded it under-foot.

With these words the Lord Jesus wants to illustrate what will happen to the church, to its members, when they stop being salt. For if salt looses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It has become worthless, beyond hope. Thus for this earth there is hope - hope when the church is true salt, when its members permeate this world with their salting function. Who knows how God will use us in the station He has placed us in life?

But what if the church looses is flavour, when it ceases to be a true church, when its members are no living members? How can they still be seasoned? When the church doesn't do a thing when impure elements creep in, it looses its character, it becomes a false church, and then in the end Christ will take the lampstand away.

Think what this means, beloved, also for the community you live in. The salt by which it could be seasoned is then also taken away.

When looking at church history one can find many examples of this. I think of what happened in the Middle Ages, for example, when the Church of Rome refused to let the salt of the Reformation work through, but instead drowned this Reformation in blood. The result was that it lost its salting function. And we have seen this so often, when churches be-came false churches, refused to let the salt of reformation work through. Impure elements crept in and nothing was done about it. Discipline was no longer exercised. But the result is that those churches have no longer any real flavour, its members no longer function as salt in a corrupt soci-ety. They have become corrupt themselves, by joining in with the world and the lifestyle of the world. The salt has lost its flavour.

I realise there are gradations. It is not the same everywhere. Yet, beloved, the point is not how far the process of corruption has already set in, but whether people, rather whether churches want to counter this process by remaining faithful to God's Word, by remaining a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet, beloved, let us be careful this morning, that we do not look just at others. It's more important to look in the mirror first to see how it is with ourselves. For impure elements creep into the church often much more easily than we are aware of. In the first point of the sermon I already mentioned a few examples of how easily worldliness can creep into our homes. How easily sometimes our life becomes saltless. Yes, beloved, in your daily life can others really see that you are salt, that the Word of God in the way you speak, in the way you deal with your neighbour, the way you spent your leisure time, and you name it, seasons your life? In all these things does it really show up that you are salt?

In putting questions like these, it's not my intention to be negative. There are surely also many things we can be thankful for. But at the same time there are also many things that are worrisome. For it cannot be denied that slowly but surely more and more worldliness is creeping in also among us, impure elements that should not be there, which must be re-moved, lest the salt looses its flavour.

Beloved, let us take this warning seriously. And also let us start first by having a look at our own life. It's so easy to point to others, but what about me? How much fighting is there in my own life to put of that old nature, to let the Word of God permeate my life? That's where it starts, beloved.

Yes, let us all take this warning of Christ to heart and work with it, first of all in our own personal life, and then also as a communion of saints to-gether, so that Christ's church here in West Kelmscott may indeed be salt and in this way also be a blessing for the society we live in.

Beloved, in this corrupt society you have the task to show what it means when the salt of God's grace seasons life. It is your task to show the community you live that only this salt is able to counter corruption.

Make sure then that by the way you live you never become a stumbling block for your neighbour to come to Christ. Being salted yourself, be now also a salt for the community you live - for your mates at work, at school, or in the office. Be salt, i.e. wherever you are and in whatever you do, al-ways show that the salt of God's grace is present in your life.

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frca.org.au/westkelmscott/sermons.cgi

(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. A Veldman

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