This week, we are continuing our Sermon On The Mount series with a challenge. In Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV), Jesus refers to the church as a city on a hill. Today, we will be looking at how to live out this challenge in our everyday lives, and my hope is that we can truly become a light in the darkness. I wanted to take a little bit different approach with this, because I had a real conviction about this, and in our current culture, I feel like it’s a very important thing to discuss.
Martin Luther King Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” We live in a culture where it seems like we are more divided than ever. We argue constantly over politics, race, religion, sexuality, gun control, the national anthem, even where we are from or what language we speak. It’s hard to turn on the news without hearing stories of school shootings, kids being kidnapped to be sold into prostitution, police officers being killed, or racial tension. The scary thing is, it seems like there is more violence and hatred on both sides than ever before. While part of this is based on our history, a lot of it is also based on our own prejudices here and now. 1 John 3:13 (NCV) says “Brothers and sisters, do not be surprised when the people of the world hate you.” We have been promised suffering in this world, but we are called to be set apart from the world.
Anne Lamott said “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” I grew up this way, thinking that God hated people who looked, dressed, lived, or believed differently than me, and I made a lot of my assumptions of people based on that belief. I wrote off all the people that looked different, came from different backgrounds, or lived different lifestyles from me, but I came to a realization that those people were exactly the ones that Jesus spent most of his time with. I learned that I had spent most of my life judging people just because their sin was different from my own, and it was a great conviction. Today, I’m going to give us all three challenges, and I hope they change the way we look at and love people.
Matthew 5:13 (NIV) says “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” My first point is this:
1. You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A First Impression
Over the last several weeks, our church has been going through a series called Like It Or Not, and we have been discussing some things that may be hard to hear. Some of the topics were Life Is Hard, You Need Others, and It’s Not About You, but I thought I would add one more. How You Treat People Matters. You see, how we treat people is very important, and it starts the moment we meet them. Often times, your first impression of someone sets the tone of how you see that person forever. I realize there are exceptions to this rule, but they are exceptions. I love the way Bob Goff puts it in his book Everybody, Always. He says “Love everybody, always, and start with the people who creep us out.” The truth is that we often love those who look like us, think like us, dress like us, vote like us, or worship like us, but those who are different, we cast aside and either ignore or outright dismiss. That’s not what Jesus did. He spent the majority of his time with the people that most of us don’t pay much attention to, or even think less of. 1 John 3:11 (NCV) says “This is the teaching you have heard from the beginning; We must love each other.” This is our second greatest commandment, right behind loving God above all else. When we treat others differently, it ruins our ability to witness to them.
Does anyone else ever get road rage? I don’t mean the type where you get violent and go on a shooting spree or try to wreck the person who cut you off. What I’m talking about is the more subtle version of it, where you start yelling at the person who pulled out in front of you, almost sideswiped you, or cut you off, or you give them a not so polite salute when you get beside or in front of them. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I’m proud of. Ephesians 4:26 -27 (NCV) says “When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day. Do not give the devil a way to defeat you.” Satan loves it when we let our anger get the best of us, because it destroys our effectiveness as a witness for Christ. If you let your anger control you, it becomes very hard for you to show the love of Christ. Proverbs 22:1 (NIV) says “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” While we should not base our value on what the world thinks of us, we should place a high value on who we are as witnesses. The salt that is no longer salty is thrown out, and trampled under people’s feet. It has no use in the kingdom.
Matthew 5:14-15 (NIV) says “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” My second point is this:
2. The Darkness Of This World Is The Best Opportunity To Show The Difference Jesus Makes
D.L. Moody says “We are told to let our line shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining – they just shine.” If we are living the way that God called us to live, we won’t have to announce to anyone that we are a light. They will see it in us without us ever having to say anything. John 8:12 (NCV) says “Later, Jesus talked to the people again, saying ‘I am the light of the world. The person who follows me will never live in darkness but will have the light that gives life.” I get to have conversations with people every day at my job, and I always greet them by calling them “my friend” and asking how they’re doing. Not everyone responds the way you would hope they would, but most people are very friendly and enjoy conversing. Even in the most basic of conversations, I have been able to witness to people almost every day since I’ve been there. Most of the time, those conversations are very surface level, but I have gotten to know some of the regulars that have been there more frequently, and have heard their stories. A few of them, I’ve actually gotten to speak very candidly with, and even counsel on certain things. It is important for us to develop relationships with the people around us, and even more important that we show all of them the love of Christ, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or how they live their life.
I love the way The Message paraphrases John 8:12. It says “No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness.” Too often, as Christians, we ignore or belittle those who are different from us, but these are the same people Jesus spent His entire ministry loving on and ministering to. Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book Messy Grace, says “Somehow, despite the messiness we encounter, we have to figure out how to be the bearers of grace AND truth, because it always results in love.” His story is a pretty amazing one, and I would highly recommend his book, especially if you want to do better at loving people who are different from you. He also says “When you deal with people, you’ll always get messy.” That is exactly what Jesus did, and we should follow His example.
Matthew 5:16 (NIV) says “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” My last point is this:
3. Your Light Might Be The Only One Some People Ever See
As I said earlier, how you treat people matters. It doesn’t matter who they are, how they may be different from you, or how they may even be the same. Acts 13:47 (NCV) says “This is what the Lord told us to do, saying: I have made you a light for the nations; you will show people all over the world the way to be saved.” We have to show with our actions that our lives are different. If we say we are Christians, but don’t love other people the way Christ loved us, we are actually making Jesus more unattractive and turning people away from Him. James 2:14 – 16 (NLT) says “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say ‘Goodbye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” We are called to not only have faith, but to live that faith out in our daily lives. That includes loving others the way Christ loved us.
What are some ways you could do better at loving people? Is there someone at your work that needs to know the love of Christ? One of your friends? Maybe even a parent, grandparent, a child, or some other family member? What does the way you treat people say about the light in your own life? As a dad, I have learned that my kids pay more attention to the things that I do than the things I say. I could have all the right words to make them feel better, but if I don’t sit down and actually spend time with them, they still feel neglected. We have to be very careful that our actions actually back up our words. If you want to live a life like Christ loved, we have to love like Christ loved. That’s a radical idea, but think of how much things would change in our world if we all lived with that mindset. There is a quote that has often been attributed to Gandhi that says “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Though the quote does not actually belong to Gandhi, it is a great mirror for us to use to determine if we are actually living the things we say we believe in.
I’m going to close with a poem by Edward A. Guest called I’d Rather See A Sermon.
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye is a better pupil, more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear,
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see a good put in action is what everybody needs.
I can soon learn how to do it if you will let me see it done;
I can watch your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there is no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles, and a strong man stands behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.
One good man teaches many; men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noted is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to everyone is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.
I think this is a great challenge for us. Our lives should be a living sermon to everyone we come in contact with. We should wake up every day eager to be the salt and light Jesus says that we are.
We thank You for Your love for us. Lord, we pray that You would help us to shine our light to all those in the world around us, and that we would reflect Your love for us to those we come in contact every day. I pray that everyone we meet would leave feeling like they had just had an encounter with Jesus Himself, and they would in turn go on to pass that love on to others, so that all the world would come to know You. We pray today for all who are hurting because they have encountered Christians who were judgmental to them instead of showing them grace, and we pray that someone would come into their lives to help ease the pain of that experience. Father, there are so many in our world who are lost and hurting right now. They’ve faced tragedies that we can’t even begin to imagine, and they need someone to come around and show them Your love. I pray that You would wrap Your arms around each and every one of them, and show them peace. Lord, once again, we thank You for loving us.
It’s in Your Name we pray