Becoming a Person of Extraordinary Influence

Andrew Murray was a pastor and teacher who lived in South Africa in the 19thCentury. He wrote the classic “Abide in Christ”. He set an example few of us have equalled since. Among those on whom his influence was the greatest were his children and grandchildren. Five of his six sons became ministers and four of his daughters became minister’s wives. Ten grandsons became ministers and thirteen grandchildren became missionaries. And that was just his close family.

Woodrow Wilson the 28th President of the United States tells of another person who influenced him. “I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr, D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.”

Think about that for a moment. The hairdressers became a place of worship. How about the newsagents as a place of worship, the florists, the butchers, the supermarket a place of worship? Impossible? Absurd?

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).

Isn’t that worship? Where? Where are they more likely to see your good deeds? On Sunday in church or on Monday in the community? That is the question before us today. How can we create a community full of places of worship? How can we become people of extraordinary influence? Please turn with me to Matthew 5:13-16 and lets look at it together for an answer.

Jesus is speaking about the influence His people will have on the world for God and for good. In the words of Peter we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

God’s only witnesses are His children. The world has no other way of knowing of Him except through the testimony of what we are.  The analogy of salt and light emphasize different aspects of influence, but their basic purpose is the same. First, lets consider the presuppositions behind Jesus words.

1. The Presupposition: Decay, Darkness and Death

The world needs salt because it is corrupt and it needs light because it is dark. The Bible describes the world as corrupt and decaying. However beautiful and good, it has a dark side.

We have increased in scientific, medical, educational, psychological, and technological knowledge to an astounding degree. In the forthcoming elections, the political parties promise a better future for Britain under their leadership but none can change human nature or improve the morals of this country. Many scientific and technological breakthroughs have merely provided better ways to express and promote depravity faster and more destructively. The presupposition: A world of decay, darkness and death.

2. The Plan: A Community of Life and Light

“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 underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built 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.” (Matthew 5:13-15)

In both verse 13 and verse 14 the pronoun ‘you’ is emphatic. The idea is, “You are the only salt of the earth” and “You are the only light of the world.” The world’s corruption will not be retarded and its darkness will not be illumined unless God’s people act like salt and light.

The very ones who are despised and persecuted by the world are the world’s only hope. Again, notice, the ‘you’ in both verses is also plural. Each grain of salt has its limited influence, but collectively as we are scattered in the world change will come. One ray of light will accomplish little, but when joined with other rays a great light is created. The great blessings emphasized in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 lead to the great responsibilities of 5:13–16. The blessings of heaven, an inheritance, righteousness, comfort, mercy, becoming God’s children, and being given eternal life – these bring with them the responsibility of sharing these blessings with others.

2.1 You are the Salt of the Earth

“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 underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

Salt has always been valuable in history, often much more so than it is today. In ancient Greece it was called theon, which means divine. The Romans held that, except for the sun, nothing was more valuable than salt. Often Roman soldiers were paid in salt, and it was from that practice that the expression “not worth his salt” originated.

Salt was frequently used in the ancient Near East to bind a covenant, somewhat in the way an agreement or contract is notarized in our day. When the parties to a covenant ate salt together before witnesses, the covenant was given special authentication. In 2 Chronicles 13:5 we learn that God made a covenant of salt with David. God prescribed that all sacrificial offerings in Israel were to be offered with salt “so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking” (Leviticus 2:13).

In numerous ways Jesus’ hearers—whether Greek, Roman, or Jewish—would have understood salt of the earth to represent a valuable commodity of high value and importance.

Many suggestions have been made as to what Jesus meant. Some think Jesus is emphasizing the purity of salt, or the flavour of salt, or the preserving nature of salt. Each has some merit and you can find verses that stress our role in these ways. But none of them actually fits the wording of the text or the context of what Jesus says about salt in the Gospels.

It took the idle listening to a BBC Radio Gardeners Question Time to spark off new insights into this expression “Salt of the earth”. One of the experts was asked about how it was possible to increase productivity without the use of lots of chemicals. In answer the expert explained that during World War II, when potassium fertilisers were in short supply, farmers resorted to an old technique. Quite simply they used table salt as a fertiliser. An old technique? Stimulating fertiliser? Surely salt in water or the soil kills off plants?

Let me quote to you J.M. Wilson, a leading Victorian horticultural authority, writing in “The Farmers Dictionary of Agriculture”, dated 1850. Citing Cato, Virgil and Pliney, Wilson asserted, “The value of salt in small quantities, as a manure, appears to have been well known in ancient times.”

Between 1690-1823, however, a salt tax imposed by William III, raised the price from 6p to 20 shillings a bushel, and made its use as a fertiliser prohibitive. But with the lifting of the tax in the 1820’s, avant garde Scottish and English farmers “by means of enlightened experiment and patient recommendation, eventually brought it back into general favour.” Wilson goes on to describe the results of a comparative survey. In one experiment in Essex, a field fertilised with five bushels of salt produced almost as much wheat as a field manured with a load of stable dung.

So although salt may have been superseded by other fertilisers in this century, from ancient times salt was used agriculturally as a stimulus to growth. So there you have it.

The text itself suggests this is precisely what Jesus meant. Notice Jesus says “you are the salt of, or for, the earth”.

The word for ‘earth’ means land, ground, soil. The same word is used in the parable of the sower to describe the different kinds of soil. And in the parallel passage in Luke 14 Jesus underscores this interpretation. Salt which has lost its saltiness is, says Jesus, “fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile”. (Luke 14:34)

By implication then salty salt is fit for what? the soil and the manure pile.  We are therefore dealing here primarily with an analogy of compost, not meat, with growth not decay, with life not death, with stimulation not preservation. Jesus came not to keep the world from going rotten but to resurrect it. Christ Church does not exist to stop the rot in the community but to stimulate new life and growth . Now, if we develop this analogy, several things follow:

As a fertiliser, salt is for scattering

In lumps, like any concentrate fertiliser, salt will destroy the chemical composition of the soil. It creates a desert. But appropriately scattered it can stimulate growth. When we appear at our weakest and diffused we are most potent and effective in the hands of the Master gardener.

As a fertiliser, salt is a supplement

Fertiliser salt does not exist for itself; it exists for the sake of the shoots of Kingdom growth which God has planted. Fertiliser stimulates the growth of seeds. On its own it can do nothing. It is only a supplement. But in contact with the seed, water and soil, it works miracles.  Everything we do should be geared to this purpose.  Preparing the ground, co-operating with God’s Spirit, using the Word of God to bring people to life.

As a fertiliser, salt is a stimulant

Have you ever mistaken salt for sugar? Ever put a spoonful of salt in your tea by mistake? Would the people who know us make the same mistake? Do our words and actions leave a bitter taste in their mouths? Or do we stimulate people to think about Jesus. Here are some questions to stimulate change in them.

  • “Do you have a purpose in life?”
  • “What do you think is wrong with the world?”
  • “Do you have a solution?”
  • “Who would you say is the greatest person to ever live?”
  • “Have you ever read the story of the life of Jesus Christ?”
  • “Do you know God personally?”
  • “Can I show you how you can too?”

We become a stimulant by showing people something of the joy of knowing Jesus, his blessing of meaning and purpose, forgiveness and assurance of everlasting life. A wise gardener knows the value of fertiliser.

As a fertiliser, salt is very significant

Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth.” Jesus addresses his disciples not with an imperative but an indicative. He does not say “Be salt and light”, but “you already are” Nor does He say, “you will be”, or “may be”, or “can be” or “hope to be”, but “you are…you are the salt of the earth, by virtue of being my disciples.”  Jesus knew his disciples were raw and inexperienced.

He knew how they would misunderstand him, and eventually deny him. Nevertheless, Jesus says, “you are salt and light” Jesus had such confidence in his disciples. He believed in them, prayed for them, worked with them. And he does the same with you and I. Be the person God made you – model your life on Him and you will be the salt of the earth. Jesus reinforces this analogy with another.

2.2 You are the light of the world

Whereas salt is hidden, light is obvious. Salt works secretly, while light works openly. In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” If Jesus is the light of the world, how can we be the light of the world also? In his place, we reflect the light of Christ.

“Children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16)

Christ is the true light, and we are His reflections. He is the Sun, and we are His stars and moons.

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:8)

A secret Christian is as incongruous as a hidden light. Lights are to illuminate, not to be hidden; to be displayed, not to be covered. Christians are to be both subtle salt and conspicuous light. The presupposition – a world of decay, darkness and death. The plan – a community of life and light.

3. The Problem: Contamination and Corruption

“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 underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

Much salt in Palestine, such as that found on the shores of the Dead Sea, is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals that can make it taste repulsive. Contaminated salt would be thrown out. People would be careful not to throw it on a garden or field, because it would kill whatever was planted. Instead it would be thrown onto a path or road, where it would gradually be ground into the dirt and disappear. Jesus is not speaking here of losing salvation. But just as salt can become tasteless when contaminated by other minerals, so we can lose our value and effectiveness in the kingdom when sin and worldliness contaminates our lives. We cannot be an influence for purity in the world if we have compromised our own. Pure salt does not lose its saltiness. Christians who are pure in heart do not become tasteless, ineffective or useless in the kingdom of God. The presupposition, the plan, the problem.

4. The Purpose: to Glorify God and Make Him Known

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The word (kalos) for good that Jesus uses here does not so much emphasize quality but rather attractiveness and beauty. Letting our light shine allows others to see the beautiful thing that God is doing in us, transforming us to become like Jesus.

This is not something we can create or make up, but simply something we allow the Lord to do through us. It is God’s light; our choice is whether to hide it or let it shine. Lets summarise:

1. The Presupposition: Decay, Darkness and Death
2. The Plan: A Community of Life and Light
3. The Problem: Contamination and Corruption
4. The Purpose: to Glorify God and Make Him Known

Here is your assignment. This afternoon I invite you to write your own obituary. It is not as morbid as you might think. It is not about dying but about living. Why? Because it will give God an opportunity to show you where you are headed, and define what it is you would like to be remembered for. Why leave such important matters to someone else? God has a wonderful plan for your life. Jesus says you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Let him help you become the person he intends you to be. And if you don’t like where your priorities or values are leading you, change them. Change them today.

Alfred Nobel bought a newspaper to read his brothers obituary. He was shocked to discover that a dreadful error had been made. The paper had confused their names and the obituary he was reading was his own.  As a young man, Alfred Nobel had been become wealthy through the invention of dynamite, and his premature obituary elaborated on the terrible death and destruction this powerful force had brought into the world.

Nobel was devastated. He wanted to be known as a man of “peace.” He realised that if his obituary was to be rewritten, he would have to do it himself by changing his priorities.
So Alfred Nobel did just that. Today he is better known for his contribution to peace not war. But what will you be known for?

What would you like to be known for? Then start today.

Lets pray.