Does It Matter How I Live? - Matthew 5:11–16
As I thought about the tragedy of the past week, and specifically the actions of Officer Terrence Carraway, I noticed in particular, as I’m sure many of you did, how long he had been a police officer. Almost 31 years. Already long enough to retire with great financial benefits, and very close to retiring with even greater benefits. Yet when he heard the call to assist other officers, he didn’t decide to stay out of harm’s way.
He didn’t conclude that he only had a short time until retirement, so someone else could handle this one. Instead, he remained true to his oath, because it matters how a police officer lives. It’s not enough for officers to say they will always serve and protect. He obviously knew and lived by that. He was the real deal, a genuine officer of the law. This morning, for the second week in a row now, we’ve heard individuals take an oath. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
There is so much honor and value and integrity wrapped up in the life and sacrifice of Officer Carraway, and also, there is a tremendous example of what it means to be genuine. To be devoted. Today in Matthew 5 we continue with Jesus’ words about those who claim to be devoted to him. Those who would say they are his genuine followers. Jesus tells us that it’s not enough just to say you are a follower. How we live matters.
Many people assume that because God saves by faith through grace, it doesn’t matter how a follower of Jesus lives. Yet, Jesus calls those saved by grace through faith to endeavor to live, or attempt to live, or try hard to live, in a certain way. Therefore, if you would say you’ve been saved by faith through grace, your desire and goal should be to do your best to live as becomes a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. But how exactly should a genuine follower of Jesus live?
Three ways we see here in verses 11-16. A genuine follower of Jesus:
adopts God-centered expectations,
pursues God-centered holiness,
and performs God-centered works.
The actions of Officer Carraway were clear evidence that his devotion was genuine. Certainly, how we live does not save us, but it does serve as evidence that we are born again – it serves as evidence that our profession of faith in Christ is genuine. So let’s look at these.
First, a genuine follower of Jesus adopts God-centered expectations for his or her life.
Starting with verse 11, Jesus switches from using “they” and “those” to using the word “you.” He’s speaking immediately now to his disciples – to his followers. Over the course of his sermon – by the end of chapter 7 – crowds would be gathered around Jesus, but here those specifically with a devotion to Christ are in view. In verses 11 and 12, Jesus deals with the expectations that his followers should have regarding mistreatment. It sounds inevitable. Look again at verse  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Jesus says there will be insults, harassment, trouble, even false accusations.
We know that in the early church, in the first century, well after the ascension of Jesus to heaven, there were false rumors spread about those who believed in Jesus.
For instance, it was said that Christians were cannibals? Why? Well, because they eat flesh and drink blood! Obviously that was either a misunderstanding or a purposeful twisting of the symbolic nature of the Lord’s Supper. It was said also that Christian were sexually immoral, evidenced by the talk of their love for one another, even love between “brothers and sisters.” Gross, malicious lies. But here Jesus says that those who endure such mistreatment are supremely blessed by God. Those who endure this are approved of by God – they have the favor of God.
And he compares his disciples to the Old Testament prophets. Verse , Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Notice the interesting correlation that Jesus makes here. You might remember this analogy format from when you were in school. “Disciples are to Jesus as the prophets were to…God.” Jesus puts himself on par with God Almighty – Yahweh, the maker of heaven and earth, the covenant God of Israel, their Rock and their Redeemer.
Jesus was and is God come to earth as a man. At all times while on this earth, 100% God and 100% man. The prophets were mistreated because they were committed to and boldly verbalized the message and the purposes of the covenant God of Israel.
One such prophet was Moses. Hebrews 11 says,  “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,  choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Moses trusted, even before he knew the name of Jesus, in the Messiah who was to come. And he suffered for it.
But the world has always mistreated the godly. No better example that the brothers Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Have you ever thought about why Moses would, as he wrote the book of Genesis, follow the fall of Adam and Eve with this account about two of their children? Moses was emphasizing the outcome of God’s judgment – hostility between two seeds or kinds of people, between two groups: those who would know God by faith through his grace, and those who would not.
Have you ever endured mistreatment for Jesus’ sake and found yourself puzzled? Some years back my wife and I were harassed and insulted for our faith by someone. And I admit, at first I was upset and the words of Christ were far from my mind. It was on Christmas Eve, of all times. But I called a close Christian brother of mind, and he reminded me of this truth. Jesus said it, and the apostle Peter later repeated it.
No doubt he was there that day on the mountainside, and he later wrote to the church, whom he referred to as the “beloved,” in 1 Peter 4:  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Peter later adds,  “Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
Do you entrust your whole life to God, surrendering your expectations to his will and plans? Do you look beyond this present life to a greater reward,what Jesus describes in verse 12 as “your reward…in heaven.”? We shouldn’t be surprised when the world doesn’t like what we say about Jesus, or about sin or about truth. And so, we fix our eyes – we fix our hearts and minds – on our reward. God himself is our reward. And to live as the kind of people who treasure God alone as our great reward, as genuine followers of Jesus, we must reject self-centered expectations for our lives and adopt God-centered expectations.
In addition, we must pursue God-centered holiness.
In verse 13, Jesus addresses the need to eliminate worldliness for the sake of God’s glory. It is holiness, or Christ-likeness - being like Jesus in character - that sets a Christian apart. He says to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” You’ve likely heard this phrase before. It’s a saying commonly used to refer to someone as thoroughly good, decent, reliable, or trustworthy. The saying comes from this verse, and it rightly understands it. Jesus is talking about the godly character of his followers and the value of that character in the world.
But why “salt?” Well, in the first century they used salt for flavoring as we do, but much more they used it as a preservative – to keep food from going bad. And what makes salt a preservative is its “saltiness,” which you can taste. You can know if salt will still act as a preserving agent by tasting it for the “salty” quality. Without that “salty” quality, it had no further use. And it could lose that quality.
Of course, if you have salt in your cupboard, it doesn’t go bad because it was produced through the process of evaporation. It’s pure. But most salt during the time of Jesus was extracted from salt marshes. The salt was highly impure and the “salty” part could be leached out or lost. And they would throw it out. Today, it is said that savorless salt is still scattered on the flat roofs in Israel because it hardens the soil spread on the roof because their flat roofs are places for gathering. So they are trampling the salt under foot.
Look again at verse 13, Jesus says, “if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. The godly character, godly behavior, godly desires and thoughts in the lives of those who are born again and who follow Jesus Christ serves to preserve good in the world. The godliness of a believer always brings something of great value to the table. This is why the person who is seemingly insignificant can have such great influence for the kingdom of God. Psalm 37,  “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.” Proverbs 16,  “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.”
The apostle Paul warned his protégé Timothy of men who preached in order to get something for themselves. He says, 1 Timothy 6, these men imagined “that godliness is a means of gain.” Paul then says,  But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
It is gain to the Christian, and it is gain to the world. The God-centered holiness of the Christian prevents the further moral decay of the world; it slows down the moral deterioration of the world; it preserves what is good and right.
In his book The Pursuit of Holiness, the late Jerry Bridges, writes, “This is where holiness begins – not with ourselves, but with God. It is only as we see His holiness, His absolute purity and moral hatred of sin, that we will be gripped by the awfulness of sin against a Holy God. To be gripped by that fact is the first step in our pursuit of holiness.”
If you say you are a genuine follower of Jesus, are you pursuing a holy life? What must you eliminate from your life? What has become a normal part of your life that is unfitting for a follower of Jesus? Lust, sexual immorality, greed, bitterness? Anger, unforgiveness, pride, filthy words, prejudice, laziness, apathy? Do you see that Jesus saved you to be holy, to pursue holiness of his glory and your joy? Jesus does not save you only for you.
The plans and purposes of God are bigger than any one person or generation. God glorifies himself through what he does in his people. This is why he redeemed Israel and set them apart. To be holy is to be set apart, consecrated, separated. This is the sense in which a Christian can and should be “in” the world but not “of” the world.” A genuine follower of Jesus pursues holiness that is God-centered.
And finally, A genuine follower of Jesus performs God-centered works.
In these last few verses, Jesus deals with our deeds. Isaiah 60 states,  Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” God intended Israel to reflect his goodness and truth. They failed, but the true Israel, Jesus Christ, does reflect that goodness and truth, and his genuine followers will reflect it because of him. So Jesus says, in verse 14, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Why do we perform good works? Not to be saved from our sins.
We do it for the sake of God’s glory to “give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” It’s not right to hide the light Christ put in us. The world needs the light. Have we not seen that this week? Have we not seen darkness? This is not a time to hide the light. This is the time when light must shine in the darkness.
Are you letting your light shine? Or are you hiding your light? I mentioned a couple weeks ago that spreading the gospel is not the same as works of mercy and service, but those things are not opposed to one another. Both are necessary. Jesus met physical needs while never compromising the gospel message of the kingdom. Do those with whom you live and work and play know that you are a follower of Jesus? I’m not asking if they know you attend church. Do they see light emitting from your life? Do you radiate? Where can you go out of your way to serve others for the glory of God? And perhaps you feel like you don’t know many non-believers. Well, go meet some. Befriend them, and let your light shine. Like moths to a flame, those whom God calls are drawn to the light.
Of course, we fall short in all these things, and so it’s not ourselves in whom we trust. It’s not ourselves whom we worship or to whom we give glory. But as we go to the table today, we look to the one who did not fall short,to the one who adopted God-centered expectations for his earthly life, who pursued God-centered holiness during his life on earth, and who performed God-centered works for the glory of God and the benefit of those around him and even for us today.
He did all of it to earn righteousness for his people, that we could be saved simply by faith in him. That we could be transformed within by the power of his Holy Spirit, and enabled to bring him glory by living as becomes the genuine followers of Jesus. We go to the table to worship Jesus Christ. Let’s go there now. Bow with me in prayer.