5 February 2017

Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” (v. 13)

Psalm: Psalm 112


In this section of the Sermon on the Mount (the conventional title for Matthew, chapters 5-7), Jesus gives his followers the high calling of being both salt and light within the world and explains the importance of a righteousness even greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees.

The image of being the "salt of the earth" is a familiar one, though its meaning in Matthew's Gospel is disputed. While some scholars point to its use as a preservative, others note that salt was used as a flavouring agent, and perhaps both nuances are present here. Followers of Jesus are called both to preserve the good in society and to bring the flavour of God's kingdom into everyday life. If they lose their saltiness, they are no longer good for anything at all.

Jesus also calls his followers to be the "light of the world" (v. 14), showing by their good works the glory of God. While later in the Sermon Jesus calls his followers to give without seeking approval of others (Matthew 6:2-4), here Jesus emphasises the way in which good deeds will inevitably shine forth, reflecting the goodness of God.

Verses 17-20 raise a host of interpretative questions, but it is clear that Jesus affirms the ongoing validity of the law. Jesus came to fulfil the law, rather than abolish it, and the law and the prophets remain the Word of God for all who seek to follow Jesus. Rejecting the Old Testament is simply not an option for Christians.

How best to apply the law and the prophets is a key question in the New Testament. Matthew shows how Jesus reveals the inner intent of the law (Matthew 5:21-48), while Paul later argues that Gentiles (non Jews) were not bound by the ritual rules of the law but are still shaped by its call to holiness (Galatians 5:1-26). The law and the prophets continue to guide all seek God's righteousness and so participate in God's kingdom.

To Ponder

  • Why are 'good works' important in the Christian life?
  • In what ways have you been influenced by the 'good works' of Christians around you?
  • How does the Old Testament - the 'law and the prophets' - shape your discipleship? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.