By Brother Michel Lankford
Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are[ the light of the world]. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (New American Standard Bible : 1995 update.
This is absolutely one of my favorite Biblical passages. It’s one that I recommend for anyone who struggles with having a healthy and God centered self-esteem or self-image. Before we go too far I’d like to bring some godly moderation to the issue of self-esteem. Self-esteem that is too high (which is puffed out pride) is a belief system that says I can achieve my potential apart from God. This is a complete lie. Self-esteem that is too low is a belief system that goes too far the other way. If it persists long enough it can make us believe that we are nothing and can accomplish nothing even with God’s leading and empowerment. This is a complete lie as well.
In my experience it seems that the body of Christ has in large part, fallen into these two extremes when dealing with the issue of self-esteem. There are those on one extreme (the touchy-feely extreme) which leans on the pop psychology more than Scripture, and believes that if everyone felt good about themselves, we would all more automatically do good. What a steaming pile of meadow muffins! Adam and Eve were perfectly healthy human beings who had no legitimate reason for any negative self-image. They didn’t even know that negative self-image was possible, and yet they still managed not to trust God, to obey the devil, and sin. On the other hand, there are those believers on the other extreme (the holy masochists). These people are those who believe that they have to become nothing, and God becomes everything. They most often misapply John the Baptist’s words: “He [meaning Christ] must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30). John the Baptist said, “I must decrease.” He did not say I must disappear and become nothing. God created each one of us to be uniquely who we are, but to be uniquely who we are with God Himself as the leader and motivating force over us. That’s the difference. Scripture is noticeably clear that we are not to have a total lack of self-image or self-esteem, but we are to have a sober and moderate one (Romans 12:1-3).
It is for this reason that I believe both extremes have it all wrong. Just like every bull’s-eye is at the center of the target, so the truth about self-image is in the middle. The fact is that God does want us to have a healthy, well-adjusted, God centered self-image. If our self-image is too high, it can lead us into pride and arrogance and rebellion against God. This is both wicked and deadly. However, the extreme reverse is also true. If our self-esteem or self-image is too low, it can also lead to paralyzing fear. This can make it impossible for us to believe God, to persist in applying His word, or to overcome the challenges set before us. The best scriptural example of this can be found in numbers chapters 13 & 14. God sent 12 spies to survey the promised land. 10 of the spies came back with a report that it would be impossible to take the land God promised. Only Joshua and Caleb believed what God said. The negative report of the 10 spies is very telling. Please don’t miss this. After seeing the Giants they would have to overcome in order to take the promised land the 10 spies said: “Numbers 13:33b “… and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (NASB77). The 10 spies spread this low opinion of themselves throughout the camp so much that fear consumed the people. They could not bring themselves to obey God and they refused to enter the land God promised them. So, self-image that is too low can make you believe that you cannot overcome your challenges even with God’s help. This can lead to rebellion as well. This too is just as deadly. If you look at numbers 14, these 10 spies who saw themselves as grasshoppers until they acted like grasshoppers, literally caused the death of their entire generation for their nation! Joshua and Caleb were the only two people of their generation to enter the promised land.
With this fundamental understanding let us look at the paragraph containing Christ’s Command. The whole paragraph containing the command really does several things. First it points out are innate value as human beings. As innately valuable human beings we have great potential, but with all potential comes a real responsibility. He starts out with some very telling words.
“You are the salt of the earth.”
This is a phrase that has lost a lot of its impact over the centuries because nowadays almost any industrialized nation or city can obtain salt very easily and cheaply. You can practically get several pounds of it for a dollar. At the time Jesus said these words in the first century however, salt was a very expensive and precious commodity. So precious was it that the Roman empire actually made it a point to conquer areas known to be rich in salt deposits. So precious was the salt commodity that the Roman armies were actually paid in part with a daily allotment of salt. Believe me, leaders made sure they paid the soldiers well if they wanted to stay in power. So, the fact that they paid soldiers in salt demonstrates that it was a premium in those days. In fact, that is where we get the word salary because they went to collect their salt allotments at the solarium. In common speech if a soldier was not doing a good job, he was said not to be worth his salt. So, when Jesus said to the people “you are the salt of the earth,” He was saying to humanity in general, you are the most precious commodity in God’s creation. Later, Jesus would demonstrate how precious we were in God’s sight by laying down his own life in order to ransom us out of our bondage to sin (Romans 5:8). So here is the way to develop a healthy God centered self-image and self-esteem.
a.) We must gain an understanding of how important and innately valuable we are as human beings before God, just by virtue that we are human beings. We are created in God’s image and in God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). We need to know that we are innately valuable and precious in God’s sight. That’s critical, but we don’t want to stop there.
b.) We must understand that with a great value their naturally comes great potential.
c.) We must understand that with great value and potential comes great responsibility
d.) We must understand that with great value potential and responsibility comes the greater need to rely upon and cooperate with God in order to meet our potential.
A diamond for example has great value in our world just by virtue of the fact that it is a diamond. However a diamond which is properly harvested, carefully cut, polished and mounted can be dazzling and greatly enjoyed. Likewise, the human being is innately precious and valuable simply by the virtue that it is a human being. However, like the diamond in the rough, human beings cannot hope to reach their potential without putting themselves in the hands of the expert craftsman.
While Christ was speaking about the value of humanity in general, he was more precisely speaking about those human beings who had entered into covenant relationship with God. Why? Well, because people who have entered into a relationship with Almighty God have access to God, and by virtue of that access have the most potential to affect eternal life-saving change in our world. Just like the diamond can be a shimmering display of earthly light and brilliance, so too a human being who is properly brought into Christ, nurtured in Christ, trained in Christ and who perseveres in Christ has an enormous ability to positively impact the world in which they live for eternity.
To better understand our potential, we must go back to Messiah’s calling us the salt of the earth, and recognize some of the many uses for salt in the ancient world. We already discussed how salt was used as a commodity or as money to make purchases. So too can a believer who has been transformed by God and the gospel use his testimony to literally help ransom people out of hell. Salt was sometimes used as medicine, as a cleanser and disinfectant. Our lives should be an example of God’s cleansing and transforming power. In ancient times salt was used to preserve foods and nourishment. We ought to preserve the truths of God by teaching and by example so that spiritually hungry people can be fed and nourished. Salt had a distinct flavor all its own. Believers are to be distinctly separate from the world. We should never leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth. Messiah points out that if we lose our ability to impact the world in these ways we are basically useless. This is why we should not absorb the flavor of the world. We should be “flavoring them” with a distinct flavor of Jesus Christ. Moreover, we must remember that salt flavors the food, food does not flavor salt. We are to flavor the world with God’s word and righteousness in Christ, and not to dilute those standards to agree with a sinful world.
Did you notice the actual command in Matthew 5:16? It says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Please notice what it does not say. It does not say, make your light shine, but rather, let your light shine. In other words, don’t hinder the light of God from shining through you. A diamond does not make itself beautiful. The expert craftsman uses his talents and skills to bring out that potential beauty that God already put in the diamond. The light of the world hits it and its innate beauty shines through. All the diamond can do is lay there and let the craftsman do his work. The major difference is that human beings have a mind, emotions and a will of our own. As a result of this, we human beings face a constant challenge to lay ourselves in the hands of God and let him make something beautiful out of our fairly rough lives and character. If we learn to simply let God be who He is and let Him be that in us, and let God do what He does best and cooperate as he does that in us, and don’t hinder this we will be brilliant reflections of His glory’s character. Along with the command, there is the warning that if we fail to do this, we become useless to God.
Just like salt was used as medicine to kill infections, so too can a life that is transformed by the gospel be just what the doctor ordered in a very sick and hurting world, but if we dilute or diminish the gospel either by failing to let God be who He is, and do what He does in us, or by watering down the gospel message in order to make it more palatable, what we actually do is like watering down the effects of antibiotics. We don’t really kill the infection of sin in someone’s life, but we do make them more comfortable while being sick until they die. That’s not good. We must stay true to the gospel both in the way we live it and in the way we teach it so that it can transform and heal broken lives.
“Please do not forget that in in YHWH’s Kingdom there is no such thing as Grace that is free of all responsibility.”
The idea of responsibility-free Grace is a LIE.
As It Is Written:
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.(Luke 12:40–48 NKJV)
Having such great value before God also means that we have a greater responsibility as well. Sometimes we damage our own self-esteem because we have not learned to live up to what God says that we are responsible for, and deep in our inner being, we know this to be true. Therefore, we don’t feel good about ourselves. This is part of the reason that giving every kid who participates a trophy so that they won’t feel bad, in fact turns out to have the exact OPPOSITE result. The kid who ends up getting a trophy when they did not truly achieve award-winning results, actually ends up with LOWER self-esteem. That’s because deep at their core, they know they did not achieve, and the award becomes a reminder that they didn’t overcome and they did not really succeed. The trophy becomes a reminder of their failure. The greatest cure for low self esteem is genuine overcoming and achievement. If you truly want to help raise a kid’s self-esteem, help them overcome challenges and to really achieve something. Acknowledge and praise their efforts, but withhold the actual trophy until the results are achieved.