What action does God take in Matthew 5:13-20?
In verse 17, Jesus explains his own action of incarnation by saying,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Jesus came to this earth in order to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The fact that Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law has great significance on what actions we are to take.
What action does God call me to take toward God? Toward others?
In verses 13 and 14, when Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus doesn’t give us commands as much as he describes already present realities in our lives.
The first command we see from Jesus occurs in verse 16, which says,
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Later in verse 19, Jesus gives a warning to not relax any of the commandments, but instead we should be doing them and teaching them.
What actions did I take? Or, what actions will I take?
Our saltiness and light stand in juxtaposition to the sinful decay and darkness that surrounds us. As far as we are concerned, the answer to this decay and darkness is not to increase the demands of the law as the Pharisees did, nor is it to decrease the significance of the law as did the Gnostics.
What is it then?
In exegeting 2 Corinthians 3:18, John Chrysostom said,
For as soon as we are baptized, the soul beameth even more than the sun, being cleansed by the Spirit; and not only do we behold the glory of God, but from it also receive a sort of splendor. Just as if pure silver be turned towards the sun’s rays, it will itself also shoot forth rays, not from its own natural property merely but also from the solar lustre; so also doth the soul being cleansed and made brighter than silver, receive a ray from the glory of the Spirit, and send it back.
In other words, when Christ commands us to let our light shine, we understand that our light comes from Christ alone and any light we possess is merely a reflection of Christ. And this is exactly our purpose as human beings! We are to be a mirror that reflects Christ into the world.
After Jesus says to “let your light shine,” he says so that “they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We cannot mirror Christ into the world if we are only hearing God’s word. We must be doing the same word that we hear (Matthew 7:24-27), and we must do it in such a way that it causes people to give glory to God.
It’s clearly not the case that God wants us to cease doing his word and to cease following his commandments.
However, if our good works cause people to praise us . . . then we are not letting our light shine before others.
One of the practical ways that I’ve done this is to clearly share with people how my motivations were wrong . . . even though the final result of what I did was praiseworthy.
A few years ago while traveling to a different country, I was given a hotel room that was nicely warm. Although the room didn’t have central heat, I had a portable heater that made the room comfortable. Consequently, there was a neighboring room (with a guest), that didn’t have a portable heater. I found this out after I had gotten in bed, and although I didn’t mind being a little chilly, I had no desire to get out of bed and go down the hall and offer my heater. After struggling with my selfishness for a little while, I decided to get out of bed, get changed, go down the hall and give the heater to my neighbor.
When I did that, my neighbor was very pleased and thanked me profusely. I could have accepted the praise and allowed my neighbor to think that I was a pretty good guy. Instead, I admitted that I didn’t want to give him the heater, but the Lord prompted my heart to do it, so I was simply obeying the Lord.
This gave me the opportunity to tell him that all thanks should truly go to God, because my intentions were not righteous.