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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
June 11, 2013
How to Really Live Out the Sermon on the Mount
Having edited three of the four studies in the series while I was working at IVP, I’m personally pretty excited about the publication of these new guides. In particular, I’m excited about the ways that they address both our minds and our hearts—in other words, they grow both our knowledge of Scripture and our commitment to applying it.
I tend to think of myself as someone who knows Scripture pretty well after growing up in the church as a pastor’s kid, but my biblical knowledge definitely shot up while I was editing these—so actually engaging in the studies on a heart level could lead to near supernatural/superhero levels of Scripture knowledge and application. (You might have to get a cape when you’ve finished them.)
These studies, however, are not for the faint of heart. I like to think of them as LifeGuide Bible studies on steroids, both because of their larger, longer format and because of how thoroughly they cover each passage by engaging both halves of our brains and by connecting the Old and New Testament to each other. I also love that they draw on and contain material from several of IVP’s reference works, like the Old and New Testament Bible Background Commentaries (which means you won’t have to carry both 800+-page volumes to your small group studies anymore).
And they will most likely rock your understanding of even familiar passages of Scripture in some way.
“You [and only you] are the light of the world.”
Case in point from one of the guides, A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount: Think about one of the most well-known metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.” Most of us assume we understand the metaphor and fly past it: we’re to “shine” God’s love and hope to a dark world. In the Western world, an image of fluorescent lights or a favorite floor lamp probably flashes through our minds as well.
Jesus’ listeners, however, would most likely have pictured an oil lamp, which didn’t give off much light to begin with in the mostly windowless homes of the times. Setting the lights on a lampstand maximized the reach of the light.
The Israelites might also have thought back to the role of light in their history, though. Consider, for example, the significance of light to the Israelites during the three-day plague of darkness in Egypt. Or think of the comfort light—God’s presence—gave them while they were traveling through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Those images give even deeper meaning to the identity Jesus speaks over his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount.
In addition, A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount points out the sense of responsibility Jesus is implying when he calls his people “salt” and “light.” John Stott explains, “Each affirmation begins in the Greek sentence with the emphatic pronoun ‘you,’” as much as to say ‘you and only you’ are the earth’s salt and the world’s light. And therefore—the condition follows with inexorable logic—you simply must not fail the world you are called to serve.” Moreover, the combination of salt and light is important. They’re not two separate metaphors. They’re meant to be understood together, as they each call us to something different. Stott writes:
Jesus calls his disciples to exert a double influence on the secular community, a negative influence by arresting its decay [salt] and a positive influence by bringing light into its darkness. For it is one thing to stop the spread of evil; it is another to promote the spread of truth, beauty and goodness.
All that from one small metaphor that seems relatively straightforward when I read it in Scripture.
On Salt, Pearls, and Swine
And what about the not-so-straightforward parts of the Sermon on the Mount? For all its practicality and seeming familiarity, whenever I read Matthew 5—7 I’m always surprised by how much of it still remains unclear or vague to me. Jesus’ words raise plenty of questions (and eyebrows), such as:
- How does salt lose its saltiness, and what does that mean for me? (5:13)
- What does God really think about adultery and divorce? (5:27-32)
- Why does Jesus tell his disciples to be “perfect”? (5:48)
- What does Jesus mean when he says “the eye is the lamp of the body”? (6:22-23)
- And what in the world does it mean to “throw your pearls to pigs”? (7:6) (You might want to find out before you try it at home with the family pearls.)
- Who are the true disciples? (7:21-23)
You’ll get to dive into all of these questions and more in A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount.
Getting God’s Word in You
I want God’s Word in me in deeper and deeper ways. And I need it in me, for so many reasons: To remind me what’s really real and true as I live in the midst of so many lies and false realities. To teach me about my true identity. To increase my worship of God for who he is and all he’s done. To teach me to see others rightly. The LifeGuides in Depth help me in this.
I’ll be posting sneak peeks at content contained in the other three guides (A Deeper Look at James, A Deeper Look at Daniel, and A Deeper Look at the Fruit of the Spirit) throughout the summer. But in the meantime, get into God’s Word, and get it into you. Then you can truly be light—and salt!—wherever you are.
Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on InterVarsity’s communications team. She worked at InterVarsity Press for over nine years as a proofreader and Bible study editor (and, as it were, resident limerick-writer). She is continually inspired by the beauty of the sky and loves good conversation with family and friends over steaming-hot beverages.