Matthew 5:11–16: The Purpose of Believers in the World
In the Beatitudes, Jesus offers some of the most beautiful teaching in the entire Bible about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus does not want us to misunderstand what he is teaching, though. While he stated all of the beatitudes as timeless principles, he does not want us to think that the kingdom of heaven is little more than a set of platitudes. In this next section, then, Jesus begins to turn the attention of the disciples away from an external admiration for the kingdom of heaven, to an internal motivation to lay hold of the kingdom of heaven by faith, regardless of the consequences. Here, Jesus is beginning to draw the disciples in to understand their own role in the kingdom, since discipleship bears witness to Jesus in the world.
1. Why should we understand v. 11–12 as being distinct from the Beatitudes that are in Matthew 5:3–10? In what way does v. 11–12, then, function as a transition between the Beatitudes and the pointed teaching that Jesus brings to his disciples in the following verses? Why does Jesus state again in v. 11 that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed? What was Jesus trying to accomplish in his disciples by teaching them this?
2. What do you think Jesus meant by telling his disciples that they were the “salt of the world“ (v. 13)? What function did salt have in that society? What does Jesus mean when he speaks about salt that loses its taste? What significance is it that Jesus uses the word for “foolish” to describe the tasteless salt? Why is tasteless salt worthless? What spiritual situation does Jesus have in mind when he teaches all these things?
3. What do you think Jesus meant by telling his disciples that they were the “light of the world” (v. 14)? How do salt and light compare with one another? What kind of light is seen in a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden? What kind of light is offered by a lamp in a house? What are the good works that Jesus compares to light? How do we do good works in such a way that avoids seeking praise for ourselves but instead for God (v. 16; cf. Matt. 6:1–4)?
4. Why do you think Jesus connects the idea of persecution to the metaphors of salt and light? How does this relate to the Beatitudes that have come before, and the teaching on the law that will follow? How does your life restrain corruption within your sphere of influence, like salt? How does your life bring light to darkness among those you know? What is one area where Jesus’ teaching challenges you to grow?