16. Salt Of The Earth: The Power Of Influence
We have written of how our hearts should bleed for the world around us. Of how we should have a steady, unvarying, undefeatable determination to love men as Jesus loved them, and never, no matter what they do in response, to seek anything but their eternal good. This basic desire should be unquenchable within us. The flame may flicker pretty low at times, but this essential commitment to others' salvation should always be alive within us. The essence of it all is influence; how we can inspire others in the way to the Kingdom, both amongst our brethren and in the world around us. We have to face up to the fact that we, yes, you and me, make a real and actual difference to the lives of others; and that influence is either positive or negative. There is no middle ground. Our example- and let’s not forget, we all set an example of one sort or another- will either edify others towards righteousness, or edify [AV “embolden”] our weaker brother to sin (1 Cor. 8:1,10). We ‘edify’ others in only one of two directions; this is the point behind Paul using the same Greek word in both verses.
Salt Of The Earth
We are the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13). Salt inevitably affects, by reason of what it is, whatever is next to it. We are lights in a dark world. Lights give light. If the salt doesn't have the influence of salt, it is thrown away. Our poor record of preaching by personal contact is very worrying when seen in this light. We have hidden behind leaflets and press adverts and giving money. But if we aren't the salt, if we don't show our light in our little world; are we in fact the salt or the light of the earth? This unconscious spirituality, this natural witnessing, is the essential reflection of our experience of the Lord Jesus. He didn't say 'Do good works so that men may see the light'. He said " let your light shine" - and then men will see your good works and glorify the Father. Paul puts the same principle another way when he says that we're all mirrors (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). A mirror by its very nature, because of what it is, reflects the light which falls upon it to others. If we have really seen the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will inevitably reflect it to others. Many of the Lord’s parables portray the [preaching of] the Gospel of the Kingdom of God as a kind of secret force: treasure hidden in a field, the tiniest seed in the garden, wheat growing among weeds, a pinch of yeast worked into dough, salt on meat...these are all images of something which works from within, changing other people in an ongoing, regular manner.
We Do Have Influence
We need to realize that we have more influence upon others than we may think. It can be that an illiterate sister in a male dominated society can think that her attendance at ecclesial meetings cannot encourage anyone. It can be that the Christian stockbroker feels that it is impossible for him to influence those he works with. But we do have influence. Consider how Saul’s armour bearer would not kill him when he was mortally wounded (1 Chron. 10:4). Although he was one of Saul’s men, in the anti-David camp, yet David’s example of not killing Saul must have deeply influenced him. We do make a difference. We have become so humiliated by a shame based society that we can underestimate the value and power of our own personhood.
We are all members of the body of Christ; we each, therefore, have a potential influence for good upon the others in the body. Our comfort abounds by reason of the fact we are in Christ- in that whatever we each suffer, we suffer so that we may be able to comfort others in the body (2 Cor. 1:4-7). Thus Paul could tell the Corinthians that he was afflicted for their comfort. Therefore just as surely as we suffer, so we will be comforted- in that others in the body have suffered in essence the same things, and have thereby been prepared by God to comfort us. But these wonderful statements all rely for their fulfilment upon human effort. They are not automatic. If the ecclesia does not respond positively to each other, the promise of receiving a hundredfold family, possessions etc. will not come true.
But we ask, of course: ‘How can I myself exercise a greater and more positive influence upon others?’. It would be inappropriate to give specific examples of how this could be done. For each human life and context will vary. But surely the essence is to so meditate upon the love of God, and the grace that is in Jesus, that we are moved to some form of inevitable response. And that response will, in its broadest essence, relate to what we can do to transform the lives of others for good. Consider the following windows into the love of God:
- In Ezekiel’s time, God knew that if He had sent Ezekiel to the Gentiles, they would have responded positively. But instead He sent Ezekiel to Israel. The question arises, Well why didn’t God send a preacher to the Gentiles at this time, if He knew they would respond to the message? Presumably God didn’t simply because He wanted to show how special was His love for Israel, a love which excluded others.
- The whole situation is analogous to the way in which the Lord knew that cities like Tyre and Sidon would have responded to the Gospel in the first century; had it been preached to them. But the message was taken to Jewish villages like Chorazin and Bethsaida instead. Such was God’s love, His especial and exclusive love for them (Mt. 11:21). Sodom likewise would have repented if the message of Lot had been backed up by miracles; but, that extra proof wasn’t given. But such a concession was made to Israel through the ministry and miracles of Jesus (Mt. 11:23).
- Likewise God could save all or offer that salvation to everyone; but He doesn’t. His love and passion is focused upon a tiny minority of His creation.
We All Have Influence
When the Romans began persecuting the early church, only the leaders were seized, while crowds of obvious Christians went unpunished. This was perhaps because paganism was utterly dependent on its elite, and most cults could easily be destroyed from the top. This explains a few Bible puzzles- why devout men could carry Stephen to burial and yet be unharmed; why the apostles could remain in Jerusalem [they were seen as unlearned and ignorant fishermen] whilst the others in the Jerusalem ecclesia had to flee (e.g. the great company of priests who became obedient to the faith). And yet Christianity spread yet further. Josephus (Antiquities 18.63-64) expresses surprise that the “tribe of Christians” [indicating their unity] had not disappeared after the death of their founder, “the [so-called] Christ”. Unlike other religions, the faith of the followers was not in the leaders- if the organization and leaders were taken away, would our church continue? The early church did- and flourished. We must beware lest our system of elders and organizations doesn’t take away our individual commitment to preach and personally care for people, and especially for the brotherhood. First century Christianity was a mass movement, rooted in a highly committed rank and file; and therefore it had the advantage of the best of all marketing techniques: person-to-person influence. This in the end is how we can preach far more effectively than through mass meetings or organized campaigns [not that I am saying not to hold these].
We all have more influence on each other than we may think. Quite naturally, the Thessalonians imitated the ecclesias of Judaea and also Paul personally (1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14). And in turn, they became models to all the believers in Macedonia (1 Thess. 1:7). Leadership is essentially a process of influence, rather than a brother standing up and lecturing others. But the Lord used images such as salt, yeast and light to describe all who are in Him. They speak of indirect, constant, transforming influence rather than a frontal assault on the unspirituality of others. There is a word play in 1 Cor. 16:15, masked in the translations: the household of Stephanas ‘addicted’ themselves to the Lord’s service (Gk. Tasso), and the ecclesia is bidden “submit” (Gk. Hupotasso) to them. Enthusiastic service by individuals truly influences the whole community.
The history of Israel so often has ‘influence’ as one of its themes:
- In Ezra 9, Ezra showed a fine example of feeling that the failures of the community are our personal failures- so identified was he with his brethren. But then in Ezra 10:2 we read of Shecaniah saying that “we” have married unbelievers, even though 10:26 makes it clear that he himself wasn’t guilty [even though his brothers and father had been]. Ezra’s selfless example of solidarity with his weak brethren inspired this man, as it should us.
- “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chron. 24:2). But when Jehoiada died, Joash listened to, and was influenced by, the wicked princes of Judah (:17). It is clear that for all his apparent strength of character and zeal for God, Joash was simply a product of those he was with. And so it can be that 21st century mankind, our young people especially, can tend to be people with no real character, their very personalities influenced by others rather than being real, credible people. Insofar as we can break free from all these moulding influences, we will be real, credible persons. And our independence, our realness, is what will attract others to the message of Divine influence which we preach. Those raised in Christian homes need to pay especial attention to the possibility that they are where they are spiritually because of the good influence of others upon them. There is no harm in this; but we need to strive to have a faith that is not merely the faith of our fathers, but a real and personal response to the love of God which we have for ourselves perceived in the man Christ.
- When Joash went to visit Elisha just before he died, he addressed him in the very words which Elisha had used to Elijah years before: “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” (1 Kings 13:14 cp. 2:12). What is the lesson here, in the similarity of language? Surely it is that how Elisha had related to Elijah as his spiritual father, so now others were relating to Elisha in just the same way- as their spiritual father. The child had become the father, in spiritual terms. He had brought forth a spiritual child in his own image and likeness.
- If all Israel had been obedient, then Saul would have been too (1 Sam. 12:14). If a majority are spiritually minded, this can at times and in some ways influence a potentially weaker minority; even though the reverse is more often true. And yet Saul made the people “follow him trembling” because they weren’t, en masse, spiritually stronger than him (1 Sam. 13:7).
Repeatedly, the New Testament speaks of converting others as a bringing forth of children. This means that our level and style of spirituality is likely to be replicated in those we convert. Thus Amaziah “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord…according to all things as Joash his father had done” (2 Kings 14:3). What spirituality he had was according to that which his father had displayed. Dt. 6:1,2,6,7 stress that Israel must do the law so that their children would do it also. Whilst on one hand we each have sovereign free will, there can be no doubt that we are affected by others. John the Baptist rhetorically asked his hearers: “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). The answer, of course, was ‘Well, you, John’. And John continues: “Bring forth therefore [i.e., because I am the one who taught you] fruits meet for repentance”. John recognizes that his converts will be after his image in one sense; as Paul put it, what his hearers had heard and seen in him as he preached, they were to do.
It isn’t often that I single out a specific issue to rave against in my writings. But I have to admit, I do have a ‘thing’ about the damaging influence of television. I don’t mean to say that physically possessing the box is a sin, as some have implied. What I mind is the terrible effect of spending hours watching much of what is presented on it. In the 1960s, media (TV, radio, movies) ranked eighth behind factors like teachers, relatives etc. in influencing the values and behaviour of teenagers. Now, media is the highest ranking influence on teenagers. There have been countless surveys done on the negative moral influence of television; one is spoilt for choice in quoting statistics. A well documented piece of research by Josh McDowell found that the average person in this world viewed over 9,230 sex acts per year on television. Of those acts, 81% were depicted outside of marriage. After 10 years of average television viewing, a young person between the ages of 8 and 18 will see 72,900 scenes of premarital or extramarital sex(1). In Britain, 98% of homes have a TV. The average household has it switched on for 35 hours / week. The average adult spends 18 hours / week watching it- that’s 8 years of his whole life on average! And the figure seems higher still in the USA. And British children are watching around 30 hours / week. Thus by the age of 17, the average young person has logged about 15,000 hours of watching TV- two years of their young lives. No wonder creativity has been diminished and passivity has increased in this generation.
There is no doubt at all that television has a major influence especially upon young people- world-wide. It is far from just a Western problem. If we let our children watch it uncontrolled, we are agreeing that we have signed them over to this kind of influence. If we teach them bodily self control, warn them against fornication…how can we resign our God given influence as parents and youth workers to the television? Just so…that we can work and relax for longer hours…? I would say that the single biggest danger for our youth is the influence of the TV. If uncontrolled, it is a force stronger than any other influence- including parental influence. I can understand those Christian parents who don’t have one, and who don’t allow their children to go to the movies unaccompanied, if at all. Immorality is not to be even thought of or spoken of by a Christian (1 Cor. 6:18; Eph. 6:3). Let's get serious. Either these verses mean what they say, or they don't. Do we want to bring these into our homes and before the eyes of our children...or not?
The Influence Upon Jesus
Jesus as the perfect man was a function both of His Father and mother. There must have been certain similarities of personality type between the Lord and His mother. Thus in Lk. 2:33 Mary “marvelled”, and the same word is used about Jesus in Mt. 8:10 and Mk. 6:6.
If we ask where He obtained this humility and ability from, it is clearly an inheritance from His dear mother, who stored up things in her heart and didn’t reveal them to others, just quietly meditating over the years. Both of them must have heard so much that was wrong and immature over the years; but they said nothing, in the Lord’s case, biding His time. It has been observed that it was unusual for the villagers to describe Jesus as “the son of Mary” (Mk. 6:3)- even if Joseph were dead, He would have been known as Jesus-ben-Joseph. It could well be that this was a reflection of their perception of how closely linked Jesus was to His mother.
The influence of Mary upon Him is reflected in His many allusions to her words, both conscious and unconscious.
- Mary’s words of Lk. 1:47 “my spirit hath rejoiced” are alluded to by Jesus unconsciously in Lk. 10:21 [the only time the Greek phrase " spirit...rejoices” is used]. " In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit" and thanked God that the humble not the wise had been chosen- showing exactly the spirit of Mary's words of Lk 1:52,53, the words she had probably sung to Him around the house as a child. Unconsciously [?] Jesus was alluding to His mother's attitude.
- The Lord had called His mother “Woman…” in Cana. She had also said and later sung to Him perhaps: “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38). In Mt. 15:28 we have the Lord addressing the Canaanite woman: “Woman….be it unto thee even as thou wilt”.
- Mary’s praise that “He hath done to me great things” is surely behind her Son’s words in Lk. 8:39, where He bids a man go home " and shew how great things God hath done unto thee" .
- Mary had felt that God had “Filled the hungry [i.e. their stomach, cp. the womb of Mary] with the good thing [Gk.]”- Jesus (Lk. 1:53). He calls Himself this good thing, using the very same Greek word in Mt. 20:15: " I am the good one" ; Jn. 1:46; 7:12 [where the " good thing" is Messiah]. Her perception of Him became His. And so with us; if we perceive our children as future brethren, so, hopefully and prayerfully, they will be. And notice how some of the Lord’s very first words on opening His ministry were “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled”. It’s as if He stands up there before the hushed crowd and lays down His manifesto with those words. This was the keynote of what He had to say to humanity. He was saying ‘This, guys, is what I essentially and most fundamentally seek to inspire in you’. And He saw His dear mother as the epitome of the converts He was seeking to make. I lay great store on this allusion. For it makes her truly our pattern.
Mary’s inspiration of the cross is especially powerful. Mary “performed [fulfilled] all things according to the law” in her dedication of Jesus (Lk. 2:39). In doing this, she anticipated the spirit of the cross and whole ministry of Jesus, where He performed [s.w. fulfilled] all things of the law- Lk. 18:31; Jn. 19:28; 30; Acts 13:29. These passages each use the same three words for all things, law, and fulfilled. She brought the Lord up in the way of the cross; and He continued in that path.
The humility of Mary was the pattern for the Lord’s self-humiliation in the cross. Here above all we see the influence of Mary upon Jesus, an influence that would lead Him to and through the cross. Her idea of putting down the high and exalting the lowly (Lk. 1:52) is picking up Ez. 17:24: “I have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish”. And yet these very words of Ezekiel were quoted by the Lord in His time of dying. With reverence, we can follow where we are being led in our exploration and knowing of the mind of Christ. His dear mum had gone around the house singing her Magnificat. He realized that she felt the lowly who had been exalted [and perhaps in some unrecorded incident before her conception she had been recently humbled?]. And Jesus had realized her quotation of Ez. 17:24. And He had perceived His linkage and connection with her, and how she saw all that was true of Him as in some way true of her, and vice versa. And now, in His final crisis, He takes comfort from the fact that like His dear mother, He the one who was now humbled, would be exalted. How many other trains of thought have been sparked in men’s minds by the childhood instructions of their mothers…?
God recognized her “low estate” [humility] and exalted her above all women, just as He would His Son among men. The same Greek word is used in Acts 8:33: “In his humiliation [‘low estate’] his judgment was taken away”. It occurs too in Phil. 2:8: “He humbled himself”. In the cross, indeed throughout the seven stage self-humiliation of the Lord which Phil. 2 speaks of, He was living out the spirit of his mother. She taught him the life and the way of the cross. She was His pattern. Hence the way she insisted on being there at the end, and the comfort she would have given Him, and the love He showed by asking for the only one who really understood Him to be taken away, for her sake as well as His own. The Lord directly alluded to His mother’s pattern of humiliation and exaltation by using the same word again in Mt. 23:12: “Whosever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself [s.w. be abased- we must either humble ourselves or be humbled, it’s such a powerful logic] shall be exalted”. Thus Jesus alludes to His mother's words in order to set her up as our pattern [“whosoever”]. And yet He Himself showed the ultimate obedience to her pattern in the death of the cross.
For this and many other reasons, the Lord’s mind was upon His mother in His time of dying. The spirit of Christ speaks of " thy [male] servant ...the son of thine handmaid" [female servant]- He saw the solidarity between Himself and His mother when on the cross, He felt they were both the servants of God. Ps. 86:8-17 has many references back to Mary's song. He had that song on His mind on the cross. Her example and her song which she had taught him as a little boy sustained His faith in the final crisis. This surely shows the value and power of the upbringing of children when young. In the Lord’s case, His mother’s influence sustained Him through the cruellest cross and deepest crisis any human being has ever had to go through. It was as if He was humming the song in His mind, which His dear dear mum had sung around the house as she cared for Him, cooked, sewed…
The Lord was “subject unto” Mary (Lk. 2:51)- to train Him for the time when we would be subject to Him as we are now (1 Cor. 15:27,28; Eph. 1:22; 5:24), and all the world subject unto Him (1 Pet. 3:22; Heb. 2:8). And so, wondrous thought that it is, the training of His mother has effect even now; with literally all subject to Him, He was prepared for this by having been subject unto His mother. Lk. 1:45 records Elisabeth’s comment on Mary: “Blessed is she that believed”. In Jn. 20:29, Jesus unconsciously alludes to His mother's blessedness even after His glorification by speaking of blessed are those who have not seen but have believed. Mary must have many times recounted the story of Elisabeth to Jesus, and His memory of it influenced His sentence construction even after His glorification. This gives a window into the extent to which we will be still who we are now in the Kingdom. Divine nature won't totally change who we are nor the influence of our parents upon us. This is a great encouragement to parents- who they influence their children to be, will be what they eternally will be. For Jesus alluded to the memory of His mother even in Divine nature.
The Influence Of Jesus
One of the most surpassing wonders of the Lord’s character was that He could live for 30 years in a small town in Galilee, never ever committing sin, and never ever omitting an act of righteousness...and yet when He stood up and basically proclaimed Himself to be Messiah, the Russian Bible states that the people were scandalized. They were shocked that this carpenter’s son should think He was anything much more than them. Yet whenever we try to be a bit more righteous than our fellows, it’s always noticed and held against us. Yet the Lord Jesus was both perfect, and also in favour with men. He came over as the ordinary guy, and yet He was perfect, and the light of this world. In this there is a matchless example for us. This wondrous feature of the Lord’s achievement in His own character is reflected by the way His own brothers, who knew Him better than any, perceived Him to be just an ordinary person. When He started implying that He was the Son of God, they thought He’d gone crazy.
And yet there was something altogether arresting about the person of Jesus. For the crowds just flocked to hear Him. I think we can easily over-estimate the role of the miracles in achieving this. It seems to me that His message and His person were a greater draw card, generally speaking, than His miracles. We have each been touched by God’s grace, and His influence upon us leads us to reach out to influence others by lives of grace. The grace of the Lord Jesus meant that “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). And this cannot be received passively. The Corinthians’ response was to make themselves poor, so that their poor Jewish brethren might be made richer. Every person who has been enriched in the Lord Jesus will in turn respond in a life and even a body language that somehow transforms others. But how, putting meaning into words, does the Lord Jesus transform human life? The man who has seen and known Jesus will not keep on sinning (1 Jn. 3:6). To know the spirit of the man Christ Jesus means that we become like Him. There is something magnetic in His character and person. We become like what we love; and the more we meditate upon Him, the more we will love Him and become like Him. “To this end was the son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). This does not simply mean that Jesus destroyed sin on the cross. He was manifested there in such a way that the believer who sees Him there, who reconstructs Golgotha’s awful scene, cannot be passive. A spirit of living and dying as He did was breathed out to us, and remains with us. There has to be a change, a radical transformation, in the person who comes into contact with the spirit of life and death which there is in Jesus. The love of God is manifested within us, in our lives, as a result of the gift of Christ on the cross (1 Jn. 4:9). Because “he laid down his life for us…we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:16,17 RV). Responding to the death of Jesus, perceiving the meaning of the cross, the love of God as it was and is there…this brings forth a love and generosity of spirit in practice. It was in this sense that Jesus in practice destroyed the power of sin through His cross. It was something practical, not a mere theological transaction whereby an angry God was appeased by spilt blood.
We must beware lest our theories of the atonement obscure the connection between salvation and life- both His life and ours. Having been reconciled to God by the death of Jesus, we are “saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). This is not only a reference to His resurrection. When He died, He outbreathed His breath of life towards His people who stood beneath the cross. His death, and the manner of it, inspires us to live the life which He lived. And this is the eternal kind of life, the life we will eternally live in the Kingdom with Him. His death was not solely the merit that supplies forgiveness. The cross was His life the most fully displayed and triumphant, forever breaking the power of sin over our street-level human existence by what it inspires in us. Our lives, the ordinary minutes and hours of our days, become transformed by His death. For we cannot passively behold Him there, and not respond. We cannot merely mentally assent to correct doctrine about the atonement. It brings forth a life lived; which is exactly why correct understanding of it is so important. We are inspired to engage in His form of life, with all the disciplines of prayer, solitude, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation in the Father’s word which characterized our Lord’s existence. For His cross was the summation of the life He lived. We quite rightly teach new converts the need for attending meetings, giving of time and money to the Lord’s cause, doing good to others, Bible reading. But over and above all these things, response to the cross demands a life seriously modelled upon His life.
And even further: “When he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2 RV). Jesus was manifested upon the cross, and ‘seeing’ / perceiving Him there leads to a transformed life. And yet He will be manifested / appear [AV] at the Lord’s return; and through seeing Him as He truly is, we will be transformed into an existence like Him. Yes, our natures will be changed in a twinkling of an eye. But have you ever asked how this will happen, putting meaning into words? John says that it will be through our ‘seeing’ of Jesus in that actual and new way which we will then. Seeing Him as He is will mean that our very natures are changed; and this is exactly what is going on now in a moral sense as we see the essence of Him manifested in the cross. In this sense His death was a foretaste of His second coming. There in the cross was the judgment of this world, just as there will be at His return. And in our response to Him there we have a preview of how it will be to come before Him at the final judgment. As I reconstruct in my own mind His death, His demeanour there, His spirit which He breathed towards us as He bowed His head, the overwhelming impression I have is one of love and passion to save us. And I am persuaded that thus it will be as we stand before Him soon.
(1) ‘The teen environment survey’, reported in Josh McDowell, Why Wait? (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers) p. 40.