Every follower of Christ is called to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). God has placed us in the midst of broken places that desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Word. How are Christian to flesh this out in a public square that is often filled with toxicity, combativeness, division, and evil? As a pastor, I want to offer you a few thoughts to consider as you seek to glorify God and influence the culture in which he has placed you.
The Word of God Guides Us
The Word of God in its entirety (not just cherry-picked sections) is what should govern us and guide all that we do as believers. It is the filter by which we process all things in the public square. It is a “lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” (Ps.119:105). What we stand for or do not stand for, how we treat our neighbor, what we feel is valuable, and our understanding of how life should be is directly connected to the Word of God.
We are kingdom citizens who operate on earth as ambassadors under the guidance, orders, and reflection of King Jesus. We are not only witnesses and representatives of Christ, but also of all that his heavenly kingdom entails. Virtually every aspect of our life and witness in the world should reflect this. When we lose sight of our mission in the public square, our motivations become carnal, self-seeking, short-sighted, and lacking the power of the Holy Spirit (James 3:13-15). It is too easy to be discipled by our favorite news networks and organizations. The result is that we speak their talking points and agendas instead of the Word of God. Be careful of this.
Loving Our Neighbors Means Desiring Their Best
It is amazing to see the extent to which Paul tolerated the weaknesses of those around him. There is also much to be learned in observing how much he was willing to endure from those who often attacked him. He says to those in Corinth who have been attacking his authority and credibility, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor.12:15).
How can Paul say such a thing to those who are hurting him and opposing him? One word: love. What we find is that Paul genuinely desires their best, even at his own expense. He sincerely loves them. Paul is not motivated by the desire to win an argument or to prove that he’s right in conflict. He’s compelled by a genuine love for people and a desire for their best in Christ.
Being salt and light in the public square is more than only sharing the gospel; it also encompasses our motivations for sharing the gospel. Why we communicate matters just as much as what we communicate.
Many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were known for their love for the law, but not for their love for their neighbor. Paul, schooled in the law, emphasizes the necessity of love: “If I . . . understand all mysteries and knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Paul concluded that if love isn’t the motivation and anchor, then we’ve missed the point.
If we are truly honest, it’s extremely difficult to conclude in our society that many Christ-followers are sincerely motivated by love for people. It appears that like the Pharisees, we are more motivated by a love for truth. It only takes a few minutes of scrolling through most social media comment sections to see that we are more motivated by a desire to be right and win an argument than we are motivated by a genuine love for the image-bearer in front of us. It is a sad reality that we often mock, humiliate, and sarcastically criticize those we disagree with.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. We do not have to choose between one or the other. We are called to love God, to love his Word, to love his ways, and to also love our neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). Love has a deep concern for truth and the imparting of grace (John 1:14). Even in our correction of others, our hope and desired outcome should be to see repentance and alignment with Christ in those we speak truth to.
How You Communicate Matters Just as Much as What You Communicate
If there are any words of wisdom that I can give you from my personal experiences of failure, as you seek to communicate the hard truth to those in Christ or those who do not know Christ, it is this: “Be surgeons, not butchers.” Both butchers and surgeons use sharp knives and objects to cut, yet they both cut in different manners, with contrasting goals in mind.
Life is not the desired outcome of the butcher’s blade. There is no gentleness or concern for the object being cut. Surgeons, on the other hand, cut with great care and gentleness because their goal is to heal and not kill. Surgeons cut as is necessary for what is helpful to preserve life.
The surgeon’s cuts may hurt and lead to months of recovery for the individual experiencing the surgery, but people are willing to lay on the operating table and be cut because they know that the surgeon wants to see them healed. No one desires to lay down on a butcher’s table.
We often forget that the way in which we communicate truth either validates or diminishes the gospel message that we preach. For example, parents who regularly yell at their children and are harsh with them, give them a distorted view of God and the gospel. You can’t be a butcher and a faithful witness for Christ at the same time. Our goal should not be to correct harshly, but to exhort with humility as those who lean on God’s grace ourselves.
Paul says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col.4:6). Jesus also gives us a warning by saying, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak . . . ” (Matt. 12:36). It is wise to remember that we are always in the Lord’s presence, and we should communicate from a humble posture.
We Are Citizens of the Kingdom
In John 17, Jesus spends a significant amount of time praying that his followers would be one and united. The problem with being a spiritual butcher is that butchers naturally cause unnecessary divisions and lack the tenderness required to bring healing in environments of pain and conflict.
Being a kingdom citizen, on the other hand, means that I should be highly sensitive to protecting, encouraging, and serving my eternal family in Christ. My inclination should be that of an agent of peace and healing, not division. Allowing categories from this temporal world to supersede our heavenly allegiance to Christ and our siblings is something that we should avoid and repent of.
Today, we have Christians who are more committed to a political party, a particular tribe, or a set of followers than our heavenly kingdom. Christians are filtering their theology through worldly allegiances instead of their eternal citizenship. This has damaged our witness. We are too quick to slander and cancel anyone who doesn’t fall in line with our worldview.
Why would anyone want to listen to the gospel message of Christ from Christians who are just as divided as the unbelievers they preach to? Why be a part of a group of Christians that can’t see beyond this world and rarely pursue unity? Jesus said that people would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another, not simply who we vote for or align with.
If we are to have a united global church, then hatred and division cannot flow so easily out of us. Paul says that we should “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3). To be salt and light in this world as kingdom citizens, requires that our actions display that we are for one another, even in our differences, and that we are gracious and patient with one another as we speak truth. If not, we will see new converts in Christ entering a spiritual community that is no different than the physical community they came out of and which stunts their spiritual growth. This is not God’s heart.
My hope is that these categories have stirred your heart to consider how you are currently living as an ambassador in your context. I’m rooting for you and praying that Christ will shine brightly through you as you live boldly for him. The Lord bless you and keep you.