Whole books have been written on just a small portion of this week’s reading assignment, which is a single chapter in Matthew. With that in mind, let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount and some of the other principles and doctrines taught in Matthew 5. Use this article as a springboard to decide what is most important in your personal studies or what is most important for the class you teach. With so much material to choose from, you are certain to find just the right combination for your needs.
Salt and Light
We normally think of salt primarily as a flavoring agent. Things just taste better with a touch of salt. But in the Law of Moses, the inclusion of salt with the offerings was mandatory. The Lord uses salt as a symbol of his covenant with Israel. Here are the two main verses used to talk about the importance of salt in the Mosaic law.
And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.
All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the Lord, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee.
Salt is also a preservative, allowing people to keep their food, that which keeps them alive, for longer periods of time. One of the properties of salt is that it keeps forever. There is nothing that can destroy the flavoring ability or the preserving ability of salt, except for contamination by foreign substances. As long as the salt remains in its pure form, it will last forever. Are you beginning to see how this can apply to the covenants of God?
The Lord tells us that his people are the salt of the earth. We are the carriers of his covenants and the preserver of His ways. As salt saves food from rotting, and allows the people to live because of the food they can save, so the covenants of the Lord save us all in the eternities, and prolongs life, even to giving us life eternal. Salt makes food more edible and enjoyable. The covenants of God make life richer and more abundant, more pleasurable and bearable.
When the Lord talks about the salt losing its savour or ability to flavor and preserve, he is referring to those who pervert the covenants and break the commandments, corrupting his covenants with Israel. Unless the covenants are kept pure, they cannot save, and are therefore good for nothing. Like tainted salt, the corrupted covenants are good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men. Doctrine and Covenants 103:10 says:
And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.
By virtue of the covenants we make with the Lord at baptism and in the temple, we are required to become saviors of men. We are saviors of men when we participate in missionary work, temple work, preaching, teaching, serving, fasting for the welfare of others, etc, etc. This is what is meant by becoming saviors on Mount Zion. This is the work we shouldered when we started making covenants with God. We literally became the salt or the preserving agent of the earth, the family of man.
Salvation is not an individual effort. Just as the Lord commands us, once we are converted to strengthen our brethren, we cannot be saved alone. We have accepted the responsibility to reach out to our brothers and sisters and do everything in our power to save them as well. What good is a saving ordinance to us if it only saves a few of us. We will not be able to find happiness in the eternities if we have abandoned our family members to Satan’s grasp. This is what it means to become like Christ. His life and mission was all about saving as many of his brothers and sisters as it is possible to save.
This brings us to being compared to a light. Imagine yourself living in a world of darkness, with barely enough light to grope your way round. How grateful would you be if suddenly you walked into a room and someone had a feeble candle burning. Out in the sun such a feeble flame would not even be noticeable, but to someone in the constant dark, it is a glorious illumination! It allows so much more to be seen and understood that was hidden by the darkness before.
As covenant makers with God, we have been imbued with spiritual light that others have never experienced. Our individual flame may be feeble by comparison to Christ’s brilliance, but to those in the dark, we are a “glorious illumination!” The Lord does not give us enlightenment so we can turn around and hide it from the rest of his children. Remember, this work of salvation is a family affair, and we are expected to show our light, however small it is, to as many of God’s children as we can. It is only by this light that they will be able to find their way back to our Father in Heaven. We have made covenants to do this, and will be held accountable for the example we set.
Sermon on the Mount
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Sermon on the Mount. Whole books have been written on the subject by much more educated people than me. But I would like to make one important point about what we refer to as the Beatitudes. The lesson points out that beatitude comes from the Greek word beatus, which means fortunate, happy, or blessed.
All of the descriptions given in the Beatitudes tell us what we are supposed to become. If we are to become perfect, as God is perfect, or in other words, whole and complete, as God is whole or complete, we need to learn each of these character traits. As you review the character traits listed in the Beatitudes, notice that each of them describes Christ, himself. In Matthew 5:3–12 we get the list.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (The poor in spirit are the humble and teachable. Christ is the perfect example of someone who, though great and powerful in his own right, only sought to glorify his Father, and only did what would please his Father.)
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (If anyone had cause to mourn, it was Christ. He suffered on our behalf constantly. How many times in the scriptures does it say that he saw someone else’s suffering and wept with them? He spent his life working to relieve the suffering of his brothers and sisters.)
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (To be meek is to be calm, yielding, and able to be lead. It is akin to being humble. Those who learn to yield their will to God will be those who are saved and exalted in the end.)
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Christ teaches us to seek after Him and His Father with that same hunger that drives us to eat food. If we have that same intensity and persistence in spiritual matters, God will fill us with spiritual food, which is truth.)
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Our Father in Heaven dispenses justice, but in his mercy he has given us Christ, who can offer us the mercy our Father is not able to give us himself. We need to become merciful, which means forgiving and full of kindness, just as Christ is forgiving, and full of kindness.)
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Those who are pure in heart are like Christ, focused on only one thing, pleasing God. By staying focused on that one thing, everything else in life comes into focus and works to our benefit.)
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Christ is known as the Prince of Peace. His spirit, which is the Holy Ghost brings peace to the soul of everyone who is obedient to the commandments of God. Peace is found only in and through the Holy One of Israel.)
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (This is connected to the meek requirement. The Hebrew word used to refer to the word meek in the Book of Psalms, indicates that those who are meek have also suffered at the hands of others.)
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Verses 11 and 12 go together. The Lord knows that those who try to keep the commandments are going to have a rough go of it. Those who don’t want to keep the commandments will often cause trouble for those who are trying to be obedient. It is to be expected that those taking the high ground in the moral struggle of this life will be persecuted by those who resent being shown what they should have chosen themselves.)
So there you have it. These are just a few thoughts on the many deep and amazing things written about in Matthew 5. The Sermon on the Mount has been called one of the most perfect discourses ever given. It is at once full of depth, yet simple in how it is stated. If we look at the doctrines taught in this chapter it becomes clear that the Savior is trying to map out the kind of people he wants us to become. If we are ever to become perfect, as God is perfect, or whole and complete as God is whole and complete, learning to become like Christ is our first goal. These are tangible goals we can set for ourselves. By learning to be like Christ we become, in a much more real sense, the salt of the earth, and at the same time a brighter light to those around us.