Ye (and your children) are the salt of the earth…
We currently live in a world where many evils abound and those who adhere to the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are ridiculed and mocked for their “outdated” morals. We are constantly referred to as bigoted and intolerant of others while we simultaneously trumpet Fairness for All in politics and public discourse.
When trying to teach our children in such an atmosphere, it can be very tempting to simply withdraw ourselves into our homes and try to shield them from difficulties they will face in the world. After all, if we can control the messages that our children receive, then all will be well right? I know of many parents that have been considering home school after the transgender bathroom ultimatum from our president, and I can completely understand the feeling. And this is just a single issue. We are also continuing to see anti-religious sentiment pushed on our children in both science and sociology courses, as well as an insistence that a worldly version of sexual education is preferred to any other approach.
Parents have every right to be frustrated, but I want to caution those who think that withdrawing from the world is a viable and preferred option to allowing their children to participate in society. I’ll do my best to elaborate on why an isolationist attitude is not only detrimental to a child’s social development, but is contrary to the teachings of the Savior.
The Sermon on the Mount…
Much of what I say will be taken from the sermon on the mount. Often, when we read the scriptures, we have the attitude of simply reading each verse and taking it individually at face value. I often find, however, that reading the surrounding dialogue is exceptionally important when trying to understand not only the What, but the Why of a certain teaching or verse. And so I will be starting at the very beginning of Matthew 5 to illustrate my point, even though it may look as if the verses are unrelated to the topic at hand. Starting with verses 3-9:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
In only 7 verses, the Savior teaches some very powerful concepts to these people. In fact, I would say that this particular sermon is almost like a bullet list of principles that each person should apply to their lives. Imagine helping your children to internalize these teachings. Humility, empathy, meekness, a hunger and thirst for spiritual food, mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking. This is how the savior expects his followers to live their lives. In essence, this is how we take his name upon us. There is not a hint of parable in these words as the Savior so often taught. This is given plainly and directly to this large multitude of people. As we teach our children, this is the type of people he expects them to be. These are the things we should be emphasizing and teaching to our children in our homes.
Humility and meekness - Until this point, the children of Israel had constantly been emphasizing only performances. The do’s and don’ts of the Mosaic law. In this beautiful sermon, the Savior focuses instead on motivations. You can perform every action in perceived righteousness, but if pride, or the glory of the world is your motivation, then it will do you no good. In fact, He clearly states that those who embrace humility and meekness will not only inherit the Kingdom of God, but the earth itself.
Empathy and Mercy - Many of us will experience ups and downs in our life, but as we seek to mourn with others, we will find that they will in turn offer us comfort in times of need. We must remain active in our church duties so that the Lord may use others to bless us and serve us in times of our greatest sorrows. So too must we extend mercy to those around us in order to be deserving of mercy ourselves, and this cannot take place in isolation.
Hunger and Thirst - We must seek out and fill our hearts with the teachings of eternal life from the scriptures and from the living prophets. If we do this, we shall be filled. This doesn’t mean that we should stop at that point. Constant nourishment of the spirit is necessary if we wish to remain filled eternally.
Pure in Heart - Those who are pure in heart are promised that they shall See God. I think that this can be taken both literally and figuratively. While those who are pure in heart are promised an inheritance in Gods kingdom, up to and including the ability to abide his presence, I think this can also refer to recognizing the Lords arm in our lives and the world. It can also refer to recognizing the Savior for who he is when he comes:
…but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Peacemakers - This principle clearly relates to the upcoming verses, so I want to emphasize it specifically. This appears to be a principle, that if lived, will call someone out to others as a follower of the Lord. Essentially, others will be able to pick out followers of Christ from a crowd based upon this attribute.
Now the Lord chooses to point out some not so great consequences that will take place for those Peacemakers I mentioned earlier. Verses 10-12:
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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.
The Lord teaches us here that those who follow him will be persecuted, reviled, and unfairly treated. However, he doesn’t focus on those things, instead he focuses on the blessings associated with such persecutions. Once again a reference to an inheritance in the Lords kingdom as well as a reward in heaven, for which the Lord instructs us to be exceeding glad. This tells us an awful lot about the attitude that we should maintain through our trials. The Lord never once says, Avoid these things for they shall be really hard. Instead, he encourages us to remember eternal consequences and rewards rather than the glory of the world. He had already expounded in earlier verses the motivations that we should have in our actions. The glory of the world was not one of them.
Ye are the light of the world…
Taken on their own, the teachings I’m about to discuss are clear and important. However, when pared with the teachings I’ve already covered above, we can begin to understand something powerful about them. The Lord has just told his disciples how to live, and the trials that will likely come as a consequence of that life. Next in verses 13 - 15:
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Lets start with the first verse. This powerful object lesson helps us to understand why we shouldn’t let persecutions take away our convictions. If we are to live in the world, but allow it to take away that which makes us followers of Christ, we will no longer salt the world around us. In this instance the Savior tells us that we would then be good for nothing, and essentially destroyed by being trodden under foot of men. This is a warning for those who fall to the pressures of those around them.
We also have an interesting statement right before the warning. …wherewith shall it be salted? This principle along with the title salt of the earth indicates that we are to be that which gives savor to the earth. We need to be present in the earth in order to salt it. After describing the people thus, he continues to emphasize this same point.
We are the light of the world. And where should we be? Apparently set on a hill. Also, we should not hide our light under a bushel, but we should set it on a candlestick so that it is visible to those around us. He then finalizes this point without parable in verse 16:
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
A position of responsibility
As parents in Zion, we have a responsibility to not only live these teachings ourselves, but to teach our children so that they can be effectual salt of the earth. We constantly complain about the problems that we experience in this difficult world, but then we are quick to take action that will only push it further towards the brink.
This world desperately needs us and our children. They must be able to exist in the world and assist the Lord in bringing about his work to as many as is possible. Imagine how terrible a place our public schools would become if those who were good simply walked away. The honest in heart would continue to be stifled, and would never have an opportunity to see good examples. We would be hiding our candle under a bushel, and the world would be worse because of it.
I would never say that we shouldn’t be concerned with the atmosphere we must send our children into day after day. It is difficult, and in many ways harder than we as parents ever experienced in our youth, but the Lord gave us a template for how to live our lives so that we don’t become spiritually starved in this atmosphere. Those first 9 verses of Matthew 5 provide an immunization to the pulls and problems of the world.
They also need to know that they are never alone in the world. We must be vigilant as parents, understanding what our children are taught and exposed to so that we can continue to combat it with truth when they return home. We must make our homes a place of learning and safety for our children so that they know where to go for reliable information and answers to the problems of the world. Our homes must be a solace and respite from the storms so that they can recognize and feel the difference.
As we do these things, the Lord will continue to do his work, and our children will be strengthened in the process. Increasingly we are told that each generation that comes is the greatest generation on this earth. Lets not selfishly remove them from society because we know it’s going to be hard. Let us have faith that the Lord knows what he’s doing, and what he’s asking of us.