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Get Off the Shelf

On the wall at the end of our breakfast table at home, there is a shelf of bottles containing different spices—30 in all. These bottles look exactly alike, except for the labels printed on each of them that identify the spice each contains. The shelf and the bottles together make up a decorative piece on the wall.

That shelf of spices was there when we purchased the house about ten years ago. I have no idea how long it had been there before we moved in. Let it be known that I have never used any of the spices. I wouldn’t dare put any of those spices in any food I will eat. And so the spices have never served to enhance the taste of food. After all these years, the spices and their bottles have had one function: for display only.

Spices were meant for a specific purpose: to add flavor to food. That’s what they were made to do. Of course, there is no violation of some moral-ethical code, no propagation of some spiritual heresy, if they are used for something else. But the fact remains, the purpose for which they were processed is lost. Spices on the shelf “miss their calling.”

The same is true of all followers of Christ. Jesus uses the analogy of salt as one way of describing disciples: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5.13). His immediate concern was to challenge his followers to function as they should, bearing witness to the good news of Christ. Being salt is all about fulfilling one’s role as a disciple in the world.

This analogy has a missional flavor to it, for the disciples’ function in the world calls for going out into the world. Jesus commanded us: “Go and make disciples …” (Matthew 28.18-20). And in his prayer to the Father concerning his disciples, he said: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17.18 NIV). While Christ’s followers are not “of the world” we still are tasked to “be in the world” so that others may know Christ too (John 17.14-18). That is the disciple’s calling.

Just as spice does its work in the food, so too a disciple accomplishes her or his role in the world. That means touching other peoples’ lives with the truth of God’s love in Jesus. One cannot be a true disciple just “staying on the shelf” and being satisfied with “looking good.” As someone once said, it’s about engaging the world with the gospel of Christ. It’s not just talking about the gospel, but also about living out the values and priorities of the gospel. It’s not about being “for display only,” but about fulfilling one’s calling in word and deed. For that to happen, all who call themselves followers of Christ need to get off the shelf.

—Keith Y. Jainga

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