Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes in verses 3-12, He was describing a way of life that was counter to the culture of the day and really counter to the culture of our day. He was describing a way of living that was foreign to most of those who stood there and heard him speak. The message was: Blessed or happy are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger for righteousness, who are full of mercy, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, and who rejoice in their trials.

Those who live this way—according to Jesus’ teaching—those who love Christ and really want to live for Him and for His glory, they will become an oddity in this life. They will not fit into the culture of the day.

So what do people tend to do when they begin to identify with a way or a movement that is counter to the mainstream? What tends to happen is these people will begin to huddle together, form their own group and isolate from those who aren’t like them. They will begin to hang out with those who share what they value. So in a sense they create a subculture where they are not odd but they are like those they primarily hang out with…right? And so if living Jesus’ way makes us at odds with the mainstream of the culture of our day then there may be a tendency for us to primarily hang out with each other, huddle together so to speak, and avoid situations where we may be uncomfortable because of differences in how we think and what we do.

We see examples of this around us. For example, homeschool families tend to hang out together. Christians form Christian groups that live life together. People who share hobbies will form communities together. This is not unusual and not necessarily wrong to a point. But Jesus is telling those who will follow him something different. What does Jesus do? He, once again, shakes things up a bit by admonishing us to not fall into the temptation to isolate ourselves from the world because we are different but instead to be a testimony to those who need to hear a message of rescue and redemption, a message of salvation from slavery to sin. He says we are to be salt and we are to be light. The general message here is that we are to permeate the world, permeate our society as messengers, as heralds of redemption.

Matthew 5:13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Let’s look specifically at Jesus words. First He says we are to be salt. You are the salt of the earth. How are we to understand this? What does this mean? Well, to understand this we need to know what the common person would have understood at the time when Jesus spoke these words. For us, we primarily think of salt as a type of seasoning for our food to make things taste better. But in Jesus’ day salt had a much more practical use.

The primary use of salt at this time in history would have been as a preservative for meat. This was hugely important and necessary because there was no refrigeration. When Jesus says “but if salt loses its taste,” more literally it means if the salt becomes defiled. If it becomes mixed with other substances and loses its ability to preserve food well, it is because it is diluted and no longer pure. If you were to take salt and mix it with half sand, well, it won’t be very effective for preserving food. Defiling it with sand, well, you may as well as throw it out to be trampled on under people’s feet. That is Jesus’ point.

This is interesting because Jesus is saying you are to be salt in this life, the salt of the world, not defiled salt, not half salt and half sand, not partly living for Christ and partly not living for Christ. We are to be all in for Him. If we are not all in, then we will lose our effectiveness and we will lose our witness.

What does this mean for us? We are to trust the Lord always, not trust the Lord part-time, not just trust the Lord when things are good, and not just trust Him while at home. No, trust Him in all things, trust Him in all places, this is being undefiled in our trust of Him. This is a big deal. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…right?

Or as another example how about joy? We are to be all in with our joy in Christ—be joyful when things are good and when we are in hard times, be joyful around our friends and around those who treat us badly, be joyful at church and be joyful at home. Rejoice in the Lord always is what we learn from the Scriptures.

As we live our lives in Christ, are we the salt of the earth, effective salt, or are we so diluted by the ways of the world, that we have become ineffective and so mixed with worldly wisdom that we are really not recognizable as children of the living God, as Christ followers?

We are here as believers to glorify God. That is how we are to function as Christians. Get this….we are to be so overpowered by joy in the Lord that all that we do, so grateful for the work of Christ on our behalf, so thankful for this undeserved salvation through Christ, that whether we eat or we drink or whatever we do, we live for Him. If we are not thinking that way then our thinking is mixed with thinking that derives from worldly thinking. Or, in our analogy, the salt is becoming less salty—defiled, less effective.

How salty are you? I have to ask, how salty am I? Are we living in this world in our culture trusting in the Lord, joyful in the Lord, happy about our place in Christ, thankful for His work for us and in us? Are we outwardly, openly living for Him and His glory? Those are the questions we must ask ourselves, go deep with those questions, ponder them and test them in your daily walk. How are we doing with this?

Jesus goes on…he moves to another analogy speaking of light:

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus says you are the light of the world! What is Jesus saying? He is saying that we are those who are to illuminate the truth of Christ and redemption and God’s will to the world. It is our place in Christ to do this! It is amazing that God would call any person to this work, and even more so that He would appoint you and me for this work!
Jesus is the light of the world, right?

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Since Jesus is the light of the world it is no wonder that we are to also be light in this world. We are to reflect His light. If a city is on a hill then it is not hidden. If a lamp is lit you wouldn’t put in under a basket. If a light is lit, it is lit for a reason and that is to illuminate things. A light—think of a lamp that you may have put on a stand or on a table maybe—it is out in the open so that it can do what it is supposed to do, it makes things visible when things would not be otherwise seen because of the darkness.

And so Jesus says in verse 16:

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, (in the open) so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

This became a consistent message that Jesus communicated to His followers. The ministry that He called people to was public ministry, an out in the open ministry. When Jesus called His disciples in Matthew 4 He said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” He was describing what they would do, they would openly pursue men.

In Matthew 10 Jesus sent out His disciples into the world to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, to heal the sick to raise the dead, to cleanse lepers to cast out demons. This was hardly a private, quiet behind the scenes ministry. No it was very public, very open—this was being a bright light representing Christ to the world. And when Jesus was about to ascend into heaven he gave His well-known instructions to His followers:

Matthew 10:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

So many times Jesus says…go, go and tell, go and be a light, go and represent God to the people around you. Be a light! There is purpose in this truth that we are to be these lights shining for others to see. It is not that we may be seen as special or great. In fact the light in us that is seen should be so awesome that when people see our works they know they are works that we are not capable of on our own. So there should be a realization that the works are beyond us and therefore must be attributed to the Lord God Almighty!

Here is the picture, we reflect the light of Christ, we are not the light we reflect it but the glory goes to the source of the light who is the Father. So the aim and the purpose is that people see the work of God in us, they see His work in us, then they give Him the glory for it, He gets the credit. So the plan is that God works in us but He gets the credit because it is His work in us. This is very different than us getting credit for doing good works. Notice the difference in God getting glory and honor and credit for His work in us and what Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6:1-6. There we read this:

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In that passage the emphasis is a misplaced goal of doing good works, or supposed good works, to bolster ones character in the eyes of others. This is just trying to look good or to convince others that were are good. This is seeking glory and honor for oneself. It is all about self. We have to be careful here. We can be so prone to want to look good in other people’s eyes that we will go to great lengths to do things for that purpose. This is a far cry from living for God’s glory. The acts themselves may have some similarities but the motives are worlds apart. We were created for so much more than to try to prop ourselves up in the eyes of other people. In fact, I would say it is an exhausting endeavor.

It is exhausting to make one’s life goal to make everyone think they are something special. You know why? Because you are flawed and I am flawed and there is more…everyone knows you are and everyone knows I am. So let’s stop that.

But if we are pointing others to Christ and to the Father, there is no flaw there. They are perfect; they are awesome in their ways. We don’t have to prop them up. They don’t need that. We only need to speak the truth about them…that’s all. We don’t have to defend their actions, or make excuses for their ways. We are to simply tell the truth of who they are. We are to make them known— that is glorifying them. That is our place as Christians. We have been called to this work and in Christ we can do this work for the glory of the Father. It is a looking to Him, not to ourselves, praising Him, not ourselves, honoring Him. By His strength and His power we can do these things!

Matthew 5:13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.