Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (NIV)
Freedom: We aren’t supposed to be cloistered away as hermits. God wants us rubbing shoulders with the world, engaging, not withdrawing.
What is the purpose of salt?
It enhances the taste of relatively tasteless food (Job 6:6).
Salt is essential for life. So basic is salt that the Latin word “sal” or “salt” is the root of the English word “salary,” or living wages. It can prevent or treat heat stroke.
Today salt has “14,000 specific industrial uses” particularly in chemical compounds.
It preserves foods such as meat, fish and is used to make cheese, breads and pastries
It also preserved Old Testament sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13 —Keil & Delitsch). It’s a symbol of “permanence and incorruption” (Charles Ryrie, Num. 18:19 ).
But salt can lose its saltiness. Salt on salt caravans could be stolen by running water through salt ore and the saline solution captured, leaving the ore with far less saltiness, although it has the appearance, but not the saltiness of salt.
How are Christians the salt of the earth?
We are an essential ingredient of life for the rest of the population. God chooses to use us to tell others about Christ. Without Christ, there is no eternal life, and in that sense we are essential to the planet (1 John 5:11 -13).
Accepting the gospel “preserves” the souls of those who receive it. Christians are to “snatch others from the fire and save them”—Jude 1:23 , clearly a preservative function.
As salt adds flavor to food, Christians should add zest to their conversations (Col. 4:6). We should attempt to communicate in pleasing ways, without sacrificing truth. We should provide the “word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11), including rebukes. Without us, the planetary conversation would focus upon the temporal and mundane (even if exciting).
For salt to be effective it must come into contact with something. As Becky Pippert has written, it needs to “get out of the saltshaker,” or it’s useless. Christians need to be among non-Christians for their character to affect non-believers.
Christians can also lose their essential nature (saltiness) by watering down their lives with things that drain them. For example, little fellowship with God in prayer (quick prayers at bedtime don’t result in fellowship), little time in the Bible, and little contact with Christians in or out of church. They may still be Christians, but have little appetite for spiritual growth and spiritual disciplines. Media such as newspapers, radio, music, movies, books and the Internet can occupy too much of their life and turn their minds from God. Some real Christians don’t want to be identified as Christians because they want to freely live like non-Christians, and certainly don’t want to witness of Christ to their unsaved friends. They have lost their unique taste and are good for nothing. They are worse than nothing, because unbelievers can rightfully point to them as hypocrites, reinforcing anti-Christian attitudes. They have the form of religion, but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Christians can also be so salty that they burn people by being cantankerous and unnecessarily offensive, instead of helping them.
What are examples of being “salt” in our society today?
Rescuing the unborn from abortions
Witnessing to those of other religions or cults
Helping the oppressed and needy
Speaking the truth in love about sin in the church and society
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 ; 9:5). Christ is the “radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3). Those finding Jesus see “a great light” (Matt. 4:16 ). They are transferred from the “dominion of darkness” (Col. 1:13).
Those receiving Christ (John 1:12 ) should “glow” a little. Jesus told His disciples: “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36). If God radiates glory, Jesus is the light of the world, and if Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30 ), then to be like God in this world (1 John 4:17 ), we will emit light.
How do we shine, as “sons of light”?
We show the way to God. We make the path clear, in the present darkness.
By purity of life. Sin is called “deeds of darkness”(Ephesians 5:11 ). “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph. 5:8-11). Before Christ came in, we were not simply in darkness, but we were darkness. We spread darkness and probably tried to blow out the lights of some around us. Christians become enemies of darkness and spread light, as we do what is good and right, and speak and live the truth.
Our conscience must align with the Bible, so that we approve and do what is actually right (Luke 11:34 -35). Otherwise we may think we’re walking in the light, but be in the shadows. Of course, the better we understand and receive the truths of the Bible, the clearer our conscience becomes. This is living by the truth (John 3:21 ), which leads us into the light.
It’s ridiculous to imagine light marrying darkness, but that is what happens when a believer marries or lives with an unbeliever outside of marriage. God asks, “What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
“If we claim to have fellowship with [God] yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6).
As the days get darker (2 Tim. 3:1-5), the brighter we will shine.
Is the present world “dark”?
If so, then can a real Christian ever be a secret Christian? Not unless the Christian deliberately tries to hide the light. There were secret disciples—Joseph of Arimathea was one, due to fear of the Jews (John 19:38 ), and probably Nicodemus (John 7:50 , compare John 3). But Jesus said “let your light shine before men” (Matt. 5:16 ).
If someone has to light a match to be able to see the cross around our neck to identify us as a Christian, we probably aren’t one.
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:21 ). You will be hated simply for being the light of the world (Matt. 5:14 ). Since we are to expose the works of darkness, they have good reason to avoid us.
When people see the light in us, what is God’s purpose?
To bring glory to Himself “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16). He is really the reason we shine anyway.
We aren’t to try to take the glory—God doesn’t give His glory to anyone (Isaiah 42:8).
All that we do should be for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31 ). Christians were chosen and predestined by God that we “might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:12). Christians don’t wonder why they’re on earth—their ultimate reason is precisely that—God’s glory.
The monastic movements in the church have generally been motivated by the desire to escape the corruption of the world due to sin. By leaving areas saturated by temptation, monks and nuns have tried to keep themselves pure and to cultivate the fellowship and worship of God, usually in some form of community. Sometimes monks were and are sought out as counselors. Except in situations where they have had contact with people outside the cloisters, it’s difficult to understand in what sense they are the salt and light of the world. If people give glory to God due to their influence upon the world, then we cannot object to their form of Christianity.
Christians in America have been divided in the 20th century over how active a part they should play in trying to transform society. Some get involved in politics (the use of governmental power) as they try to eradicate structural evil, such as unjust and unrighteous laws (allowing for abortions of convenience, for example). Some believe that Christians should stay away from trying to transform the culture (social gospel) and from trying to set up the Kingdom of God on earth, since Christ will establish the Kingdom, not us. They believe that if you can’t baptize it, you cannot save it. Post–millenialists and those on the Christian far–right work with all their power to redeem the society. They say that trying to eradicate structural sin—evil laws, policies and cultural decadence, is the legitimate and even mandated work of all Christians. William Wilburforce, a British Christian parliamentarian, for example, is given the major credit for the outlawing of slavery in the British Empire. “Theonomists”—those who believe that society should be governed by Old Testament civil law, generally try to accomplish this by the salvation of individuals—something of a middle way (www.forerunner.com/theofaq.html). Social change is via the cumulative salvation of individuals. Many evangelicals believe that society changes when a critical mass of persons are saved.
Whether or not we believe that if you can’t baptize it, you can’t save it, both sides are encompassed when Jesus told us to be salt and light, for God’s glory. In Matt. 5:13-16 the consequences of being salt and light are to be very public. If we restrict ourselves to citizen-to-citizen acts of good, avoiding doing good by organizations other than the church, we can still bring glory to God. We are still to let our light shine and to be the salt of the earth. This will have social impact. If a politician is saved, this will impact his governance, and the work of a policeman or landlord will never be the same again, if Christ enters. We are not given the option of being so quiet, “unpolitical” and “dark” that nothing good happens because of us. When one person is changed, society is to a greater or lesser degree changed, as that person interacts. In this sense, it’s a false alternative between working to change evil social structures and working to save evil people. If it will bring God glory to stop widow-burning (sutee) in India , by whatever social pressures we might muster, we should do it. If it will bring God glory to protect the raped and robbed of Sudan by political and economic pressure, we should support that.
If we can stop pornography and it’s wicked leaven in society by picketing and court injunctions--if stopping pornography glorifies God and helps families, we should support it. If stopping abortion glorifies God and protects lives, we should support it.
The arena of this command is the earth and the world—very public. Whatever our politics and whatever our views upon the propriety of redeeming society, the issue is—be salt and light—publicly. God is not glorified by a degenerate culture and nation. He has been known to extirpate them. He is glorified by godliness in whatever form. We must not put our flashlight under a trash can.