Salt and light – Matthew 5:13-16
Thank you once again for the privilege of sharing the Bible with you again today.
And I mean privilege, because you people are the salt of the earth.
I say that, not as a compliment but because Jesus said it in Matthew 5:13-16…
13 ‘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 underfoot.14 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither 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. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
You Christians, followers of the Way, disciples of Jesus, are the salt of the earth, the light of the world who, because you let your light shine before others they can see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
You make a difference to other people’s lives, to what goes on in the world.
You bring hope, and escape from negativity and decay. You show the world where to find the way, the truth and the light!
You show them how to escape from darkness into the light. Even from death to life!
And today I get a chance, first hand, to see how you do it. I am really looking forward to the chance to glorify your Father in heaven. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
[Prayer: thank you, Jesus for making us the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Help us to grasp what this means, to be what you say we are and to live and act so that people around us glorify our Father in heaven.]
Let’s see this passage in its context, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount because the preceding verses bring us back to earth.
Look at the verses just before our passage for today, verses 10-12:
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
That’s true, isn’t it? The prophets suffered as they took God’s word to their people. Over and over the people received it very badly. The prophets obediently brought the word of God to the people and were then rejected, isolated, labelled as traitors, thrown down wells and so on. But they did keep going.
Jesus wants us to do even more.
He wants us to want us to expect persecution, insults and slander. And when this happens he wants us to rejoice and be glad, to understand that we will be blessed as we do what he wants and then, of course we will find that great is our reward in heaven. Look at how they treated Jesus!
Actually, he asks even more of us than he did of the prophets of old. Their job was to take God’s word only to their own people. We are to be the salt of the whole earth.
It all sounds a bit too much, so we need to remember that Jesus never asks us to more than he will enable us to do.
How does salt do its thing?
Some have said that in Jesus’ time salt was used as a preservative so we are somehow to act as a preservative on the earth. If you like that idea then you can have it.
I don’t see anything in Scripture to indicate there is any way to preserve the world, to stop it going bad. It seems to me it’s a bit late for that and that the world isn’t expecting to be preserved but rather is groaning to be liberated from its bondage and decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Rom 8:21-22)
Jesus taught us to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, so we should ask for these things in prayer and it is wonderful when we see glimpses of answers.
And God will answer this prayer but we will not see it in all its completeness when Jesus returns and brings the new earth and the new heaven. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Others have pointed out that in Jesus’ day salt was a valuable commodity, could even be bought and sold, used like cash. In this case, being the salt of the earth makes Christians a valuable commodity, too.
But I see Jesus being interested in the saltiness of salt. He is concerned that the salt does not lose its saltiness.
The saltiness of salt is used to enhance flavour and we need it to maintain our body chemistry – although probably not in the quantities we tend to eat it. Without salt food can taste insipid, even bitter.
Salt isn’t used in large blocks and clumps. When used in cooking it is mixed, dissolved into the mixture. When we use it at the dinner table it is sprinkled on the food.
It doesn’t impose itself, it doesn’t push in, it’s not even the main component of food.
So that’s us. Those little white crystals that work gently, sprinkled on the earth, we penetrate the world, we bring cleansing, we enhance the flavour of life, we insinuate ourselves throughout our community.
We are told in Colossians 4: 5Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Of course, to do this we need the Bible because…
Hebrews 4:12For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
As far as violence and physical damage is concerned you can’t get a less hurtful weapon than the Bible. But as far as getting down to the really vital parts of us humans is concerned nothing else works so well, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. With the Bible we will be able to do as we are asked and know how to answer everyone.
Here’s another Bible picture which illustrates with a different analogy what we are to be like: 2 Corinthians 2: 15For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.
Take a sniff of the people around you. Spiritually, that is. Do your brothers and sisters remind you of Christ? Do they attract you like he does? Is there that aroma, that aura, that presence of Jesus that brings life? Enjoy it, soak it up, share it, share your own aroma of Christ.
You almost certainly already know that that same aroma is not attractive to people who dismiss Christ. They don’t enjoy it at all because being around Christians who are the aroma of Christ to non-Christians it brings death.
They know it. They don’t like it. They are offended by it. They will avoid it if they can.
Even so, we are to be the pleasing aroma of Christ, to bring the taste of Christ, to be the salt of the earth.
Chemically speaking I don’t know how salt can lose its saltiness but it seems to me that such stuff is not salt at all but more like sand.
Sand doesn’t enhance food at all. Rather it is gritty, irritating and unpleasant. You don’t want to be a Christian who has lost their saltiness, best used to lay down a path, to be trampled on, let people walk all over you.
Unfortunately, we have seen it far too often, seen people who call themselves Christians whose behaviour, whose words and actions reek of anything but the aroma of Christ, whose contribution is anything but salt and so much more like the gritty, irritating action of sand.
See what Jesus thinks of such people: they areno longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and that we are the light of the world.
How wonderful! That makes us just like Jesus.
In John 8: 12When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
We have experienced a life-changing, radical, miraculous change which has been, in a very real but spiritual sense, enlightening:
Ephesians 5: 8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)
Indeed, so dark was the darkness that it was described as death.
Ephesians 2: 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
So we take over where Jesus left off: now we are the light of the world. People who join us will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
And how badly they need it! Because they are in the dark. So dark they are dead in their transgression and sins. They so very much need light and life in Jesus.
One of the features of light is so obvious we can easily miss it. It shines.
And it shines even more obviously in darkness.
In the dark you can see a light shining even when it is a very long way away.
That’s the purpose of beacons. The reason for having a lighthouse.
It’s useless if it’s hidden.
A lamp is meant to be on a lampstand so as to spread its light, to share its benefits.
That’s why Jesus said, “15Neither 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. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others”
Let your light shine!
Can there be such a thing as a secret Christian? Not if they are letting their light shine! They are not to be hidden under a bowl but out on a stand to give light to everyone.
Your religion, your faith, your knowledge of Jesus and his gospel is nottoo personal to share!
But being so obvious as a light of the world will not often be popular.
John 3: 19This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
Well, that’s very sad and it’s also our experience.
But the light is still there, even for those who want to avoid it.
Because that light is us!
What does it mean to be salt and light in the society we live in?
To think about that means to think about our role in the community, even to get a bit political.
We cannot force people into the light – they will resist that because they love the comfort of the darkness they live in; they don’t want to really examine themselves in the light of God’s word, so we accept that our contributions will not always be welcome.
Oh, it’s a wonderful work that Christians do when they help the poor and needy, care for the aged, open hospitals and other such good social work in the way Jesus taught us to. Love is very acceptable to our society when it comes in the form of what people call charity.
But if we insist on reminding people that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that there is no other way to God the father except through him; OR if we point out the behaviour Jesus expects of his followers, that they do not practice sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Galatians 5:19-21).ORthat the Bible leaves us in no doubt that God sees marriage as only between a man and a woman we do not receive, and do not even expect, rapturous acceptance.
As salt and light we are obliged to tell our society that this is the way that God expects Christians to behave and that these are God’s expectations for everyone.
When people reject these truths we are saddened and very concerned but it is God’s truth people are rejecting and it is to God they must inevitably answer.
We must not be put off when told not to “force our beliefs on others” because quite clearly one thing we cannot do, that Jesus did not do and God does not do is force people to believe. We can do what we can to help others understand what God has shown us and to encourage them into the light of Christ – but we know that there is no way to force anyone to do so.
It is true that over hundreds of years the teaching of the Bible has been the over-arching guide for many societies and that these standards have been imposed on us all by way of legislation which has been enforced. In this way you could say that Bible teaching has been forced on people. But it has been enforced on their behaviour even when it could not and was not forced on their beliefs.
However, it is this very Bible teaching which has led to almost all the good things we have in our society.
Nowadays in our society it is the beliefs of the world which are forced on us!
Unbiblical beliefs are enacted as laws and we are expected to approve of behaviours which Jesus and his apostles show us are inconsistent with following Jesus.
Our contribution of salt and light means we do what we can to show the world what God wants them to know, about how he wants them to behave but regrettably we know that this will usually be rejected at increasing cost and harm to people.
Will that stop us sprinkling our salt and shining our light? It must not.
Even at cost to ourselves we must persistently, insistently, hold fast to the Bible teaching.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
At present we have some legal freedom to do so and we want to guard that freedom.
But even if it is lost what God has given us in the Bible remains true, we will continue to share it and we will still be the salt of the earth and the light to the world. There is only one way they can stop us!
If we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world we need to maintain our saltiness, keep our light burning and bring with us the wonderful, saving aroma of Christ.
That means topping up each other’s salt supply, fanning each other’s light to burn brighter, sharing your salt and light with each other.
Even more so, get closer and closer to Jesus. Allow him to spruce up your salt supply and trim your light to shine like his. Come often into his light. Live consistently with Jesus.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Shine that light. Share the Gospel of Jesus. Show the world what Christ is like.
We mix with the world to add to it the savour of Christ, the aroma of Christ and the light of Christ.
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.