"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. You are the light of the world. A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." - Matthew 5v13-16
On Sunday we continued our series on the Sermon on the Mount by exploring Jesus’ words about salt & light (you can listen to the entire message HERE). Jesus uses these metaphors to teach about the responsibility of Christians in the world. By saying we are to be salt and light, He is saying there is darkness in the world and we are to be the light; there is decay in the culture and we are to be a preservative. There are four characteristics about salt and light that help us understand what this means.
1. Salt & Light are distinct and influential
Jesus says the salt must retain its saltiness, it must not become contaminated. And the light must retain its brightness; it must not be smothered by the darkness. Christians are to be holy, set-apart and distinct from the world. But unfortunately too many Christians stop there. They are content to cloister themselves away from the world for fear of being contaminated. But at that point what good are they?
Salt and light are not just different from their environment, they are to have a powerful influence on their environment. Salt must be rubbed into the meat in order to stop the rot and the light is to shine into the darkness. It is to be set upon a lamp stand, and it is to give light to the environment.
2. Salt & Light expose decay and darkness
If you are light, that means that your life should be so beautiful, that when your life comes into contact with its surrounding environment it reveals it for what it really is.
So for example, if you are a Christian, then just by your very presence your life reveals the dishonesty in your business, the gossip in your office, the racism in your neighborhood, the corruption in your political caucus or the promiscuity at the party.
Just simply by being a Christian, just by showing up, you reveal things for what they are. It makes the racism look like racism. It makes the gossip look like gossip. It makes the corruption look like corruption.
If you live like Jesus Christ, the beauty of that is going to reveal the reality of the environment. If you are a Christian, living like Jesus Christ then the beauty of your life is going to expose the decay and darkness around you. It is going to reveal to people what is good and bad.
Is your life so remarkable that it shows the contrast between the beauty of Christ and the world around you... or do you just blend in?
3. Salt & Light bring joy
Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.” There are two Greek words that can be used for “good” - agothos and kalos. Agothos means good in quality. Kalos means beautiful. Jesus uses Kalos. Your deeds ought to be beautiful.
Salt is, after all, not just a preservative. It’s a seasoning. It brings out the taste. It makes things taste better. And light shows the beauty of all things. In other words, salt and light bring joy to people.
Now, I just said that salt and light can expose racism, promiscuity and corruption. That of course that can get you some persecution. But at the same time you bring joy to your neighbors. You are the stability in your office. You bring beauty into your home.
Because a Christian never looks at a situation and asks, “What can I get out of it?” A Christian acts like salt and asks, "How can I bring the best out of this organization, out of this group, out of these people?"
This is extremely difficult because we live in a consumer driven culture. What started out as just an economic system has radically affected every area of our lives. People go to work, go to school, go to church asking “What can I get out of it?” “What can I take from this job to help me move up the corporate ladder?” “How will this group or these people help enhance my position?”
But a Christian goes into a job or a school or a neighborhood and asks “How can I make this the best possible place?”John Stott says, “Like salt in putrefying meat, Christians help to prevent social decay. Like light in the prevailing darkness, Christians to illumine society and show it a better way.” A Christian brings joy.
4. Salt & Light work together
Salt has to work together - one grain isn’t going to season anything. We have to be a unit. A city is a corporate place - and we are to be a city on a hill.
In fact, that is what this whole sermon is about. The Sermon on the Mount is not primarily addressed to individuals - because it is precisely as individuals that we are most likely to fail as Christians. These are words for the colonists.
This sermon is not about how to be better individual Christians - it is a picture of what the church should look like. It is an invitation to become citizens of a New Kingdom.
The church is not a club. It is supposed to be a colony. A city. A new humanity. A people who are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and visibly testify to the amazing community-creating power of God. A place where people can tangibly see what the Kingdom of God looks like.
We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. Together the local church is the most concrete expression we can give to the world of the reality of God’s kingdom.