Light and Salt
In Matthew 5, Jesus says that His disciples are “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” We often remind ourselves that we are to be salt and light in this lost and dying world. But I fear we are not specific enough. What did Jesus mean when he said we are to be salt and light?
To people of that time, salt meant two things: preserving and seasoning. Salt was used to keep food from spoiling. Salt was used to make food taste better. It had a distinctive and pleasant taste. So, we can infer that Jesus expects His disciples to have a saving influence and to have a pleasant, distinctive “flavor.”
Jesus also presents the figure of light. There are two aspects of light that seem obvious from the text. First, light illuminates. Light reveals and makes clear. Lights are not intended to be hidden or kept secret. They should be out in the open for all to see and to profit from. Second, light gets noticed. On a dark night you can see a city on a hilltop from many miles away. Again, we see that Christ’s disciples should stand out. Their words and actions should help others to see things clearly and should lead others toward what is good and right. Jesus did not say we should be salt and light to draw attention to ourselves -- we are drawing attention to our God. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Our light is the reflected light of God’s glory and of His truth. Our purpose is to bring glory to God and to draw the lost to faith in Christ Jesus.
Ok, so we are to perform good works and to be different from the world. Can you be more specific? How exactly should I do that? In the sermon on the mount, Jesus gives us a number of specific ways we should be different.
Disciples have a higher standard of morality
In Matthew 5:21-37, Jesus gives His audience a fresh view of many principles of the law. Again and again, He says “you have heard” followed by “but I say to you.” They had heard “the rules” or the “letter of the law.” Jesus gave them the spirit of the law. They had heard “do not murder.” Jesus told them to control their anger. They had heard “do not commit adultery.” Jesus told them not to lust. They had heard “divorce legally.” Jesus told them, “What God has joined together, do not separate.” They had heard “keep your oaths.” Jesus told them they should not have to take an oath -- their word should be their bond.
In every case, Jesus establishes a higher standard of morality. Do what is good because it is good and because you wish to please God from the heart. If you are unfailingly honest, honorable, and good, regardless of the circumstances, you will be noticed. People who follow this standard of righteousness will not cheat on taxes or business dealings; will not tell the convenient lie; will keep themselves pure sexually; and will always be straightforward, open, and above-board in their dealings. That is light. That is salt.
Disciples have a higher standard of love
In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus teaches that we are to have a higher standard of love. The standard they had been taught was simple and obvious -- love your friends, hate your enemies. Jesus observes there is nothing outstanding or virtuous about this standard. Everyone loves their friends. Instead, Jesus says we are to love all, even our enemies.
What does Jesus’ standard of love look like? If someone strikes you, instead of striking back, offer them another opportunity to hit you again. If someone hurts us, do we simply cut them off, and avoid contact? Or do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to another blow? If someone asks of us a favor, Jesus says we should do more than we have been asked. Jesus tells us to love and to pray for those that hate us and persecute us. Jesus did not just teach this, he lived it. He gave the perfect example when He went to the cross and died for the very men who put Him there.
Why should we love in this self-sacrificial way? Why should we love people who do not love us? We should do it, because we are children of God. We love because of who we are, not because of who they are. We love, because God first loved us. We love others, because God loves them. That is light. That is salt.
Disciples have a higher standard of piety
In Matthew 6:1-8, Jesus teaches that we must avoid “shows” of religion. The Pharisees loved to be considered religious. They loved to be seen giving alms or praying in public. Jesus tells us to do our good works, praying, and fasting in secret. Secrecy is the best way to keep our motives pure. If no one knows, we cannot be doing it for the praise of others.
Our standard of reverence is a sincere desire to come closer to God. We want His approval and His blessings. We want to give Him glory, not seek glory for ourselves. We pray from the heart, not with repetitive “incantations,” but a sincere outpouring of our needs and our thanksgiving. We seek His will in all things. That is light. That is salt.
Disciples are citizens of a higher kingdom
Disciples have higher standards, because they are citizens of a higher kingdom -- the kingdom of heaven. Our abode on the earth is temporary, and our hearts are longing for our true home. How will the fact that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth be evident? Our treasures will be laid up in heaven. If we are citizens of heaven, we will not put our trust in earthly wealth. We will be more concerned with good works and love for others. We will serve God rather than money. We will recognize that earthly wealth will be destroyed, but the treasures laid up through godly living will be eternally secure.
Citizens of heaven are not caught up in the rat-race of worldly success. They are not consumed by the latest political upheavals. They are not earth-bound citizens of the United States or any other earthly nation, but spiritual citizens of a far greater kingdom. That is light. That is salt.
Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are as convicting today as they were when He first delivered it. We want to be His disciples and receive an eternal inheritance. Are we living by higher standards, striving to be faithful subjects in Christ’s eternal kingdom? Though we live in the world, are we strangers and pilgrims here? Do we seek to please God and bring Him glory? Are we light? Are we salt?
- Patrick Gaughan