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 5:13-16.
Everybody is familiar with salt and light. They are found in virtually every household in the world. Jesus Himself, as a boy in the Nazareth home, must have watched His mother Mary use salt in the kitchen and light the lamps when the sun went down. He knew their practical usefulness.
WHAT JESUS EXPECTS OF US AS SALT AND LIGHT
1. Christians are fundamentally different from non-Christians, or ought to be.
Both images set the two communities apart. The world is dark, Jesus implied, but you are to be its light. The world is dark, Jesus implied, but we are to be its light.
The world is decaying, but we are to be its salt, and hinder its decay. In English idiom we might say they are as different as ‘chalk from cheese’ or ‘oil from water’; Jesus said they are as different as light from darkness, and salt from decay. This is a major theme of the whole Bible. God is calling out from the world a people for Himself, and the vocation of this people is to be ‘holy’ or ‘different’. ‘Be holy,’ He says to them again and again, ‘because I am holy.’
2. Christians must permeate non-Christian society.
Although Christians are (or should be) morally and spiritual distinct from non-Christians, they are not to be socially segregated. On the contrary, their light is to shine into the darkness, and their salt to soak into the decaying meat. The lamp does no good if it is put under a bed or a bowl, and the salt does no good if it stays in the salt cellar.
Similarly, Christians are not to remain aloof from society, where they cannot affect it, but become immersed in its life. They are to let their light shine, so that their good deeds are seen.
3. Christians must influence non-Christians society.
Before the days of refrigeration, salt was the best-known preservative. Either it was rubbed into fish and meat, or they were left to soak in it. In this way the decaying process was retarded, though not of course entirely arrested. Light is even more obviously effective; when the light is switched on, the darkness is actually dispelled. Just so, Jesus seems to have meant, Christians can hinder social decay and dispel the darkness of evil.
William Temple wrote of the ‘pervasive sweetening of life and of all human relationships by those who carry with them something of the mind of Christ’.
Our Christian habit is to bewail the world’s deteriorating standards with an air of rather self-righteous dismay. We criticize its violence, dishonesty, immorality, disregard for human life, and materialistic greed. ‘The world is going down to the drain’, we say with a shrug. But whose fault is it? Who is to blame?
Let me put it like this. If the house is dark when nightfall comes, there is no sense in blaming the house, for that is what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is ‘Where is the light?’ If the meat goes bad and we cannot eat it, there is no sense in blaming the meat, for that is what happens when the bacteria are left alone to breed. The question to ask is ‘Where is the salt?’ In the same vein, if society deteriorates and standards decline, till it becomes like a dark night or stinking fish, there is no sense in blaming society, for that is what happens when fallen men and women are left to themselves, and human selfishness goes unchecked. The question to ask is ‘Where is the church?’ Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing society?’ It is sheer hypocrisy on our part to raise our eyebrows, shrug our shoulders or wring our hands. The Lord Jesus told us to be the world’s salt and light. If therefore darkness and rottenness abound, it is our fault and we must accept the blame.
4. Christians must retain their Christian distinctiveness.
If salt does not retain its saltiness, it is good for nothing. If light does not retain its brightness, it becomes ineffective. So we who claim to be Christ’s followers have to fulfill two conditions if we are to do any good for Him. On the one hand we have to permeate non-Christian society, and immerse ourselves in the life of the world. On the other, while doing so, we have to avoid becoming assimilated to the world. We must retain our Christian convictions, values, standards and lifestyle.
If asked what the ‘saltiness’ and ‘brightness’ of Christian holiness are, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount gives us the answer. Jesus tells us not to be like others around us: “Do not be like them’ – Matthew 6:8a. Instead, He calls us to a greater righteousness (of the heart), a wider love (even of enemies), a deeper devotion (of children coming to their Father) and a nobler ambition (seeking first God’s rule and righteousness). It is only as we choose and follow His way, that our salt will retain its saltiness, our light will shine, we shall be His effective witness and servants, and exert a wholesome influence on society.
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