On Being Salt And Light


Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16 

A popular saying among many in Christian circles is that "Jesus commanded us to be salt and light, not salty and lit." This is true, and the obvious reference is to the passage before us today. In this passage, Jesus identifies his disciples as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In context, this passage serves as a bridge between the beatitudes that came before this passage and the teaching on the proper interpretation of the Law that comes after this passage. In short, this passage is both an introduction and a conclusion, as well as an exhortation.

Those addressed in this passage are the same ones who were addressed in the beatitudes. That is, those who Jesus commanded to be poor in spirit, mourn over their sins, meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those Jesus warned would be persecuted for his sake--those who hear these words and cultivate these things through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives--these are the same ones who are identified as salt and light.

Jesus identified his disciples as the salt of the earth. To understand this, we need to understand two things about salt. First, salt is used as a preservative. That is, salt keeps things from going bad. Think of someone curing a piece of meat with salt. This is an example of using a salt's preservative properties. Second, salt adds taste to otherwise tasteless things. However, salt can also lose its taste. This "taste" function is the primary use for salt that we see today. These two properties of salt help us understand what Jesus was telling his disciples when he identified them as the salt of the earth.

Salt has a preservative function. That is, it keeps things from going bad. In identifying his disciples as the salt of the earth, Jesus was noting two things: first, Jesus was noting that God will work through the disciples to keep things from getting worse here on earth. That is, God is going to work through the disciples in such a way that there will be a clear alignment of what is done through the disciples with the perfectly good will of God. God works through the Church. Second, Jesus was warning his disciples to keep what they had been given through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. That is, Jesus is both exhorting the disciples to perseverance in the world, as well as warning them of the consequences of their failing to maintain their saltiness.

Salt also has a practical function. That is, it makes things tasteful. In the same way that salt has a practical purpose, so should our works and attitudes also be practical, albeit not in the way that the world thinks of practicality. If we become of no practical use to God in the work of building his Kingdom, then have we not lost our purpose? What then should we expect the end result of our loss of saltiness to be?

Jesus also identified his disciples as the light of the world. Jesus is warning his disciples to let the works they do in Jesus' Name, in accordance with God's will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, be clearly seen. In the same way that someone doesn't hide a light (lest the light become impractical), so a person should not hide the works that they do for God. This should not be done in a prideful way or in a manner that glorifies oneself, as we will see when Jesus addresses the topic of prayer and fasting. However, neither should we be known as people who do not pray and do not fast. Indeed, if we are not known as people who obey the teaching of Jesus, then how are we being a light to the world?  The ultimate outcome of the works that we do is that God be glorified. This should be our telos for what we do and how we live.

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