This post is the final part of a series exploring the Beatitudes and the Salt and Light passage at the beginning of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5. In this post, I explore the “salt and light” passage following the Beatitudes.

Before reading about today’s Beatitude, you may wish to consult the 4 principles for interpreting the Beatitudes (HERE). These principles help us read the Beatitudes in light of the Sermon on the Mount and one another.

You are the salt of the earth

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” ~ Matthew 5:13

The first time I took a deep look at Matthew 5 was in 2007 – 2008 when I preached through the Gospel of Matthew. Since that time, I have studied this passage and the whole of the Sermon on the Mount off and on every couple of years. Through my studies, I’ve come to find that God’s people consider one or both of these more common uses of salt as the meaning behind Jesus’s statement.

  • Salt as an enhancer. Salt by itself is not appetizing. Add a dash of salt to a chocolate chip cookie, sprinkle it on a steak with some butter and pepper, or add it to your steamed vegetables and *pow* you’ve got a great meal! Perhaps Jesus means that His disciples enhance the work of God in the world, increasing the beauty and grace that God has already set into motion.
  • Salt as a preservative. Before the advent of refrigerators, the only way people could prevent raw meat from rotting was to cure it with salt. During the process of curing meat, a super-saturated salt water called a brine is created. The brine dries out the meat and prevents pathogenic bacteria from growing. Just as salt transforms rotting meat into something good, disciples are agents of transformation in the world who work against the rotting influence of sin and working the healthy reality of righteousness, justice, and holiness into the world.

These are not the only uses and purposes of salt (here’s a list of 60+ ways you can use salt!), but I believe that Jesus has one or both of these in mind when He says “you are the salt of the earth.” Believers enhance what God is doing in the world, and work in ways to preserve the world from the depravity of sin.

In either case, it is Christ who makes the believer salt or light—we cannot do this ourselves. On that note, on to “you are the light of the world!”

You are the light of the world

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus’ disciples are the light of the world in three ways. First, Jesus’ disciples are lights in their immediate sphere of influence: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:15). The Greek word for “house” is oikos, which means the entirety of one’s social network. God in His sovereignty rescues the disciple from darkness, not her neighborhood, school, workplace, leisure activities and community at large. She remains in her oikos so that she might proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring light to those who still trapped in darkness (c.f. 1 Cor 7:17a, 20, 24).

“Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Second, Jesus says that when His disciples come together and proclaim the Gospel as a church, the light of the Gospel penetrates the darkness of the community around them. Their collective light is so bright that it stands out like a city on a hill in the midst of the darkness of a moonless night. The church is the beacon of truth, the source of hope and the warm welcome from the cold dark night of sin to all who are in despair.

Third, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). The church and the disciple not only proclaim the words of light, but they actively engage in the deeds of light so that God may be glorified. The deeds of light give credence to the words of light. They provoke people to glorify God because they are unexplainable, other worldly and from another kingdom and realm of power all together. The deeds of light never glorify the person or church, but always bring glory to the Father.

A warning

There is a warning in this passage. Salt can lose its saltiness and light can be hidden. When salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing except to be trampled under feet as dirt. When a light is hidden, it cannot fulfill its illuminating purpose.

How do we lose our saltiness? One way salt loses its saltiness is by mixing it with another substance. For instance, if you mix salt and sand, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. Putting that mixture on food would not bode well for your teeth or your stomach. Christians that mix themselves with the values and objectives of this world find that they are no longer effective enhancers or preservers. Such “worldly Christians” accommodate their teaching so that church is less offensive at the expense of sound doctrine, or they may justify a lifestyle of sin at the expense of holiness.

How do we hide our light? We hide our light in many ways: when we do not share our faith out of fear, when we do not advocate for God and His ways when we see them transgressed in our church community, or when we turn a blind eye to oppression and injustice. We hide our light whenever we make the choice to privatize or sanitize our faith.

You are the salt of the earth! Go be the enhancer and preserver God made you to be.

You are the light of the world! Let your light shine and spread the Good News!

Take the next step (5 minutes)

  • Pause and ask the Holy Spirit to help you assess your saltiness. In what ways are you being mixed with the world and your witness diluted? What must you repent of and trust the Spirit to free you of in order to restore your saltiness? Enjoy the forgiveness of the Father and salt the earth!
  • Next, ask the Holy Spirit to help you assess your illumination in your immediate context and as a church. Are you glorifying the Father, or showcasing yourself or your ministry? Do you need to repent of having hidden your light in recent days? Enjoy the forgiveness of the Father and illuminate the world!

In this series

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Metanoia LogoMetanoia Church (Ellicott City, MD) is a spiritual community moving toward Jesus Christ.