Salt and Light

Salt, Light, Culture, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew

Whenever you are looking for a new job, it is a good idea to ask to see the “job description” for that job. A job description lists what is expected from the particular position. People end up frustrated in their jobs when what is expected is not clear.

This morning we are going to look at the Christian’s job description. We will see what Jesus expects from His followers. This is important because you need to know “what you are getting into” when you become a follower of Jesus.

Today we will look at the general description. In the weeks ahead the Lord will spell out the specifics of how this plays out in daily life. These are familiar words to most of us. Please listen to them as a job description.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Jesus is saying the same thing in two different ways. He tells us that we should have an impact on the world around us. Jesus always choses His illustrations (or His words) carefully. So, it would benefit us to look at the characteristics of salt and light to learn a little more about what Jesus calls us to be.

Salt

Salt served a couple of different purposes in the day of Jesus. The first and most common use of salt was as a preservative. At a time when refrigerators did not exist, salt was used to keep things from going bad and becoming rotten, particularly meat. Salt slowed the rate of spoilage.

Chuck Swindoll wrote,

Slowly but surely our world is rotting from within. Not only are civilizations in the process of decaying, but morals are, as well. If Rip Van Winkle were still sleeping and awoke from his nap today, he would be shocked at the eroding standards of our time. What our culture accepts as the norm would have been considered scandalous back when he went to sleep. (Simple Faith p. 47)

Chuck’s book was published in 1991. My guess is that he could not have imagined the moral erosion that would take place in just the next 25 years.

Jesus tells us that the world needs us to be the followers of Christ that we were called to be. If we want to make an impact on the world’s system, we must be distinct from it, not identical to it.

There are some who think the world is getting better. There was a time when people believed there would no more war . . . they believed World War 1 was the war to end all wars. Others believed (and still believe) if we could just educate people enough the world would march toward perfection. Some people think all we need is political reform (even though they can’t agree on what kind of reform is needed). Others think that if we pass enough laws we can move others toward perfection. However, most reasonable people recognize that the world is eroding. Values are decaying and most of us are waiting for some kind of inevitable crash or judgment to arrive from God. The world desperately needs Christians to bring a great deal of salt to the table.

Some Christians believe they need to withdraw from society. Back in the days of the monks the devoted would wall themselves off in monasteries. Now we tend to simply hang around with our own groups and keep faith as something we only share with other believers like us. We cannot be salt in the world if we never leave the saltshaker.

There is a rapidly enlarging group that seems to believe (like in the days of the Roman Empire) that the problem of society is actually the Christians! They say Christians are divisive. Their solution is to seek to find ways to neutralize the Christian influence in society. R.C. Sproul sees a parallel to the Native Americans.

When the settlers came to this country and were met by Native Americans, a war broke out. The Indians were subdued. They were allowed to live in America but only under restrictions, and they were relegated to reservations, which isolated them from the mainstream of cultural life. I fear that is similar to the lot of the Christian church in our day: we are allowed to exist as long as we stay on our reservation. If we were salt like the disciples were salt, if we ventured as boldly into the public square as Paul did in the early church, we would experience jail and beatings and persecutions. We have been taught to keep the salt in the saltshaker, where it will do no harm. Despite the resistance of a decaying culture, that same culture is kept from self- destruction by the influence of Christ and His people. We are called not to wring our hands and groan about how bad things are becoming; we are called to preserve what is worth preserving in the world around us. Sproul loc 1413

It is our job to live the way God has called us to live. Jesus says that when we do this we will impact the world around us in positive ways.

Think about how a conversation might change when you walk into a room. A coarse joke may stop. People may (or may not) apologize for their profane (thesaurus lacking) language. People suddenly justify their behavior. Instinctively, people sense the higher moral standard of someone who follows Christ boldly and fully. It is not just with Pastors (even though we have seen some people turn very red and begin choking when they learn who we are and what we do for a living).

Jesus warns us about losing our saltiness. This happens when we adapt to the world in which we live. When we simply become another lobbying group, when we put our hope in political candidates rather than in the Lord, when we adapt our theology to the desires of the masses, and when we approach worship based on market research . . . we have lost our saltiness. When we negotiate our values and when we want to be like everyone else, we have nothing to offer the world because, quite frankly, we are just like them. Even those awkward conversations will no longer be awkward.

Second, Salt adds flavor. We have probably all reached for the salt shaker on occasion (some of you carry one with you) to add a little more zest to our meal. The gospel brings meaning, purpose, joy, direction, and life to the world in which we live.

If you look at history you will see that the church more than any other institution was responsible for the beginning of higher education. Some of the earliest and most famous schools were formed by churches and initially led by Pastors. Many of the world’s great artists were Christian. Bach Mendelssohn, Handel and Vivaldi some of the most famous composers were unabashedly Christians. It was the church that started hospitals and established the first orphanages. It is hard to imagine what this world would be like without the influence of Christians.

We cannot give up looking for ways to help others. We must not stop being salt/light in the world.

Third, salt produces thirst. If you are trying to make money at a concession stand put lots of salt on your popcorn and people will return to buy beverages (and you can even raise their price a little).

Our job is to live in such a way that the world around us begins to thirst for a taste of the goodness and grace of God. As we live out our faith it should lead others to see that we have what they have been looking for. Hopefully they will want to learn about our Savior. Not everyone will (some will be hostile) but some will.

We are the Light of the World

In John 8:12 Jesus said,

I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Jesus does not tell us to “become the light” He said we ARE the light of the world. We are light by virtue of our relationship with Him. Because He is in us we become the lens through which His light shines.

Jesus uses a different image to describe our current world. Instead of it being a decaying mess, it is a place of darkness. Darkness is when you can’t see where you are or where you are going. And it seems and accurate description of our time. People run after every new fad and program available to them. But nothing satisfies.

The only way out of the darkness is by following the One who is the Light of the World: the Lord Jesus. And the only way most people will find the Lord, is by seeing His reflection in us.

Light, like salt, does a couple of things. First, it helps you to see. This is why you have headlights on a vehicle and streetlights along the roadway. This is why most of us make sure we have flashlights and candles available for power outages. Without light you run into things and you become disoriented.

The Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light for eyes. It helps us see what is and helps us understand what life is about. His light guides us to what is true, beneficial, and life-giving. So . . . the teaching of God’s Word is not merely an academic exercise. It is the most basic and important survival books. Unfortunately, many listen to the Bible like they do the Stewardess as she explains the safety features on the airplane . . which is almost not at all.

Second, Light exposes what is hidden. That is a double edged sword. Light makes it possible to identify dangerous obstacles but it also exposes what we would like to keep hidden.

Most people do not like this. It is a common fact that the closer you get to Jesus, the more clearly you will see your own sin. No one likes to see their own sin. No one wants to hear that what they are doing is wrong.

Imagine being in a horrible accident and you are pretty torn up by things and your face is disfigured. You might tell everyone that you know you are fortunate and you will need time to heal.

The first time you look in a mirror you want to throw up. You may even be angry at the one who held the mirror. You are angry because by looking in the mirror you have to face the truth (kind of like stepping on a scale). You may tell family and medical staff to get rid of all the mirrors near the patient! But does that change anything? You are still disfigured.

This is the way people react to the realization of their own sin. They are horrified by what they see. They try to destroy Christians so that the “mirrors” will go away.

That leads to the third observation Light shines most brightly when in the darkest places. Shining flashlights at each other when it is noon on a sunny day will have no effect. We will find it hard to even know if the light is turned on. However, if you shine your light in my eyes in the dark, it will blind me for awhile. It might even make me angry because it is painful.

Once again let me quote Swindoll,

When you live in the darkness, you not only have no ray of light, you don’t even know where home is. That is the way it is for the majority of the world. Some folks are born, raised, and die in cultures that have never even seen the first flashlight of home. Imagine it!

When the truth of that hits me, I find myself a little impatient with Christians who do nothing but shine light for themselves. They even have what we might call flashlight parties where they just shine the light on each other. Lots of light! Too much light to be hoarded! Jesus says to shine for the world, Shine your light into the darkness; that’s where it is really needed. Spend less time in your own little well-lighted all-Christian world and more time out there in the darkness. (Simple Faith p.53)

It is good advice. We need to cultivate non-Christian friendships. We must find that balance which allows us to be in the world but not become of the same mindset with the world

Lessons for our Lives

First, Jesus tells us that there is no such thing as a “secret Christian”. Jesus was clear, you don’t hide your light under a bushel. You must let it shine for all to see. And as to salt, Jesus said when salt is no longer salty it is worthless. For salt to function it has to come out of the saltshaker!!!

If you are trying to follow Christ while at the same time living like everyone else in the world, then you aren’t really trying to follow Christ at all! And, if you aren’t trying to follow Christ . . . then it only follows that you are not a true believer, you may merely be just a fan.

Second, our role in the world is important. If you silence true believers it is like taking all the lifeguards out of the swimming pool or disbanding the military! The world may try to silence us but we must not let that happen. No matter what the consequence might be we must continue to stand on the truth of Scripture! God has made us the hope of the world! To this end we must work to make sure we are defined and recognized not for what we are against, but for the One whom we serve. It is the only hope for our world.

The answer to the problems of our world are not going to be solved by electing certain individuals, or establishing laws, or even writing amendments to the Constitution. The answer to the world’s problem is a Savior. The problem is sin and the answer is Jesus. Everything else is like a band-aid on a severely fractured limb. It gives the illusion of doing something, but it doesn’t solve a thing.

We must guard against the real danger of compromise. With the way the world is decaying so rapidly we have to ask a painful question: have we lost our saltiness? Is our light in need of recharging? Has the church lost its way by trying so hard to be “acceptable” to the world we live in that we have lost our true identity? Are we functioning with no sense at all of the job description of the believer? Have we sold out to the values and ways of the world? These are sobering, but important question.

And what if we are guilty of compromise? How do we put new salt into the shaker of our lives? How do we get new power so that our lights shine brightly? The first step is to line up our own lives up with the Lord of Life. We must repent and confess that we have fallen for the deception of the world around us. We have become political rather than more Biblical. We have become characterized by anger rather than love. We have become indulgent rather than generous. And we have embraced the priorities of the world rather than seeking first the Kingdom of God. We must confess that we have drunk deeply of the Kool-Aid of the world. As His people we must repent and renew our commitment to Him.

When you have a job, if you spend all your time doing what other people want you to do; if you allow everyone else to adjust your job description to suit them; you will fail at doing what you were hired to do.

When all is said and done, the only person who will evaluate whether or not we have lived up to our job description is the Lord. His is the only opinion that should matter to us.

Second, we begin being salt and light in the world by doing everyday things for His honor and glory

  • Pursue a truly loving marriage
  • Use our money to help others rather than indulge ourselves
  • Make our worship of the Lord a priority that will not be compromised and lets make it about Him rather than about us.
  • Live ethically and honestly even in a world of corruption
  • Be honest about our struggles and in our dealings with each other
  • Make time for other people; especially hurting people.
  • Treat our children (or our parents) with honor
  • Live our lives by Scriptural guidelines even if the world does think it is archaic

In the weeks ahead Jesus is going to get very specific as to what salt and like should look like in the world. The way to start is to do the job our job description describes.

So, let’s make a difference this week. Let’s do that by serving the King and doing so without reservation. And as you do so, don’t be surprised if other people start watching you to see what makes you tick. And when the opportunity is right, joyfully introduce them to Jesus.

Scripture:

Matthew 5:13-16