Matthew 5: 13-16
Matthew chapter 5 and verses 13 through 16: We continue our study here in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has explained to the disciples the heart, the character, and the attitude that he wants to see produced in their lives. In the first 12 verses we looked at - these what are called the Beatitudes, a powerful message of God's transforming power, of how He can change the inside of you, change your heart - and this is what a true disciple of Christ is all about.
What Jesus continues to do in this passage is to be very direct with the disciples. Throughout this sermon, as Jesus began to do in verse 11, He addressed the disciples very directly. Note that Jesus used the words 'you' and 'your' 171 times in this short sermon. He was being very direct with them. He was declaring to them what their lives must become, if these Beatitudes have truly become a part of their lives. He explained how they would affect the world around them. What was to be their place in this world, and the purpose for their existence? Read with me what Jesus has to say, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”
Now what Jesus does here is gives us two incredible metaphors – these two images of salt and light describe our place and our position in this world. Many times people come to me and they tell me, “Steve, you know I have this particular profession - I'm a carpenter, plumber or secretary) and they state their particular profession.” People say to me, “It just seems meaningless what I do. What judges do, seems to have some meaning, what you do has meaning.” They declare to me that they don't see any real eternal purpose in what they are doing. And I say to them, “You are missing the actual purpose for which you are alive, for which you have been created, for why you have been saved. And when you miss this, you miss it all. Before you are a carpenter, a doctor, an attorney, or a nurse, or a secretary, you are first and foremost salt and light in this world. That is your primary calling, your primary profession as an individual, as a Christian in this life. And only when you see your primary calling in this life will you be good at what life in general. If you lose sight of this primary purpose for being alive then you lose sight of everything. This is also why your profession seems so meaningless. It's because you missed this primary purpose for your life. So, this is one of the most profound questions you must answer - what's your place in this world, why are you here, why are you doing what you're doing today? Well here is the answer; you are to first and foremost be salt and light in this world.
Now, consider the metaphor of salt here in verse 13 - Salt has a threefold purpose. First, salt is a preservative against corruption. Therefore, it is an image that speaks of purity and of holiness. It's an image in Scripture that is used in direct opposition to leaven. Leaven is also a picture used in Scripture. The bread that the people ate at Passover, or the sacrifices that the people offered under the Old Covenant had to be free of leaven. Leaven is a corrupting agent, and salt is purifying agent. The Scripture tells us that every single sacrifice that was offered before God was to be seasoned with salt. You see this fact in Leviticus 2:13 where it says, “In every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering.” And he says here in general, “With all your offerings.” That included the actual sacrificing of lambs, bulls or goats. He said, “With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” So, salt was this picture of a preservative. Of course, in those days when they slaughtered an animal, they had no refrigeration, they could not just put some of their meat in the freezer. And so, what they did was they rubbed salt on it and that's what kept the meat from decaying and enabled it to last a little longer than usual. So, salt was a protection and a preservative against corruption.
Second, salt was a flavoring agent for food just as it is today. Now right here in our text, Jesus said in verse 13, “But if the salt loses its flavor how will it be seasoned.” So clearly, the intent of salt is to season your meat. I love salt on many things that I eat. Think of what food would be like without any salt? Today most of the process food that we buy in our stores has salt already included in it. Why is it there? It's a preserving agent that we still use today for that ultimate end - for preservation, but it's also used to flavor. Being a flavor in this world really pictures the influence that you have in this world. You are to be the flavor of Christ in this world. You are to give zest to the world because of who you are in Christ. So, first you preserve those around you from corruption in the world and then you give them the flavor of Christ. Remember, don’t lose that flavor or you miss the purpose of life.
Third, without salt life cannot be sustained. Scientists who understand the structure of the cell and the processes that occur within the cells of your body explain the without salt your cell could not function. Without salt cells cannot reproduce. Why? Salt regulates the hydration of the cell, and thus regulates your entire body. Salt regulates the elimination of toxins from every single cell inside you. So salt is essential for life. Life could not exist without salt. So that is the image that Jesus is drawing here. He is saying to His disciples, “Look, you are to be a preservative in the world because of what I've done in your life - by how I've changed you. You will preserve your life, you will preserve the relationships around you, you will preserve your church, and your nation. This is also why Jesus told his disciples to have salt in yourselves. Notice, Mark 9:49 and 50 he said, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” Note that Jesus brings the Old Testament concept of salting a sacrifice into the New Testament. He said, “Salt is good but if the salt loses its flavor how will you season it.” Then He states, “Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another.” Therefore, to be salty as His disciple is what brings peace into our midst, it's a preservative of peace in relationships with one another. Why? If you are living in a godly way as is described in these first 12 verses of this chapter, then you will be a meek individual – you will be a peacemaker, you will be merciful - and what does that do? It brings peace to your relationships. So having salt in yourselves is essential for your own spiritual life, to keep you alive spiritually, which then affects and influences those around you in your family, in this church, and in our community, and ultimately our nation as a whole. So before you can be the salt of the earth you must first allow the Lord, the Salt - the True Salt to purify you. Notice back in verse eight of the Beatitudes He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” The salt of purity in your own life is essential to your own spiritual health and progress, and it is essential to this church as a whole. Purity is essential to your marriage and every relationship that you have. The greater you are purified within the more you will be transformed and that will keep peace in the midst of your relationships. Now, if you see this purpose of salt, what it means biblically and how important it is to you physically, then you will begin to grasp how important your life is in this world as a follower of Christ.
One last historical point about salt that is important. Did you know that wars have been fought over salt? You think to yourself that's crazy. That can’t be! No, people saw the value of salt, and that sometimes salt was more valuable than gold, because it was able to preserve the very food that sustained life. For example, during the Civil War the first thing that the Union Army did was they took the salt works that were in Louisiana so the Confederates could not preserve their meat. That was one of the primary things that the Union Army believed was essential to win the war. The Roman soldier - part of his salary was given in salt. This is where we get the word salary. It comes from the word salt. This is also where we get the saying that someone is worth his salt, or worth his salary. So, salt is a very powerful image and has had an important purpose throughout history.
So, how can you preserve the world around you as a Christian full of salt? First, you become salt by allowing the Lord to give you that godly character that is described in verses one through 12. This is why Jesus places this particular encouragement to His disciple’s right after explaining the Beatitudes. So, let's look at the Beatitudes again. What are the essential attitudes that you need within you? You must see yourself that you are poverty-stricken spiritually. You must see that you have nothing to offer God. When you see that you have nothing spiritually good inside of you, then you mourn for your sin in humility and repentance before God. You then become meek before God, which enables you to receive from Him and enables you to be meek towards others. This attitude of heart gives you that hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is what drives you to grow and mature and to pursue what He wants you to seek. God continues to change you from within by making you merciful towards others. Without mercy your relationship with other people cannot be sustained, because they're sinners and you're a sinner, and sinners offend other sinners. As you stay merciful, that's what gives you that purity of heart before God. Mercy is also what makes you a peacemaker toward others. God gives you a willingness to suffer for Him, and what He wants to do in this world. These are the characteristics of a godly man or godly woman. This is what makes you a preservative in this world. It's what enables you to have an influence upon the people that are the closest to you. The Father wants you to be an influence upon your spouse and your children. They need to see what a real godly man or woman looks like. Your influence will also protect them from the corruption that is all around. This world is full of corruption, and as a Christian you are the preservative of this world.
The second way that you can be salt in this world is by your speech. Paul said in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace and seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Notice what the Apostle declares here. That salt seasoned speech is graceful speech. It is loving speech. The words that come from your lips build up other not tear them down. Paul also declared in Ephesians 4:29, that you are not to allow any corrupt communication to proceed out of our mouth, but only that which is good for edifying, that we might minister grace to the hearers. Therefore, Paul connects the issue of graceful speech with salt. So, the question is, are you a gossiper, do you condemn, are you verbally harsh or hypercritical with people? If you are, that speech is the exact opposite of salt.
Notice that Jesus goes on to say in verse 13, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor how will it be seasoned? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” What does Jesus mean by these statements? He's declaring that being salt in this world is essential. In other words, if you are not a godly influence in this world then there is no reason for you to exist. There is no reason for you to live your life, because you are not fulfilling a very purpose you were created for. Your godly lifestyle and godly speech are very important to the Kingdom of God. Notice what James teaches about our speech. He said in James 1:26, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.” Useless religion is like useless salt. Therefore, if you don't control your tongue, and you speak in a harsh and hypercritical way towards others, you are a tale bearer, you are a gossip, what kind of influence are you having on those around you? You are having the opposite effect of salt. You are destroying, ruining, hurting, and offending. Only when this kind of treatment comes your way - do you then realize how hurtful and offensive your harsh or evil communication has been.
In addition, when you stand for what is true and righteous in this world, you become a preservative against the corruption that is all around you. Your life is a preservative. You become the flavor of Christ in this world. It is also that which keeps all the people that are around you from going in a direction of corruption. You see you have a tremendous influence in your family, you have an influence in this church, and this church has an influence in this community. Every church across our land has an influence in our nation as a whole. I believe that the decline of our nation is a revelation of the decline of the church, and where the church is really at today. The church is not fulfilling its place as salt or light in this world, and so our nation is experiencing the results of that right now. In Proverbs chapter 14:34, it says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” Righteousness is what exalts our nation. 'Exalts' is a Hebrew word that literally means to lift up or to cause to grow. The word 'reproach', in the phrase “but sin is a reproach to any people” - That Hebrew word means shame and disgrace or that which causes shame our nation. I believe when you look at the $15 trillion that our nation owes to other countries is proof that our nation is in decline. I believe because the church is in decline, because the church is not standing for righteousness as it should. Therefore, our nation is in servitude to other nations through our debt. Scripture says that the borrower is servant to the lender. We are servants to these lender nations. Only a truly righteous man or woman can be one that causes a nation to be exalted which causes it to grow and mature. This is why you need to be salt and light in this world. Look at where our nation first began, and look at where we are today! If we are not salt, Jesus makes a very clear statement, He said, “You are good for nothing but to be thrown out and trodden under the foot of a man.” And if we don’t see a repentance in our land, then we will fall as a nation, we will become the dust under another nation’s feet.
Now, can salt lose it saltiness? Yes, absolutely. Dr. Thompson taught in his book, The Land and the Book, he declared that whenever salt comes in contact with the earth and it's allowed to be exposed to the elements of the rain and the sun, that in time it will lose it saltiness. Whenever salt was stored and it became insipid like this, and the salt lost its saltiness, they would throw it out. They would take it and they throw it out on the walkways where people walked to kill the weeds and keep the weeds from growing back. Why would they do this? The salt wasn't any good anymore for its original use. So Jesus is using here a clear image that they all understood. He's saying if you or the church is not fulfilling the purpose it was created for, it is really good for nothing. There is no reason for us to be here, we're just playing church. But, if this church is truly the salt of the earth, it will be because you as an individual are salt. You have salt within yourself because you're experiencing God's purifying work inside you. You are affecting other people and that will bring about a powerful change in your life and those that you have contact with. Jesus said a very similar thing to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15 through 20. Let me read it to you. He said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish that you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, and become wealthy, and have need of nothing.'” So this is just the exact opposite of the first Beatitude. This church saw that they had need of nothing. The first Beatitude declares that you see you have need of everything, because you know you have nothing. Jesus said, “You say you are rich, and become wealthy, and have need of nothing - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked - I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, those garments of his righteousness that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Jesus was talking about that spiritual transformation that He wants to bring in a person's life - He says, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me.” In other words, Jesus told the Laodicean church they don't have to stay this way. They can change any time they choose. They must simply be zealous and repent. They must acknowledge their need and they have to come to Him. He's knocking on the door and saying, “Let me in.” Jesus was expelled from this church, as He has been from many churches across our land. He's not there.
But, is He here, that's the question? Is He in my heart? Is He inside of you? The only person who can answer that is you. Jesus said the same thing in John 15:6. He said to his disciples, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” The words, “If anyone does not abide in me,” is the same message as He gave to Laodicean church. It is the same message as in our text this morning. These are not passages that we like to read, these are stinging words. Jesus is being salt to us even as He is preaching that we should be salt in this world. If you are not salt you are not fulfilling the very purpose for which you have been saved for.
Now, let us consider the next metaphor that you are to be the light in this world. Note, verses 14 through 16. So, how can you be a light? This image is very different from the metaphor of salt, because it is the opposite of salt. Salt keeps something evil from happening, but light enables something good to occur. It's just the opposite! Jesus put these two images together because both are essential. I can't just be a preservative; I must also be a light. I have to not only resist what is evil, but I must encourage what is good and be an example.
Light has several purposes. Light illuminates, it reveals, it educates, it gives knowledge, and it overcomes the darkness. Jesus said in Luke 8:17, “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” So notice that Jesus speaks of a lights ability to reveal, give knowledge, or make something known. Jesus said of Himself in John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world I am the Light of the world.” Notice in that statement that Jesus is declaring that only as long as He is in this world would He be that light. He is telling them that He is not going to be here forever. I'm leaving. That is why he tells the disciples, you are the light of the world. So, He is declaring, I am only going to be here for a time. You can fulfill this responsibility because the Light of the world comes to live inside you. Thus you become that light. Therefore, you cannot be salt until you first have His purifying life within you. You cannot be light until the light of Christ comes to live inside of you. Isn’t this what it was like when you turned your life over to Christ? It's like turning on a light switch. What happens to the darkness in a room when you turn that light switch on? The light overcomes the darkness. Darkness must flee from the light. Scripture tells us in John 1:5 that the light shines in the darkness, referring to Christ, and the darkness does not comprehend it, or literally the word comprehend means to overcome. Darkness cannot overcome the light. Darkness will never overcome the light. Darkness only comes in the absence of light.
That is why our nation and the church are in decline today, because of the absence of the light of Christ. So, I must take seriously this issue of being a light, because I have responsibility and you have responsibility. We must be the light of the world. You can't just say, “Oh the church is so messed up, the nation is so messed up.” No, you have a responsibility to affect change in this world by being salt and light.
So, how can you be a light in the world, and let your light so shine that men will see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. Let me give you several ways that this takes place. The first way you can be a light is you must to come to the Light. This is where it all begins. For those of you that are here this morning and you don't know Christ personally, you have never committed your life to Christ, then this is where you must begin. You must to surrender your heart to Christ. You must receive Him personally who is the light of the world. This is how you come to light and become a light. Jesus said in John 3:20, “And everyone who practices evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed.” Jesus is explaining here the purpose of light, which is to expose the truth to you about yourself. When you share the gospel with someone they are either going to come to that light that you are sharing, or they are going to find every excuse, and rationale and reason to reject the truth, and to run from the light, because the light exposes their evil. Think of the first time somebody shared the Gospel with you? You probably wanted to run out of there as fast as you could. It was only later when you saw your need that you came running to the light of the Gospel.
Second, being a light means that you are an example of the life Christ brings to a human being. His life in you gives you is a powerful testimony and light in this world. Remember, light naturally brings life. This connection is made in the first couple of verses in the Gospel of John. John makes the point that life and light go together. Think about it in the physical world, without the sun light nothing would be able to grow on this planet. So, light and life are directly connected together. In John 8:12 it says, “Jesus spoke to them again saying I am the light of the world, he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Therefore, a person that comes to Him is going to leave their sinful lifestyle and begin to follow Christ. He is going to give them life. When this happens people are going to see this life inside you. You can’t hide it. A couple of weeks ago, I was going through the line at the grocery store and I'm paying for my food, and the checker there was standing, with a smile from ear to ear. This individual was just so full of life, it was so obvious, and I said to him, “Man, you seem really very happy today.” And the first thing he did was start sharing his faith in Christ. I said, “Wow, you're Christian.” He said, “yes sir.” I said, “So am I. But, I could tell there was something different about you.” There was life in this man. That is what the Holy Spirit will do inside of you. He gives you life. You know it. That life radiates out of you.
Third, being a light in this world refers to a walk of holiness, which again influences all of those around you. In Romans 13:12 Paul said, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand, therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” To walk in the light means I have to cast off the works of darkness, and that's holiness, that is purity. Here again is how the salt and light work together. When I came to the light, I turned away from my previous sinful lifestyle, which then enabled me to put on this armor of light. I like that term 'armor of light,' because that is exactly what the light of Christ is, a powerful weapon. Literally, this word armor actually means weapon. So then, the light of a holy life is a spiritual weapon that drives out the darkness and effects change in the world. Think of it this way, every time you go to God in prayer and ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit, it is like switching on the light switch in your personal life. The light changes you, and you become a powerful weapon in God’s hand for the kingdom of God.
Fourth, being a light in this world means that you faithfully speak God's message to others. Now this is the way Jesus described John the Baptist. He described him as a burning and shining light. Let me read John chapter 5:33 and then verse 35. He said of John, “You have sent to John and he has borne witness to the truth.” So this man was a witness to the truth. In verse 35 Jesus said, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” See this man was a burning shining light for Christ. And so if you want to be a light that's what you need to do. You need to speak up. You need to bear testimony to the truth. But, when people ask you about your faith, are you going to be silent, or are you going to speak up and give testimony, as the checker in the grocery store did with me. In other words, take every opportunity to share your faith. This is what it means to be like light.
Fifth, being a light means that you will speak His word in love. Remember that the light will expose evil. But, you need love to do that. Now this is an important, that you put these two truths together. You speak the truth in love, which then reproves the darkness that is all around. There are times when you have to speak up, and you have to say, “This is not right. I can’t participate in this. I’m sorry but, I can't do that.” When you must take this step that is light, that is exposing something that is evil. You're acknowledging, “I can't do that because it is evil, it's not right, I'm not going to partake in it.” When you take this position that's when you're going to get some persecution. People will condemn you for taking a stand for righteousness. But, this is why you must speak the truth in love. You can speak the truth in a very harsh way, in a very haughty way, in a I’m holier than you way. If you do, that will not reveal the grace of God, or the love of God. Therefore, you must learn how to be tactful, gentle, loving, but direct and firm. I encourage people to speak in love and make it personal. You can say, “I have found that doing this only has destroyed my life. I don’t want to live that way anymore.” Then someone will respond, “Oh, really, why do you say that? How did this destroy your life?” Now you are sharing your testimony. You expose evil in a loving and personal way that opens up an opportunity to share the Gospel. You don't point the finger at somebody, you use your own life as an example. That's the simplest way to do it. And it's a very graceful, gentle way to share. Let me show this in Ephesians 5:8-11 - there Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” So here's how we become children of the light. Notice what he says, “The fruit of the spirit is in all goodness, righteousness and truth, proving what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” So here is this idea of light exposing that which is evil. But, how does he say to expose evil? He says, The fruit of the spirit is in all goodness, righteousness and truth. The fruit of the Spirit is not just found in Galatians 5:22-23 which is love, joy peace long-suffering, meekness, temperance and so on. It is much more than just an attitude of love; it is an action of righteousness. The fruit of the Spirit gives both. The Spirit gives you the right attitude of love, and He gives you the right action of righteousness. You must put these two concepts together. He is saying that this is what is acceptable to the Lord, and what allows the exposing of that which is evil in the correct way. It says in 1John 2:10, “He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in Him.” So love and abiding in the light are directly connected together in this text. Love and light are essential to walk in true righteousness. John declares this also in the first chapter of 1John, where he connects righteousness with light there too. One more passage in Philippians 2:14-15 he says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” How can you shine as lights in the world? What allows you to let your light shine? “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” These come from a holy life. It comes from a heart that is balanced with love and righteousness. I am not supposed to go around pointing out everybody else's sin. That's only going to cause disputes and conflicts. I should not be walking around murmuring and complaining all day. I should be living in a totally different way. If my heart has truly been changed, then that makes me the light that He intends me to be.
So, how can you hide your light under a basket? Yes, He warns you not to do that. You are not to light a lamp and put it under a basket. What would be the point? If I am truly the light of the world then I will be like a city that is set on a hill. It cannot be hidden. If you're walking in the light you can't be hidden. You can't be a secret disciple. Everybody's going to know there's something different about you. When Jesus was giving this sermon on the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee He had a city up on the hill as his example. That city is still there today on the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The name of the city is Sufed. It's a real city that still exists to this day, set up on the top of the hill. Jesus may have pointed to it as He spoke. A city set on a hill that cannot be hidden, because of its shining light. So if you want to be a light, don’t hide the fact you are a Christian. Don’t be silent about your faith. That's hiding your light under a basket. Don't go along with the crowd, and just do what everyone else is doing. Don't practice sin with the rest of the world. Don't go back to the works of darkness, because that's hiding what the Lord has done in your life. The Lord wants us to be men and women who are influencing all around us. You can only do that if you are salt and light. So, are you influencing anybody around you? Are you letting your light shine? God has a calling upon every single one of your lives. He wants to use you. Your life does make a difference. So be salt and be light.
Let's go to him in prayer. Father, we thank You this morning that you have come and revealed the True Light. That we might come to that light and enjoy the life that you want to give us. Father, I pray that you would cause every one of us today, at this very moment, to examine our hearts. Help us Father to see where were we are not being salt, not being the light that You desire us to be. Lord, help us to make the changes necessary. Turn us around. Lord, come and salt every one of our hearts with that purifying work of Your Spirit. Lord, fill each one of us with the light, the love, and the righteousness of Christ. Lord, make us men and women who truly are influencing those around us. We believe you do that. We believe You are working inside us, right now.
If you have never committed your life to Christ, or you are not sure if you truly are a Christian, I want to give you an opportunity to be forgiven and to experience the mercy of God. God will bestow His mercy on you right now if you will ask His forgiveness and invite Him to take over your life. He will cleanse your heart, if you will acknowledge your sin and be willing to turn from your sinful lifestyle to follow Him. If you want to receive Him right now, I would suggest praying and say, “Lord, forgive me. I acknowledge my sin. I have broken your law. Forgive me. Jesus, come in and take over my life. I receive you by faith right now. I want to be your disciple. If you just prayed with me, confess your faith to someone today. Send me an email at