SALT AND LIGHT

Activated - - ACTIVATED - By Peter Am­s­ter­dam, adapted

Je­sus opened the Ser­mon on the Mount

with the Beat­i­tudes, which pro­vide an over­view of how He in­tends for those who fol­low Him to live their faith. Through­out the rest of the Ser­mon, He ex­pressed fur­ther and more de­tailed prin­ci­ples which build on the Beat­i­tudes.

One of those prin­ci­ples, fol­low­ing right after the Beat­i­tudes, is:

“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. 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.”

1 In the an­cient world, salt was much more im­por­tant than it is to­day. The Mo­saic Law re­quired that sac­ri­fices made in the tem­ple con­tain salt, and Ro­man sol­diers re­ceived a por­tion of their wages in salt. A small amount of salt added to food per­me­ates the whole dish, mak­ing it taste so much bet­ter. The at­tributes spo­ken of in the Beat­i­tudes and through­out the Ser­mon on the Mount ra­di­ate from true fol­low­ers of Je­sus and in­flu­ence oth­ers for the bet­ter. Thus they are like “salt,” fla­vor­ing ev­ery­one around them.

Since an­cient times, salt has also been used to pre­serve food, mainly fish and meat, keep­ing them from be­com­ing pu­trid and de­cay­ing. The in­flu­ence of be­liev­ers in the world can and should in­flu­ence in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety in a man­ner that works to pre­serve good and godly val­ues, and counter those the Bi­ble de­scribes as un­godly. We Chris­tians are meant to be a pos­i­tive spir­i­tual and moral force in the world through our ex­am­ple of liv­ing Je­sus’ teach­ings, do­ing what we can to em­u­late Him, and shar­ing the good news of sal­va­tion with oth­ers.

We know to­day that pure salt (sodium chlo­ride) will not lose its salti­ness. How­ever, salt in Je­sus’ day wasn’t pure, since there were no re­finer­ies. Salt in Pales­tine gen­er­ally came from the Dead Sea. It was more pow­der­like than the salt most of us are fa­mil­iar with to­day, and it con­tained a mix­ture of other min­er­als. Since sodium chlo­ride was the most sol­u­ble part of the mix­ture, it could

be washed out or dis­solved if it was ex­posed to con­den­sa­tion or rain­wa­ter. When that hap­pened, even though the white pow­der that was left still looked like salt, it nei­ther tasted like nor had the pre­serv­ing prop­er­ties of salt. It was good for noth­ing. Like taste­less salt, dis­ci­ples who lack gen­uine com­mit­ment to dis­ci­ple­ship be­come in­ef­fec­tive.

Je­sus then used an­other metaphor about light, point­ing out that a dis­ci­ple’s life is meant to light up the world around them, and that dis­ci­ples whose lives do not re­veal the Father’s works are like lights which aren’t seen. The world needs the light of Je­sus, and His dis­ci­ples are to be vis­i­ble, like a city on a hill—which can be clearly seen from far away in both day and night, due to its lights.

Je­sus also spoke of a lamp that gives light within a house. A typ­i­cal peas­ant house in Is­rael con­tained only one room, so one lamp would have lit up the en­tire house. A do­mes­tic lamp in Je­sus’ day was a shal­low bowl of oil with a wick. It was nor­mally sta­tion­ary, placed on a lamp­stand. Je­sus points out that peo­ple put the lamp on the stand to light the whole house; they don’t put it un­der a bas­ket where the light can’t be seen. A bas­ket, trans­lated in some Bi­ble ver­sions as a bowl, was a ves­sel which was used to mea­sure grain and held about nine liters. It was made from ei­ther earth­en­ware or reeds. Putting such a ves­sel over the lamp would com­pletely hide the light and even­tu­ally put it out al­to­gether.

For the lamp to ful­fill its pur­pose of giv­ing light, it needs to be vis­i­ble; so cov­er­ing the light would be ab­surd, since it would work against the pur­pose of the lamp. Like­wise, to be ef­fec­tive Chris­tians, we are to live in a man­ner which al­lows oth­ers to see that we are Chris­tian, to see how a life in align­ment with Je­sus’ teach­ings is lived. In the same way that a city set on a hill is clearly seen, and a lamp gives light to the whole house, we are to be light from God to those we in­ter­act with.

Later in the Ser­mon on the Mount, Je­sus in­structs His dis­ci­ples that they shouldn’t let oth­ers see when they do good works, which seems at first glance to be in con­flict with what He says here: “Let your light shine be­fore oth­ers, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In liv­ing our faith, we are to do all we can to re­flect God—be­ing lov­ing, mer­ci­ful, and com­pas­sion­ate

in our ac­tions; help­ing oth­ers, giv­ing to those in need, etc. Our goal, how­ever, should be to do these things for God’s glory, not our own. Our pur­pose for help­ing oth­ers, for putting Je­sus’ teach­ings into ac­tion, needs to be our com­mit­ment to love God and to love our neigh­bor as our­selves. It is part of who we are as Chris­tians, as our pur­pose is to live in a way that glo­ri­fies God. Since we have be­come part of God’s fam­ily, we re­flect His at­tributes be­cause He is our Father.

Be­ing fol­low­ers of Je­sus and His teach­ings is meant to set us apart. As Je­sus said, “You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world.”

2 The apos­tle Paul ex­pressed it this way: “One time you were dark­ness, 2. John 15:19 ESV 3. Eph­e­sians 5:8–9 ESV but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as chil­dren of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”

3 Dis­ci­ples of Je­sus are the light of the world, and like a city set on a hill which can’t be hid­den, like a lamp that gives light to all within the house, we are called to let the light that is within us shine in a man­ner that oth­ers can see, so that they will give glory to God. As Chris­tians, we are meant to re­flect the light of God into our world in or­der to light the path­way to Him. It is part of the job de­scrip­tion of a be­liever.

The call­ing of Chris­tians is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To be ef­fec­tive and true to our call­ing, we must re­main salty and keep our light from be­ing cov­ered; other­wise we be­come in­ef­fec­tive—salt that has lost its fla­vor, light which ben­e­fits no one. Our com­mit­ment as fol­low­ers of Je­sus is to live His teach­ings so that the light within us shines be­fore oth­ers; so that they will see our good works, our lov­ing ac­tions, how we con­duct our­selves in God’s love, and they will take no­tice and see God’s re­flec­tion within us. The hope is that they will want to know what has made us the way we are, thus open­ing the door to tell them of God’s love for them, re­sult­ing in them en­ter­ing a re­la­tion­ship with Him and fur­ther glo­ri­fy­ing Him.

May each of us truly be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

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