Having shown the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom and that persecution is most probable Jesus now tells us about the influence they should have on the world around them. ‘These two figures show that there must be something marked, distinct, and peculiar about our character, if we are true Christians.’ (J C Ryle) Both salt and light are different from their surroundings but they react with them.
“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.” (Matt 5:13)
Today it seems everyone is concerned about salt, supermarkets are telling us how much is in their products because dieticians are warning of the danger of eating too much salt. Yet there is nothing that enhances fish and chips like plenty of salt. When someone is said to be ‘the salt of the earth,’ we mean that there is something in them that is worthy or admirable and, of course, that should be true of us as Christians.
Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ and the word for ‘You are’ in the Greek is emphatic. Here Jesus is saying ‘you and only you’ are the salt or light. We tend to forget that it is only the citizens of the kingdom, the Christian, who has this dramatic, salt and light impact on the world.
Let us look at the uses for salt to get a clear idea of Jesus` meaning. First, salt is a preservative. It was the means of preserving meat before the cold store or refrigerator. Rubbed into the meat this would prevent the meat going rotten. It prevents putrefaction and decay. Second, salt is an irritant and a cleanser. Get some into a cut and you will know what I mean and although it really stings it is actually doing you good. Then finally, it adds or bring out the flavour of food, back to the fish and chips. Unfortunately food producers have been adding too much salt to camouflage tasteless or inferior foods. One noticeable characteristic of salt is that it is totally different from what it is put on.
Since the Fall the whole world is subject to death and everywhere we see decay. It seems as though there is nothing to prevent it or hold it back. Yet where the church, the collection of kingdom citizens, has had a positive influence on the nation there has been a restraint against revolution and anarchy. Salt rubbed in to prevent rot. Lives today are polluted by sin and who else but the Christian can bring a cleaning influence and a flavour for good? ‘The man who is wrong with God is like an open wound, and when ‘salt’ gets in, it causes annoyance and distress and he is spiteful and bitter.’ (Os Chambers) We are not to be ‘sugar,’ like a sort of religious saccharine, sweet but ineffective, but ‘salt.’
What a tragedy that, after such a magnificent description of the kingdom citizen (Matt 5:3-12) and his influence, Jesus should go on to speak about un-salty Christians. ‘The Sermon on the Mount is built on the assumption that Christians are different and issues a call to us to be different. Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and chequered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture.’ (J Stott) We are not fulfilling our purpose if we have no impact for good on the world around us. ‘Nothing is left once it loses the essential quality and purpose for which it has been made.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones)
Why is our nation as it is? Because the church has ceased to be the salt in the nation that it once was. Jesus` verdict – If we no longer act as salt we deserve to be thrown out!
“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.” (Mat 5:14-16)
Some like to be salt, to tell people where they are wrong, and ‘to rub it in’. Others like to be light, ‘look at me.’ Both are wrong! Jesus was talking to the same people so we should not be ‘salt’ unless we are also prepared to be ‘light.’ Salt prevents decay getting worse, light brings hope of better things.
God said Israel should be “a light to the nations,” (Isa 49:6) but by the time Jesus came they were in darkness which, in scripture, usually refers to sin. “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, to those who sat in the region and shadow of death, to them light has dawned.” (Matt 4:16) Jesus came bringing hope, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
As Jesus is ‘the light of the world’ He tells the kingdom citizens that they too will be, ‘the light of the world.’ The point is that we are supposed to be seen. In the TV series about Italy, I think it is called ‘Top to Toe,’ the presenter visited many of the Italian Hill-top towns. There is no way you could ever hide them, they are seen from miles away. The early Church did just that, within one generation, they took the gospel to the known world. ‘The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones) They said ‘This little light of mine, I`m gonna let it shine!’
Where has the tendency come from that says, ‘Be a Christian, live a good life, but don`t tell anyone?’ It is because many in the Church are not truly kingdom citizens. They are those of whom Lloyd-Jones says, ‘know enough about Christianity to spoil the world for him; but he does not know enough about it for it to be of any positive value.’ In the beatitudes those blessed ones mourned because of sin, their own and the worlds, and a had desire for God`s righteousness in their lives. That is what has happened. “For you were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Eph 5:8) How stupid it would be to want to continue stumbling about in darkness (sin).
When we look at the state of the world around us and believe that we cannot change anything or make a difference we probably will not bother. Paul says, “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” (Phil 2:15) We carry, by just being kingdom citizens, the message of true life, in all its abundance, and no one else can show the world it. That is why we are not taken to glory the moment we believe because we are to be light to the world. ‘The essential characteristic of light is that it is light, and it gives light, and it really has no other function whatsoever. In other words, the moment it ceases to act as light it has no value. Its essential quality is its only quality, and once it loses that, it becomes entirely useless.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones)
Who gets the praise? The mark of a true Christian, who is both ‘salt’ and ‘light,’ is that they have these qualities without being aware of it. Their lives are lived to the glory of God.