Pastor David B. Curtis


Believers ARE Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

Delivered 08/25/2002

Have you had an opportunity to rejoice this week as you were persecuted for righteousness? We saw in our last study that those who manifest God's character and proclaim His message of salvation by faith in Christ alone can expect persecution and rejection as a by-product:

Matthew 5:10 (NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A person shouldn't court persecution and rejection by being antagonistic, but by the very fact that a person manifests God's character and proclaims His message, that person will stir opposition and arouse persecution. And when persecution comes we are to rejoice:

Matthew 5:12 (NKJV) "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Why is it that we rejoice in being persecuted? We rejoice in persecution because that very suffering will receive a very great compensation and a very great reward. And the greater the suffering your faith endures, the greater the reward you will receive in heaven. So rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven!

Verses 13-16 of Matthew 5, which we are going to considered this morning, flow out of the first twelve verses and are actually a part of the same section. Verses 13-16 are tied very closely to the Beatitudes. The character and conduct of believers has been discussed in the first twelve verses. In this section, Jesus describes the influence of believers on the world with two metaphors - salt and light. The reason that believers are salt and light is that believers are manifesting God's character.

A Peanuts cartoon showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, "Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck." He said, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?" She said, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me."

While Peppermint Patty was seeking to pass the buck, she was in a very real sense right. We should be a good influence on our friends. We certainly do have an influence, for good or for bad.

In fact, a lot of people are watching us. I heard of a minister who was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn't say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the lad would leave. But he didn't. Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, "Well, son, trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?" "No," he replied. "I'm just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."

People are watching you! What do they see? What they see has an influence on them. And it should. You see, Jesus told us that we would have an influence in this world. Look at what He said:

Matthew 5:13-16 (NKJV) "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. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 "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. 16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

To what degree do you see this happening in our culture? This will only happen as we live out the character described in the beatitudes. When you see yourself as spiritually bankrupt before a Holy God, when you mourn over your sin, when you are meek, when you hunger and thirst after righteousness, when you are merciful, when you are pure in heart, when you are a peacemaker, when you are persecuted for righteousness sake, then and only then will you be salt and light.

G. Campbell Morgan, the famous former minister of Westminster Chapel in London, in his book, How to Live, told about a conversation he had after he finished preaching one evening. A man approached Morgan to tell him he had invited a fellow employee, one with whom he had worked for 5 years, to attend the service. He then said, "My suggestion came as quite a surprise to my friend. He responded to my invitation by saying, 'Are you a Christian?' And when I answered, 'Yes, I am,' he replied, 'Well, I am too!' Here we had worked beside each other for years, and we never knew that we were both believers in Christ. Wasn't that funny?" To the man's surprise, Morgan retorted, "Funny? No, it isn't funny at all! You both need to be born again." It was inconceivable to Morgan that two men could be truly saved and work side-by-side for 5 years and not be aware of their kinship as brothers in Christ.

George Barna's research has shown that the average Christian in the average evangelical church is almost indistinguishable from the rest of society. He is not talking about being different in some artificial and outward way that you might see in some legalistic churches. Rather, he is talking about the fundamental moral and ethical difference that Christ can make in how we live. When our teens get pregnant and do drugs at the same rate as the general teenage population; when our marriages end in divorce at the same rate as the rest of society; when we cheat in business, or lie, steal, and cheat on our spouses at the same statistical level as those who say they are not Christians - something is wrong.

Perhaps that is the reason why our influence has not been felt in a way that points people to Jesus. Think of it, over 25% of the population of America claims to be born again. Based on the impact they are having, that doesn't seem possible. But what if there are over 50 million Christians in America, just what would happen if they would really start living like citizens of the kingdom of God?

Does your life make a difference? What kind of difference do you make? Jesus is clear that we are to make a difference. Let's look at the explicit implications of what Jesus is saying and apply them to where we live:

Matthew 5:13 (NKJV) "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.

When Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth" (v.13) and "You are the light of the world"(v.14), He made a statement of fact. He did not say you should be the salt or you should be the light of the world. He said you are salt and light. The crucial thing is for us, as believers, to function as salt and light are intended to function. That is the purpose of the analogies Christ uses in His statements.

When Jesus spoke on the mountain to a bunch of insignificant and unlearned men of Galilee, telling them, "You are the salt of the earth," he was saying that the world was rotten and rotting in a spiritual sense. Isn't this still true today? People are wicked, sinful, and against God. They glory in their shame, and today many are coming out proudly declaring their lesbianism, homosexuality, and other deviant lifestyles. Evil has become good, and good has become evil.

This has been the situation in the world since the fall of man. Why? Because of the sin of human hearts:

Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

In the Greek verse 13 reads, "You, and you alone, are the salt of the earth". Why did Jesus say that to this small group of uneducated, poor, humble, Galilean disciples? He was telling them that although the world of men is rotting, they, as Christians, were to function like salt in the world. Why? They alone were different from the world. Like the world, they had also been dead, but from their depravity and spiritual death they had been delivered by the power of God and made alive by their relationship with Christ:

Ephesians 2:3-4 (NKJV) among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,

All Christians, then, are the salt of the earth. Why? We have been given new birth and a new nature - the divine nature - through union with Christ. Therefore, we must also live for the benefit of this rotting and rotten world.

In this short statement, Jesus was also warning his disciples to avoid two errors. First, he was saying that Christians must not forsake the world and go into monasteries. Why? Salt will do no good to meat unless it is rubbed into it. Only then will it function as an antiseptic. We are to be in the world so that the world may benefit by our difference from the world. And second, he was saying that Christians must also avoid the error of being one with the world and embracing its values and ways. These warnings are applicable to us today.

In our contemporary society, we may miss the real value of salt. Many ancient societies understood the value of salt far better than we. The Romans believed, for instance, that there was nothing as valuable as salt, except for the sun. Many Roman soldiers received their pay in salt. Some have said that it was from this practice that the phrase "not worth his salt" originated.

Those listening to Jesus as He preached would have understood salt of the earth to be a valuable commodity indeed. They may not have understood the fullness of what He meant, but they would have understood clearly that to be the salt of the earth was to be something very special and valuable.

There have been many theories offered as to the exact meaning Jesus intended to associate with this symbol. Some have said since salt is white, it represents purity. And Christians certainly ought to be pure. Others have said that since salt adds flavor, Christians should add flavor to the world. Still others have said that since salt stings in a wound, Christians should prick the conscience of the world and be an irritant to ungodly behavior. Again, some have said that since salt creates thirst, Christians should create a thirst for God in those who do not know Him.

While all these ideas have merit, I believe that the primary idea Jesus intended to communicate was that Christians, like salt, are to be a preserving influence on society. You see, the issue was the saltiness of salt. When salt loses its saltiness, or its potency, it is good for nothing anymore.

Salt functions as a preservative. It is an antiseptic which performs the negative function of preventing spoiling meat from becoming even more rotten and corrupt. In tropical countries where there is no refrigeration, people rub salt into meat to keep it from going bad. In the same way, when Christians come in close contact with the sinful people of the world, the world is kept from progressing further into unspeakable foulness. Christians benefit secular society. Without their presence, the world would degenerate at an even faster rate. As a moral antiseptic, Christians keep the corruption of society at bay by opposing moral decay by their lives and their words.

When Christians walk in fellowship with God and begin to express their Christianity through their lifestyle, the society cannot help but be changed. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, "Most competent historians are agreed in saying that what undoubtedly saved [England] from a revolution such as that experienced in France at the end of the eighteenth century was nothing but the Evangelical Revival. This was not because anything was done directly, but because masses of individuals had become Christians and were living this better life and had this higher outlook. The whole political situation was affected, and the great Acts of Parliament which were passed in the last century were mostly due to the fact that there were such large numbers of Christians found in the land."

Pure sodium chloride does not deteriorate. Jesus is probably emphasizing adulteration of character. It would be unthinkable for the disciples to lose their character just as for salt to become saltless. Believers are salt, and we cannot change what we are. But we can be adulterated by other things so that we lose any real impact. That is the warning of this passage, "If the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?"(v.13). Salt can become so mixed in with other things and diluted that it no longer functions effectively.

Note that Jesus was talking about individuals. Martin Lloyd-Jones has a very fine discussion on this issue in one of his commentaries. Many have tried to transfer to the church what is said to the individual. Such an approach concludes that the church is the salt in the world, and therefore, the church ought to be involved in politics, economics, and social work. But this statement is not addressed to the church as a body, but rather to the individuals who are to live out the life of Christ by manifesting His character and proclaiming His truth. This passage has nothing to say about the church trying to turn around the political, economic or social conditions of the world. The way you increase the impact of salt is to increase the amount of salt. In the metaphor Christ is using, the impact of believers is increased as the number of believers is increased.

The more salt in the world, the greater its preserving influence; a greater amount of salt will result in greater restraint of corruption.

You are the salt of the earth. If you are not functioning as God intends you to function, you are worthless in bringing glory to Him and in being a preserving influence in the world. That is what He says. Salt that has lost its saltiness is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. It is worthless. What a tragedy! What difference do you make in people that you come in contact with? Have you lost your saltiness?

He is talking about wasted lives. Believers are privileged to manifest the character of God and proclaim His truth, which will make an impact upon the world for God. What a tragedy to allow our lives to be useless because we become so diluted by being taken up with other things that we miss the purpose for which God has called us.

Matthew 5:14-15 (NKJV) "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 "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.

Salt is a hidden but powerful influence. Light is a visible and revealing influence. Jesus tells us that we are not only to be the salt of the earth, but also the light of the world. We are called to make a visible impact on the world around us.

What is light? In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many ancient Greek writings were discovered, and that period was called the Renaissance, meaning a rebirth. In the eighteenth century, people gloried in jettisoning revelation, meaning God and his authority. Then they enthroned reason - the fallen reason of man. What did they call this period of rationalism? The Enlightenment. Was this really enlightenment? No. It was an age of darkness.

Here we see Jesus Christ on a mountain speaking to a bunch of poor, humble, fisherman. What is he telling them? "You and you alone are the light of the world." What a great compliment this was! What great dignity God bestowed upon them! And this is true of you, if you are a Christian. If you trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, you alone are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Our light is a reflection of Jesus Christ who is the Light:

John 1:4-5 (NKJV) In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Jesus Christ was the light. He revealed God and made Him known. He brought the character and the truth of God to all who believed in Him. Verse 9 adds:

John 1:9 (NKJV) That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

It is through Jesus Christ that the true knowledge of God is made known. He brought the light and revealed the character and person of God. Jesus Himself claimed to be the light of the world:

John 8:12 (NKJV) Then 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."
Revelation 21:23 (NKJV) The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

Jesus is the light. Those who follow Him are in the light, and they themselves become the light. We are those who manifest the character of God. He resides in us, and our lives are a reflection of His character. Peter addressed the believer's purpose for existence in:

1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

So we proclaim the truth concerning Jesus. We are light, and our purpose is to make God known. If an unbeliever comes in contact with you, he ought to see in your life the reflection of the character of God. He ought to hear from your lips truth and that which is good. We are to be proclaiming the truth of His salvation.

Paul warned us about being partakers of those deeds that characterize the ones living in darkness. If we do participate in such deeds, it dilutes the impact of our lives:

Ephesians 5:7-9 (NKJV) Therefore do not be partakers with them. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),

When you read these passages, you cannot overlook the fact that we are light and that we have a responsibility to walk as children of light. This means that goodness, righteousness, and truth ought to characterize the way we live our lives as believers. This is what Jesus is emphasizing in Matthew 5.

President Woodrow Wilson told the story of an encounter he had. He said: "I was in a very common place, I was sitting in a barber chair, when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me, I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D.L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular effect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They didn't know his name but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship."

Our lives should be lives that reflect something more than the world has, because we have more than they have, we have Jesus. He has saved us, forgiven us, changed our hearts, given us hope, put His love in us, given us joy, set our feet on the rock which cannot be shaken. If He does not make a difference in your life, then you either need to be born again or you need to repent of sin and allow Him to rekindle the fire of your first love.

It is interesting that God saved us and left us in the world. He could have taken us right to heaven the moment we believed, but He left us here to be a light in the world. He wants our lives to make an impact in the world around us by revealing the character of God and the truth of God. God intends for us to be lights in the world. That means that believers are going to stand out in the darkness.

Why, then, are Christians placed in the world? They are to benefit the world. But we benefit it only when we live as light. If the people of the world fornicate, and we fornicate, what is the difference? If they lie, and we lie, what is the difference? When they do a sloppy job, and we do a sloppy job, what is the difference? When they complain and murmur against their bosses, and we complain and murmur against our bosses, what is the difference? When they don't love their spouses, and we don't love our spouses, what is the difference? When they divorce, and we divorce, what is the difference? When they are lazy, and we are lazy, what is the difference?

We cannot benefit the world when we are like the world. Christians are to reflect the light of Jesus to the world. And what is this light? It is the light of salvation, the light of eternal life, the light of the knowledge of God, the light of the joy of salvation, the light of hope, and the light that shines in darkness. It is the light that opens the eyes of the blind and causes them to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us how we are to be living our lives on this earth before men in:

Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

In other words, we must intentionally let our lights shine. We must determine to be deliberately evangelistic through good deeds and acts of kindness. When people see that we are people who care because we are people who know Him, they will see more clearly. The light will shine on them.

A young boy, about nine years old, went with his parents to Europe one summer. Part of their tour was visiting the great old cathedrals of the past. As he would visit cathedral after cathedral, he saw the massive stained glass portraits of the disciples and of other saints. He was so impressed as he stood in these great empty halls looking through the beautiful stained glass windows. Upon their return, he was asked by his Sunday School teacher what he liked the most about the great churches of Europe. He thought for a moment and said, "I loved the sense of awesomeness and the hugeness of who God must be." His Sunday School teacher then asked what was his definition of a saint. As his mind went back to those massive beautiful stained glass windows, he said, "A saint is a person the light shines through." Indeed!

Is the light of Christ shining through you? Are you allowing His light to be made visible in your life? Or has the light gone out? Has the passion for God become religious ritual and routine? Don't hide the light. Take it out and hold it high. We were not created to be secret disciples or to have quiet discussions on religious topics. We were created in the new creation to be firebrands for God - torches which are held high to burn for Him.

Notice what happens when we live righteous holy lives, "that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

How do we cause men to glorify God. We do this by displaying God's character through our lives. Moses wanted to see God's glory, and in chapter 33 of Exodus, God shows Moses His glory. Then in chapter 34, He proclaims His attributes, mercy, love, goodness - these are His glory. Seeing His attributes causes us to glorify Him.

God's intrinsic glory is not given to Him, it's already His. God's glory is as essential to Him as light is to the sun, as wet is to water. We cannot add one thing to God. If this is true, then why does the Westminister Shorter Catechism say that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Let me make a distinction: We cannot add one thing to God, but we can adorn the doctrine of God.

Titus 2:10 (NKJV) not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.

We can enhance the teaching of God in the world by our godly behavior. This is what Matthew 5:16 teaches:

Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

We cause men to glorify God by our good works. When we live a holy life, we adorn the doctrine of God. We don't adorn God, but we do the doctrine of God.

God is glory, and we are simply to declare it:

1 Chronicles 16:24 (NKJV) Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.

How do we declare his glory? By declaring his attributes. We reflect His glory by putting away sin and living in holiness. We declare His glory by being like Him.

It is God's intention that believers manifest His character in all that they do. That is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 6 when he says that we are not our own:

1 Corinthians 6:20 (NKJV) For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.

The way I live my life and the things I say are to glorify Him. This is the means by which God draws men and women to himself.

God tells us that we are the salt of the earth. We are to be a preserving influence in the world around us. He also says that we are to be the light of the world. How salty are you to the world around you? How bright is your light shining to others? Are you functioning as God intended for you to be, or is it time for some changes in your life?

As Christians, we must always remember that we alone are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As we represent Jesus Christ to the world, we are the hope of the world. May God help us even this day to be different from the world, that the world may benefit by our difference and come to glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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