The late Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “The glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. If we Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians, we are useless.”
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus taught that His followers are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt is the most common of all preservatives. In New Testament times, it was a vitally important means of preserving food, since there was no refrigeration. Jesus is obviously using salt as a metaphor. To be salt means that we are engaged and involved with our culture without becoming contaminated by it. That is the challenge. If we compromise biblical values, morals or principles, we will lose our effectiveness. In Jesus’ time, when salt had become contaminated with impurities, it was no longer just useless, but had become dangerous.
We are called to live different lives — holy lives. The world system is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that has no room for God. We are not to be hermits, but we are to be people who honor Jesus Christ by living His truth. It may often be unpopular, painful and even costly, but it is, at least in part, what it means to be the salt of the earth. Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, defined a champion as someone “who did not give up when he wanted to.” Our influence must be persistent.
In verses 14-16, Jesus continued the same theme by calling us to be the light of the world. Light was not designed to be hidden, but to shine. Our problem is that we do not have the moral or spiritual ability to be light apart from a relationship with Christ. In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” In John 9:5, He said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” In our passage, He says we are to be lights in the world. Jesus is the source of light, and we are the reflectors of that light. Our Lord enables us to live in such a way that people in darkness see truth and true moral values.
A typical house of that era would be dimly lit at night. The lamp stand could have been simply a flat stone sticking out of the wall. The house would be completely dark without the lamp. It would have been ridiculous to cover up the light with a basket. Light must be seen in order to be useful. We must live the truth in order to reveal what is right by God’s standards.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”
It is His light that shines in us, through us, and out to a world of darkness. When people see this light (our God-given good works), they are impressed to honor God. Some will respond. Some will not. But all will, at least, see the light … if it shines.
The world needs salt because of corruption.
The world needs light because of darkness.
Jesus has given us the privilege and responsibility to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.