Thursday, May 24, 2012

Please Pass the Salt and Light - Matthew 5:13-19

13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

14 You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;

15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

16 Let you light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.


Contrary to today, salt had three primary purposes in the Roman Empire at the time Jesus lived: to add flavor to food, to preserve food, and it was used as currency.  Each of these purposes adds a specific, important component to Jesus's analogy of Christians being like salt.

Adding Flavor to Food   When you bite into food, you can instantly tell if there's salt in it - nothing besides salt tastes like salt, and it is a powerful, easily recognizable flavor.  Likewise, we Christians are supposed to be obvious and different...obvious in that we should make our faith so clear (by our words and our actions) that even a mere acquaintance can tell we're Christians, and different in that these words and actions really stand out as not conforming to our culture, but rather living like Christ.

Preserving food   In the days before refrigerators, people used salt to keep meat and other foods from spoiling.  In other words, salt was critically necessary to their way of life and very survival.  Likewise, we Christians have the wonderful job of introducing others to the only One who truly can save thier lives - their eternal lives.

Currency   The Roman Empire actually paid its soldiers with salt, of all things.  In this, it was an incredibly valuable commodity - just as we have the critical role of spreading the Gospel.

So here's the problem with salt losing its saltiness: people wouldn't buy the soldiers' salt, so the entire economic and military system would disintegrate.  Likewise, if we Christians "lose our saltiness" by not living as obvious Christians and spreading the Gospel, the world will descend into evil and chaos.


Comparing Christians to light is also more clear when we take the concept of "light" out of our electric world, where even at midnight and even in rural towns, streetlights, alarm clocks, and passing cars illuminate our world.  But imagine for a minute you are out camping in the woods in the middle of the night under a thick grove of trees, and clouds have completely covered the sky so that neither the moon nor the stars shine through.  You can't help but worry that every rustle of the wind is a bear or mountian lion.  So you reach for your teeny-tiny flashlight and switch it you're thinking about light.

Let's talk about the "city set on a hill" for a minute.  Think back even two hundred years ago, before electic lighting was everywhere, and imagine it's night again.  Your entire country could be pitch black, but if one city decided to put a candle in every window, people would see it from miles around.  And if that city were set on a high hill, where its view would not be blocked by other cities, people could see it from even farther away.

It's the same with a lamp in house.  Let's say that there's a power outage in your neighborhood and it's after supper in the winter, so it's already dark.  You have one battery-powered flashlight, so what do you do?  You certainly don't turn it on and then hide it in a drawer where it's no good.  And you certainly don't shut your bedroom door so that only you can benefit from its light.  Rather, you gather the entire family so that everyone has light.

What does this mean for us as believers?  Well, like the city set on a hill, we Christians are in the extreme minority.  We are one speck of light in a world of darkness - one speck of God's redemption almost drowned out by all the evil in the world.  But notice how powerful even one speck of light is!  We can't be so afraid of the darkness that we hide our light (our faith) and keep it to ourselves, like hiding it under a basket - we are to share the light with everyone!!!

In verse sixteen, Jesus gives a specific way that is easy to let our light shine before men - by being examples of moral living.  Sometimes it is difficult to share the Gospel verbally, particularly in situations where something is at risk (like a job or a friendship) or it's even physically dangerous.  But just by living as God tells us to - not getting drunk, not have sex outside of marriage, not gossipping - people will notice that we are clearly different, and become curious about it, and might even ask us why we don't act as the rest of the world does - and that is the perfect opportunity for us to share our faith.

What does that have to do with the "abolishing the Law" talk?

In verses 17-19, Jesus seems to switch gears, but it's actually closely related to the topic of being a good example of godly living.  You see, just because we're under the new covenant where we don't have to vainly attempt to meet every requirement of the Mosaic Law (see Acts 15 for the early church's debate on this issue) - directly because Jesus fulfills the Law for us, as He states in verse 17 - does not mean that we have a free pass to do whatever we want!

This issue is brought up repeatedly in the epistles - go through some of the studies we did on Galatians and James here on this blog to see what I mean! :-)  Living a godly life is not a way to "earn" salvation (something we can never do), but rather, it is a way to glorify God and to point others to Him.

Notice in verse 19 that how godly we live does not affect our salvation, but it definitely does have some affect on the honor God gives us.  And it also has a great affect on how we influence other believers and how many we can bring to Christ.

Let's make it a discussion!

Can you think of more ways in which we are to be like salt and light?  Can you think of a specific person whose godly lifestyle drew you in to Christ?  Anything else you'd like to comment on or ask?

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