"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.
In the vast majority of leadership books you read a concept about “doing what only you can do”. What that means is that there are parts of what you do that a lot of other people could do and then there are things that only you are uniquely gifted in and equipped for. These are the things that should consume a high percentage of your time and energy. When you operate in these areas then your effectiveness increases.
Jesus while preaching the sermon on the mount instructs the audience in two things that only those with the essential character that He just described in the beatitudes could do to transform culture. What lasting good could the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungering and thirsting, the merciful, and the ones focused on making peace and not war make on this world? What influence could they possibly have? What good can the weapon of a pure heart accomplish? Yet, Jesus says that you and you alone are the means to accomplish two significant things on earth in this world that will transform culture.
If you are a follower of Jesus then you are the hope of the world.
Jesus was optimistic about His odds. Yes, the world will persecute His followers and still the church’s calling is to serve this persecuting world. Jesus told this group of Palestinian peasants that they are going to be the difference makers. They are the salt of the earth. They are the light of the world. That truths transcends that time and place and extends to every follower of Jesus who displays those blessed beatitudes. If you are a follower of Jesus then you are the hope for the world. You and I and You and I alone are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let’s consider these two significant metaphors in more detail.
Point #1: You Are the Salt of the Earth
This metaphor may not carry as much weight in our society today as it would have during Jesus' time. We don’t value salt as much today as they did then. Today salt is mainly something we use to add flavor to our food. During Jesus time it was not only used to add flavor to food, but also to preserve their meats. It was as valuable as refrigeration is to us today. It was a means of survival. In these ancient times it was often considered more valuable than gold. The Chinese minted salt into coins and people around the Mediterranean used cakes of salt as currency. The Greeks traded salt for slaves; leaving us with the saying, “He is not worth his salt.” And in the times of Jesus, Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, and so from salt (sal) comes the latin word salarium, from which the English word salary is derived. This salt was so valuable not only because it added flavor to food but that it preserved the meat from putrefying. It was an instrument of survival to them. Jesus used this metaphor essentially talking about one of the most important commodities of their time.
Explain the Metaphor
You are the salt of the earth. The word earth here is properly defined as the land. That is the arena in which we live, move, and have our being. He did not tell the Israelite audience that they are to be the salt to Israel, but to all the land. This is a statement of the widespread nature of the New Covenant calling! The land is the meat in this illustration. The meat is rotting. Without the salt the meat will spoil. Jesus is saying that without Christians in the land it will rot. That is significant. Jesus is saying that His followers are the key instruments to preserving the land. That is a heavy responsibility.
This metaphor is focused more on the negative. It is focused more on stopping the rotting. The light of the world is more positive. Herein Jesus is teaching that Christians have a duty to stop the decay. To not allow unjust laws and ideas to permeate into the culture. To stand up against it. This happens at both a macro and a micro level. The macro level is resisting a tyrannical government and the abuses they promote through unjust laws. The micro is standing against unjust practices in our workplace, church, family, etc. Salt is meant to prevent the decay.
One great example from the Old Testament of what it means to be the salt of the earth is found in the story of the Hebrew handmaidens who lived when the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. This took place about 400 years after Joseph’s death. The King of Egypt (the Pharaoh) became fearful that the rate in which the Israelites were populating was problematic and so he decided that his solution was to pass an edict that all of the firstborn Hebrew males would be killed and it was the duty of the midwives to do it. Here is what happened though:
“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” (Ex. 1:17-21 ESV)
They resisted evil. God blessed them for it. This is what is pictured by being salt of the earth. That means today that we can not just continue to tolerate evil and adopt the world’s thinking. We cannot continue to tolerate the breakdown of the family through the LGBT movement of today. We cannot continue to tolerate the breakdown of the family through government sponsored welfare that funds sin. We can not continue to tolerate the killing of the next generation. We cannot continue to tolerate a jail system that has grown to enslave people. We cannot continue to tolerate a corrupt money system where guys are playing with our currency like it is monopoly money. Being salt means to resist injustice. It is a defensive strategy. Only Christians can do this!
Jesus does teach that we are salt of the earth. That cannot be changed. What can change though is salt can become useless and only good for throwing down on roads and walkways acting in the same way gravel does for us today. Men will just walk over it. The wicked rulers of this day will continue to walk over us if we lose our saltiness.
How does salt lose its saltiness? NaCl is used for many purposes. It is used to add flavor to food; it is used to draw out the water in foods; it is used to cure food for longevity; it is used to create traction on icy roads. (Calcium chloride is actually used for this purpose more, but if you don’t have any of that sitting around, you can use table salt to create traction on your front step on a snowy day.) I believe that salt was even used for antiseptic purposes. So, for salt to lost is pungent saltiness, or change its physical composition, it would have to be diluted in water because it is non-reactive in its crystalline form. Or electricity would have to be introduce to force the sodium chloride into its ionic components thereby changing its chemical composition.
As Christians we lose our saltiness when we are diluted in the water of the world.
As Christians we lose our saltiness when we are diluted in the water of the world. When the world is what creates our worldview then we are absolutely good for nothing when it comes to impacting culture. May I dare say that is the story of the American church today. In large numbers we gather together as salt that has lost all its saltiness. We are good for nothing except to be walked over by the powers of this world. You and I, you and I alone are the salt of the earth. Let’s not dilute our saltiness with the water of the world. Defense alone is not enough though. Jesus uses another metaphor to describe our offensive duty as well.
Point #2: You are the Light of the World
Jesus is using metaphors that people would have understood as important for survival. We need light. That is why God created the sun. We need the sun to survive. Also, we need other forms of light for when the sun goes down so we can see. Before electricity was invented the common form of a light was a candle. It was common during this time that cities, like Jerusalem, would be setup on a hill with it’s various candles lit a night and if you were at the bottom of the hill you could point up and see that the light was visible to all. Jesus said you and I, you and I alone are the light of the world. Again His focus transcends beyond just Israel. They were to be the light of the entire cosmos, the entire world.
Followers of Jesus are the light of the world not by any work they have done. You and I are the light because Jesus who is the light sent His light, the Holy Spirit to live in us. Regeneration is the key to the light. We cannot turn this switch on ourselves. Jesus had to place the lamp in us to make us light. We are the light of the world simply because of grace. The Light choice to light us up.
The World is Dark
Since Jesus says that Christians are the light of the world, it must also be clearly understood that in this analogy Jesus is living in darkness. The world apart from Christ is nothing except utter darkness. That is what Jesus is teaching here. Over in Czech Republic when our group was able to tour one of the concentration camps they took us to the individual cells in which troublemakers would be thrown into. It was a little room and they would have absolutely no light in it. So, naturally we had to check it out. There was some light that came through, but we tried to imagine darkness totally. They would be left in there for weeks at a time. Picture darkness. Close your eyes. Imagine living in darkness. Jesus is teaching that this is the state of the world. They live in utter darkness. We need to stop expecting the world to be light. We rail on the way the school systems are going. They are living in darkness. They are not the light we are. Paul makes this command very clear. Read this!
Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, 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), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Jesus says that you and I as Christians are the light of the world. We cannot change that. That is a reality. Jesus gifted us His light. The thing that we do have a choice in is what we do with that light. We can either hide it and be ashamed of it or we can display it for the glory of our Father. The light is displayed through good works. Good works are not reading the Bible and praying; these prepare us for good works. Good works are actively loving our neighbor by actively being obedient to the Law. Good works are not only not murdering but promoting life. Good works are not only not committing adultery but displaying faithfulness to your spouse. Good works are not only not stealing but giving, not lying but telling the truth, not coveting but encouraging. Being a light is teaching the positive aspects of obedient living as well as actively living it out ourselves.
Good works are not reading the Bible and praying; these prepare us for good works.
My friends, you are I alone our the salt of the earth. Don’t lose your saltiness by diluting it in the water of the world. You and I are the light of the world. Don’t hide your light but let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.
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