“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
The text in Matthew 5:13-16 is a common one. We have all heard and know that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world. We are so because we are Christians. Christians are spiritually distinct from the rest of world, like salt is to blandness, and light in darkness. This distinction is glaringly clear and evident: no one can miss it upon sight. But what does it actually mean to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Let us meditate upon these for a moment humbly and prayerfully.
Whom Jesus is addressing
In the text, the possessive pronouns, “ye” and “your” are used. The word usage indicates an address to those mentioned in verse 3 to 9 of the chapter. “Ye” and “you” refer to those who are “poor in spirit”, “mourn” over their sins in godly sorrow, “meek”, “hunger and thirst after righteousness”, “merciful”, “pure in heart”, “peacemakers”. These characteristics describe a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. These characterise God’s disciples, you and me. God is telling us in this text, “ye are the salt of the earth” and “ye are the light of the world”. This is our identity in this world. God does not tell us to go become something which we were not, but that we are salt and light. Our identity is already fixed. So what does it mean to be the salt of the earth and light of the world?
Identity as salt of the earth
Firstly, we are illustrated as “salt of the earth”. The reference to salt here is not salt in its preserving function. It does not mean that we as salt ought to preserve the earth and hinder the world’s corruption, making it a better place. We know that the kingdom of God is a heavenly kingdom and we do not seek to revive or redeem the corrupt world that Jesus will destroy when He comes again. That is not our calling from God and what the text here means. The reference to the function of salt in this verse is salt that is used for seasoning, salt that is savoury and intensifies the flavours of a dish which
bring delight to the palette. We are this delight in the earth. To whom? To God. God takes delight in the earth because of us. The Lord takes pleasure in the activities of the earth such as economics, conflicts and globalisation because God’s people are in the earth. God’s people are what makes the earth delightful to the Lord. That is because through God’s people, all the activities of the earth have meaning and value, for they serve God’s glory. He delights when the vegetables grow for they are used to feed His people, giving energy and health to them to serve Him. He is glad when there is development in technology and the internet such that He may gather His people from various walks of life. The opposite is true too that when the end times come to pass and all His children have been gathered, the earth will be destroyed for there is no use for it anymore and He will bring all of His people to live with Him in heaven. He will not keep a sinful creation in vain like the world in Noah’s days or the city of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Identity as light of the world
The second picture used to describe our identity is “light of the world”. Jesus uses the picture in verse 14 to illustrate what that means. “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” As we imagine a night scene, looking down from the airplane as it is nearing a city, all the city lights will be lit and seen, juxtaposed by the darkness of the night. This is a similar picture Jesus uses. The city lights will be seen and not be missed in the night.
The description of the city upon the hill further depicts that the city will be identified. And this is us. We will be seen to be glaringly different in the sinful world. We will be recognised as different. Thus we are the light and we shine.
In verse 15, Jesus uses the illustration of the use of a candle to light up a room. The candle is to be put on a candlestick so that the flame will light up a room and not be left to be hidden under a basket. That is not how a candle is to be used. Similarly, God made us as light in the world to shine.
The meaning of the word “light” here refers to the spiritual life and light over against the wicked and sinful world. It is the comparison of light and darkness as in Ephesians 5:8 – “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light”. Darkness is referred to as the world in its corruption, sin, and vileness. It literally means life without God. Life that displeases God and life that God hates. Whereas light is referred to the exact opposite which is spiritual perfection, virtue and goodness. It means life with and of God. We are characterised as light of the world, the ones with spiritual life and goodness among the world which is sinful and corrupt. Thus, we light up in this wicked world and shine as spiritually distinct, alive and not dead.
How we may be distinctly salt and light
But how may we be savoury as salt and shine as light? What do we have to do? Earlier we looked at Jesus’ address to the citizens of the kingdom of heaven as salt and light. Salt and light are our identity. But it is not because of what we are in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. God made us to be salt and light in this world in Jesus Christ. Through Him we are savoury, through Him we are shining. Apart from Him we are bland and dark like the world, distasteful and insignificant to the Lord. Jesus makes us savoury and shining as He has made us a new creation. He changed our heart and now we seek to obey Him. The world is like unsavoury salt to the Lord, displeasing and thrown away by the Lord. The world is darkness, sinful and vile. But in Jesus Christ and in His covering, we are pleasing before the Lord and we use all that we are and own to serve Him. We confess Him and do good works. In Jesus we are salt and retain our savour, and shine. Therefore, we can say that we are distinctly salt and light in Jesus Christ.
But is there then nothing we have to do? No, we have a calling to remain savoury and shine brightly. In our identity as salt and light it means that we are different from the world. The world is not pleasing to God and does everything against God’s law. However, as salt and light, we are not like the world.
As salt of the earth, we are called to remain savoury, not to lose the savour. This means to be a continual delight to God on this earth. We use and devote all that we are and possess to the glory of our God. We obey His commandment to love Him and our neighbours. We confess His truths and ways and submit ourselves to Him. The negative is also true that we flee from sin that can spoil our saltiness, making us distasteful to the Lord. The text warns us that if the savoury component of salt is lost it is useless and unprofitable. It will be thrown away for it is worthless. Thus we are called to live as salt, being pleasant in the sight of our God.
As light of the world, we are called to shine. We are to shine wherever we are stationed in this world. In our home, in church, in school, in the workplace, wherever our neighbours are and wherever God leads us to. The calling to shine does not only confine us in the sphere of the spiritual only, in the church and our family, but the whole world, wherever God places us in. We light up in this wicked world and shine as spiritually distinct, lively people.
We shine in the world by a good confession and a godly walk. We confess Christ with our mouths – His power, His grace, His salvation, His truth! Whenever we make a good confession of our Lord, our light shines brightly. We shine also by our life. We show that we are children of light by our lifestyle and actions. We are filled with good works. We are meek, peacemakers, merciful, and more by our actions. When we do so, our light shines brightly for all to see. But one thing to note is that our confession and actions go hand in hand. When we make a good confession that we love God and seek to walk in His ways but our manner of life is as the ungodly, seeking to please our flesh, our light does not shine. Our life has destroyed the good confession. Most of the time we fail in this aspect. It is easy to confess to love God and our neighbours. But when someone sins against us, we immediately bear a grudge against him and do not seek to forgive him in our pride. Or as parents or grandparents when we instruct our children, it is natural to confess that God’s path is the way to go but in our living we walk contrary to that. Let us not overlook the fact that our light shines by the way we live too. Let us walk in integrity and sincerity, that our light may shine ever so brightly in this world.
In our identity and walking as salt and light, we will be distinguishably different from the world. We do not think, act, or speak the way the world does and others can see that too. Is that a good thing though? Should we try to fit in as much as possible?
No, it is good and necessary that we remain savoury and shine. We dare to stand as different in the world, and to stand out. Not because we are motivated to be different from others to serve our pride. But that others may glorify God in heaven too. This is sobering. Through our conversation of life, so God will be glorified. God is pleased to use us to bring His people to Himself and glorify Himself! In our natural state of sin, men do not glorify God. Instead, men blaspheme and ridicule God. However, here we see that men’s cursing of God can be turned to blessing when others see our good works. In our devotion to God, in the words we speak and the manner of life we live, God is glorified and God can use us to gather His people. That is a privilege, and that is a calling too. God’s glory is at stake here, so we must be savoury as salt and shine as light. God forgive us when we fail, and may God help us in this high calling. To Him be all honour, praise and glory.
Written by: Noelene Wong | Issue 41