Jesus has called people to enjoy the blessed life. However, the blessed life comes to us in a way that we would not expect. Jesus has called for his followers to live in an upside down kingdom that is countercultural to what the world proclaims to be the blessed life. God want to bless his people and shows the way to enjoy the blessed life. But the characteristics of those who belong to his kingdom are different than what the world proclaims as virtuous and right. Jesus moves on in his sermon to speak about our life purpose. Everyone is seeking the answer to these questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do with my life? Jesus presents two pictures to show why we are here, what we are to do with our lives, and grasp our life purpose.
You Are Salt (5:13)
Jesus begins by telling us that we are salt. Many writers go many directions talking about the function of salt in ancient times. But Jesus has a simple direction he wants us to think about when you read about salt. You will notice in verse 13 that Jesus is talking about flavor. Jesus has in mind the use of salt for flavoring food. This would have been the most natural way that Israel would have heard this illustration also. All of Israel’s offerings were to contain salt (Leviticus 2:13). Salt must be in the offering because there is a picture of God eating his portion of the sacrifice when it was consumed in the fire. It is the same primary purpose we have for using salt. Salt makes food taste better. The chefs in cooking shows today are always adding salt to the meal while they cook. So I do not want us to get lost in the weeds about all the different ways that salt can be used. It is not Jesus’ point right here.
Rather, Jesus’ point is for us to think about salt that loses its taste. What good is salt if the salt is not salty? What good is salt if it is unable to flavor the food? The salt is worthless. If salt does not do what it is supposed to do, then there is no reason to keep it. We apply this idea all the time in our lives. If you have something that does not work, what do you do with it? If it cannot be fixed, it is only good for being thrown out. If the thing you purchased no longer fulfills its purpose, then all you have left is the trash can. The first picture that Jesus is giving is simple. You are not in his kingdom if you are not fulfilling your life purpose.
You Are Light (5:14-15)
The second picture to describe our life purpose is to call us the light of the world. Now Jesus describes what he means by this image. Jesus says that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Further, people do not put lamps under baskets. Rather, lamps go on stands on that they can give light to all the house. Light is not hidden but is used so that all can see.
Now there are some important implications that we must draw from this teaching. First, if we are called the light of the world then that means the world does not have light. One of the mistakes we make is thinking that the world has light. We go to the world for guidance and direction. We go to the world for our way of thinking, for our set of values, and for our life purpose. But Jesus is telling us that the world does not have the light. The world only has darkness. It is as senseless as running into the darkness thinking that we will see better. The world is not the place for direction and guidance. The world is not the place to establish your way of thinking or life values. The world is not the place to look for the definitions and explanations of morality. The world does not have the right answer.
Second, saying that we are to be the light of the world means that we cannot be hidden Christians. Lights are not put under baskets. Lights are set on stands for all to see. Look at it in verse 14. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” We cannot be hidden. Light, when it is doing its job, is not hidden. Light, when it is doing its job, shines brightly for all to see.
We are being told to not diminish our influence as light in the world. Disciples of Jesus do not hide their lights. In fact, please consider our role in our culture. As the world gets darker, we should be shining brighter. We might fall into complaining about our culture as we see it move further from God. But as the world gets darker, we should become more evident as light than ever before. Our light will be more noticeable as the world moves from God. We are going to step into the darkness and shine as light in the lives of the people we know. We are not going to diminish our light simply because the world is getting darker. You will be like a lamp on a stand, giving light to everyone in the room.
Your Purpose (5:16)
It is only when we get to verse 16 that Jesus explains our purpose from these two illustrations of salt and light. Here is our life purpose. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. We are going to live our lives in such a way so that people give glory to God. In particular, we are going to do good works and we will do those good works in such a way so that people give glory to God. We are pictured as people who continue to do good in the midst of the darkness. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world when we do our good works so that others see them and glorify God. When we are not doing good, then we are not acting like salt and we are not shining as light.
We are to be a beacon of hope to the world. Our good works are to direct people to worship. We are called to affect people’s lives like salt affects food and like light affects darkness. This is what the scriptures mean by describing us as priests of God (cf. Revelation 1:5-6; Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:9). We are shining the light of God into the lives of people that we come into contact with. This means that the life and work of a Christian cannot be worked out alone or in our home, or on our own. We must be interacting with the world. We cannot just interact with our family. We cannot just interact with other Christians. Light does not need to be surrounded by more light. We must be interacting with the darkness, shining as a light by doing good works. Friends, as the world moves away from God, there are going to be less good works done in the world. There is going to be more ruthlessness, selfishness, and merciless acts seen and experienced. This is our opportunity to do more good as good works become rare. We cannot retract for fear of the world. Rather we will let our light shine before others.
The goal of life is God’s glory. You are salt and light. Act like who you are. Fulfill your life purpose that has been given to you by God. Let us stop here for a moment and reflect on ourselves. What do people see and hear in us? Jesus said to let our light shine so that they will see our good works and glorify God. So how are we doing shining as a light at work? Are we doing good works for the people we work for and work with so that they see us as a light shining in the darkness? How are we doing with shining as a light with our neighbors? Are we doing good works so that they see our light? How are we doing when it comes to all the interactions we have with complete strangers like a restaurants and grocery stores? Are we letting our light shine so that they see our good works? What about family members who are not Christians? Are we letting our light shine before them?
But understand that we will be hurt living as salt and light. Look back at verse 11. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” You are going to do good works and sometimes those people are going to consider them as evil. They will insult you for your good works. They will persecute you for your good works. They will tell others that you were evil as you were doing your good works. But it is important that we remember that this will not always be the case. We must do good works, trying to show people God’s glory so that they glory in God. Some people will do exactly that and glorify God. Some people will insult you for your good works. Some people will speak evil for your good works. But we cannot stop shining as light and doing good works just because some people resist us for doing them.
I think we shy away from doing good works because there was a time when we did good works and we were counted as evil for doing them. So now we step back and we do not do that anymore. But Jesus said that our light cannot be put under a basket. We cannot be hidden disciples. Or let me bring us back to verse 13. We are not good for anything if we are not fulfilling our purpose as salt. We cannot stop being salt and light just because we were hurt for doing it. Jesus did no evil and he was crucified for his good works. But light cannot stop being light and salt cannot stop being salt because that is our purpose. This is why we are here. Do not diminish your influence. Do not hide your light. Be the light of hope to each person you meet.