Would you say you are an influential person? Though Christ spends most of the sermon on the mount describing the character of a kingdom citizen, in Matthew 5:13-16 Christ gives us purpose and identity. Through two illustrations that describe our identity, Christ teaches that true kingdom citizens wield enormous influence. He says, “You are the salt of the earth” and, “You are the light of the world.” These identity statements reveal to us how Christ plans to save a dark and decaying world. Christ gives us the power to influence. But, as we will see through these illustrations, many disciples have no influence and become valueless. How can we be salt and light? Notice verses 13-16.
You Are Salt (13)
The first illustration is seen in verse 13. “You are the salt of the earth…” Salt was extremely useful as a preservative in food in Christ’s day. Salt fights decay in aging meats. If we think of kingdom citizens in this way we can see how we are called to be a type of moral agent in the world. When true kingdom citizens come in contact with the world their words and actions stop evil and decay by spreading spiritual life where there is none.
Notice how Christ continues. “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Often the salt found in first century Palestinian areas was filled with impurities. The impurities would leach the saltlike qualities from the salt. Salt is pointless if it doesn’t prevent decay. Christ says this useless salt is tossed out.
By referring to us as salt, Christ is declaring that true disciples are distinguished by their ability to affect the world with Christ-like characteristics. Like salt, our ability to prevent decay is ruined by impurities. This puts a unique emphasis on our need to pursue the character Christ commands. Though we will never be perfect, our indiscretion and sinfulness ruins our influence. If we are connected to the world but prideful, gossips, merciless, angry, lustful, materialistic, and anxious, we are indistinguishable from the decay. Instead of preventing decay, our sin only multiplies it.
But since true salt is distinguished by its ability to prevent rottenness, aren’t we called to be more than pure? Does my morality stop decay in the world? Do I stop decay in the world because I don’t cuss on my way to work? Do I prevent souls from being condemned by not being a drunkard? Though we must seek purity, being pure doesn’t accomplish our purpose. Evangelism is not simply being pure around people, but influencing people.
Remember, salt that doesn’t prevent decay is tossed out to be trampled. The question is put to us. Are really preventing decay around us? Are our words and actions influencing people? Salt prevents the natural course of things. Is our presence a complete game changer in the world like salty salt is?
There are many ways we can do this. Where there is strife, teach others how to cause peace. Where there is gossip, teach compassion. When materialism is rampant, point out how deadly it is. Point them to where true satisfaction and joy is found. But do not stop there. We are not simply bringing morality where there is immorality. This will not permanently prevent decay. Christ prevents decay. Seek opportunities to engage in spiritual conversations. Seek opportunities to tell others about how much serving Christ has affected your life. Conclude those conversations that spark their interest by asking them to study the Bible with you. If this is not our interest, are we not useless salt? Notice how Christ emphasizes a different aspect of our influence with a second illustration in verses 14-15.
You Are Light (14-15)
Christ says we are the light of the world. The first illustration told us we are salt and caused us to ask if our words and actions actually prevent decay. This second illustration tells us we are light and will cause us to ask if we are exposed to the world. What is the purpose of light? Light illuminates a room so that all in darkness can see clearly. If we think of kingdom citizens in this way we can see how we are a source of illumination and direction in a dark world.
I like how Paul describes Christians in Philippians 2:15. Paul says we need to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” The Bible constantly tells us the world is in darkness. People are blind and do not know where to go. When Christ tells us we are the light of the world, he is telling us we are the only ones who can show them where to go. Though Christ is the true light, true disciples are beacons of light that show salvation to those in darkness (cf. Acts 13:47).
Though both illustrations emphasize our influence, Christ exposes a different danger here. Notice verse 15. Christ says people don’t light lamps only to cover them up. People light lamps and put them on a stand so everyone can see. So here the brightness of our light is not questioned. The question is whether or not we are hidden or shining in the darkness and pointing the way to Christ.
How could we have bright, but covered lights? How could we have great character and zeal for God without others ever seeing it? I want to suggest three possibilities. You may see your struggle in one or multiple areas. The first way we tend have hidden lights is due to the way our culture creates and maintains relationships. Our world is growing increasingly virtual. I believe this often dupes us into thinking we are actually living among and connecting with people in the world. Technological advances and social media have their perks. But sometimes we don’t realize how false our connections with people are. We spend time figuring out what 500 people did today through social media, but we may not have a real connection with them at all.
The second way we could have hidden lights is through a more purposeful approach. We literally seek to avoid darkness. We put our heads down and just try to get through the day. We avoid social functions at school and work that would actually provide opportunities to build relationships and shine Christ in the darkness. If we combine the first two problems, how many real interactions are we having with people each day?
The third way we could have hidden lights is much different. We may have plenty of connections with people in the world. Yet our faith is kept quiet because of timidness. People know we “go to church,” but openly talking about and teaching our faith among sinners doesn’t happen. We may even laugh at that possibility. As we consider all of these causes of hidden lights, we must realize how serious our lack of connections with sinners are. We must realize how serious our quietness is. Is a lighthouse of any use to lost ships if the light is blocked? We may be the only lights people in our everyday lives ever meet. We are their only hope. We must all be exposed lights. You can’t shine a light among my friends. I can’t shine a light at your workplace or school.
We can fix this by pursuing life among people. The apostles were not monks. Instead of avoiding the darkness, we must live among the darkness. Do not avoid social functions – welcome them. Do not avoid all interactions with people at work and school – pursue them. Consider how you can increase your exposure in the world and build more relationships with people around you. Use those relationships to pursue your identity: shine light into darkness. Remember, covered lights are useless.
Glory to the Father (16)
Why do this? What are we trying to accomplish by being salt and light? Notice verse 16. “In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The ultimate fruit of our influence is for God to be glorified. This is supremely important. We are not trying to become an influence who makes a name for ourselves. We are not trying to simply be good moral influences. Our influence as salt and light is meant to cause people to glorify God.
This makes the purpose of our identity more specific. As salt and light, how can we better influence people to love and glorify the Father? Christ says to “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works.” What is the connection between our good works and people glorifying the Father? Consider how Christ caused people to glorify the Father. Christ exemplified true life in his actions and then showed people the path to salvation through his words. When people noticed his transcendent character, he always gave the Father the glory. “He is the one who has sent me.”
As salt and light we can influence people to glorify the Father in a similar way. If we have experienced true life, people will see the fruit of that in the blessed, joyful life described in the sermon on the mount. People will see us finding true joy in being merciful people (5:21-26) who love our enemies (5:43-46). People will see us rejoicing though we are persecuted (5:10-12). People will see us taking great joy in pursuing heavenly treasures by serving God and others, but not pursing earthly treasures (6:19-24). People will hear us teaching others to do the same. Simply put, people see our joy in obeying the Father and hear our words filled with life and wisdom and are drawn to us as lights. We must then point them the way to salvation and the way to the Father. “I am only serving him. He is the one who has taught me this. You can serve him too. You too can have the fulfilling joy he has blessed me with.” They will then glorify the Father for sending us to bless the world and show people the path to joy, life, and salvation. Our ultimate goal is to cause the world to recognize God’s greatness.
Be the salt of the earth. Salt prevents decay. Be an agent of change in the world that stops people from plunging deeper into sin and death. Don’t just exemplify purity. Help people. Be uncovered lights in the world. We cannot teach and show people the way to Christ if we are disconnected. Get involved in people’s lives so you can be a bright contrast in their lives. Show people the way to go. Use your influence to cause people to see how great and loving the Father is. Help others glorify him.
Many wonder, “How do I actually ask someone to study the Bible?” Every situation and person is different. But honestly, most people go through the same two steps every time. First, actively seek to develop a connection with the person mind. Second, just ask them. The longer we put it off the more difficult it becomes. Just ask. It is pretty tough for them to turn down a good friend. They can study with you or Brent or I could study with them. Brent, I, or others here would love to study with your family, friends, and acquaintances. In fact, we can’t study with your family, friends, or acquaintances until you open the door. They may or may not respond. Don’t let concerns stop you.
A woman in Nashville decided to send one Facebook message to people in an online school group about a Bible study she was starting on Thursday mornings. The next week 10 of her friends showed up and kept showing up for four months. We only ended up making lasting connections with three of them. That is perfectly okay. If she didn’t ask, we would have never had better opportunities with the three women.
Being light and salt is not a choice. Whether we are thrown out as ineffective is our choice. How can you increase your influence as the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Talk to us about it. Let’s work as a team to shine bright lights for Christ into the world. Let’s exemplify the joy of serving Christ to others. Let’s lead people to salvation. Let’s be useful disciples for Christ.