‘“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
‘“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.”’
Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)
These days, salt is simply used to enhance the flavour of food, but in the time in which Jesus spoke, salt had a far more important purpose – it was rubbed into meat in order to slow decay. Perhaps this is the use of salt that Jesus had in mind when he described his followers as “the salt of the earth.” After all, the world we live in is full of decay. All around us, we see a world that falls short of God’s standards. People are far too concerned with self-gratification at the expense of selfless service towards others. Morally, our society is in a total mess. Sex has become just another hobby, and this gift from God is abused all the time. When we look at the world, we see a world that is in desperate need of its Creator God; violence, war, greed, and famine are in the news every day. It is easy to blame the mess the world is in on those who do not know Christ. Yet why should we blame them? They know no different. What if, in this passage in his sermon, Jesus is telling us that we should seek to slow the decay of the world? When we look at the problems in the world like that, perhaps it is us to blame. Perhaps we have lost our saltiness and are not impacting on the world as Jesus would have us do. Perhaps all we are good for is “to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
So how can we slow the decay of the godless world around us? As one theologian said, we need to be “a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or non-existent.” If you’ve ever applied antiseptic disinfectant to a cut on your body, you will know that whilst the disinfectant is against the cut, it can really hurt, yet you keep the disinfectant against the cut because you know it is cleansing the wound, and removing all the germs which could cause infection. In the same way, putting salt on the wounds of the world can be painful for the patient. The patient will usually fail to realise that the short term pain is in its own interests, as it will ensure a brighter future. As Christians, we are called to be the salt applied to the wounds of the world. The world may kick against us, but we need to have the courage of our convictions that what we are doing is correct, and ultimately in the world’s best interests. We need to speak out against things we know to be wrong. If we catch someone stealing, we must attempt to stop the offender. If we see our boss being dishonest, we must challenge him. If we know a friend is being unfaithful to his husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend, we need to speak to the friend concerned. Only by speaking out against what we know to be wrong can we be the “salt of the earth.” If we fail to take this responsibility seriously, Jesus is perfectly clear – we are “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” We must be willing to speak the painful message to the world around us, no matter what the cost.
In the second part of this passage, Jesus uses a slightly different tack to convey a similar message. The idea of the world being in darkness as a result of the evil within it is a common theme in the Bible. In John 8:12, Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As the light of the world, Jesus will penetrate the darkness of the world, revealing the sinfulness of all people, and serving as a positive example of how it is possible to live. As Christians, we have the “light of life” within us, and so we too will illuminate the evil around us. To do so, we must not hide the light that Jesus has given us, but must ensure that it is visible to all those around us. We must live according to God’s rules, and ensure that we demonstrate his love for all people. We must stand out from the rest of the world. This could be by reading the Bible, praying, and going to church. It could also be by taking the conscious decision not to get drunk when we go out with friends, and ensuring that we live a moral life. Furthermore, the “light of life” could shine out from us by supporting our friends and colleagues when they are feeling low, by helping to feed the homeless, or by tidying our neighbourhood and trying to build a sense of community where we live. The possibilities are endless! Jesus tells us that it is important that people can see our good works, as they can serve as an example to those around us. Who knows, if your friends see what it really means to be a Christian, they may themselves “give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” What better incentive to act as a light in the darkness than bringing our friends to know Jesus for themselves!
There is so much to think about in just these few verses, and I would urge you to consider reflecting on them in the days ahead. Let’s all strive to be salt and light in the world. Let’s stand up for what is right, speak out against what we know to be wrong, and be willing to be a moral disinfectant in the world, no matter what the level of the short term pain. Let’s strive also to be a role model of what it is to be a Christian. Let’s ensure that we do not hide the “light of life” that Jesus has put within us, but ensure it is visible to everyone around us. Let’s live our lives according to God’s rules, and seek to bless those around us by serving them in a selfless way. If every Christian strived to live like this, we really could change the world.