Salt and Light
I love my salt – maybe a little too much according to some people. People tell me all the time, "too much salt is not good for me." They also say, "if I could just learn to taste my food without all that salt, I would eventually get to like my food without it. I can tell you unequivocally – they haven't convinced me of that yet.
I just happen to think that salt was created for more things than icy roads. Did you ever try to eat a freshly sliced tomato from the garden without a little salt sprinkled on it? Bland, right? Did you ever try to eat a boiled egg or French fries without salt? Not at all palatable.
Have you ever wondered what's in one of those IV bags you get hooked up to when you are admitted to the hospital? Its primary ingredient is saline – water and salt. A bag of saline solution contains the same amount of sodium as 20 snack-sized bags of potato chips. See, I knew potato chips were good for me, and now I have proof.
Doctors use saline to replenish lost fluids, flush wounds, deliver medications, and sustain patients through surgery, dialysis, and chemotherapy. Salt plays a crucial role in maintaining human health. It is the main source of sodium and chloride ions in the human diet. Sodium is essential for nerve and muscle function and is involved in the regulation of fluids in the body. Sodium also plays a role in the body's control of blood pressure and volume.  Not bad for a simple little mineral. I could give you more examples, but hopefully you will understand my pitch – I think salt is good – at least for me.
I have something else I really enjoy. I like to have a good bright lamp for reading. I don't like all the eye strain when I am trying to read under a poor lamp. You are probably thinking I have vision troubles. The optometrist says everything looks fine, at least for now. It's just that I have seen my share of decorative and ornamental lamps that are pleasing to look at, but that's where my admiration ends. If the lamp can't deliver good light for reading – I don't think it serves the purpose for which it was made, no matter how bedazzling it is.
It turns out, Jesus thought salt and light were important too. They are both common commodities, but they can change whatever they penetrate. Jesus likened his followers to these two commodities when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world”. (Mt. 5:13-16).
When Jesus said to his followers that they needed to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world", he had something important in mind for his followers. Jesus probably saw his mother using salt for flavouring and preserving food. He probably saw her rubbing salt into meat or fish, or leaving them to soak in salty water, in order that they might be preserved. This might be a good point to interject – I also love salt cod too. If you are not from the Maritime region of Canada you are probably saying, "huh" or "ugh".
Jesus would have also seen his mother light the lamps when the sun went down. These two metaphors – salt and light – were what Jesus chose to illustrate the type of influence his followers were to have in the world. Jesus was teaching at least three important truths by the use of these metaphors:
1. Christians are fundamentally different from non-Christians.
At the core of our existence as Christians, we recognize that we are sinners – sinners that have been redeemed by God's grace. We are no better than any other person – we are just better off spiritually. This is not because of anything we have done to deserve this, but only because we have asked God to forgive us through his Son Jesus Christ. Out of that state of being forgiven, we follow Jesus, and try to model our lives after him. This makes us distinct from others who don't follow Jesus.
Jesus drew a distinction between people who loved darkness and his followers who were to be salt and light. In John 3:19-21 we read, "God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed." Jesus points out that some would rather embrace evil over good and darkness over light. This is sad. But it is their choice.
But Jesus goes on to say, "But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God." Our world needs more people to come into the light of Jesus Christ and his teachings. With all the hate and evil in our world, it can feel like a very dark place. Let's light it up with Christ's love.
2. Christians must penetrate the non-Christian community.
Although light and darkness and salt and decay are spiritually and morally distinct—they are not to be socially segregated. On the contrary, Jesus said, “Let your light shine into the darkness. Don’t light your lamp and put it under a bucket or under the bed. Put your lamp on a stand, and let it give light to everybody in the house.” In other words, let the good news about me (the Gospel), shine out from you into all the world.
When Jesus said his followers were to be salt and light in the world – just like he was – he expected them to make a real difference. Just as salt can preserve meat, a Christian's godly example can help preserve a society from moral rot and decay. And just as light dispels darkness, the light of God's love can dispel spiritual darkness when it is manifested by Christ's followers.
There is an urgent need for Christians to penetrate our secular culture for Christ. We may be repulsed by the evil and hate we see in the world, but we must never retreat from being a godly example of Christ's love. Christ knew the world needed our influence.
The Apostle Paul also warned us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). There is only one way that evil can overcome a Christian, and that is if the Christian returns evil for evil. If someone insults you and snarls at you, you are not overcome. You are overcome if you begin to snarl right back. Then the unpleasant person has become your role model. You are copying evil and evil is overcoming you. Remember, it’s always better to light a lamp than to just keep cursing the darkness.
3. Christians must return to their Christian distinctness.
Jesus said in Mark 9:50, "Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again.” Salt has to retain its saltiness, otherwise it’s useless; it's good for nothing. I cannot imagine sprinkling salt on my food that had no saltiness. I cannot imagine a Christian either that has no salty influence. The idea of an insipid Christian ought to be a contradiction in terms.
Jesus was telling his followers to retain their salty influence, otherwise they are good for nothing. As Christ's followers, we can have a purifying influence on those around us. Since the disciples are spoken of as the salt of the earth in the same context as the light of the world and a city set on a hill in Matthew 5:14, it is evident that their public life was in view. Christians must be seen by others as living examples of the power and grace of God. They should be able to see that we don't love the world or the things of the world more than God. They should see us denying ourselves, suppressing selfish-pride and ambition, living godly lives, and loving and caring for others.
Even our speech needs to have a salty influence. Paul said, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:6). The implication here is that just as salt seasons our food so a Christian's speech should have a savoury effect on others. Christians must never to be given to pugnacious speech or behaviour. We are called to abandon this behaviour. Col. 3:8-9 says, "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices."
How we live can also be an example to others too. Paul told the Thessalonians, "Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others" (I Thess. 4:11-12). Peter said, "Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world" (1 Peter 2:12).
We must be salt and light. It's the way Jesus expected us to live. If we are prepared to go the way of Jesus, without compromising his values or standards, then our salt will retain its saltiness, our light will shine clear and bright.