Salt and Light – Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world …

Jesus’ intention in these two emphatic statements is to contrast His disciples from those in the world who oppose them (see the “they” in verse 12). The most basic and main function of salt in ancient times was to preserve food from decay; the function of light is obvious. So in telling us that as Christians, we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” Jesus is saying that our function in the world is to arrest its moral corruption and to drive out its darkness by illuminating it with the knowledge of God. He does not say that this is what we “should be,” or even “ought to be,” but what we are. Before commanding us what to do and how to live (which he will do in the remainder of chapter 5), Jesus is first, once again (as He did in the Beatitudes) affirming who we are. These are indicatives, that is, they indicate what Christians are, by virtue of our new nature derived from the new heart we are given in regeneration.

Salt and light are two interesting analogies, because they work differently. Salt must come into direct contact with food in order to function as a preservative. Even a few millimeters away from meat, salt becomes useless. Light, on the other hand, can be seen in the midst of darkness even when miles away. Both salt and light are similar in that they are useless when they are not fulfilling their function. Salt that is not preserving food can only be thrown out to be trampled on. Light that is hidden under a bucket may as well not be light at all. But take heart brethren, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, has not enlightened us, and blessed us eight times, and told us that we are light, only to stick us under a bucket. Not at all! As people do not light a lamp only to hide it, Jesus has not saved us only to cover our light. His mention of “the earth” (verse 13) and “the world” (verse 14) can only be understood to refer to our mission in the world. Brethren, you have a remarkable mission of being a “city on a hill,” like a lighthouse in the blackness of the sea. The very purpose of how you live and what you do as a Christian is to remove the veil from your Father’s face to display something of God’s glory to the world.

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