Passage: Matthew 5:13–16
 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness 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.
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a series of statements that describe the character of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. And what we saw was that Kingdom citizenship promises everlasting happiness. It is an other-worldly, counter-cultural happiness, because it is a happiness that is rooted in the Kingdom, with their King.
In the same way that Walt Disney found a way to tap into the human longing for happiness, there are many people and organizations that tap into our deep sense of desire to see the world changed. For instance, Melt (the best ice cream in Fort Worth) explains their purpose this way, “We serve happy ice cream. We believe treats can change your day and your day can change the world.” However, wanting the world to change and actually being willing to help change it are two different things.
What we see in Matthew 5:13-16 is that Jesus intends for His disciples to be the primary means of changing the world. When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”, those words are emphatic. It is as if He is saying, “You and you alone are the salt and light of the world.” The you He is addressing are His disciples, and if you are a follower of Jesus that means He is talking to YOU! Regardless of the great potential you might have for worldly impact, it is an astounding thing to be described in this way. This is doubly evident when you consider the “nobodies from nowhere who know nothing” that Jesus is talking to on the mount. The thing that qualifies you for this type of impact is not your potential, it is the One you follow. This should make us both humble and bold in our world changing endeavors.
The images Jesus uses help us see the type of impact Jesus intends for His disciples to have on the world. Salt and light were both critical components of the lives of Jesus’ hearers. Salt is the ingredient with the greatest impact on flavor, but in the ancient world it was also the primary means of preserving food. John Stott comments, “…when a society does go bad, we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach the non-Christian world; but should we not reproach ourselves? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: where is the salt?” The promise of Jesus is that a community salted with disciples of Jesus will hold back moral decay and bring out flavor.
Like salt, light is a big deal, and probably all the more obvious even to modern people. Jesus gives two specific examples of light to help us see the importance, a city on a hill and a lamp in a house. These examples remind us of what we already know, light guides and light reveals. Ultimately, it helps us know what is true. If we are the light of the world, then that implies that the world is a dark place. Martyn Lloyd Jones says it this way: “Our knowledge has been a knowledge of things, mechanical things, scientific things, a knowledge of life in a more or less purely biological or mechanical sense. But our knowledge of the real factors that make life life, has not increased at all. That is why the world is in such a predicament today.”
Finally, Jesus explains what it would be like for these two different things to not be doing what they are meant to do, and then applies that to His Kingdom citizens. The two biggest threats that we see to our potential impact is unsalty salt and hidden light. That is, the danger for disciples is that we would lose our distinction and conceal our light. Christian influence on society depends on being distinct. Why would anyone listen to the life giving news of the gospel when we are offering more of what they already have? Salty living is summed up in the Beatitudes. To be a citizen of the Kingdom as outlined in Matthew 5:2-12 is to live distinct from the world but to remain present with it. We go about concealing the light of Christ in us is to be busy shining our own light to the world or shying away from moments God gives us to testify to the truth of the gospel. The light we shine isn’t our own. It is, instead, the true Light of the world who lives in us radiating from us. Unless we embrace this, no one will see our good works and give glory to God, the aim of revealing light to the world.
- John 3:19 – “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
- Colossians 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
- 1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
- Is it easy or difficult to see yourself as the salt of the earth and the light of the world?
- What qualifies us to be the salt and light of the earth?
- What would it look like for you to try to change the world based on your own power/authority?
- In what way do you try to change the world apart from Jesus?
- What type of effect does salt have on the world? What is one opportunity that you missed lately to be the salt of the earth?
- What threatens the impact that salt is meant to have on the earth?
- How can we avoid this danger? What is one action you can take this week or this Summer to avoid it?
- What are the functions of light in the world and how do the examples Jesus gives help us understand those? Guide and inform.
- What threatens the impact of light on the world?
- How can we avoid this danger? What would be required of you to reveal instead of conceal truth? How can you cultivate that this Summer?
- What relationship, situation, place do you want to ask God for help to be salt and light for His glory?