Matthew R. Perry

What Does Salt and Light Mean?

In Church Life, Culture, Devotional, Politics, Sermons on May 4, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Many of us here have been in church for all our lives, and with that we have our own expressions. This should not surprise us. Every field has their own terminology and if you desire to work in that particular field, you need to learn what it’s all about! For instance, if you are working on computers and say, “I’m going to boot up my computer and download Windows on my PC, then use Mozilla Firefox for my web browser so I can surf the ‘Net,” you may understand everything I just said — or you may think I’m speaking in tongues.

Christians have their own terms as well. One phrase we tend to use often is the phrase “salt and light.” All of us fall into three categories:

• We may understand perfectly.
• We may be fairly new to Christianity and have no clue as to what this means.
• Or, we could be ones who use the term frequently and may even find some inspiration in it, but not have a good grip on it.

All of us need to see two things. First, what does ‘salt and light’ mean? Secondly, what does it mean to be ‘salt and light?’ The answer to this question will not simply satisfy a theological question, but will give all Christians the reason why God put us here.

1. What does ‘salt and light’ mean?

Salt. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says, “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.” What does this mean? Salt in our culture has various uses. Many have salt on the kitchen table which is used to season food. Having this in mind, some say that God has placed Christians here to season the earth with the salt of Christianity. This is partly true!

The Roman Empire was overturned not by warfare but by ordinary Christians living Kingdom lives in the midst of tyranny and opposition. They saw the reality of Matthew 5:10-12 which says:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

When the Roman citizens saw the peace and joy that Christians possessed even in stiff opposition and persecution, this made an impression.

Even now Christians make a difference. Think of all art over the last 500 years devoted to Christ. Think of all the music given over to the glory of God. Our educational system was founded largely by Christians to help children read the Scriptures. Harvard and Yale were founded as colleges for pastors. Our hospitals have named like St. Joseph’s, Good Samaritan, Jewish and others because God placed a compassion in Christians to treat and help those made in his image.

In Jesus’ time, salt was not just used for seasoning but as a preservative to cure the meats and also brings out the flavor. With no refrigeration system, the only way to keep the meats from spoiling would be to cure the meat, wrap it tightly, and bury it in the ground. The meat would stay put — that is, unless some dirt came in and mixed with the salt. If this happens, the meat spoils and the salt loses its preserving nature.

Sodium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form; it always links itself to another element. Chlorine, on the other hand, is the poisonous gas that gives bleach its offensive odor. When sodium and chlorine are combined, the result is sodium chloride–common table salt–the substance we use to preserve meat and bring out its flavor. Love and truth can be like sodium and chlorine. Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to combine with various doctrines. On the other hand, truth by itself can be offensive, sometimes even poisonous. Spoken without love, it can turn people away from the gospel. When truth and love are combined in an individual or a church, however, then we have what Jesus called “the salt of the earth,” and we’re able to preserve and bring out the beauty of our faith.

Salt works inwardly which means that when salt works, it’s where no one sees it. But the effects of it are on the outside. With the salt, the preserving nature works inwardly so that

Light. In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus says, “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.” Here, the skeptic may say, “Wait a minute. In John 8:12 (this skeptic knows his Bible) says that Jesus is the light of the world.” Correct. John 8:12 says, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” Is Jesus or are we the light of the world?

We are the light of the world because we are the body of Christ in the world. He lives in us and shines through us as we live out the Kingdom He’s transferred to us. And light has a distinct function: to uncover the darkness and put on display all that’s around us.

Yet Jesus says that people don’t light this lamp in order to hide it. Yet not everyone who has light shines it. Why? Two reasons come to mind: some hid their light because of an enemy approaching. Some snuffed out their light when they were sleeping.

But Christ called us to be his light in his world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Christians are to rise high above the fray of the world so all the world can see the light of Jesus. This verse may be difficult for us to grasp since we are so surrounded by light. But in the 1st century as well as in most of the world today, no light can be found for hundreds of miles. So when the lights of the big city shine in dark rural areas afar, those areas can see that light clearly.

By Jesus saying that we are the light of the world, and connecting this with the fact that Jesus is the light of the world, we shine and shine brightly. But we must be discerning enough not to allow the enemy to douse the light. This is not easy, for Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He makes himself and his way look quite good, but that’s because without Christ we are remarkably like him: Satan wanted to be like God, and so do we. We want to rule our lives with impunity.

We also must make sure that we do not put out that light by falling asleep. Ephes. 5:15 says that we should, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” We need to be alert, be focused, be discipled — we need to look to Christ and follow his will and way.

  1. […] 9, 2008 · No Comments In a previous post, I asked “What does salt and light mean?” Now, I’m asking, “What does it […]

  2. Thanks for the explanation. I have a friend who sends a daily devotional, in which he wishes us to be ‘salt and light’ daily…and I didn’t know what he meant. THANKS again.

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