Thoughts on Being Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ”

I memorized Matthew 5:13-16 the other day. As part of our church’s new vision statement, we’d been discussing in a small group Bible study just what it means to be light.

One thing I noticed is the context. It comes right after the beatitudes, and right before Christ asserts that He’s not here to abolish, but to fulfill, the Law. He tells us that we must have a righteousness greater than the Pharisees. Then He “tightens” up the Law, so to speak, by extending it from merely outward acts to the attitude of one’s heart. He commands us to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, and to love our enemies. He identifies this as being “perfect” (5:48). I could go on, but why outline the whole sermon? You get the point.

Christ, by definition, is the greatest preacher who ever preached. The Sermon on the Mount was not a bunch of disjoint ramblings. It flows logically.

Christ tells us we ARE salt and light (not that we should be, but we are). He tells us what our priorities are as salt and light – keep yourself salty (5:13), let your light shine (5:14-16). He also tells us HOW to retain our saltiness and let our light shine – through our sincere obedience to His commands. Such obedience, in order to be superior to the Pharisees’ righteousness, flows from who we are as children of God. It is not external conformance alone, but first an inner conformance that manifests itself.

I believe this is what it means to be salt and light. It’s not about being nice. It’s not about mowing your neighbor’s yard. It’s not about building community, works of service, being cultural leaders, investing in others’ lives, or having your neighbors over for supper. Those are all very good things which should generally be manifested in our lives, but it’s not the point. The point is obedience to God from a pure heart because of who we are in Him.

I am not one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I am not just another sinner. I am not (to quote someone I respect) living “a life of trudging through religious duties and earning points through church attendance and the like”. I am not trying to behave myself so God doesn’t smack me down and kick me out.

I am a saint of God, chosen by Him from the foundation of the world, redeemed by Him at the cost of His only begotten Son, filled with His Spirit, washed in His blood, and loved without condition.

As I live as who I am, I will be salty salt and visible light.

As I read the Sermon on the Mount, I do not read Christ telling us what to do. He’s telling us who we are, and giving us a few examples of what that ought to look like. This is the Spirit and that’s what makes it different from the Law! It’s not about behavior modification but about changing your heart. Of course, your changed heart will modify your behavior, but it’s an effect instead of the focus.

Jesus was quite clear over and over that loving Him and obeying Him are inseperable.

So what will I look like as I retain my saltiness and let my light shine before men? What does a follower of Christ look like?

I won’t flirt with sin. I’ll flee from temptation. I’ll spend time in God’s word and in prayer and meditation. I’ll join with God’s people for worship. I’ll be reverent. I’ll take life seriously. I won’t be materialistic. I will control my temper. I’ll avoid licentiousness. I’ll avoid unnecessary strife. I won’t be jealous. I will build up the body of Christ by serving as He gifts me. I will bear the burdens of other Christians. I’ll do good as I have opportunity, especially to those of the household of faith. I’ll always be ready to explain the gospel when my life causes others to inquire. I’ll separate myself from ungodliness and the ungodly (as appropriate). I will assume my God-given role as leader of my family, and lead diligently. I won’t tolerate sin, error, and ungodliness. I will set an example for others in my speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. I’ll be sensible, produce good works, have pure doctrine, and be dignified. I’ll put away ungodliness and worldly desires, and live sensibly, righteously, and godly. I’ll store my treasure in Heaven instead of on earth. I’ll count myself dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, and put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech. I’ll put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I’ll discipline myself to be godly.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

A non-trivial piece of Christ’s description of His followers as light was the location of the light. The city is set on a hill. The lamp is set on a lampstand. It’s up and visible. The city is not in the valley, but on the “holy hill of Zion”. The lamp is not hidden under a basket, but hung up where it can give light to all in the house. Christians, individually and corporately, are similarly set apart and set above the world. It’s who we are – a holy nation, a royal priesthood.

That all sounds well and good, but what does it look like? That’s the question that’s been bugging me. For instance, Tozer and MacArthur say the church should be radically different from the world. But, as Bill asked in a comment, what would that look like? I’m not sure I have the answer, and to some extent if we focus too much on what it ought to look like we’re in danger of turning it into an almost legalistic question. But I tend to be a legalistic, box-checking kind of guy, so I think it would be helpful to give some examples of what a salty, well-lit Christian life ought to look like, and what a church ought to look like, as far as I understand all this. (Remember, these are just some examples!)

Some marks of a Christian life, in no particular order:
* Spends lots of time with God in prayer, meditation, solitude, and in God’s word.
* Is marked by love and kindness in all interactions.
* Is serious instead of foolish.
* Does not flirt with sin and temptation.
* Maintains a Biblical family model and fulfills his responsibilities to love and lead his wife and to teach and discipline his children. (For a wife, this is different of course.)
* Generosity and financial responsibility.
* Participates fully in his local church, exercising his gifts to build up the body.
* Focuses on what is profitable rather than what is permissible.
* Is disciplined.
* Does not use foul language, spread rumors, or talk badly about others – instead builds others up (except where they need to be corrected).
* Takes care with regards to what he watches, reads, and listens to, and what he permits his family to watch, read, and listen to.
* Is intentional in all his relationships, particularly those with unbelievers. Never values the relationship above God, his walk with God, or the other person’s spiritual well being. Will sacrifice a relationship when needed. Keeps distance in relationships where needed. It is logically impossible for a believer and an unbeliever to maintain a long-term, close relationship unless the believer is compromising. Light and darkness CANNOT have any fellowship, because the light drives out the darkness. Either the believer will compromise, the unbeliever will get saved, or they will have to go their separate ways.
* Able to share gospels with others, particularly as a result of those intentional relationships he builds.

And some examples of a church that is salty and a bright light:
* Emphasizes personal spiritual development over programs.
* Trains believers for the work of the ministry (Eph 4)
* Convicts believers of sins, challenges and encourages them.
* Convicts unbelievers of sinfulness, brings them to repentance. Unbelievers cannot be comfortable, long term, in a church that is faithful to God. Either the church will compromise, the unbelievers will get saved, or the unbelievers will leave.
* Identifies and develops the spiritual gifts of all the members and finds places for all of them to serve in order to build up the body (Eph 4:16)
* Conducts orderly, reverent worship services (1 Cor 14:26-39)
* Relies on preaching the word of God, and the ministry of God through properly trained and serving members being light in their own spheres of influence, to produce fruit instead of “faking it” through worldly means.
* Exercises Biblical control over the qualifications of members to serve in certain functions (Acts 6:3, 1 Cor 14:34-38, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, and so on)

To get even more specific with some controversial examples:

Will I be friends with my unsaved neighbors? I’ll maintain a cordial relationship, but in all my interactions I’ll be intentional in my efforts to model and share Christ with them. I will terminate our relationship if it appears they are pulling down me or my family. Will I watch R-rated (or even PG-13) movies? If I do, it will be the exception rather than the rule. Will I watch sitcoms, soaps, dramas, etc? Not a chance. There are a few that are not offensive, and maybe even contain some good, but I don’t feel like sifting through it. I have much better things to do with my time anyway. Will I picket abortion clinics? If I thought it would do any good, I might. I think giving to our local crisis pregnancy center is more effective.

Will homosexuals be welcome in our churches? A professing Christian who is an unrepentant homosexual cannot be. Unregenerate homosexuals will either be convicted of their sins and repent, or get tired of being convicted and stop coming. What about kids with all kinds of piercings? If they are lost, they will be convicted by the preaching and either get saved or stop coming. If they are saved, then their new spirit plus the teaching ministry of the church will show them the need to get rid of their rebellious appearances. Will our churches minister to recovering homosexuals, women who’ve had abortions, divorcees, and so on? Of course, but always in the context of sin and repentance and sanctification. Will we minister to the poor? Naturally, but not without primarily addressing their spiritual poverty. Will we attempt to change society through laws and the like? Probably, but we have to remember that our commission is to change hearts, not laws, and spend our energy accordingly. Will a church sing hymns, or praise choruses? Whatever a church does, it should be reverent and theocentric.

Salt and light is not something you try to do. It’s who we are. We maintain our saltiness, and let our light shine from the high places we’re set in, as we obey God’s commands found in His word from a pure heart. If we’re not salty, or if our light is too dim to be seen, or if the darkness oddly isn’t driven out by what we think is our light, then we must look to our identity and our nature, not our methods. Methods and disciplines and programs are great as tools to help us, but they are not the goal.

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14 Responses to Thoughts on Being Salt and Light

  1. Michael_in_TN says:

    Some very excellent points.

    We had an evangelist preach along this line and a point he made was that our life is similar to a lantern. He illustrated this with two lanterns, one very clean and the other very dirty. Christ is “the light” and our life is the glass. Sin is the soot in our life that prevents the light from shining out. We have to work each day to keep the glass clean.

  2. Jared says:

    Methods and disciplines and programs are great as tools to help us, but they are not the goal.

    With this I agree wholeheartedly.

    With the rest? Well . . .
    I was nodding my head in hearty agreement most places, then found myself shaking it disappointedly in others. You can probably figure out which is which.

  3. Bill says:

    Robert,

    Much of this is great.

    But why did you throw in a dig at Hillsongs? A minor point, but this is one place where you named names. Whatever a church does, it should be reverent and theocentric. Church is not a HillSong concert.

    You are implying that Hillsongs is not reverent and theocentric. Never having actually been to a Hillsongs service I don’t know whether you have a point or not.

    My point is this – I’ve seen churches driven down, or stagnated, because members of the church (often the “pillars” of the church) are not willing to go to a new land where God is leading them. Something makes them uncomfortable – so it can’t be good.

    Of course we need to be unwilling to go somewhere where God isn’t leading. It’s a question of discernment – I am out of my comfort zone all the time in the ministry I work in – doesn’t mean the ministry isn’t good and Godly. It means I don’t like change.

    I brought this up to ask: have you ever been in a worship service where you wanted to fall flat on your face in worship, or scream, or yell, or clap? I’m not what you’d call a charismatic – I’m your normal, average, run o’ the mill southern baptist. But I’ve felt that way before, and at times I’ve felt that way to a Hillsongs song. Connected to my God, loving Him, free in Him.

    I just think you have to be careful “lumping”. I am harping, I know, but people thought David wasn’t reverent enough. People thought Peter was bad for breaking the dietary laws. People thought the disciples were ungodly for “harvesting” wheat on Saturday. People thought Jesus was ungodly for eating with sinners.

    I never, ever want to be one of the people who thought that.

  4. I was nodding my head in hearty agreement most places, then found myself shaking it disappointedly in others. You can probably figure out which is which.

    Actually, Jared, I’d love it if you would elaborate on what you disagreed with and why.

    why did you throw in a dig at Hillsongs?

    No particular reasons, but Hillsongs just bugs me. I’ve never been to a Hillsongs concert, but I do have a CD that includes many live Hillsongs recordings. I’ve removed those songs from my playlist because it just drives me nuts.

    I’ve had the worship experiences you describe while singing things ranging from Rock of Ages to some contemporary songs. Listening to some contemporary Christian music also brings my heart close to God sometimes.

    All I really meant, in addition to my dig at Hillsong, was that our corporate worship ought to generally be orderly and dignifed (1 Cor 14) rather than disorderly and overly emotional. I’ve observed just how trivially easy it is to emotionally manipulate an audience into a fake sense of worship – I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. If we’re all shouting and leaping one minute, then collapsed in tears on the floor the next minute, and that’s something that’s going on every single Sunday, well, I suspect it’s something other than genuine Biblical worship going on. Worship should be done with dignity and order.

    I’ll take out the dig at Hillsong.

    people thought David wasn’t reverent enough. People thought Peter was bad for breaking the dietary laws. People thought the disciples were ungodly for “harvesting” wheat on Saturday. People thought Jesus was ungodly for eating with sinners. I never, ever want to be one of the people who thought that.

    All of these things are true and relevant, but you know that’s one of those generic responses that you could use on anybody for saying almost anything critical about anybody or anything. We wouldn’t want to be judgmental of Benny Hinn, now would we? You see my point.

    If I’m wrong, then I can be rebuked and corrected scripturally instead of with vague hints that deep down I’m just a mean old Pharisee.

    Those last few sentences probably came out more strongly than I meant them to.

  5. Bill says:

    Thanks Robert

    I never meant to imply that you are a mean old Pharisee. In fact, after I wrote my take I thought about it – I should clarify: I never want to be one of those people criticizing something that God is doing because it makes me uncomfortable or “I don’t like it”. But I don’t want to be mindless either :-) It’s all about spiritual discernment and wisdom. It’s all about being able to recognize what God is doing, even if it makes me uncomfortable.

    I agree with you about the potential for manufacturing an emotional state of false worship. It’s something I’m deeply concerned about, actually – people can be more in love with “The Worship Experience” than they are in love with God.

    But, again, that’s where discernment comes in. Words like “reverent and dignified” mean a LOT of different things to a LOT of different people. To some people reading this it means only hymns should be played. To others it means that nothing but organ should be played (although I believe there was a time when even the organ was considered a sinful twist to worship as well). To me reverent and dignified refers to the reverence and dignity we ascribe to God, and leaves the style of worship a lot more wide-open. I’ve been in churches where the song time was about as safe from any actual worship as you could get ;-) I went to a church like this for a long time and – God bless them! – lots of great things happened to me there, and God still worked and moved. But when we had to leave that city and move to our current home we visited a church in our neighborhood (the one we go to now) and I sat in the chair in tears during the worship time. Not that it was anything fantastic at all – it was just people sitting and singing. But they were singing the song “As The Deer” and – besides the fact that I’d hardly ever sang anything but a hymn in church – this great, relatively contemporary praise song that’s straight out of scripture just connected me to God.

    In that church where I had come from, I once asked the music minister why we couldn’t do some praise and worship songs now and then. Why was it only always hymns? He said he had no choice – there were older couples in the church that would make his life miserable if he tried to change the style of music (he said it a lot nicer than that, of course). When I’m 60 I pray I will NEVER have that kind of spirit of threat toward my music minister just because he wants to do something out of my comfort zone.

    I’m babbling a bit, but let me continue. I’ve talked to my wife before about this – there are some physical acts that are definitely biblical as forms of worship that just don’t do it for me – one is clapping. Whenever I hear someone say “Give a clap offering to the Lord” I cringe – when I clap it just doesn’t make me “feel” like I’m worshipping. Slapping my hands together just doesn’t say “God – I love You!” But just because it makes me uncomfortable to clap doesn’t mean that to others that isn’t an act of worship. It was certainly employed as an act of worship in the Psalms.

    One act of worship (that I believe is biblical)that I have engaged in at times (hopefully quietly and reverently – I generally go back to the back of the room for this one) is lying on my face before God. It’s definitely a relatively rare occurrence for me (or really anyone else that I know) but there have been times recently – in July at our junior high camp – when I was hitting the floor, crying out to God in repentance and desperation (quietly, of course – I’m not about grabbing attention :-) – now, in some churches a dorky looking guy whose pushing forty who decided to lie down in the back of the sanctuary while a song was being played might be looked at askance. This is one of those cases where I hope I wouldn’t be the one doing the askance-ish looking

    Other forms of worship don’t appear to have much Biblical basis at all (“Holy laughter”, for instance). Yes, we need to be discerning. I remember really enjoying the moment a few years back at a Dennis Jernigan concert at some church I wasn’t familiar with when he told the audience to please put away their tambourines :-) – not that I’m anti-tambourine, but they were playing them on EVERY song, even the slow ones. And – wow – none of these people had the spiritual gift of keeping a beat. :-)

    The one thing about Hillsongs I have noticed on the few times I’ve seen them on TV is how good looking everyone is – from the singers to the band to the pastors. I’ve wondered if they don’t screen out the less attractive people :-)

  6. Tim says:

    In all the comments I’ve read through the years about music and worship, it just now dawned on me that the subject centers around “Clapping”, “Swaying”, “Shouting” or some other form of bodily…emotional…sensational outburst. You very rarely see a discussion over the lyrics or the theology of those who are presenting the music. Of course, there’s not much theology involved in “Yeh, Yeh, Yeh, I love Jesus”! Peace….

  7. Jared says:

    We must be reading different places, Tim, because over the years, I’ve read plenty of discussion of the lyrics and theology in worship music, new and old.
    We even had a discussion of this on Thinklings a month or so ago.
    It usually comes down to the critics counting the number of “I”‘s or “me”‘s in a song.
    I wonder if David caught the same flak . . .

  8. Tim says:

    We must be. I’ve never seen it. Of course, there is a difference between what God thinks of “I” or “Me” and what I think of “I” or “Me”. I believe David understood the difference.

  9. Jared says:

    So is a song that says “I love Jesus” not good? Or better than “Jesus loves me”? Do we have to divorce ourselves from the equation?
    Worship is about personal submission to God and acknowledgement of His greatness. It seems fine and natural to me to make worship personal by saying “I submit to God” and “I acknowledge Your greatness.” It reflects gratitude and the condition of our hearts toward the subject of worship rather than mental assent and impersonal acknowledgement of the subject of worship.

    I like substantive worship music too, but I think oftentimes people forget the worshipper’s heart is more important than his words (not that the latter doesn’t flow from the former, but hopefully you know what I mean).

    And while we’re at it, I think there’s a great and wondrous theology in “yeah, yeah, yeah — Jesus loves me.”
    I don’t know if this is a real song or just your invented parody of what you think modern worship sounds like, but I like:
    a) The triple repetition of the “Yeah” is a common biblical construct meant to imply completeness. Think of other repeated phrases like “verily, verily” and “truly, truly.”
    b) That Jesus loves me is an incredible theological truth! A perfect and holy God deigning to love an imperfect and unholy creature as myself? Pretty huge, IMHO.

    So actually — “Yes, Yes, Yes! Jesus loves me!”

    Things don’t have to be stated complexly to communicate precious truths.

  10. Jared says:

    Oops. Your “song” said ‘yeh, yeh, yeh — I love Jesus’.
    But since I believe I love because He first loved me, I assert my analysis still. ;-)

    It’s equally incredible that I can love Jesus, since — as a sinful and unholy creature — the only way I would even want to love Him is if He loved me first and put His love in me.
    What a miracle, too, that I love Jesus!

  11. Bill says:

    Hi Tim

    I guess I deserved that, talking about clapping and all.

    It’s ironic, though, because I’m known as a “words guy” at our church – I’m big into words, and I’m really not a demonstrative fellow (although I also believe that we are physical beings and what we do with our bodies affects our spirit, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish)

    I think there’s a danger of assuming too much about the relative “depth” of the lyrical content of modern worship, just as people who are into modern worship can often times judge the relative “dryness” of older hymns. I think there’s a place for both of them.

    I had a discussion with someone from my old church about this quite a few years ago, and they echoed your complaint: “There is a real lack of good, deep theology in praise choruses”. After thinking about it for awhile it occurred to me that this was a bit of a petitio principii – “begging the question” – the assumption being that worship music is supposed to contain deep, thought provoking theological truths. Is it? I am a big fan of diversity in worship, with some songs containing a deeper message and others containing more simplicity. There is great power in the words “I love you” coming from a sincere heart that truly does love God. Just as in a marriage sometimes our intimacy is most meaningful in soft, simple whispers.

    I believe that especially if the message presented in a worship service by the speaker contains theological depth and provokes thought, application, and a deeper understanding and followship of God that it’s ok (and possibly even desired) to worship in music with a view toward the more intimate and less cerebral side of our relationship with God. Sometimes we need to just celebrate, to just love on our Father.

  12. Bill says:

    Tim

    You might find this funny (and eerily reminscent of real life!)

    This is the Lark News April 2003 edition (note: Lark is a parody) Wal-Mart rejects racy worship CD

  13. I never want to be one of those people criticizing something that God is doing because it makes me uncomfortable or “I don’t like it”. But I don’t want to be mindless either :-) It’s all about spiritual discernment and wisdom.

    I agree completely. We have to judge our experiences by the Bible. If it makes me feel uncomfortable, but it’s Biblical, then that’s just too bad for me. If it makes me feel great, but it’s unbiblical, then that’s also too bad for me.

    Scripturally, our corporate worship times are to be done in an orderly and dignified manner. And while people will certainly disagree on some particulars, would you agree that there are some things that reasonable men would agree were clearly outside the line of orderliness?

    the potential for manufacturing an emotional state of false worship

    Having been to a great many youth events, I have experienced this firsthand. It’s odd how many apparently false professions of faith also seem to occur at these events.

    To me reverent and dignified refers to the reverence and dignity we ascribe to God, and leaves the style of worship a lot more wide-open.

    I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve actually seen a smoke machine used as part of a church’s worship service.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love many of the more recent worship songs. “America’s 25 Favorite Praise and Worship Choruses” is currently in the CD player in my car. (Actually, come to thin of it, I put the Mary Poppins soundtrack in for my boys. But just before that I had the other CD in.)

    The definition of orderliness is kind of like the famous definition of obscenity – I know it when I see it.

    Worship has actually been a point of controversy in our church recently. The pastor preached a couple of sermons about it that were apparently pretty hard-hitting. I missed both of them due to travel and illness, but one of the lines was “if you’re holding back your heart because of the tune, you need to repent of that sin!” We had folks who wanted ONLY hymns and those who wanted ONLY praise & worship choruses. Right now we lean mostly towards hymns, by probably a 2:1 ratio. The hymns don’t quite sound “right” to me, but I think that’s because of the guitar accompaniment that I’m not used to.

    I don’t think in practical terms you and I would disagree much about appropriate forms of worship.

    how good looking everyone is – from the singers to the band to the pastors. I’ve wondered if they don’t screen out the less attractive people :-)

    This is the real reason I don’t like them – I’m bitter that they left me out for being ugly. :-)

  14. amy says:

    This reminds me of the stuff we’re discussing in church right now. Well, I should say, stuff that the Preacher has been talking about. We’re learning about Romans 14. (‘One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables’, etc)

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