“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16)
The Gospel of Matthew was written around the years of 60 – 65 A.D. by Levi also known as Matthew. He was once a despised Jewish tax collector but his life became completely transformed by Jesus and he became one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. The Gospel of Matthew forms the connecting link between the Old and the New Testament because of its emphasis on the fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew wrote this Gospel to his fellow Jews to prove that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah (The Anointed One or Christ) and to explain God’s kingdom. The special features of this gospel are that it is filled with messianic language and Old Testament references. For example, “Son of David” is used throughout and there are 53 quotes and 76 other references from the Old Testament. This is of importance given the original audience and purpose of the gospel. As said, the original audience was Jews who have been living by the Old Testament legalistic system (also known as the Torah and additionally, by other rules and texts developed by the Jewish religious leaders). Hence, the purpose of the Gospel of Matthew was to prove that Yeshua is the Messiah, The Anointed One and the eternal King that his fellow Jews were waiting for and about whom the hundreds of messianic prophecies spoke.
In this paper, I will discuss Matthew 5:13 – 16, where Jesus teaches that we are ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ These verses are part of the popular Sermon on the Mount. In brief, the Sermon is clear directions for living in God’s Kingdom. Jesus begins his sermon by describing the traits he was looking for in his followers. These traits are also known as the Beatitudes. The best example of each trait is found in Jesus himself as he came to show us with his life how to live such a life and be faith full. In the verses 13 – 16 specifically, he teaches us how to live this life as he teaches about being ‘salt’ and ‘light.’
But what does it mean to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’? And what do ‘salt’ and ‘light’ mean? In order to understand what it means to be ‘salt’ and ‘light,’ we must understand what ‘salt’ and ‘light’ are, and especially what they meant in the society and age Jesus lived in.
During the Old Testament times, salt was used to season the sacrifice offerings, which people made to ask God for forgiveness, and they did so as a reminder of the people’s covenant with God. We read about this covenant as early as Leviticus 2:13, “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (Lev 2:13 KJV). During those times, in Middle Eastern lands an agreement was sealed with a gift of salt, which showed the strength and permanence of the contract. Therefore, salt points to the effects of a truthful permanent agreement, and as such it changes behavior. Additionally, in those ancient times and in these Eastern lands, salt was a symbol of God’s activity in a person’s life as salt penetrates, preserves, and aids in healing. That is how God becomes active in our lives. Once we turn to him and allow him to penetrate every aspect of life, he preserves us from the evil around and heals us from our wounds.
Jesus calls us “salt of the earth” in Matthew 5:13. In Mark 9:49-50, He used salt to illustrate three qualities of his people. One is that we as his followers must always be faithful to Him and always remember God’s faithfulness to us just as salt when used with sacrifice in the old days recalled God’s faithful covenant with his people. Second is that just as salt is used to change and enhance food’s flavor we as believers must make a difference in the flavor of the world we live in. And third, as Christians we are to counteract the moral decay in society, heal its wounds and preserve its life just as salt helps wounds heal and preserves food from decay; otherwise we are reminded that when salt loses its saltiness, it becomes useless. “For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:49-50 KJV).
Salt can lose its flavor. When it gets wet and dries nothing is left but a tasteless residue. “It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Many believers blend into the world and avoid the cost of standing up for Christ but Jesus is clear that if a believer loses his distinctive saltiness, he becomes worthless. Jesus teaches us that just as salt flavors and preserves food we are to preserve the good in the world, to help keep it from spoiling, and to bring a new healthy and delectable flavor to life. We don’t have to think big or make big plans because He who works in us already has made big plans for us. We just need to listen and to carry out those big plans. This is to start in our personal life with our family and relationships and spill over to our work as well as our local neighborhood community. Being salty is not easy. Often it requires planning, willing sacrifice, and unswerving commitment to Christ. But we must know that when we lose the desire to salt the earth with the love and message of God, we become useless. Yes, being salty is not easy but if a follower of God fails in this function; he fails to represent Him in the world. The question we must ask ourselves is, “How salty am I?” And so… how salty are you?
As I finished writing this question, I took a break from writing this paper to meditate on it myself and pray. You may do the same for a moment – for a brief quiet moment before continuing to the next thing we are called we are. That is ‘light of the world.’
In order to fully appreciate how Jesus was referring to us, we must fully appreciate what light is and what it is not. In its simplest answer, Jesus is the Light and Source of light, and light is not darkness. The question about what light means is a question to which we can find numerous answers in various cultures and traditions. But as we learn early in life and in school (just ask a child), there is no such thing as multiple correct answers; there is only one correct answer. For the one correct answer, we must look to no one else than the very Creator and Source of Light who is Yeshua, the one true Light. So to understand what light is, we must understand who the Light is. We must understand Jesus as the Light to mankind and we must understand why the life that was in Christ is the light of men. We must be clear that we are not the source of God’s light but we merely reflect God’s light just like the moon reflects the sun’s, and as such we are God’s light in the world. As Apostle John writes, “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:4 – 5). Jesus is “… the true Light, which lights every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). He brings light into the darkness, helps us see our way to God, and shows us how to walk along that way in this world. We as believers are to reflect or in other words to witness God’s light into the world. The very word ‘witness’ indicates our role as reflectors of God’s light and so it is not about us presenting ourselves as light to others but rather pointing them to Christ, the Source of our Light.
We cannot understand light and why the life that was in Christ was the light of men unless we shine light into the darkness. During the day and age Jesus lived, people did not have the privilege and comfort of our modern day electricity. Today, our days are so lit up by the lights on the streets to the TV and computer screens – lights are everywhere and everything is lit up so much that I started to realize how much we take light for granted; and because we take it for granted, many go onto the next “cool” thing to use for their spiritual progress – flirting with the darkness. But the people who lived 2000 years ago, not having the commodity of modern day electricity, lived in darkness. They knew well how to appreciate light and what it meant just as they knew how blind the darkness makes them and how it paralyzes their function. To those people, darkness was plague. They knew well that darkness is life under the shadow of death.
Death brings eternal darkness and only Christ’s eternal life planted in us will keep us alive, even beyond death. Christ is eternally alive because he is God. He came to earth to offer mankind the hope and light of his eternal life, something that cannot be bought but can only be received as a gift. And that is something that the darkness cannot comprehend. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5) means that light reveals truth and exposes the darkness, and darkness never has and never will understand, overcome or extinguish God’s light. Yeshua Messiah (Jesus Christ) is the Creator of life and as such the Source of life. His life brings light to mankind. In his light, we see ourselves as we really are – fallen and in need to be picked up, broken and in need of wholeness, walking in the dark and in need for the way to be lit up so we see the path and don’t stumble, and so we see where we are going. He shows us how to walk along the way.
Light exposes and light reveals. No wonder than that many do not like to be in the light, and find it rather convenient to teach about embracing one’s darkness and claiming it as ‘it is all one – dark and light.’ How convenient for the darkness for what the darkness fears most is the light as light exposes it. Not surprisingly than that many fear getting their ‘dirty secrets’ and ‘dark side or shadow’ exposed as they choose the comfortable, easy, feel good, non-judgmental, here-and-now benefit of “accepting one’s shadow and dark side” as good, and claiming that darkness and light are both part of the same thing because “it is all one.” Whew… with such a thought process, I guess one can relax and know that they are not a bad person after all, and whew… I guess one can relax thinking that they are their own savior and so they are saved. But in truth, how convenient for one’s shadow, and how easy and cowardly for one to escape the judgment they fear… not realizing that it is the darkness that fears judgment, and that light fears no judgment. It is the light that has the power to judge the darkness as God’s light exposes it. Darkness is powerless before the light.
Darkness represents what is deceptive, foggy, unfaithful, untrustworthy, abusive and malevolent. It symbolizes the fallen state of humanity and spiritual paralysis. Light represents what is good, pure, true, holy, and reliable. To say ‘God is light’ means that God is perfectly holy and true, and that he alone can guide us. There is a reason the ancient people and even we today don’t say ‘God is dark(ness)’ just as we don’t say ‘live such a life that you bring darkness into the world’ but rather we aspire to live such a life that we bring light into the world.
The way that light is related to truth is that it exposes whatever exists, whether it is good or bad, where as darkness conceals and deceives making everything appear as one and the same. Both an apple and an orange sure look the same in the dark but only when we turn on the light do we see that the orange we were reaching for was a poisonous apple. In the dark, good and evil look alike but in the light, they can be clearly distinguished. Just as darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, sin cannot exist in the presence of a holy God. If we truly want to have a relationship with the Divine, we must put away the darkness and our attempts to accept it as ‘one’ with the light or as an inherent part of our nature.
Throughout the ages false, self-driven and self-empowered teachers have taught two major approaches to behavior through a light-to-darkness perspective. Some have insisted on either denying bodily desires through ascetic life and rigid discipline or have approved of gratifying every physical desire conveniently excusing it with concepts such as “doing what you love or feel” or “following your desires.” Yet others have taught that it is all one and the same, and that one is part of the other; therefore, people should embrace their shadows and dark side. And yet, they never even take a moment to understand that embracing the dark side is like laying down with the enemy. Or maybe, it is that they do not understand that to love our enemies is not the same as laying down with the enemy. The former is following a holy command that teaches us that by loving and praying for our enemies we can overcome evil with good, and the latter is only allowing the enemy to fulfill his desire which is simply to slay the one he is laying down with.
Furthermore, no one can claim to be a being of light or a light in someone’s life but choose to live in darkness. To claim that we live in the light and that we are light to others but still live in the shadow and embrace the darkness is simply hypocrisy. This truly will be exposed sooner or later, and most certainly when someone who truly walks in the Light walks into the life and shadow of such a person. Light exposes and Light reveals, and though there might be light in the darkness, there is no darkness in the light as it cannot exist there. Light is our divinely inherent nature, darkness is our fallen false nature. What is inherent is true, what is fallen is fallen. We cannot say we love God and court darkness at the same time. So let’s not forget what has been written with His blood, “If we say that we have fellowship with him [God], and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:6-10).
The simple great yet sad thing is that God reveals himself to each and every one of us. His truth is clear but our ability to understand is imperfect, or as someone once told me “Oh, we understand but it’s just too much (work) sometimes.” Truth is that the light of Yeshua’s truth is revealed to us, it is not hidden. But we may not be able to see or use it. We may not want to accept it. But we must do the work even if it is too much. Only as we put God’s teaching into active practice and lovingly turn to Him, would we understand and see more of the truth. The truth is clear but our ability to understand is imperfect so as we listen (which means to hear and to respond), we will sharpen our vision, increase our understanding and even will be given more. “Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath”(Mark 4:24 -25).
Many of us believers unfortunately have done what He asks us not to, we have put ourselves “under a bushel.” It is sad that many Christians today are hidden from sight and reluctant to be identified as Christians. I don’t blame them. I actually understand them. I myself have gotten hateful and belittling comments especially on the online social network, Facebook since I became more outspoken about my love for Christ. After my trip to Israel in May, where I got baptized in the Jordan River and followed in Yeshua’s footsteps, He asked me to not be silent and to not put myself under the bushel. He asked me to go and be the very salt and light he had created me to be. As I started to speak up more about Christ, it was painful to see how people felt like running away from me or confronting me because of my faith. Some spread rumors that since my baptism and trip to Israel I have become a “right hard core Christian” (I don’t even know what that means) without even knowing that I was Christian before my trip. My parents gave me to Christ when I was a little baby but after being on my own as a single mother in a foreign country and losing myself in new friends and their mass marketed spirituality in Los Angeles, which claims to be of God and even speaks about Christ (but interestingly never of Jesus thus falsely using and abusing His name), God spoke to me audibly and clear that He wanted me back in his hands, and that He wanted me to make the grown up, clear and conscious decision to turn back to him again completely submitting myself to Him and His love. And so I did. I bought my airplane ticket after He spoke to me in my dream telling me “You MUST go to Jerusalem.” Many who did not know that about me perceived it as something new and with something in them feeling triggered, they were not able to stay in our friendship. Yes, quite a few friends broke up their friendship with me. Some said they didn’t feel comfortable in my presence. Some of them are actually self-marketed and somewhat popular spiritual life coaches in our society who work in the areas of relationships and helping people develop their full great potential. I guess they use themselves as a measure of how to treat others once they become uncomfortable or things get triggered in them – simply dump your friend/relationship because you love yourself and you deserve the best. The friend has served her purpose and you don’t need her anymore.
So I understand why there are many Christians today who are hidden from sight. But such a Christian must understand that he or she is like a brand new lamp that never left the box it came in. We must remember that if a lamp doesn’t pierce the darkness and help people see, it isn’t worth much. We should ask ourselves whether our life shows people how to find God and how to live for Him. If the answer is “No,” we must ask ourselves what “bushels” have hidden our light. Complacency, resentment, embarrassment, stubbornness of heart, self-empowerment, or disobedience are just several examples of what can keep us from shining. What bushels do you have to remove and let your light shine? Jesus asks us just as He asked them over two thousand years ago, “Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?” (Mark 4:21).
We must not hide our light and especially, we must not hide our light at home and in our relationships as these are the missionary fronts we are all called to minister into. Our families and relations are fertile fields for planting the seeds of Truth. As believers, first and foremost our missionary work is to let our parents, children, spouse/significant other, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbors see our Light through our faith and Spirit. Shine bright and be sure that they see the love, helpfulness, generosity, and joy in you as the connecting glue with them that makes us all one heavenly family. And when you become aware of the light that you are in Christ, you will become aware of the gifts God has given you and you will find that he will give you the power you need to accomplish your destiny. Your destiny then is simply whatever task God gives you. He will place you where your place is, on a candlestick so you give light unto all that are in the house and on a hill so you cannot be hid. This is how we humbly understand that our light needs source and placement. Without a power source, we cannot be light. And we are incapable of being even remotely empowered on our own to be that source, even though some of us want to believe they can. We realize how powerless we are when the time comes for our light to turn off. This time comes for all of us in this world one day. There is a day when we all will take our last breath.
Jesus is the one true Source. He is the Light and when he talks about the light of the world, he talks about you. Being a light means that we have to tell the truth. In mission especially, it means not hiding the truth or making it more comfortable so it suits what someone wants to hear or what someone is afraid of hearing. It means not hiding ourselves. It means that this telling the truth must come in line with the truth itself: we are to let our light shine in convincing and inspiring way and not in coercing and dominating way. We are to serve, not to manipulate. We are to speak to the heart as the truth is all the heart really needs. We are to be aligned to Christ and how he shined in his earthly life (and still is).
Even more, letting your light shine means not just telling but showing the truth. More often than not, this is most efficiently done not trough big plans for popularity, or getting your own personal big following of students (or clients), or reaching far off lands but rather by your own very life and who you are being. You show the truth by the way that you live, function and simply are in your day-to-day life. And our day-to-day life, which is both our personal and professional lives and everything in between, is to be patterned by the dignity and respect we are to have for one another. Our life is to be patterned by the gospel. It is to be woven in Christ’s pattern so people can see us as a living example of what it means to be “salt” and “light” to the world and what it means to live a Christ-like life.
So let’s not obscure what God has made clear and don’t let your light malfunction by putting it under a basket. As my Pastor Tim Chaddick says, “We must not conceal what God has made clear. We must not contradict with our lives what we proclaim with our word.” We must understand the needs of the light for source and placement. There cannot be light without a source and for light to serve its purpose it needs to have the right placement. We must remember that Jesus never says that we could be, should be or that we have light. Jesus says you ARE the light of the world and just as all light needs power to shine, we know that the power source is Jesus (John 8:12), and that He did not light us up to put us under a basket. He will put us up on the city hill where we cannot be hidden. He will put us on a candlestick so we lit the whole house. It is not about changing your home, city, location or vocation. It is staying where you are and illuminating that very place that you are in with the power of God. It is about letting Him shine through you. It is about understanding that bringing sin into the light breaks its power over you. It is about allowing the truth of who God really is to be illuminated through you. It is about understanding that on our own we have no power and no flavor, and only through Him are we empowered and spiced up to fulfill our destiny and make the world a better place. And so I pray for those of us who are uncertain of what their destiny or purpose in life for God is that Yeshua may place them where He has chosen for them and that they never lose their flavor. May the salt we use and taste each day reminds us that we are now God’s covenant people who actively help preserve, purify and heal the world. May the light in our life that we take for granted, from the lamp in home or the street to the flash light and to our relations, remind us of the very Source of Light who is the Source of Life – Jesus, and may we never take him for granted.
“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).