Salt & Light: Enhancing Our Surroundings for God's Glory
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and its gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." [Matthew 5:13-16, NIV]
It wasn't until the later part of my college years that I really understood the concept that to identify as a Christian was more than checking a tick mark on a form. True Christianity requires us to be counter-cultural and, therefore, stand out. Jesus makes this very clear when He likens those who follow Him to salt & light.
We are the salt of the earth.
Biblical scholars say that there were up to ten or eleven different functions of salt during Jesus' time, making salt extremely valuable. In fact, salt was so valued that Roman soldiers were sometimes paid their dues with salt [which is where the term, "being worth your salt" comes from]. Based on the context of the passage, Jesus seems to be taking about salt's seasoning attribute. When I think of salt seasoning something it is added to, I immediately think of oxtail soup. No matter how many vegetables, no matter how much meat, is added to oxtail soup, the soup is bland and tasteless (as is most soups) until salt is added to it. When salt is introduced to any food, that food becomes [more] salty - that's the purpose of salt. If salt were to lose its saltiness, it would no longer be useful for anything but to be trampled underfoot.
We are the light of the world.
In addition to being the salt of the earth, Jesus calls us to be the light of the world. The purpose of light has not changed since the ancient times. Light gives us the ability to see in the midst of darkness. Currently, my wife and I sleep in the same room as our children. Since my children go to bed before I do, I often use my iPhone flashlight navigate around our bedroom at night. I have gotten in trouble a number of times by my wife for waking our kids up with the "bright" light - even on the lowest setting. Light, no matter how dim, will always shine in the darkness.
A call to make a difference.
Salt and light are both similar in the sense that they are both agents of change. Salt changes its environment to become more flavorful and, more specifically, salty. Light changes its environment to become brighter. Not only are we called to change our environment, we are called to improve it. It's not just about making a random difference and changing things up. It's about serving a specific purpose that God has for us and enhancing our surroundings; salt enhances flavor and light enhances visibility.
I've been thinking a lot about the ways in which I impact [and fail to impact] the world around me. I am grateful that, as a pastor, I have a platform to teach and display the love of Christ to my younger brothers & sisters. I do truly see the difference that I am making in my church simply by being present ... but I know that there is so much more that I could be doing for my immediate community where my church and apartment are located.
Sometimes, when I don't see people or communities that I invest in undergo instant, miraculous transformation, I get disappointed. Often times, when I am in that state, I feel like a failure. Like I'm not doing enough ... like I'm not doing things right. However, the Lord has been showing me more and more that I only feel this way when I project God's responsibilities onto myself & try to do what only God can do. In these moments, I remember that it is not by my own effort that I am saved or sanctified. I remember that it is not by what I do or don't do and how well or poorly I do things that I find meaning and value. In these moments, I am reminded of my ultimate, eternal calling.
A call to do by being, not be by doing.
There is a profound truth implied through these four verses in Matthew; we are called to be agents of change in our environment simply by being who God has made us to be. Salt and light affect change without necessarily "trying" to. Salt does not have to try to be salty just as light does not have to make an effort to be bright. The nature of salt is to be salty. In the same way, the nature of light is to be light. When salt is added to oxtail soup, the soup becomes salty for no other reason than the fact that salt was added. When a flashlight is turned on in the dark, the surrounding space becomes brighter for no other reason than the existence of the light.
Just like salt and light, we are called to operate out of identity - to walk in confidence because we are children of the Most High God and to walk in power because we are carriers of His presence. We are to first love God and, from that overflow of love, to love others. There is no special formula to enhancing our environments than to simply love God and love people. As we do these two things with the gifts that God has given us, God's love will be made manifest and people will encounter Him.