We all have influence in our communities, even outside of the church. We have influence where we live, work, go to school, shop, bank, on the Internet, and all of the other places we go. Every single one of us is involved in our communities. We are out there rubbing shoulders with people we encounter. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you are, you are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to be an influence. Jesus described it well in Matthew 5:13-16 when he said:
13 “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 underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Some of you might recognize that this little passage is tucked right behind The Beatitudes. This passage above is part of a great sermon Jesus spoke one day called the Sermon on the Mount. As Jesus begins this sermon He describes nine conditions and characteristics that His followers should have that will help them to be happy, joyful and blessed despite difficult circumstances. Then He tells the people that they are salt and light. Jesus wasn’t just talking to people 2,000 years ago. He also expects The Beatitudes to be in our lives today. People should take notice that you and I react differently through these nine conditions and other situations in our lives. We can have a powerful influence this way. We will spend the remainder of this blog discussing the two metaphors of salt and light.
Our Influence as Salt in Our Communities In this day and age salt is in a lot of our foods. In America we consume so much salt we don’t even think about it unless we are on a low-sodium diet. Back in Bible times salt was very important. They didn’t have refrigerators back then so they preserved everything using salt. They also used salt for flavoring just as we do today. What exactly did Jesus mean when He said that we are the salt of the Earth? Some commentators think He meant that we are salt as a preservative. If all the Christians were taken from Earth, this place would be really bad, so Christians help to preserve the goodness here on this planet. Other commentators think we are a kind of seasoning. Christians help to season society, have a positive influence and make the world a better place in which to live. The clue is in verse 13. Jesus talks about the salt losing its taste, so we can probably conclude Jesus is talking about salt as a seasoning.
How do we season society? As our character reflects Christ, and we do benevolent good deeds, we are the salt of the Earth. Jesus gives us two possible options regarding salt in the community. He first describes salt with flavor. As true Christians we should never lose our flavor. Jesus plants Christians all around the globe so that we can help to season this world with our Christ-like character and good works. When people see you in a happy, joyful state despite your difficult circumstances, they will see how different you are than the rest of the people around them. They will taste your salt because you are different than the prevailing culture around you. Your salt will have an effect on them.
Jesus also talks about another option that doesn’t thrill him. He describes salt without flavor. Picture the Dead Sea for just a moment. It is nine times saltier than the ocean. Back then the people would drive the saltwater into salt pits, and it would evaporate there as the sun came down leaving mounds of salt. If the people didn’t mine these mineral deposits immediately then the scorching sun would change the chemical inside and it would lose its saltiness. The people had to chip away the top layer of salt to get down to the good stuff. The only thing they could do with the top layer of salt was to throw it away. It was not good for anything. Jesus could have been saying that if we become like the outer layer of salt by the Dead Sea then we are worthless to the cause of Christ. There is nothing we can contribute because the whole plan of Christ is that we become a seasoning to society that desperately needs some salt.
What does a Christian look like that has lost his or her saltiness? There are one of two ways to tell whether we have lost our salt. The first is that we are secret Christians. No one knows we are Christians because we keep it private and go about our lives. If no one knows we have a Savior then we have lost our salt. The second is that we blend into the culture so much that no one can tell the difference between our lifestyles and the lifestyles of the world around us. Many Christians in America just blend in with everyone else. A majority of Christians in America have lost their salty flavor. If you are a Christian and you realize you have lost your flavor, all you must do is get right with God. Repent of your sin and ask God to forgive you. If you do this then God will say that you are salt. You can get your saltiness back again! We need to season the culture around us.
Our Influence as Light in Our Communities Salt is the first metaphor Jesus describes. Then he explains a second metaphor. We also have influence as light on the community. If you are light you will dispel darkness and make it possible for people around you to see the way to Jesus Christ. Have you ever been in complete and utter darkness? You cannot see your hand in front of you, you don’t know where you are, you don’t know which direction to walk, who or what you will bump into, or whether you will fall into a pit. It is just terrible! Just a little light can work wonders. This world–spiritually speaking–is in utter, blinding darkness. When we became Christians, God delivered us from a domain of darkness into His marvelous light. In Ephesians 5:8 Paul says, “You at one time were darkness, but now you are light.”
So as with salt, Jesus says with light there are two options. The first is that we are shining lights. People see our light, and we influence them. Jesus says that it is impossible for a city on a hill to be covered. Back in the days of the Bible they didn’t have electricity. While a candle or two doesn’t put out much light, the light from a village could be seen for miles. Because we are Christians we are like the city on the hill. People cannot miss our light. Jesus introduces a second option as to the type of light we can be. We are shielded lights. If we cover the light, then people will trip over things and get hurt. You might stop and wonder for a moment how people back then could light an entire house with one lamp. Today we light a candle and it illuminates one room. Back then, their entire houses were only one room. People would eat, sleep, play, and do all kinds of things in a one-room house. At night so that all could see, they would light a lamp and put it on a stand. They could then see where they were going. You and I are lamps. The only way you won’t shine, Jesus says, is to cover your lamp. Otherwise, people will take notice of you.
Why should we let our lights shine without obstruction? Jesus says that it is so people around us will see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. By virtue of your good works, you are light. A Christian minus good works has a basket over his candle. What are these good works that shine in the darkness? Once people know that you are a Christian, every good thing you do shines a light. This could be a kind word, helping someone in need, a gentle response to someone yelling at you, telling the truth, being honest in all of your dealings, showing love to your spouse and children, showing respect to your parents and elders, and having good conduct before unbelievers. These are just the beginnings of the ways of light.
What happens when you put a basket over your light? You are doing things you know you should not be doing. You end up having a bad influence. What are these dark, bad things that obstruct the light? Continual fighting with your spouse and yelling at your children, being rude, getting drunk, being promiscuous, lying and manipulating people, using profanity and being lazy and not doing work that needs to be done. Once people know you are a Christian, and they see you do these kinds of things, you dim the light. Jesus says the purpose of our light is for others to feel good about God and see His glory. They will even praise God.
Unfortunately, time and time again people see Christians as hypocrites. People don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity because the person they thought was a Christian doesn’t seem any different than everyone else. This gives God a black eye! This gives the church who is trying to follow Christ a black eye. We must be very careful how we conduct ourselves. The number one thing that damages unbelievers are the people who call themselves Christians but have put a basket over their light and given other Christians a bad reputation. Our influence is there 24/7 whether we know it or not, even to strangers.
Jesus gave us these two metaphors. In his mind, this is how we are going to penetrate society. Jesus doesn’t want us to choose between tasty salt and flavorless salt and shining light and covered light. We ARE salt. We ARE light. Don’t do anything to screw it up! This is how we influence our communities. Once people know you are a Christian, you have immediate influence. People expect you to be salt and light. And by doing this, you are exercising one of the greatest ways to give God glory. Someone may see what you do, give God the glory, and then become light too. We ignite candle, after candle, after candle in the community because we are lit by Christ and we allow others to be lit by Christ. This is the only hope out there for communities around the world. God wants His people to be both salt and light.
In Sunday school, children are taught the song “This Little Light of Mine.” You may remember it if you grew up in the church. It is based on our text today. If God is speaking to your heart right now and telling you that you need to do something about your salt and light and you realize that you have tremendous impact on the people in your lives, and you desire to brightly shine and be full of flavor, then acknowledge this before God today. Ask Him to help you to stop doing dark things that cover your light and to stop blending in with those who don’t know Jesus. Let God help restore you to the fullness of His light and then go out and sprinkle some tasty salt upon those in your neighborhoods, your schools, your workplaces and elsewhere in you communities! The whole point of who we are here on this Earth is to bring glory, honor and praise to Jesus Christ.
Sing along out loud or in your heart! This Little Light of Mine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fttiMMpXc4