Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:13-16, Isaiah 49:5-6, Luke 14:25-35, John 9:5, Colossians 4:2-6
Salt and light. Some of us have heard these faith metaphors since childhood, maybe even sung them.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Christ followers are salt and light to the world. Jesus says so. So why not “let it shine” like the song says? If light dispels darkness, shouldn’t we hold it up as high and bright as we know how?
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m gonna let it shine.
“Let your light shine before others,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:16). But a little while later, in this very same sermon, He instructs believers not to flaunt their faith, as the Pharisees were apt to do. Don’t fast so that other people notice; don’t pray loud so that others will hear, He says (Matthew 6:6, 16-18). How then, are we to understand Jesus’ declaration that we are people who should stand out and lend flavor, simply by nature of following Him?
Tensions like this are not my favorite. I like to know what is expected of me so I can meet those expectations, or at least do my best to fly under the radar when I don’t. But no matter how many times I reread these verses from Matthew 5, I can’t find where Jesus gives a measurement for how much salt is too much, or a guide for how brightly our light should shine. Even worse, I can’t find a list of practical examples of how to be salt and light in my 21st century American life.
It sounds silly, but isn’t that too often how we approach Scripture? I confess that I do. I read it looking for me instead of Him.
The Sermon on the Mount, like all of Jesus’ teaching, offers more than a moral checklist. Jesus addresses the heart behind our action, the motivation behind our direction. His is not a get-it-right gospel of personal achievement, not a formula to memorize. It is relationship. The how-tos are not there because they are not the point: Jesus is the point.
Saltiness and brightness are not qualities that salt and light determine about themselves. They are qualities determined by their Maker. Their purpose is placed within them, not one they muster up. Likewise, being “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” is not something we accomplish by sheer will; it is who we are when we are made new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“I will also make you a light for the nations,
to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
- Isaiah 49:6
In the same way that salt changes the taste of a meal, or light alters the composition of a room, our redeemed lives in Christ are a way that God, in His good providence, chooses to affect the world around us. We are walking, talking testaments of God’s mercy and grace in a dying world. We are salt and light because He makes us so.
The art of living and loving in a way that stands out in a fallen world is a matter of knowing and following Jesus. When we are in relationship with Him, the light we shine is His light. The flavor we bring to the world around us tastes distinctly like the hope and joy of His gospel.
As we read Christ’s words today, may we be drawn less to grand feats of faith and more to the everyday outflow of a life lived in prayer, Scripture, repentance, and obedience to the Lord. May we embrace “the mystery of Christ” that Paul spoke to the Colossians (4:3), and seek Him out in the tensions of our faith. After all, following Jesus is more art, less science. It’s not about following rules; it’s about following Him.