On Being Salt (and Light) in the World

This blog post is inspired by today’s sermon where I go to church. The sermon was the last in a series about how followers of Christ are called to have an impact on the world. The text is out of Matthew, known as the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:13-14 ESV

The themes here are salt and light. God calls His people to be salt and light in the world. These should be familiar concepts, but it always helps to dive a little deeper into the things we think we already know, and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded and encouraged to live them out.

I will preface my thoughts with a personal story I have told before. In high school and college, I found in myself a yearning to go off in the woods and retreat from society. That feeling might have been originally inspired by reading My Side of the Mountain when I was in grade school.

My Side of the Mountain was about a young boy who left his home for the woods of the Catskill Mountains where he took up residence in a hollow tree. He fended for himself in the quiet and solitude of nature, taming a peregrine falcon in the process, in a very idealistic depiction of life alone in the Eden of nature.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that I was very drawn to Henry David Thoreau. That kind of contemplative life lived alone in the peace and abundance of the outdoors was alluring to me. Even after I became a believer in college, my personal dream included peace, quiet, solitude and nature.

I am still drawn to that, but God took me through a college class in which I realized that God was calling me to the noise, bustle and busyness of society – despite my reluctance. It seemed like a personal paradigm shift to me, and it was; but it really wasn’t as profound a revelation (or shouldn’t have been) as it seemed at the time.

I won’t bore you will the details here, but I realized that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) run from the encroachment of “civilized” society on that idyllic vision of personal utopia. I needed to turn and face it. I realized God was calling me to engage the world and not run from it.

Throughout history, religious believers of various kinds formed groups that cloistered themselves from the world. From monasteries to modern communes, the tendency to want to run from the grit and grime and dirt of humanity and human institutions is a strong idealist and religious theme, but not one, it seems, God wants most of us to pursue.

That is because He calls us to be salt and light.

As I listened to the sermon today, it dawned on me that salt is only effective when it comes in contact with food. It’s purpose in drawing out the flavor of food and in preserving it can only be realized when salt is in close contact with it. Salt can’t flavor or preserve food it doesn’t touch.

If the followers of Christ are going to be salt to the world, we have to be in close contact with the world.

If the followers of Christ are going to be salt to the world, we have to be in close contact with the world.

We can’t be effective if we aren’t in close contact with the world.

It occurs to me as well that too much salt can be overwhelming and overpowering. A little salt on my steak is the perfect way to bring out its flavor, but a shaker of salt emptied on my steak would be unpalatable.

I don’t want to take the analogy too far. A shaker of salt might be necessary for preservation in a world before refrigerators. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the use. More is not necessarily better as a flavor enhancer.

Christians gathering in churches is necessary, perhaps, for the preservation of the Gospel and growing in the knowledge of God, but churches may not be the best way of bringing out the true flavor of God in the wider community and the world. We need individual Christians who can bring the salt of the Gospel to the workplace, to the community and to the world to do that.

Regardless of whether the analogy really fits, we need to be in the world and in contact with the world to be the salt that God intends us to be. Even for preservation purposes, salt must be in contact with the food to be effective. It isn’t just a necessary evil; it is part of the mission of the Gospel for Christians to be in the world.

In the sermon this morning, the pastor used the example of Jeremiah’s word to the recently exiled nation of Judah in Babylon. They probably hadn’t even recuperated from the long trek to Babylon, when Jeremiah gave them three instructions that are relevant to us in our modern Babylons.

The first instruction was this:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.” (Jer. 5:5-6)

Being salt and light begins with a focus on family. My kids are all out of the house now. The six of them are all out on their own. My time of influence isn’t over (I hope), but the best opportunity to be salt and light in their lives is gone now, and it seems like it went too fast!

I fear in my personal doubts sometimes that I wasn’t the salt and light I should have been. I made a lot of mistakes. I missed a lot of opportunities. If I am being perfectly honest, I didn’t appreciate how quickly that time of influence would pass.

If you are a parent with children still at home, I urge and encourage you to redeem the time. Don’t let the precious minutes, hours, days and years go by without being the salt and light to your children you can be. Lean into it and embrace it. Those days are ultimately fleeting. And don’t forget your spouse; he/she needs you to be salt and light as well.

The second instruction the prophet Jeremiah gave the exiled nation was this:

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer. 29:7)

God wants you to be salt and light in the city and community in which you find yourself. That means getting involved in your community. God doesn’t want His followers sitting on the sidelines; He wants us to “get in the game”.

We can’t be salt and light if we don’t get involved with the people and groups in our communities. Churches can have a preservative effect on a community by their involvement, leading the way in reaching the vulnerable people with clothes, food, kindness and love. Churches that have high visibility in a community (for the benefit of the community) can have a profound effect for the Gospel.

Community involvement, however, is where too much salt can be overpowering and overwhelming. God calls individual Christians to venture out past the church gates and cloistered church groups into the community carrying the flavor and aroma of the Gospel as they go.

We don’t have to preach the Gospel everywhere we go to be effective. We need people who can show the kindness, love, integrity, self-control and other fruits of the Spirit to a world that is lost and hurting. If we simply exhibit the character of Christ, we will open doors to people willing to hear the Gospel.

Finally, Jeremiah instructed the new residents of Babylon as follows:

“Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them….” (Jer. 29:8-9)

God doesn’t call us out of the world. He calls us into the world, but that calling comes with a warning that we should not be taken or captivated by the world and its allurements. This world and everything in it is passing away. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father; “Thy Kingdom come!”

We should not forget that we are aliens and strangers in this world. Like Abraham living as a sojourner in tents in the promised land, we are just passing through. If we let ourselves by taken by the spirit of this world, we will lose our saltiness – our distinctness. We should never forget the Gospel.

In truth, where would we go?! Only Jesus is the Word, the Bread of Life, the Living Water. Why would we trade that for anything the world has to offer?!

We are called to be salt and light, to have an impact in the world. The greatest impact we could possibly have is to introduce people to the good news, the Gospel, the love of God expressed for us in Jesus who was the fullness of God in the flesh. The greatest impact we can have is an eternal one, calling to the eternity God placed into every human heart.

To fulfill that calling, we need to be right in the mix of humanity. We can’t separate ourselves and hope to be the salt and light God made us and called us to be. We need to be engaged in our families and in the communities in which God placed us, and we need to keep our focus on the Gospel and the kingdom of God as we go out into the kingdoms of this world.

3 thoughts on “On Being Salt (and Light) in the World

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