The Salt and Light Revolution

Matthew 5:13-16

August 25, 2019 | Ray Pritchard

When the history of this generation is finally written, it may well be that the last fifty years will be called the Age of Revolution. First, we had the cultural revolution, then we had the sexual revolution, which was followed by the digital revolution. In the last few years we have had a political revolution.

In some ways we are living out the famous words of Charles Dickens:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

On one hand, we live in a time of technological marvels. Just a few minutes ago, we received a FaceTime call from our son and his family who live in Chicago. Through some miracle of the internet, we could sit in our room at Word of Life Lodge in Schroon Lake, New York and talk with our grandkids Hannah and Josh in Chicago as if they were sitting in the room with us. That wasn’t possible ten years ago.

The other day I saw a phone booth, the kind we used to use not that long ago. When was the last time you made a call from a phone booth? It’s been so long that I can’t remember the last time I did.

Someone remarked that a pauper today lives better than a king did 125 years ago. It’s true.

On the other hand, we live in a time when hatred threatens to tear apart our society. Despite all its benefits, social media has made us cranky, inconsiderate, demanding, suspicious, and accusatory. If you want to get your blood pressure rising, spend a few minutes on Twitter.

When was the last time you used a phone booth?

We live in dangerous times with hot spots all over the globe. At any moment things could spiral out of control in North Korea, Hong Kong, Iran, the Horn of Africa, and in India.

I don’t have to say much about politics because we all know how divided America is. It happens that I’m writing this sermon in the summer of 2019. We are fifteen months out from the next national election, and the temperature is rising daily. Who knows what tomorrow’s headlines will say? Almost everyone seems angry about something.

If there was ever a time for the church of Jesus to stand up and be counted, this is it. But if anything, our influence seems to be waning. A recent poll shows that church membership in the US has dropped sharply in the last two decades, from 70% in 1998 to an all-time low of 50% in 2018. Among millennials (those born after 1979) church membership drops to 42%. If you ask about actual church attendance, 22% of Americans say they attend church every week.

We need a salt and light revolution

In an increasingly secular world, we should not be surprised that the church has lost its influence in the community. There are many reasons why this is so, but one reason stands out above the rest. The church has lost its influence because Christians have neglected their responsibility to be salt and light in the world. As we have neglected to be what God has called us to be, the world has decided to ignore us. And the flip side is also true. When Christians decide to be salt and light, the world pays close attention to what we say and do. Let me say it simply: When we are salt and light, the world listens to us. When we aren’t, they don’t.

We need a Salt and Light Revolution in our day. Let’s talk about what that looks like.

Salt of The Earth

 These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:13:

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 by men.

These words have become a proverb in the English language. If someone is genuine, useful, honest, straightforward, and without hypocrisy, we say he is a “salt of the earth” type person.

What did Jesus mean? Salt was one of the most common substances in the ancient world. Roman soldiers were paid in salt and would revolt if they didn’t get their ration. Our English word “salary” comes from the Latin salarium which means “salt-money.” Our expression, “That man is not worth his salt,” reminds us of the high value salt had in biblical times.

Salt preserves and it stings!

Let’s go a step further. Salt has five primary uses. First, salt seasons food. Almost everything we eat has some salt in it. Even cakes and pies contain a pinch of salt. Second, salt preserves. This was no doubt its main use in Jesus’ day. Salt retards spoilage. It doesn’t prevent the process of decay, but it slows it down and prevents its spread. Meat left to itself will spoil. Cure the meat with salt and it will last a long time. Third, salt stings. We speak of pouring salt on an open wound. In that sense, salt is an antiseptic that first stings and then heals. It kills some types of bacteria. Fourth, salt gives strength. Without it, your body quickly weakens. That’s one reason the Romans gave their soldiers salt. They knew putting salt on their vegetables would give them needed strength. Fifth, salt creates thirst. That’s why we put it on potato chips and pretzels. It creates thirst and causes you to crave something to drink.

We are not the honey of the world.
We are the salt of the earth.
There is a difference.

The 2% Solution

 How does this apply to the followers of Jesus Christ? We are to be the salt flavoring a tasteless world, and we are to be the salt that preserves a decaying world.

Jesus had no illusions about this world because he knew its true character. It is like a piece of rotten meat, putrefying more and more each day. On every hand we have the most advanced technology. Every day brings new breakthroughs in medicine, science, communications, and mass-production. And yet at the same time, the moral climate grows darker and darker.

Let there be no mistake. We live in a morally decadent society. It is like a piece of meat left all day in the sunshine. The decay is slow at first, and then suddenly the whole thing is rotten.

We live in a morally decadent society

 What does it take to arrest the spread of evil? Salt. That’s what Jesus was talking about. I spoke with a young man who is preaching on contemporary issues to his congregation. He told me that he would soon be addressing what the Bible says about homosexuality. Given the moral climate of our day, that’s not an easy thing to do. His security team has spent time preparing for possible disruptions in the service because some people don’t want anyone saying anything against the gay rights movement. Some Christians prefer not to hear about it on Sunday morning. But the pastor said that a man in his church told him, “I’m proud of you because you aren’t afraid to speak out on controversial issues. We need to know what the Bible says.” That man is right. Being salt means taking a stand for truth even when it isn’t popular.

Here’s the exciting part. It doesn’t take much salt to do the job. Just a little bit in the right place will do the trick. Do you remember the story of Abraham praying for God to spare Sodom because his nephew Lot lived there (Genesis 18:16-33)? He said, “Lord, if I can find fifty righteous people, will you spare the city?” And the Lord said yes. So Abraham said, “Well, Lord, if I can find forty-five righteous people in the city, will you spare it?” The Lord said yes again. So, he tried forty, and the Lord said yes. Then he tried thirty, and the Lord said yes again. But Abraham didn’t think there were thirty righteous people in the whole city. So he tried again, “How about for twenty?” And God said, “I will spare it for twenty.” Then Abraham took a deep breath and said, “Lord, what if I can only find ten?” “I will spare it for the sake of ten righteous people,” God replied.

Think of it. A whole city saved because only ten people were righteous. Remember, Sodom was a thoroughly wicked place. It was evil through and through. Yet God would have spared it for ten righteous people. As it turned out, Abraham couldn’t find ten people who were righteous.

So God prepared to destroy the city. But before he could do anything, Lot and his wife and his two daughters had to leave. God wouldn’t destroy the city while the righteous were still there.

All you need is 2%

It doesn’t take much salt to do the job. According to sociologist Robert Bellah, “The governing values of a whole culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.”

All you need is 2%, and you can change an entire culture. That applies to your church, your classroom, your workplace, your neighborhood, and it applies to every village, town, and city in the world.

It’s time for the salt to get out of the shaker and into the soup.  There are always reasons for salt to stay in the shaker: “I don’t like the soup. It’s hot in there. There are potatoes floating around. And carrots. And rutabagas. I just saw a huge piece of meat float to the top. If I go into the soup, I’ll disappear. No, thank you! I like it in the shaker. I fit in here. I’m comfortable here. All the other pieces of salt look just like me. I think I’ll stay right here.”

But that’s not where salt belongs. Salt was made for the soup. As long as the salt stays in the shaker, it can’t do any good. But when the salt goes into the soup, two things happen: 1) the salt dissolves, and 2) the character of the soup is changed forever.

You may disappear, but your saltiness will change your world for the better. A handful of salty Christians can change a classroom, a neighborhood, an office, a company, and even a nation.

Get ready, salty saints. Out we go, into the world, for the glory of God.

Light of The World

 But that is not the whole story. Listen to the next three verses:

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 it 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 who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

The dictionary defines light as “a source of illumination.” That provides the key to our definition. What does light do?

It penetrates.
It reveals.
It exposes.

Most people hate being alone in the darkness, especially when we are in a strange place. You lie in bed trying to go to sleep when suddenly you hear an odd sound in the darkness. You strain to see, but you can only make out vague shapes. Darkness distorts reality. Everything looks different. It is only when you turn on the light that you see things as they really are.

This Little Light of Mine

 Notice the simple application in verse 16. “Let your light shine before men.” The key is in the little phrase “before men.” If you turn on a light in an empty room, it will dispel the darkness but no one will see it. Likewise you can live the Christian life in secret, but no one is going to be helped. If your light is going to make a difference, it must shine before men. Somebody must see the light before it will do any good.

Jesus said two things would happen when you shine your light:

1. Others will see your good deeds.

 The word “good” means attractive or beautiful or lovely. Jesus is saying people will be attracted by the beauty of your life. Others will be drawn to Christ by the way you live.

They will see your beautiful life

When you say a good word for Jesus, when you stop and smile at a friend, that’s a good deed. When you send an encouraging text to someone going through a hard time, when you bake a chocolate pie and give it to a neighbor, or when you stop by the hospital to check on someone through chemotherapy, or when you stop to help your supervisor get her car started–all of those are good deeds that attract people to Jesus. This is evangelism backed up by a winsome personality.

Note that Jesus said, “When they see your lovely ways.” He could have said, “When they hear your great preachers, or when they sit in your lovely sanctuaries, or when they clap for your choir, or when they read your Statement of Faith.” He could have said that, but he didn’t. He simply said, “When they see the way you live.”

Here are a few sentences from a poem called “The Living Sermon” by Edgar Guest. They drive the point home with crystal-clarity.

I’d rather see a sermon
than hear one any day.
I’d rather one would walk with me
than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil
and more willing than the ear.
Fine counsel is confusing
but example’s always clear.
The best of all the preachers
are the men who live their creeds.
For to see good put in action
is what everybody needs.

A second thing happens when you shine your light before others:

2. They give God the credit.

Verse 16 says, “They praise your Father who is in heaven.” Did you notice that the word “your” is used three times in this verse? Your light … Your good deeds … Your Father in heaven. When you let your light shine before men, they glorify your Father in heaven. That’s how much influence we have. We can point men to God. We can lead them out of darkness into the light.

We can point people to God!

It’s wonderfully simple. We do the shining and God gets the credit. And here’s why. Light does not call attention to itself. It provides illumination so that other things can be seen as they really are. When people see a beautifully lit city, they don’t discuss the lights; they talk of the genius of the architect. When they gather around a Thanksgiving table, they don’t praise the light by which they eat; instead, they give the credit to the one who prepared the meal.

When our light shines to those around us, they see the beauty of our good works, the darkness falls away, and God gets the credit.

Saints Let the Light In

I cannot imagine anything higher or greater. We have in our hands enormous influence for good. We are the light of the world. We can make an eternal difference to the people around us. As they see the beauty of our lives, they will be attracted to the Jesus we preach. As they see the light in us, they will see the One who gives us the light. They will be attracted to our Savior and God will get the credit.

Let me tell you the most exciting fact about all this. If you are a Christian, you are already salt and light right where you live. You don’t need a Bachelor of Salt or a Doctor of Light degree. You have everything you need right now.

You don’t need a Bachelor of Salt or a Doctor of Light degree

You’re salt. So get out of the shaker and into the soup!
You’re light. So crawl out from under that bushel basket and let it shine!

A little boy was sitting in church with his mom one day. As he looked up at the beautiful stained-glass windows, he saw faces in the glass. “Mom, who are those people in the window?” he asked. “Those are the saints,” she answered. The little boy thought for a while and then said, “I know who the saints are. They’re the ones that let the light in.”

I spoke earlier of the moral decay going on all around us. Let no one despair. The darker the night, the brighter the light shines. When the world is at its worst, the people of God should be at their best. We were made for days like these.

The Salt and Light Revolution

 I began by saying the church has lost its influence in our society because we have neglected to be salt and light in the world. This world desperately needs light, but we have hidden under the bowl. In the meantime, the world has gone from bad to worse.

What will have to happen for us to once again become salt and light in the world?

1.We must become purifying agents who hinder the spread of evil.

2. We must illuminate the spiritual darkness around us by the boldness of our speech and by the beauty of our life.

Let no one be deceived. It will not be easy. The world doesn’t want salt and light, but it desperately needs it. The world won’t give you a Medal of Honor for joining the Salt and Light Revolution, but you ought to join up anyway.

A Place to Begin

Here are two simple commitments we can make:

First, there is the Salt Commitment: I will rock my world with God’s truth. That may mean speaking up at the office. It may mean refusing to get involved in certain holiday traditions. It may mean taking some criticism for your faith. It may mean taking an unpopular stand on public issues. Remember, salt stings and then it cleanses.

I will rock my world with God’s truth

Second, there is the Light Commitment: I will be bold and beautiful so that others can see Christ in me. That certainly involves deeds of everyday kindness. You may have to roll up your sleeves and get involved with hurting people. It may mean going out of your way to help a friend. It no doubt means openly identifying yourself as a Christian. It will probably cost you some money and some time. Remember, the primary function of light is to reveal things as they really are. When you’ve done your job, people won’t talk about you. They’ll talk about Jesus.

We can’t save the world, but we can make a difference. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. And what we can do, we ought to do. That’s what being salt and light is all about.

Swimming to the Light

My wife and I spent a week ministering at Word of Life Bible Institute on Jeju Island in South Korea. One evening a friend took us to a restaurant with stunning views of the ocean.

As darkness came, I noticed dozens of bright lights filling the horizon. Our friend said those were squid boats. Just after sundown, the pilot turns on powerful lights that penetrate the darkness of the ocean. The squid are attracted to the light, and that’s how they are caught.

Hurting people will swim to the light

That’s a living parable about how we will reach those trapped in the darkness of sin. If we will turn on the light of Christ, hurting people floundering in the darkness will swim to the light. So many people stay in the darkness because they think they have no option. But when the light shines in their darkness, many will swim to the light.

Here is a good word for those who despair about the overwhelming cultural darkness. We can’t do much in and of ourselves to stop the cultural slide.

But we can let our light shine.
We can live for Christ.
We can serve others in Jesus’ name.

As they see the light in us, they will see the great Light-Giver. They will be attracted to our Savior, and God will get the credit.

Don’t despair.
Don’t give up.

It’s time to shine the light!

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

The world is dark and getting darker.
It’s time to shine the light.

It’s time to be salty saints and bright-light believers.

Jesus is calling!
Will you join the salt and light revolution?

Lord Jesus, grant that we would not be even slightly disappointed by the condition of the world. 

 You have made us for times like these. 

 Help us to be salt and light for you! Give us a new vision of the difference we can make in our world. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?