What We’re Called to Be

Matthew 5:13-16

February 11, 2001 | Brian Bill

A Peanuts cartoon showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown in which she said, “Guess what, Chuck?  The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office.  It was your fault, Chuck.”  Charlie Brown responds, “My fault?  How could it be my fault?

Why do you say everything is my fault?”  To which she declares, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck?  You should have been a better influence on me.”

While Peppermint Patty was trying to pass the buck, she was also speaking some truth. 

We should be a good influence on those around us.  

People are watching us.  I heard of a minister who was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine.  As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little boy was watching him.  The youngster didn’t say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the lad would leave.  But he didn’t.  Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, “Are you trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?”  “No,” he replied.  “I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

We are always influencing someone, either positively or negatively.  People are watching you!  What do they see?  What they observe has an influence on them. And it should.  Jesus has energized us to be persuaders for Him. 


Before we jump into our text for this morning, let me make a few observations.

1. Context. 

Chapters 5-7 of Matthew contain what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.  The theme of this greatest sermon ever preached is how kingdom people should live.  As we established last week, since Jesus is Lord, we need to obey Him in all things.  He is king and we are His subjects.  The first 12 verses of Matthew 5 are known as the Beatitudes and have to do with our relationship with God.  Verses 13-16 deal with our relationship with others.  Our dealings with lost people come out of our surrendered lives.  As 1 Peter 3:15 says, when we strive to live under the control of Christ, people will notice.

If the Beatitudes describe the essential character of the Christ follower, the metaphors of salt and light indicate our outward influence.  Jesus links our inner attitude with outward action. 

2. Common Metaphors. 

When Jesus spoke of salt and light, He was using two images that were, and still are, very common.  In our contemporary society, we may miss the real value of salt.  For many of us, it’s just this blue container tucked away in our cupboards.  Ancient societies understood the value of salt far better than we do.  The Romans believed, for instance, that there was nothing as valuable as salt, except for the sun.  Many of their soldiers received their pay in salt.  That’s where the phrase “not worth his salt” comes from.   In that culture, light was very important because they didn’t have electricity or flashlights. 

3. Our Identity. 

I want you to notice that Jesus doesn’t say that you are like salt, or even that you will be light some time in the future.  He says, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.”  This is what we’re called to be.  It’s who we are and why we live in this world.  Once we are converted we automatically are the salt of the earth.  The word “you” here is emphatic and in the plural.  It literally means, “You, my followers, and none others, are the salt and the light.”

4. Two roles.

While it’s our nature and our calling to be influencers, Jesus implies that some believers have slipped spiritually.  Just as it’s absurd to think of salt that is not salty or to light a lamp and then put a bushel over it, so too, it’s incomprehensible to Jesus that a believer would disengage from lost people and lose his or her ability to make an impact.

We have at least two roles, one negative, and the other positive.  If salt exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity, then light speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world. 

The Salt of the Earth

Let’s look first at 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.”  

If you’ve spent more than 20 minutes in church you’ve probably heard that you are the salt of the earth.  And most of what you’ve heard has just made you feel guilty about not doing more witnessing.  This “salt” Scripture is so familiar, so much a part of our evangelical vernacular, that it’s lost much of its power.

The second part of this verse gives us insight into what being salt should mean.  The verb translated, “loses its saltiness” is used four times in the New Testament.  In Luke 14:34 it again refers to salt, but in Romans 1:22 and 1 Corinthians 1:20, the more common expression is used.  It literally means “to make or become foolish, to act as a simpleton.”  Jesus is really saying that Christians who lose their savor are in fact making fools of themselves.

It doesn’t make sense for salt to lose its saltiness.  Technically speaking, if salt is not salty it’s not really salt.  During the time of Jesus, most salt derived from marshes, lagoons, or from the rocks around the Dead Sea and contained many impurities.   Because this salt was of an inferior quality due to the contamination or infiltration of foreign substances, it sometimes spoiled and had to be thrown out.

When we take our eyes off Christ and live under our own power, we allow ourselves to be contaminated by the world

I wonder how many times that happens in our lives?  When we take our eyes off Christ and live under our own power, we allow ourselves to be contaminated by the world.  It’s unthinkable to Jesus for us to not be salty but some of us are so infiltrated by sin that we’ve lost our savor.  

The phrase, “thrown out” means to “thrust out violently.”  The word translated “trampled” has the idea of “to reject with disdain.”   I’m told that savorless salt is still scattered on paths in Israel today.  Friends, if we are salt and not being salty, isn’t it fair to say that we are good-for-nothing Christians?   

A Hidden Influence

The question then becomes, what do we do?  How do we act as salt?   As we look at what salt does, we can see how we can be salty today.

1. Salt gives taste. 

Christians should be adding spice to a spiritually bland world

I like making soup.  I’ll never forget one time when I made it without salt.  It looked OK but it had no taste to it.  None of us wanted to eat it because it was so bland.   Salt by itself doesn’t taste very good but when it’s applied to food it unleashes the flavor.  As Christians we are God’s seasoning in the world.  Just as salt adds zest and fires up the taste buds, so too we should be making life more “tasty” for others.  Christians should be adding spice to a spiritually bland world.  

Some of us are way too boring and devoid of joy.  Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have said that he might have become a pastor if certain ministers he knew had not looked and acted like undertakers.

2. Salt is a preservative. 

There are two substances mentioned in the Bible that are very small and yet extremely influential – salt and yeast.  They picture opposite forces in the world.  While yeast is actually a mold that represents evil, salt is a preservative that holds back decay.

People back then didn’t have refrigerators so they put salt in their meat to keep it from rotting.  Used in this way, salt doesn’t make something good; it just keeps it from going bad.  Friends, we are a preservative in our culture.  God has put us into a rotting and dead world in order to preserve it.  We’re to have an antiseptic impact on our society.  Beatitude believers will work to derail decay.  

My pastor friend Ray Pritchard puts it this way: “We who follow Jesus Christ are to be a ‘moral disinfectant’ stopping the spread of evil.  We are to be the conscience of the community, speaking out for what is true and right.”  By the way, that’s why we make a strong statement for the dignity and value of the preborn.  That’s why we speak out against hatred and racism.  That’s why we’re willing to live counter-cultural lives that are distinctively Christian.  Christ-followers are to be a preserving influence to retard moral and spiritual spoilage in the world.   But, to do that, we must be connected to our community.

3. Salt creates thirst. 

I’m sure you’ve heard that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  While that’s true, you can put salt in his mouth to make him thirsty!  That’s why a lot of restaurant buffets have salty food – you end up drinking more water so you make fewer trips to the feeding trough.

When we’re mixing it up with those who don’t know Christ, God uses us to make people thirsty for Jesus.  That’s what’s behind Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  As we pointed out last week from 1 Peter 3:15, when we treat people with gentleness and respect they will be more apt to listen to our message.  Unfortunately, when some Christians lose their saltiness, they often try to save the world with pepper spray.

Salt is a seasoning, it’s a preservative, and it makes people thirsty.  In all three cases, salt must be brought into contact with its object in order for its power to be released.  Salt that just sits in the shaker does no good for anyone.  It might just as well be thrown out.   Keeping Christ bottled up in our church and in our lives is keeping salt in the cupboard of Christianity.  

Friends, we don’t have an option on this one – it’s an imperative.  If we’re serious about obeying the command of Christ then we need to penetrate lives with the message of the gospel.  Salt must not just be sprinkled on meat to preserve it.  It must be blended into the food.  We are to spend time with lost people by mixing it up with them.  We need to hang out where they hang out.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it strongly: “A flight into the invisible is a denial of the call.  A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him.”

When Christians get right with God and begin to express their Christianity through their lifestyle, our neighborhoods and workplaces cannot help but be changed.   God continues to bring revival and renewal to humankind in order to preserve this world until He comes.  What difference are you making?  Have you lost your saltiness?  

A Visible Influence

Salt is a hidden but powerful influence.  Light on the other hand, is a visible and revealing influence.   It’s been associated with the presence, truth and redemptive activity of God since creation.  Before Adam and Eve were created, the Almighty brought light into being in Genesis 1:3-4: “Let there be light; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.”  Throughout the Bible, light represents truth, grace, and the awesome activity of God, while darkness symbolizes sin, evil, and the works of Satan.  

The New Testament presents Christ as the personification of light in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In our passage for today, we are told that we are light.  The Bible makes it clear that all who catch and reflect the light of Christ are themselves called “light.”   Ephesians 5:8 expands this by declaring that believers were “…once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light.”

Let’s look now at Matthew 5:14-15: “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.”

Here Jesus mentions two sources of light.  The first is a “city on a hill.”  Those listening to Jesus that day would have immediately thought of cities that were built on mountains.  With the houses constructed out of white limestone, these towns glistened in the sun and could not be easily hidden.  

The second light source is in verse 15.  Homes back then generally had just one room which served as a combination living and dining area.  To one side would be a large chest containing pots and baskets and bowls.  As evening drew near and darkness fell, the chest would be placed in the center of the room for use as a table for supper.  A candle or lamp would be carefully lit and placed on the top.  It was the only light in the room.  As the family gathered for supper, they turned their backs to the darkness and the light illuminated their faces.

Those listening knew the importance of the single source of light in the center of the room.  And when Jesus mentioned the idea of someone taking a bowl and putting it over the light, I picture them laughing at the very foolishness of the thought.  It would have been absurd to cover the only light in the room!

Being Light

There are at least three functions of light.

1. It Dispels darkness. 

The first function of light is to dispel darkness so that we can see.  John 1:4-5 says this about Jesus, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”  Jesus came to get rid of the darkness but many people don’t like having His brightness around because it hurts their eyes.  Light helps to reveal things as they really are.

That reminds me of an older farmer who was hassling his hired hand for carrying a lantern when he went to call on his girlfriend: “When I went a-courtin’ I never carried one of them things.  I always went in the dark.”  To which the worker replied, “Yeah, and look what you got!”

2. It Gives guidance. 

When we live out our faith in the midst of our family, friends, and neighbors, our life can guide people to the right path.  Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”  Jesus has passed the torch to his spiritual offspring.  He moved on so we could step in.  Just as His manner of life and speech illuminated the way out of darkness into a relationship with the Father, so we, by the way we live and the things we say, are to guide people to the light of the world.

3. It Reveals What Is There.

Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to Him are radiant.”  As we turn our attention to Christ and savor His presence, His light will radiate on our faces and people will want to experience what we have.   Jesus said in verse 16: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”

To “let our light shine” means to “beam or radiate brilliancy.”  When we shine for Jesus, people will “see” or “know” that what we do comes from God.  At the women’s Bible Study this past Thursday, someone said that we are “reflectors” of Jesus.  By allowing Jesus to brighten our lives, we will reflect His love to others.  Another way to say it is that we need to be intentional about letting our light shine.  We must determine to be deliberately evangelistic through good deeds and acts of kindness.   When people see that we care, they will praise God, or literally, “They will render or esteem Him glorious.”

Jesus teaches that a person’s faith is to be openly shared and lived before the watching world.  It is to shine forth for all to see, not so we can proclaim how good a person we are, but so that others can know there is a God who loves them and will act on their behalf.  We are to influence others for God.

Our lives should be lives that reflect something more than the world has, because we have more than they have, we have Jesus.  He has saved us, forgiven us, changed our hearts, given us hope, put His love in us, given us joy, set our feet on the rock which cannot be shaken.  If He does not make a difference in your life, then you either need to be born again or you need to repent of sin and allow Him to rekindle the fire of your first love.

Increasing Our Impact

How do we increase our impact?  How can we become saltier and brighter?  There are at least three things we can do.

1. Unleash High Potency. 

Salt has to be salty in order for it to be potent.  Light has to be bright in order for it to light up a room.  Applied to us, we need to be different from the object we want to influence.  We can’t be bland salt or dull light if we want to impact others.  Here’s a helpful principle: “What we are influenced by influences our influence.”  If Jesus is not Lord and Leader of your life, you will never have the pleasure of influencing others for Him.

Is the Word of God affecting the way you live?  Are you connecting with God in prayer on a daily basis?

2. Live In Close Proximity. 

We must touch the object of our influence by rubbing shoulders with people.  We must invite lost people into our lives and we must look for ways to enter theirs.  Instead of living almost exclusively in our Christian subculture, we must move out of isolation and begin to take the initiative, establish rapport, find some common ground and build relationships with lost people.  

What one person can you get closer to this week?  What specifically can you do to spend time with your searching friend?

3. Practice Rich Density. 

When we stick together we will make a greater impact.  When light is focused it’s at its brightest and most powerful.  When salt is packed tightly and then sprinkled all over food, it enhances the flavor.  Contrary to the new ad campaign of the U.S. Army, we’re not an “army of one,” we’re on a team.  That’s why we’ve designed an outreach banquet on March 10.  We’re doing it together so that when you invite your searching friends, they’ll meet other Christians and hear the gospel presented through song and word.

A young boy about nine years old went with his parents to Europe one summer.  As he visited many churches, he saw the massive stained glass portraits of the disciples.  When he returned, his Sunday School teacher asked what he liked most about his trip.  He thought for a moment and said, “I loved the awesomeness of who God must be.”  His teacher then asked for his definition of someone who follows Christ.  As his mind went back to those massive stained glass windows, he said, “A Christian is a person the light shines through.”   How true!

Is the light of Christ shining through you?  Are you allowing His light to be made visible in your life?  Or has the light gone out?  Has the passion for God become religious ritual and routine?  Don’t hide the light under a basket.  Take it out and hold it high.  We were not created to be secret disciples or to have quiet discussions on religious topics.  We are commissioned to be firebrands for God – torches that are held high to burn for Him. 

Practical Tips

Let me give you some practical ways to be salt and light.

  • By not laughing at a dirty joke
  • By forgiving someone who has wronged you
  • By standing up for someone who is being criticized
  • By making a stand for sexual purity by pledging to save yourself for marriage
  • By having regular Quiet Times with the Lord and family devotions
  • By showing mercy to people in need 
  • By refusing to engage in gossip

Be a Valentine

Valentine’s Day is this Wednesday.  I came across some very moving poetry that I’d like to share with you.  Guys, you might want to write these down if you’re still looking for something to give to your valentine.

In the card game of life, we are a pair
But I’d rather be playing solitaire

You are my sun, my moon, my star;
I wish to see you… from afar

Roses are red; violets are blue
God made me beautiful, what happened to you?

In heaven’s eyes you are delightful
On earth, alas, you’re simply frightful.

Your love is like a red red rose
It’s full of thorns and clogs up my nose

What we call Valentine’s Day was at one time the Feast of St. Valentine.   According to one tradition Valentine was a pastor near Rome in the third century.  At that time the Roman Emperor was imprisoning Christians for not worshipping the Roman gods.  

Valentine was arrested and during the trial they asked him what he thought of the Roman gods Jupiter and Mercury.   Valentine said they were false gods and that Jesus was the only true God.  So the Romans threw him in prison for insulting their deities.

Valentine continued to minister while he was in prison by witnessing to the guards. 

One of the jailers was a good man who had adopted a blind girl.  He asked

Valentine if his God could help his daughter.  Valentine prayed and the girl miraculously received her sight!  The guard and his entire extended family of 46 people became Christians.  Because they had come to know Jesus, Valentine broke out into praise. When the emperor heard about this he was furious and had Valentine beheaded on February 14th.

Legend has it that Valentine left a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter and signed it, “From your Valentine.”  

He knew that if he told the court the truth about the Roman gods that he would be thrown in prison.  He knew that he might be in trouble if he witnessed.  But he let his light shine and he was salt for Jesus because he knew that lost people matter to God.  He was willing to risk his life to spread the Good News of Jesus to those who needed to hear it.

He was salt and he was light.  We might not be asked to die for our faith but we are called to influence others for Christ.  Are you ready to make people thirsty for the Light of the world by being their Valentine?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?