Being Salt & Light – Matthew 5:13-16

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 Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
March 23, 2014

Being Salt & Light
Matthew 5:13-16


A well know little poem about the Christian life goes as follows:

We are living a Gospel,
    A chapter each day,
By deed that we do,
    By word that we say;
Men read what we live,
    Whether faithless or true,
Say! What is the Gospel
    According to you?

This morning I want to talk with you about what this little poem points out. What is the Gospel message according to your life?

Please turn again to Matthew 5. We have been studying in the section of the Sermon on the Mount commonly referred to as The Beatitudes. You may have thought that we concluded our study of it when we talked about verses 10-12 about rejoicing in the midst of persecution. (See: Blessed are the Persecuted & Rejoicing Though Persecuted & Preparing for Persecution). While those verses concluded the statements about blessing that are received by those that have the characteristics of righteousness described in the passage, the thought of the section continues on through verse 16. It is not until verse 17 that Jesus makes a transition to a new idea. Follow along as I read Matthew 5:1-16 to set the context of our study this morning.

1 And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 “Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.


As I have explained multiple times in the previous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ description of the nature of those will be part of His kingdom. The key verse is 5:20 in which Jesus states, “For I say to you , that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The scribes and Pharisees believed and taught that people were made righteous by their conformity to the list of rules and regulations they had made up in their self-deceived effort to keep the Law of Moses. Jesus exposes their self-righteousness by contrasting it to God’s standard for true righteousness.

Jesus begins this with the Beatitudes, which are statements that describe the blessings given to those that are truly righteous. These are neither commands by which you can keep and earn the stated blessings nor characteristics that you can somehow generate in yourself. These characteristics are the marks of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of someone who has been born-again and made alive in Christ. They are qualities that reflect a regenerated heart that God develops in the life of the true Christian.

Only the last Beatitude does not describe a character quality, instead, it describes the results of having the character qualities of righteousness described in all the previous statements. The person who is persecuted for the sake of righteousness (vs 10) is the person that is poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and a Biblical peacemaker.

Notice that verses 13 & 14 begin with statements of fact just as all the previous verses do. You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world. Verses 13 & 14 also continue the second person plural, “you,” from verse 11. Blessed are you when . . . Jesus is not bringing up an unrelated thought when He talks about salt and light in this passage. Jesus is continuing to describe a characteristic of those that are truly righteous. They are in fact the salt of the earth and they are in fact the light of the world. The grammatical structure here even puts an emphasis on the idea that they are the only ones that are these things. You could translate these verses, “You are the only salt of the earth . . . you are the only light of the world.” The only unresolved question is how that salt and light are going to be used. The conclusion to the section is Jesus’ command to us to use these characteristics properly.

Stated another way, if you are truly righteous, if you are truly among the saved, then you will give evidence of that by having, or at least have developing in you, the characteristics described in the Beatitudes. You will be poor in spirit, mournful over sin, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and a Biblical peacemaker. As a result of having those qualities, the world, which is unrighteous, will hate you and persecute you and say all sorts of evil things against you falsely because they hate Jesus Christ whom you represent and whom you are like in character. In addition, if the characteristics described in the Beatitudes mark your life, then you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. The only question remaining is will you continue to be salty and will your light shine in such away that other men will see it and give glory to God your Father.

But what does Jesus mean that the Christian is the salt of the earth and the light of the world ? Also, what danger do we face if our salt loses is savor or our light becomes hidden?

The Salt of the Earth

We have a different perspective on salt than what was thought of it at the time of Christ. While we use salt in many of the same ways as they did then, we do not accord it the same value as people did in the past. We consider salt to be a common commodity and can purchase salt very inexpensively. Common table salt is less than $1 a pound in most stores and can be purchased in bulk for less than thirty cents a pound, but salt was very costly in the ancient world. At one point in Greek history, salt was considered so valuable it was called, theon, divine. The Romans believed that nothing was of more value than salt except the Sun. Roman soldiers were even paid in salt which is where the saying, “worth his salt,” comes from. Salt was considered a staple of life along with oil and wine and was often given as a reward for good service. An ancient Near Eastern custom still practiced among some Arabs today is that a pact of friendship is sealed with a gift of salt.

In ancient Jewish culture, salt was used for many purposes including to season food for man (Job 6:6) and beast (Isaiah 30:24), and to preserve food from becoming putrid (Exodus 30:35). The goodness that salt brought is seen in the figure of speech used in Colossians 4:6 in which Paul tells Christians to “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Salt was recognized as having medicinal value since babies were bathed in it and rubbed with it (Ezekiel 16:4). It was also required as part of several sacrifices including cereal offerings (Leviticus 2:13) and the burnt offering (Ezekiel 43:24). Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 record that the agreement between God and His people was termed a “Covenant of salt.” With this in mind, we know that regardless of cultural background, (Roman, Greek, or Jewish), those that were hearing Jesus say “you are the salt of the earth” understood that He was talking about a valuable commodity.

The usage of salt in the ancient world gives us insight into what Jesus meant by His analogy. One of the first things that comes to mind when we think about salt is that it adds flavor to food. Christians are to add a divine flavor to the world. However, this analogy has to be cautioned with the fact that the world finds us boring. The world considers Christians to be stuffy and restrictive. We are a rain storm on the world’s parade. The flavor the righteous adds is real, but it is not what the world is looking for.

The worldly are bent toward hedonism in finding whatever pleasure they can wherever they can. The unrighteous want to be entertained or find excitement. They are dependent on something outward to bring happiness and meaning to life. But the Christian has a savor that is internal. We do not need to be chasing around after the things for which the world strives. A truly godly individual can find great joy and beauty in just being still before God. We have an excitement about life that can continue despite outward circumstances. Our lives have meaning that transcends the here and now.

One of my concerns about modern American Christianity is this movement that replaces worship with entertainment. Yes, worship and our lives should be dynamic and vibrant. We should not be like the clergymen of whom Oliver Wendell Homes reportedly said that he might have entered the ministry except these men always looked and acted like undertakers. Christians should be alive and vibrant, but that should be internally generated as we focus on God, not artificially generated by putting on an exciting show. It is becoming increasingly common for churches to set themselves up like nightclubs with a darkened seating area and plenty of lights focused on the stage. How can you follow along in your Bible if you cannot see it? But that is not necessary with such preachers for their goal is to tickle your ears, not explain to you God’s Word. I will be direct, neither I nor the musicians nor anyone else who steps up on this platform during a worship service is here to entertain you. We are here to prompt you to think deeply about God and worship Him. The ones that are really on stage are you folks sitting out there as God watches from heaven and observes the worship of your heart. The Christian is salty and adds flavor to life, but that flavor is not the hot spices the world desires. We must be very cautious about mimicking the world lest we end up losing what God wants us to be.

This aspect of being salt may be seen in the story of two sisters that had grown up and then moved to different cities. After some time had passed, they had both returned home for a visit. One of them had become a Christian. After a few days the other sister said, “I don’t know what causes it, but you are a great deal easier to live with than you used to be.” The saltiness of her righteousness was a pleasant flavor.

Another aspect of salt, and probably the main emphasis in what Jesus is saying here, is that salt is a preservative. Salt prevents putrefaction. Refrigeration to keep things from rotting is a modern marvel. Before refrigeration, salt was the major means to keep things from spoiling, and salt is still used for that purpose today. A piece of meat left out will soon begin to rot, but a piece of meat rubbed with salt will not. It is this same quality that gives salt medicinal value, though it does sting when it is put into a wound. Christians do sting the world and prick its conscience. Worldly people are uncomfortable in the presence of holiness, but again, that is part of its preservative influence because it retards moral and spiritual decay.

Many people use this passage of Scripture to advocate political activism. There are a lot of good things to be said about being active politically and especially so in this nation since our governmental system gives us both the privilege and responsibility to be politically active. The event for Christians that I attended this past Tuesday in Albany was political in nature. New Yorker’s for Constitutional Freedoms strives to be salt that will preserve godly morals in our state government. We need to pray and stand firmly against things such as abortion which our governor wants to expand. We need to compassionately proclaim God’s warnings about all forms of sexual perversion and fight against the advocation of it by our various levels of government. However, there is also a serious caution we must heed lest we fall into the trap of thinking that politics will be the salvation of our society. Winning a political battle to preserve righteousness is important, but it is even more important to win hearts and change attitudes so that righteousness will be both preserved and expanded. The only real hope for our state and nation is spiritual revival.

England was in deep trouble in the mid-18th century. Simply put, it was in nearly complete moral corruption. Drunkenness and debauchery were common place. Crime of all sorts continued to climb. The thought of the day was that those who were involved in such things did so either because it was genetic (a widely held view) or because of environment (still widely believed). The solution proposed based on either view was to deport those who committed crimes to a far away place and allow England to be purified in the process. Our state of Georgia was originally populated on that basis, and the country of Australia was founded as a penal colony. The results were non-existent. Crime continued, moral depravity grew worse. The political solution failed.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written concerning this and what saved England. “Most competent historians are agreed in saying that what undoubtedly saved [England] from a revolution such as that experienced in France at the end of the 18th century was nothing but the Evangelical Revival [George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers]. This was not because anything was done directly, but because masses of individuals had become Christians and were living this better life and had this higher outlook. The whole political situation was affected, and the great Acts of Parliament which were passed in the last century were mostly due to the fact that there were such large numbers of individual Christians found in the land.” The true hope of preserving our nation is not in politics, but in revival of Christians who are spurred to live in holiness and of the many people who get saved. The moral nature of our nation is in trouble not because of a lack of Christian political activism, but from a lack of righteousness in those professing to be Christians. Their salt has no savor.

True Christians affect others because of who they are in Christ whether they are in positions of power or not. We need to be men and women like Bishop Evin Berggray of the Norwegian Lutheran Church during WWII who was held prisoner by the Nazis. It is reported that his eleven man guard was changed constantly to prevent their coming under his strong spiritual influence. We need to be like Gordon Maxwell, a missionary to India. He once asked a Hindu scholar to teach him the language. The Hindu replied, “No Sahib, I will not teach you the language. You would make me a Christian.” Maxwell replied, “You misunderstand me. I am simply asking you to teach me your language.” Again the Hindu responded, “No Sahib, I will not teach you. No man can live with you and not become a Christian.”

Jesus says that “You are the salt of the earth.” The emphasis in this passage is on being true to stay what you are already, not in becoming something different.

The Light of the World

Jesus also states in this passage that the righteous are the light of the world. This is much the same as being salt in many respects with just a different emphasis. Again, the emphasis is on being what you are already. You ARE the light of the world. Salt has the more negative emphasis of preservation while light has the more positive emphasis of proclamation.

Light is an often used analogy for the nature of God and the nature of a Christian. 1 John 1:5-7 states that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we fellowship with Him and walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Luke 1:79 records Zacharias’ prophecy which cites Isaiah 9 that Jesus came into the world to “shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” In John 8:12 Jesus said that, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Disciples of Jesus are the light of the world because God shines His light through those that have received it through Jesus. Christ is the true light, we are only reflections of Him. As the moon reflects the sun, we reflect God’s Son, Jesus Christ, by what we say and do.

The nature of light is that it exposes the darkness. There are many who think they have a light by which to guide themselves through life, but they are like those Paul speaks about in Romans 2:17-25 who boasted confidently about being guides to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, but their very lives proved they were in the darkness themselves. The light of the Word of God exposes both those things that are out in the open and the dark recess of the heart.

There is a preserving effect in that. By being the light of the world, we expose the sinfulness of those around us. Just as roaches that infest a building will scatter when the lights are turned on, so evil scatters when the light is turned on it. Our righteousness causes others to seek to hide their unrighteousness when in our presence. The language used, the subject of conversation, and the actions taken should be affected by the presence of a Christian.

We are also the light of the world because we have the light of God’s Word to share. David called the scriptures a lamp to his feet and a light to his path in Psalm 119:105. The Bible tells us how to live godly lives and bring glory to His name. We are light in a very positive sense because we guide people by that light to God. Light lets us see the truth.

Losing our Savor, Hiding our Lights.

In this passage Jesus is specifically speaking to those who are insulted, persecuted and slandered because they are followers of Christ. Jesus’ statement is direct that they are salt and they are light. They do not have to become these things. They are salt and light by virtue of the characteristics of righteousness already described that are developing in them that are provoking a negative reaction by the unrighteous. But Jesus also warns of a danger in this passage.

If salt is mixed with impurities, it loses its desirable qualities and takes on the characteristics of the impurities. It loses its flavor (savour in KJV) and can actually taste bad instead of good. The word here is mwrai;nw / moraino which actually means to become foolish. During the time of Christ, if salt became insipid, it became useless for its intended work and so was cast out into the street where it would become part of the road that people walked upon. You saltiness as Christians can be lost by contamination with the world. Your righteousness character can be compromised by following the ways of the world instead of the ways of Christ.

If you are a Christian, you are salt, but the question is what is the strength of your saltiness? Are you pure salt which can have a great effect on things, or have you become contaminated with impurities? There is a danger of being influenced by the world and compromising your righteousness instead of influencing the world by your righteousness. You could find yourself useless for the cause of Christ.

Don’t it be like the story Dr. Philpot tells of being called to the bedside of a young girl who was dying. He read, pled and prayed with her that she would see her need for the Savior and turn to him. In desperation he called the mother in, and she, with a heart breaking in sorrow, also pled with the girl to accept Christ as her Savior. The girl listened stonily, and then she said these indicting words to her mother, “Mother, you can’t talk to me now. You haven’t lived the life before me!”

You are the salt of the earth, but if you want to stay useful in the cause of Christ, you must protect yourself from contamination by the world. If there are worldly things that are influencing you, then repent and remove yourself from them before you further compromise your testimony. Pursue godly influences of holiness. That can include your entertainments, hobbies, interests, activities, friends and perhaps even your job. Remember, the standard or righteousness is set by Jesus and described here in the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are okay because other professing Christians do what you do.

You are also the light of the world. You do not have to do anything extraordinary for people to see it. Like a city on a hill, they will see it naturally out any special effort on your part. But there is a danger if you become concerned about what people might think of you.

There is a story told of a young man that entered military service. His first night in the camp barracks he was tempted to lay aside his normal habit of reading his Bible and getting on his knees to pray beside his bed before going to sleep. There was real risk that if he did so the men around him would jeer and he would become their target for scorn and humiliation. However, he told himself, “I am a Christian, and I ought to give these fellows a testimony. I won’t strike my colors; I’ll do just as I did at home!” And so he did. As he kneeled and began to read and pray the barracks got very quiet. The next night when he went to do the same again, eight other young men grabbed their Bibles and did likewise. Within a month he had the respect of every man in the outfit and he influenced many of those men for Christ. He was light, and all he had to do was not hide it.

Jesus’ command in verse 16 is really very simple. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” He is telling His followers to let people see who you are in Me, so don’t hide your light. Let others see the good things you do, your acts of righteousness which are beautiful to Me, so that they may give glory to God the Father. If you are living in true righteousness as expressed in the Beatitudes, then there is little danger of your pride getting in the way, because your goal and purpose in life is bringing honor to the name of the Lord and being a blessing to all. Do you let your light shine by continuing to honor the Lord by living in righteousness? Or do you hide it because of the fear of man?


A Hindu woman was converted to Christ, primarily through hearing the Word of God read. As she walked with Christ, she was persecuted by her husband and suffered much at his hands. One day a missionary asked her, “When your husband is angry and persecutes you, what do you do?” She replied, “Well, sir, I cook his food better; when he complains, I sweep the floor cleaner; when he speaks unkindly, I answer him mildly. I try, sir, to show him that when I became a Christian I became a better wife and a better mother.” The consequence of this was that though the husband could withstand all the preaching of the missionary, he could not withstand the practical preaching of his wife, and he gave his heart to God because of her.

If you are a genuine Christian, then you are salt and you are light by virtue of the righteousness the Holy Spirit is developing in you. Do as this Hindu convert to Christ did and continue on that path to develop as salt with a better flavor and become a brighter light. Do not allow your saltiness to become contaminated and do not hide your light. Live in such a way that others will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times the words “salt” and “light” are said. Talk with your parents about how to glorify God by being salty in this world and a light to those around you.

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is the connection between Matthew 5:13-16 and Matthew 5:3-12? Why is it important that Jesus is making statements in Matthew 5:3-16 instead of giving commands? What is the current value of salt? What are its uses? What was the value of salt in the ancient world – to the Greeks, the Romans and the Jews? What would those listening to Jesus thought when He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” How does a Christian add “flavor” to the world? How is a Christian’s righteousness a preservative to society? What are the implications of this to Christian political activism? Can political activism save society? Why or why not? What Scriptures can you find in which light is used as an analogy for the nature of God, righteousness or a Christian? What is the nature of light in relationship to darkness? What is the normal response of evil when it is exposed? How do the righteous guide others? What is the importance of the Bible in this? What happens to salt when it is mixed with impurities? What does this do to its value / usefulness? What is the effect of worldly influences upon righteousness? What should a Christian do when the recognize they are being polluted by worldly influences? Who sets the standards for righteous living and where can you find a good description of the standards of righteousness? What would cause a Christian to hide his light? What then would keep a Christian from hiding his light? What is your plan to become salt with better flavor and have a brighter light?

 Being Salt & Light
March 23, 2014 – Matthew 5:13-16

 Introduction – Matthew 5:1-16


Matthew 5:20 – your ________________must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the kingdom

The Beatitudes are statements that describe the _____________given to those that are truly righteous

Matthew 5:10-13 describe the _________________of the unrighteous to those who are righteous

Matthew 5:13 & 14 are also statements of ____: You are the salt of the earth – You are the light of the world

The Salt of the Earth – Matthew 5:13

Salt is now a common and inexpensive commodity, but in the ancient world is was very _______________

In ancient __________culture salt was used as both a seasoning (Job 6:6) and a preservative (Exodus 30:35)

Salt was considered to be something that added ________________- Colossians 4:6

Salt had _____________value (Ezekiel 16:4), and was required as part of several sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13)

Some ______________were sealed with salt (Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5)

Christians are to add a divine flavor to the world – though the ____________does not always like that flavor

In contrast to the unrighteous, the Christian finds joy and meaning for life in God that transcends the ______

Mimicking worldly ________________ does not produce true worship of God by the Christian

Salt is also a ______________and the righteousness of a Christian retards societal moral and spiritual decay

Christian political activism is important in preserving righteousness in society, but our real hope is _______

Our state & nation have declined morally because professing Christians have lost their __________qualities

The Light of the World – Matthew 5:14

Light is an often used analogy for the _________of God & the Christian: 1 John 1:5-7; Luke 1:79; John 8:12

Light __________the darkness – scattering evil while guiding the way for the righteousness (Psalm 119:105)

Losing our Savor, Hiding our Lights – Matthew 5:13-15

You are salt and light by virtue of the characteristics of ___________________God develops in you

Salt mixed with impurities loses its good qualities as it takes on the qualities of the ______________

A Christian whose righteousness is compromised by the world becomes __________for the cause of Christ

______________of worldly influences of unrighteousness and pursue godly influences of holiness

__________, not other Christians, sets the standard of righteousness – described in the Sermon on the Mount

By its very nature, a light _____________- that is only compromised when it is hidden


Develop your saltiness and make your light brighter by walking in ____________ – don’t pollute it or hide it

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