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The Sermon on the Mount

Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Mark 4:21-23 (NKJV)
21 Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”


Luke 8:16-18 (NKJV)
16 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. 18 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”

When God has something to say that is important, He never says it only once!

How should a Christian’s life differ from a non-Christian?

Ephesians 5:8 (NKJV)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light


Ephesians 5:11 (NKJV)
11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

Last week we finished our study of the Beatitudes.  We learned that the citizens of the kingdom of God are those who are righteous because they have accepted Jesus by faith.  These citizens are offered a variety of blessings with the promise of being citizens of heaven in the final days.  These verses offered a hint at how a Christian should act.  As we start this week’s lesson we will start to learn how the Christian is to live in this world.

Woodrow Wilson told the story of being in a barbershop one time. “I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr, D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.”

John MacArthur, Commentary on Matthew

The verses offer two distinctive characteristics.  The Christian is to be salt and light.  Interestingly enough, it is the citizens of God’s kingdom, not the scribes and Pharisees, who are to be the salt and light of the world.  As such, these verses, the balance of the Sermon on the Mount, demonstrate how different they are from the world, and yet how important they are to the world.  Where would the world be without salt and light?

This short section is built upon a simple supposition –

The world is corrupt, so it needs salt.

The world is dark, so it needs light.

There is a corollary to this.  It appears in some of Paul’s letters and the Revelation – while the world was corrupt and dark at the time of Jesus and is still corrupt and dark now, someday it is going to get worse!  This is because mankind is infected by sin.  Unfortunately, mankind does not see himself this way.

“Today’s young radicals in particular are almost painfully sensitive to … wrongs of their society, and they denounce them violently. But at the same time they are typically American in that they fail to place evil in its historic and human perspective. To them evil is not an irreducible component of man; it is not an inescapable fact of life, but something committed by the older generation, attributable to a particular class or the establishment and eradicable through love or revolution” (Time, 5 December 1969)


Salt is a unique product of planet earth.  It is used for flavoring.  It is used as a preservative.  Real, pure salt is brilliant white in color.  It is even used to seal agreements!  All of these characteristics are reflected in a Christian.

It appears from both the Scriptures and secular history that salt was frequently used to bind a covenant between parties.  This would be similar to having an agreement notarized today.  Apparently the process involved the covenant parties eating salt together in front of witnesses.  Biblical examples do not express details, but God is said to enter into a covenant of salt with both Israel (Lev 2:13) and David (2 Chron 13:5).

2 Chronicles 13:5 (NKJV)
5 Should you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the dominion over Israel to David forever, to him and his sons, by a covenant of salt?

In ancient Greece there was a period in history where salt was called divine.  And, you know that saying, “not worth his salt?”  At times, the Roman soldier was paid with salt.  This is the source of that saying.  The solder who did not perform was “not worth his salt!”

The whiteness is a symbol of purity and holiness, the righteousness of a believer, the “pure in heart” (v8).  We looked at the importance of that righteousness as we studied the Beatitudes.  A believer receives the righteousness of God at salvation so that he can pass that righteousness along to others in his actions.

However, in Palestine, salt was not white.  At best it was off-white, moving towards brown, for most of the natural salt in the region contained impurities.  As there were no simple ways of preserving and protecting the salt over time, it would absorb other impurities and eventually loose its whiteness and its flavor.  As a result it would be thrown out.  Since salt was generally not good for the agricultural products, it would be thrown on the roads, where it would eventually be trampled into the ground.

We all use salt for flavoring.  My wife just automatically grabs the salt shaker and sprinkles her plate with salt.  The example demonstrates that to be effective salt must be sprinkled over things to add flavor.  Better still the salt should be rubbed into the meat, not just sprinkled on it. 

However, the world does not think of Christianity as the only path to purity and views Christians as anything but “flavorful.”  Much of the world and many of the worlds writers complain about Christians.  What was it that Ghandi said? Something about likely becoming a Christian except for the Christians?

This reminds us that salt also irritates.  People place it in wounds to cleanse the wound.  This worked because salt irritates everything it touches.  And it hurts!  Likewise, salt causes thirst, another irritation.  Some people view this as the analogy Jesus had in mind, although this is unlikely.

Oddly enough salt has another benefit, that of preserving food, especially meats.  Heavily sprinkling the meat with salt acts as preservative.  It retards decay and prevents deterioration.  While we cannot see the salt work as a preservative, it is hard at work accomplishing this unique feat.  One could say the salt acts secretly.

However, if the salt used as a preservative has lost its flavor, the meat will taste funny even if it might be properly preserved.  The areas around the Dead Sea had salt pits where the salt was mixed with gypsum.  As a result, much of the salt had already lost its flavor and was thrown out.  The people around Jesus would have quickly connected with this example. 

So, what we are left with is that Christians are the salt preserving the world from sin and Satan.  They retard moral and spiritual spoilage.  Once the church is removed at the Rapture, Satan will rule and darkness will control (2 Thess 2:7-12; cf Dan 9:27; Rev 6-19).

The implication is easy to see.  What happens to a Christian who has lost his influence?  We are to act as a flavoring to society while, at the same time, helping God to preserve this society.  When we have lost our ability to help accomplish this purpose, we are no longer useful to God. 

How do we loose our flavor?


If you want to consider salt as the secret part of the Christian live, then light is the public part.  The teacher’s manual makes the comment that a lighthouse does not have a horn.  It just shines its light.  Salt works from within, light from without.

There is much to this simple statement.  Jesus is the source of all light.  We need to all Him to continually shine through us.  Light must always be contrasted with darkness.  Light in Scripture indicates

In other words, light symbolizes the best there is in learning, love, and laughter.  Light is to be contrasted with darkness as the symbol of he worst there is in dullness, depravity, and despair.

Jesus probably is indicating that the citizens of the kingdom not only have been blessed with the true knowledge of God, as well as the other blessings, but are also the means by which God talks to the men of the world.  The light possessors become the light-transmitters.  Collectively, believers are “the light” or “the lights,” as the case may be.

Philippians 2:15 (NKJV)
15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,


Philippians 2:15 (NIV)
15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe

{Contra to some commentaries I found, the “you” in both Matthew and Philippians is second person plural. In fact in both verses, you are the salt and you are the light, you is emphatic in the Greek.  It should be read as YOU the Church ARE.}

Notice that we are not the original light.  As indicated, Jesus is the true light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 36, 46; II Cor. 4:6; cf. Ps. 27:1; 36:9; 43:3; Isa. 49:6; 60:1; Luke 1:78, 79; 2:32).  Christians are the light in a secondary sense.

Ephesians 5:8 (NKJV)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

The City and the Lampstand

Our lights are not to be hidden.  Jesus makes this point perfectly clear when he talks about the city on the hill.  Cities cannot be hidden and when one is situation on a hill, it will be visible for miles around.  Christians are to be visible as well.  We are not to keep our lights hidden.

This example suggests both the traits of visibility and radiance.  Lampstands are meant to provide light.  They are made to project the light to the surrounding area.  This is the radiance of the example, the shinning forth of the light into the surrounding darkness.

I might note that while the KJV uses candle and candlestick and you can draw the same picture from it, the wording much better supports the idea of the lampstand.

Salt works in our daily lives as we indirectly influence the world.  Light is a more direct influence, taking the form of writings, preachings, teachings, books, magazines, and personal witnesses. 

It should be noted that this is the first use in the New Testament of the personal relationship of God as “your Father who is in heaven.”  While the concept as God as a Father appears in the Old Testament, such a relationship is mostly with regard to the nation of Israel and is only vaguely suggested on an individual level (cf. Psalm 68:5; 89:26, 28).

Where does this leave you?

There is a single word that sums up these verses:  influence.

Salt points to purity and holiness.  Light points toward being seen and usage.  Salt and light together equals a pure light – a holy witness or influence.

John MacArthur’s Commentary on Matthew contains the following example of influence:

Andrew Murray lived an exceptionally holy life. Among those on whom his influence was the greatest were his children and grandchildren. Five of his six sons became ministers of the gospel and four of his daughters became minister’s wives. Ten grandsons became ministers and thirteen grandchildren became missionaries.

Going back to the sentence structure a minute, the two verses read “you are.”  This is a stress upon being, not doing.  This is a fact, not a request or a command.  We are salt and light.  The real question is whether or not we are tasteful salt and effective light.  The very fact we belong to Jesus makes us salt and light in the world.

There is a true sense in which salt cannot and does not loose its saltiness.  Rather, it is contaminated by outside elements.  The same thing is true of a Christian.  Just as contaminants pollute the salt, so sin pollutes our lives and we loose our salt and light.

Remember it is not about us –

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

The entire purpose of being salt and light is to bring glory to God the Father.




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