“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.
“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 in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
Jesus taught that great rewards come to those who follow Him. He also taught how we could tell we were getting the ‘follow Him’ part right. His teaching on the subject contains a whole list of objects and indicators – salt, light, trampling, bushel baskets, cities, hills, mockery, persecution, lies. A proper understanding of this confusing stack of stuff reveals fundamental underlying principles. To help navigate through all of this, we’ll hijack two of Newton’s Laws of Motion (anyone remember these from science class?) and repurpose them as “YouTruth Laws of Spiritual Motion.”
Jesus taught us that once saved, we assume a vital role in His great ‘redirection project’ for the world. The bottom line: Those of the world are heading in the wrong direction. God loves them and desparately wants them to turn to Him. (It’s important to remember that those redeemed by Jesus once belonged to this group.) We are to help turn them around (see Matthew 28:19). How to do it and how to know you’re getting it right is the core of Jesus’ teaching in our passage. In it He tells us to bright and salty. Let’s start to dissect and understand His teaching by rolling out our first principle:
The First YouTruth Law of Spiritual Motion
The world, in a state of uniform motion away from God, tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
Jesus used two examples to illustrate how this spiritual law works – salt and light. The proper use of these items is akin to applying an external force, influencing and changing that to which it is applied.
Salt was used as a seasoning in biblical times as it is today. Salt was also used as a preservative. In order to change the taste of unseasoned food, salt must have flavor. In order to halt the steady decay of meats, salt must be salty. In both uses, salty salt makes a difference. It turns things around. It’s qualities slow decay or give bland food pizzazz. It is an external ingredient that undoubtedly changes that which it touches. Once salt has lost its flavor it becomes useless for either purpose. Such used up salt was used in biblical times to cover walkways and roadways, much like gravel might be used today. Thus Jesus described it as “trampled by men.”
In order to change darkness into “lightness”, a force that is fundamentally different must be applied. Simply put, light is the opposite of darkness and therefore qualifies, but when covered by a bushel basket, would lose its differentiating quality from darkness and would thus have no effect on it. Unencumbered light, like the lights of a city upon a hill on a dark night, makes such a difference that it can be seen for miles.
We are to be like these things. We must make a difference. Our presence, words, and deeds, must be markedly different. They must, as the law states, be external. They must come, not from the world, but from God. Then, and only then, can they turn people of the world, heading in the wrong direction, around. How do we know when we’re getting it right? How do we know when we are sufficiently “bright and salty”, letting God direct our actions and our testimony? Let’s look at our next principle:
The Second YouTruth Law of Spiritual Motion (see Matthew 5:11)
For every godly action, there is an opposite worldly reaction.
We often expect the world to receive our testimony with open arms, willing acceptance, and maybe even applause and accolades. While some will embrace the message, there will always be those who don’t. You see, the world likes the direction it is going. A life of material self-focus is very comfortable and fully acceptable to those who don’t know that God has something far greater for them. And the world will fight to protect these comfortable ways. When we follow Jesus, the world will press against us. There will be opposition at every turn. This opposition will often be unpleasant and sometimes downright nasty. People will mock us. People will tell lies about us. We will face persecution. When this happens, Jesus says to receive it with joy! Why? Because the 2nd Law instructs that we are not on the right path, we are not heading in the right direction, we are not following Jesus if we are not facing these consequences. If we are not facing opposition, we are not on the path to the great reward Jesus promises! It is Jesus’ great reward, and only Jesus’ great reward, that can bring us true joy. As it turns out, mockery, lies, and persecution are exactly the assurance we are looking for. And the world unwittingly provides it.
Jesus was no passive teacher on this point (see Hebrews 12:1-3). He led by example. He died a shameful, agonizing death on the cross because of the joy He knew would be His for having done so. There are many other examples of faithful people that faced worldly opposition too. Prophets, apostles, and countless others who were simple, average folks like us, were beaten, ostracized, even killed. These predecessors form a “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us everywhere, every minute of every day, especially when we are facing opposition ourselves. They remind us of the joy of the prize and to not lose hope or grow weary (see Hebrews 11:1 – 12:1). That’s the truth.
You are the salt of the earth. So you are called to be salty! You are the light of the world. So you are called to let your light shine! You are called to be the external force that turns the direction of the world around. You will face opposition. When you do, receive it with all joy! It is the assurance that you are on the road to great reward in heaven!
©2009, 2010 Dan Buckhout
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Internatonal Bible Society.
Used by permission of International Bible Society.