The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:13-16

Salt – 5:13

Your best visual aid for this verse is your salt shaker. Take a bit of table salt and put it on your tongue.

Jesus is prone to taking His illustrations from nature and natural substances. Salt has but two functions: as a seasoning and as a preservative. Let’s look at these two aspects one at a time.

Salt as a Seasoning

As Jesus begins to teach on salt, He commences another aspect of the Sermon on the Mount: Christian character and influence (verses 3-15). Jesus tells us who we are and then He tells us what to do. We are to “get salty and stay salty.” Salt and Christians are known universally. They both have an influence throughout the earth. We are to allow our Christian character to develop. Since we are salt, we should do what salt does. Jesus says here, “I made you something: now be that.” Note that He did not tell us to “be just as sweet and drippy as honey.” We are salt so that we can help those who are not salty. And a small amount of salt goes a long way.

Jesus has just given us His beatitudes. He now turns from our relationship to God directly to our relationship with the world. The focus here is on the world’s need for salty Christians. We are not to be isolationists nor hide in convents. You were not saved to stay in the salt shaker. Salt is not a food in itself and does not exist for itself. To be of any value it must be dispensed and utilized. Salt, one inch away from food that needs it, is “good for nothing.”

So, what is salt and why does Jesus say we are like this common substance found in every kitchen throughout the world? As a substance, salt is pure sodium chloride (NaCl). The Hebrew word is“malah and in Greek it is halas. Salt is a cheap, universal and relatively insignificant commodity. As Jesus spoke these words, the nearby Dead Sea was being mined for its salt, just as it is today. Man’s need for salt is continuous. Comparing us to this common substance should humble us.  Salt cannot change its chemical properties all by itself. It simply is what it is.

Salt is emblematic of God’s covenant with Israel (II Chronicles 13:5). God’s covenant people are “the people of salt.” Every meal offering was to contain it. “It is a covenant of salt for ever”  Numbers 18:19). Salt is still an emblem of friendship in the Middle East today. To “eat of another’s salt” is to share his or her hospitality.

In Matthew 5:13, salt represents the potential influence of the love of Jesus within us. Salt makes edible that which would otherwise be tasteless. One of salt’s main functions is to penetrate, and so must you and I. Our Christian character—like salt—changes the “flavor” of things. Salt causes a reaction from what touches. When you come into a group of sinners, you are instantly acting as salt and you can often tell by their reaction to you. As Christians, we get seasoned through God’s Word so we can season the world.

So shake yourself lose from the shaker today and be a spiritual seasoning in a world that needs your Jesus.


Salt as a Preservative.

Jesus didn’t say we would become salt.  He said we are salt. The “you” at the beginning of this sentence means everyone, not just those present at the Sermon on the Mount.

Considering salt symbolically as a preservative means we are saved to help counteract the world’s corruption and rottenness due to sin. Elisha’s emblematical use of salt purified the waters of Jericho in II Kings 2:21. We are “the salt of the earth” because the whole world needs our influence. The entire picture here depicts the rottenness of sin and man’s tendency toward moral pollution. The world, without Christian influence, tends to breed spiritual bacteria and infects everything. The world is as bad as it is because Christians are not as salty as we could be. Individually, we serve as an element of control, a check, part of a dam which holds back a flood of fornication and immorality. Let’s not sugar coat the Gospel, for our saltiness protects and preserves our families. They will be greatly affected by our positive influence.

Salt is valued for its preservative properties, for it prevents corruption and putrefaction. Salt can slow down corruption, but it cannot stop it completely. In order to be activated to protect from other corrupting influences, salt must be mingled with the substance it is to preserve. Salt is very different from that which it affects and God has called us to be very different from the worldlings. As God’s agents of counter-corruption, we are to be as different from the world as salt is from meat. But in order to preserve meat, salt must penetrate and infuse it. It must make contact with that substance. It has no useful “influence” on the meat until it does. We must infiltrate the lives of those we hope to influence for God.

Lot lived in Sodom, but had no godly influence there. God would have spared that immoral city if He could have found even ten righteous men there. In Genesis 19:14, his relatives laughed at Lot’s “saltless spirituality.” His theology is so confused that he offered to let the Sodomites rape his own daughters. And the last we see of Lot, he is committing incest with his girls. Like Lot, saltless Christians will be mocked by those they witness to. We, as salty Christians, are the world’s only positive influence. People look at our lives every day, hoping to see the Jesus we claim to serve.
“If the salt loses its strength, how can it recover it?” You are salt, Jesus said, but salt can lose its strength. It is our lack of saltiness that makes Christians look so much like worldlings. If we are salt, but lose our salty influence, we become “good for nothing” Christians. There is a story of a man in the town of Sidon that stored a vast quantity of salt in his home. His home had a dirt floor. When the man came to gather the salt that was closest to the ground, he found that the earth had neutralized it. This rock salt was good only to make gravel paths and to be “trodden under the feet of men.” Your testimony will be trampled upon by mockers when you live and mingle with the dirt of the world. You will lose your integrity. Salt is only useful when it is not mixed with impurities. The more salt is corrupted, the more useless it becomes. The more a Christian becomes like the world, the more saltless he or she becomes. We must avoid all corrupting influences, for powerless Christians become weapons in the hand of Satan.

“Savor” in this verse represents your Christian character, reputation and influence. Loss of savor is moraino and means “to become tasteless, useless and fit only to be discarded.” This same term also means “to become a fool.” Thus, the loss of saltiness that Jesus speaks of here is foolishness. People will mock and see you as a fool if you have once been salty and lose it later. The more you hang with the wrong crowd, the more you compromise your spirituality and the more you watch the wrong DVD’s, the more saltiness you lose. Colossians 4:6 reminds us that we are to be salty in conversations with others. You can become what Jesus said you were never intended to become: saltless.  Note that Jesus does not indicate that salt can become salty again, but states that its saltiness cannot be restored. You cannot re-salt salt.

What is more sickening than the non-influential Christian who does nothing to stop corruption? He is like David, watching naked Bathsheba, instead of being in the battle with his men. He is a soldier who will not fight. He is a doctor who will not heal the sick. If we carry spiritual diseases ourselves, we only infect others. Without zeal the world will never be influenced by us. Jesus told us in Luke 9 that we are “to have salt among ourselves.” But if we lose our ability to be a positive influence on the unsaved, we become useless. Saltless salt, said Jesus, will be “cast out,” for there is something contemptible about that which has become useless. The figure Jesus uses bespeaks judgment. The contrast here is between what a person once was (salt) and what he or she later became (saltless). Useless salt is so useless you can’t plant anything in soil contaminated by it. It destroys what it contacts, like the Christian who has compromised his or her testimony. Jesus declares us to be salt and to live up to our reputation as salt.

But today your salt is good, so preserve it. Understand your privilege as salt. There is no substance in the world that can replace real salt and get the same results. Jesus teaches that we must use our distinctive qualities as believers on “the earth.”  The dynamics of strong, positive Christian character cannot be replaced.

You must use your salt or you will lose it.

Light – 5:14-16

In these next three verses, Jesus makes allegorical use of light. “You are the light,” Jesus said….but exactly what is light?  Let’s try to define it before we examine our passage.

Light does not fit into a neat little category. It is different than anything else we know. It supplies plants with energy to grow, yet it saturates the universe. It is a form of energy traveling at 186,000 miles per second. A unique property of light is that it is always moving. When light stops moving, it is because it has been absorbed by matter; then it no longer exists. Light is foundational to the human environment. Our lives are built around it, yet we ponder light as often as a fish ponders water. Light is constantly entering the eye and interacting with your senses. When you are awake, one fifth of your brain does nothing else but deal with the world you see. That means 20% of your brain is constantly occupied with interpreting light received through the eye. We do not actually see light: we see with light. Light triggers sensations of color in our brains. Each eye comes with 125 million sensors (rods and cones), enabling it to absorb light. Humans can discern over ten million shades of color.

Scan these verses concerning the Biblical allegorical use of light and respond to the following questions concerning it:

Read John 3:19-21. What does Jesus tell Nicodemus about light?

In Romans, what are we encouraged to do?
In II Corinthians 4:4, how is the gospel described?
II Corinthians 6:14 what is contrasted with what?
In Ephesians 5:14 what will Christ give you?
What are Christians called in I Thessalonians 5:5?
How is the Christian walk compared with Christ’s walk in I John 1:7?
What is said about the Lamb in Revelation 21:23?
What are we to point people toward, according to Acts 26:18?

Light is an active power that overcomes darkness—never the reverse. Strike the smallest match in the deepest, darkest cave and the light will always illuminate the darkness. The allegorical use of “darkness” in the Bible (or lack of light) denotes spiritual ignorance. There is danger, damnation and discomfort in darkness. Jesus, as the Light, comes to penetrate our darkness and presents Himself as “the light of life” (John 8:12). He arrives to teach those who are without His light. When Jesus says He is the Light of the world, He means He alone is…and that there is no other (Jn. 6:12).

Jesus, as your Light, is your lighthouse to guide your ship, your flashlight to see the safe path and your star to direct your steps toward Him.

Read Jesus’ related comments concerning light in Luke 11:33-36 and John 12:35-36. Jesus also gives a similar illustration in Luke 8:16 and Mark 4:21. Read also John 1:4. From these passages, what can you learn about Jesus and light?

Light has many uses, but Jesus names only one here. Light shines. Jesus says you are the light right now and does not indicate you will become bright enough to shine for Him later. Since Jesus is the Light of the world (John 5:9), it may be more accurate to say that we reflect His light. The term “light” in Greek is “phos” from which we get our word “photo.” The word is used metaphorically a great deal in Scripture. It points to spiritual sight, the glory of God and the illumination of the Word of God. Jesus tells us in these verses that those who have the light cannot hide it.

Verse 14: “You are the light of the world.”
In John 5:9, Jesus said that He is the light of the world. As Jesus’ followers we must all shine. Note that we are the light of the entire world, for evangelism is a global mission. The human race has no light but that of God’s Son.

“Cities on hilltops cannot be hidden”
Jesus speaks of hills and candle stands, for both lighted cities and lighted candles will be seen. Those who bear the light of Jesus Christ have accrued a dynamic responsibility. Your true spirituality is not concealable, for your shine will be clearly visible to the eyes of the world.

Verse 15: “People do not light candles and put them under baskets.”
If a lighted candle is no longer needed, it is blown out and re-lit when it is. Jesus mentions the senselessness of lighting a candle and hiding it under a basket so that we will ponder our potential productivity. People light candles in order to receive light. The idea of putting a candle on a candlestick means everyone the light shines on receives the benefit of it. Candles are made to do their job and shine. So are Believers. Candles don’t make much noise. They just shine.

Jesus uses the double illustration of brightly-lit cities and candles to drive home His point. Both analogies express the fact that God desires us to be useful. If Jesus is truly in you, it is impossible to conceal Him from others. Jesus did not tell us to try to shine, for Believers already possess His light. He commands us to shine, not hide in a dark monastery. We must go where the people are.

Verse 16
It is the nature of a candle to shine. They are formed for this one specific purpose. Jesus tells us why we must shine: so that others may see your good works. It is as absurd to cover a candle as it is to withhold our help to those who need it. Whereas people may not listen to your words, they will observe your works. One primary evidence of your love for God is by their observation of the works you do: your faithfulness to God’s house, your fidelity to your spouse, the way you raise your children, your zeal, perseverance and self-sacrificial attitude. We are to do our shining “before men,” literally “in the presence of men.” Read Romans 2:19 and see what hypocrites are confident of.

Jesus never hints that good works will get us into heaven. Compassion and empathy result from His influence in our lives. We light our candles from His. When others “see your good works” they will give God glory. Possession of Christ’s light means you will be watched as if under a microscope. Your character is now public property. Jesus never promises our shining will make us popular. Light has the ability to expose that which was previously hidden. Jesus exposed the sinfulness of the human race….and they killed Him for it.

The end result of your shining is not so that men will praise (glorify) you, but rather “your Father which is in heaven.” We are saved to bring glory to God; not ourselves. If Jesus had not added this final point, these three verses could be misunderstood. Were it not for this last phrase, it might seem as if self-glorification was an option. But Jesus ends this passage by emphatically stating the purpose for which we are designed to shine: to bring glory to God alone.

The future is bright for all who have the light of Christ in their hearts.


Maxim of the Moment

The height of your accomplishment will equal the depth of your convictions. - William Scolavi