“Specials” with a Mission
Have you seen The Lego Movie? It follows the character Emmett, who is a pretty normal Lego character in a world where fitting in and maintaining the status quo is the ideal. But Emmett gets himself into hot water and finds himself questioned by an abrasive officer. He then gets to see interviews and learn the impact he has on his co-workers and friends. You can see it here:
What would your friends and co-workers have to say about you? Specifically, what would they have to say about the day to day impact of your faith on their lives? Would there be much to speak about? Some people live with the notion that they are making an indelible, positive impact on people around them, yet that impact exists within their own mind. They are surprised to learn that their faith in particular is not making the impression they thought it did. Others would readily identify with Emmett – no friend interviews required – because they believe they have little to nothing to offer that would make a splash in a world thirsting for Christ.
Turn to Matthew 5:13-16 in your Bibles. These words have a lot to say about our call as Christians to be salt and light in a world desperate for the hope found in the gospel. To remind you, we are in a series called “Waking the Dead,” which is designed to help fuel our desire and effectiveness to reach others with the Good News found only through Jesus. Last week, Pastor Mark helped us find the right motivation to share our faith. Two of the points that stuck out to me the most are that sharing the gospel makes our own faith more fully alive, kind of like Miracle Gro for a plant, I suppose. And second, it’s God’s command; we have our marching orders in the Army of God.
Our verses today will highlight some of the strategy God calls us to implement as we carry out this mission. Christians are called to embody the dramatic difference found in Christ. To keep a military metaphor going a bit longer, the tactics we’re showing are all about boots on the ground. They can’t be done from a distance like a drone strike or ICBM. Let’s see how Jesus calls us to embody this change.
Matthew 5:13–16 ESV
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Live the distinct flavor of Christ
You may have noticed that Jesus does some name calling here. You are referred to as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We’ll get to these shortly, but this week I came across the most helpful visual – in the back of our van, no less – that serves to combine these two metaphors into one.
This is a salt block that has been turned into…wait for it…a lamp. Christian, this is you. Before you decide whether or not to be offended, listen on, because I believe the strength of these metaphors is found in their combination. I am also pretty sure the end result does not look like this salt light here.
First, Christians are called to live the distinct flavor of Christ.
A primary distinction of the Christ follower can be described as a flavorful engagement with the world around him, especially when compared with the rest of the world. There is no such thing as a bland believer. We bring a potency that is not found elsewhere.
Jesus mentioned salt, but he brings up a possibility that I have never experienced: What if the salt loses its flavor? This led me to wonder if salt actually could go bad today. According to realsalt.com, it can…sort of. Our friends at Real Salt say, “Natural salt without additives won’t ever go bad.” Salt contains no water, which is required for bacteria, fungi, or other nasty microbial stuff to grow. How does it go bad then? Additives. When salt is combined with other stuff, those additives can and do spoil, which spoils the salt. In Jesus’ day, his hearers knew of the Hill of Salt, located along the southwestern side of the Dead Sea. This 15-square mile area provided a virtually unlimited supply, but the outer layer lacked flavor. Why? Because it was exposed to the elements and underwent chemical reactions and was considered worthless. When you cut a big chunk to take home or bought a chunk at the market, you were likely to shave off a cruddy section of tasteless salt. But the good stuff? That was great for flavoring and preserving foods. Depending on which source you consult, Roman soldiers were either paid in salt or given a salt allowance – a salary – for the purchase of salt as one of the job perks. Salt was even used for the purpose of ratifying ancient covenants. Num 18:19 references a “covenant of salt” designed to last forever between God and his people.
Numbers 18:19 ESV
All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.”
Salt, for this covenant reason, became known as a symbol of purity and faithfulness.
Pastor Mark put this in terms of authenticity, which he says happens “when there is an obvious consistency between words and actions, and between claimed values and actual priorities.” We are often guilty of inauthenticity, when our actions do not match up with our words. Pastor Mark writes,
We say Jesus gives a peace that passes understanding, but we lose our cool and lay on the horn when the driver in front of us causes us to miss a green light…so often we say one thing but do another – our lives don’t match our beliefs – and this incongruent lifestyle turns the lost away from Jesus.
We become inauthentic; we lose our flavor. How do we end up with bland believers? It happens through additives and impurities, when the cares of this world get mixed into our lives. Our purity impacts our potency. The word here for losing flavor is moraino. It is used only four times in the New Testament, and the other three are all translated not as losing flavor, but as becoming foolish. We get the term “moron” from this word. Unsalty salt is just plain foolish.
In order to be salt, the Christian must effectively live consistently so that this “salty” lifestyle works its way into every conversation, every project, every waking hour.
To stay salty we need to stay connected to the purity of Christ, to be with each other in Christian fellowship, to identify the “additives” of sin in our lives and get rid of them before we are reduced to blandness, before there is nothing special or distinct about us and we have the same impact on our relationships as Emmett did in our video clip. The more time we spend with God, the saltier we become; the more infused we are with his flavor. The more interactions we have with our fellow believers, the more we can be the potent flavor that this world needs.
The result is that our day-to-day actions will be flavored with a different character. Every mundane task and each interaction will be infused with Christ in us, working through us. Charles Spurgeon writes,
No sooner is a man born unto God than he begins to affect his fellow-men with an influence which is rather felt than seen.
Are you affecting your fellow man with the felt influence of God?
Titus 2:7 ESV
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,
This means our salty good works will be found even in our work. In their book, Going Public with Your Faith: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work, William Carr Peel and Walt Larimore state,
If we want people to pay attention to our faith, we must first pay attention to our work. Before we introduce co-workers to God, we must introduce God into our work.
If you want to pass on the flavor of Christ, your life needs to be saturated in that flavor by walking closely with Christ.
Light up the work of Christ
Jesus also calls us “the light of the world.”
Matthew 5:14–16 ESV
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
There’s something awe-inspiring about the visual of a city-scape at night. There’s a dazzling brilliance to them. Imagine hiding that. It would be impossible. That’s exactly what the city of London had to attempt during the London Blitz in World War II, when the Germans were bombing the city. Blackout curtains were issued. Stores had extra doors fitted so they could stay open yet eliminate light emissions. People couldn’t use their headlights on cars, so the nighttime speed limit was reduced, but accidents still increased. Smokers weren’t even allowed to light up outdoors. The efforts helped but weren’t completely successful. Much of London was still devastated by the German bombs.
But usually, light is good. Our job as Christians is to Light up the work of Christ. How do we do that? And how does this combine with being salty for Jesus? Let’s contrast the two.
Salt has quiet, penetrating power. Its insulated purity allows it to be effective. Light has bold, attracting illumination. Its isolated exposure allows it to be effective. If salt is the inner working, light is the outward manifestation.
Spurgeon calls this “the conserving salt and the diffusive light.” He writes this:
“I pray that I may be helped to move the more retiring and less active among us to exert their influence upon others to a greater extent; to crown the silent testimonies of their humble faith by an out-spoken witness-bearing for their Lord and Saviour. All who have salt will now be urged to show their light.”
So the flavorful, salt-filled lifestyle must be combined with the illumination of the light of Christ. The Bible has a lot to say about light – so much that it is hard to dismiss it as a mere metaphor. In Ps 119:105, God’s word is a light to the our path, or our daily life.
Psalm 119:105 ESV
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Isa 9:2 tells of the coming messiah, likening him to a shining light.
Isaiah 9:2 ESV
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Jn 1:5 echoes this same concept.
John 1:5 ESV
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus himself makes the claim in Jn 8:12.
John 8:12 ESV
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Did you notice, he calls himself the Light of the world there, but in our passage in Matthew, we are the light of the world? Christians have the light of Jesus in them. Christ is our head, and we, the Church, are described as his body. We shine as he does. On a more individual level, Jn 12:35-36a declares that belief in Christ makes us “children of light.” We actually celebrate this symbolism each year on Christmas Eve. The Christ candle is lit, and from that candle, more candles are lit – our candles, representing the light of Jesus now in us. It feels like a cozy, Kodak moment, but it represents a reality we often forget.
We may feel like nobodies, but that can’t be true when we have the indwelling light. It’s a light that we share. Then we come to Eph 5:14.
Ephesians 5:14 ESV
for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
This verse stitches some prophecies from Isaiah and even from Luke. It is the shining of the true light of Christ – a light that resides in us, too – that wakes the spiritually dead.
In all the zombie movies, comics, and shows that have come out, very few spend much time curing the zombies. It’s almost always about survival, because the zombie condition is considered irreversible. That isn’t too different from the irreversible condition of sin. Spiritually dead people have no hope of a cure without Christ. The light that he shines – through us, no less – actually wakes them.
Did you hear about the Thai soccer team that became stuck in a cave system? The boys and their coach went in for an initiation ritual, kind of like a team building activity, but became trapped due to flash flooding. For 9 days they were stuck with no food or water…or light. Their one flashlight failed after only a short time in the cave. Imagine the hopeless feeling they had for days, facing the grim reality that starvation would be their end if drowning didn’t get them first. Imagine the feeling of elation when a light broke through and shone on them!
Now think of this: There are people in your life who are facing a grim reality. They believe there existence has only one, abysmal outcome, and they’ve simply resigned themselves to that fate. You can shine the light of Christ on them through a simple conversation, through befriending them, through sharing your life with them.
Yet, Jesus emphasizes that we need to avoid what no sane person would do with their light: hide it. Unlike those recessed LEDs you have at home, 1st century Jews had small lamps filled with olive oil that had a single flame. For most, that sufficed to be the light for the home at night. It would be downright unthinkable to cover it up. Instead, it would go on a stand so that everyone could benefit from it.
Yet that is what we do with the light of Christ in us. Just as there should be no bland believers, there should be no closet Christians. Jesus mentions hiding it under a bushel. He could have simply said that no one covers the light, but he chose to name an object. He names other objects, too. Our verses in Matthew find parallels in Mark 4:21, Luke 8:16, and Luke 11:33. There we find the light hidden by a basket, a bed, a jar, and a cellar. Bushels were for work, jars preserve things, beds are for rest and relaxation. All sorts of things can hide light. What hides yours?
Does your work cover up your light like a basket? Does your own pursuit of leisure obscure the light of Christ, as though it is another one of the random objects shoved under your pillow-top bed? Is your light under a briefcase? A vacation home? A pair of swim goggles? A soccer uniform? Does your light have to compete with the glare of a smart phone? Is it buried under a Facebook feed? None of these objects is bad, but neither should any of them obscure the light we are called to shine.
How to shine your light
So how do we shine this light? The more I look at this passage, the more I think shining the light is not simply about works but about words as well. I’ll appeal to the layout of this chapter as a whole. This famous Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. Pastor Mark preached on these not too long ago. They are the characteristics of a Christian who is the salt of the earth. They describe much of the lifestyle of one who carries the flavor of our Savior.
After verse 16, which tells us to let our light shine, Jesus speaks almost exclusively about God’s loving law, that Word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Our review of other passages about this light of Christ suggest something more comprehensive than good works. They aren’t excluded, but they are designed to point to Christ. The end result should be people giving glory to God in heaven. To put it another way, shining the light often means opening your mouth.
Your salt-of-the-earth lifestyle produces consistent and potent good works that people can’t help but notice, and your light-of-the-world brightness illuminates God as the source of them. A lifestyle of distinct living as a follower of Jesus may get people’s attention – especially as you meet their needs in sacrificial ways – but they need the illumination of the Good News of Jesus to understand you’re not just a really nice person. And a lifestyle of sharing the illuminating message of Jesus is a must, but it will fall on deaf ears if people can’t connect it to the distinct, salty acts that reflect the love of Jesus.
Cameron Townsend was a man who embodied both of these traits. After attempting to get the Spanish translation of the Bible to people in Guatemala in 1917, he learned that many there still spoke Cakchiquel, a native Mayan tongue, rather than Spanish. His heart went out to them, and he made it his mission to translate the Bible into their native tongue. Living among them with other missionaries, he founded a school and a medical clinic, and he even managed to get a coffee bean sheller set up to help provide a means for better income among the tribe. He was the salt of the earth in their midst, and he had their attention.
Then in 1929, Cameron had completed the Cakchiquel New Testament, and the people marvelled that God actually spoke their language. They were being trained to read and write it in the schools, and many became Christians themselves through the light shined by Cameron and his friends. Cameron Townsend was the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, an organization that continues the work of translating God’s Word into the heart language of as many people groups as possible.
So what about you? Are you struggling with living a lifestyle consistent with the flavorful purity of Christ, living as the salt of the earth? That may mean you are ready to commit to go deeper in your faith, join a Bible study, and be more consistent in being with other believers. Or perhaps you’re not shining your light very well; people might notice your distinctive living, but they do not know its source. Perhaps busyness or other pursuits have obscured this light, and it’s time for you to de-clutter and re-prioritize. Are you ready to take that step and let your light shine?
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Candle,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 27 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1881), 217.