Matthew 5:13-16 A Christian's Influence : Salt and Light

Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States. His life was changed one day when he went for a haircut. "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."

Think about that for a moment. For Wilson, the hairdressers became a place of worship. Have you ever imagined the newsagents as a place of worship? The florists? The butchers? The school, the railway station, the fishmongers a place of worship? Read Matthew 5:16. "Let your light so shine that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven." Who is the 'they'? What are they doing? Where are they praising? Why are they praising? What are we here for? Helping seekers become worshippers. Assisting pagans become missionaries. Turning pubs into churches.

How? How can we create a community full of places of worship? Please turn with me to Matthew 5:13-16 and lets look at it together for an answer. When we live the life of the Beatitudes we looked at last week and we shall look at again next week, we will impact the lives of the people we meet.

In the words of Peter we "are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). God's only witnesses are His children, and the world has no other way of knowing God except through the testimony of what we are.

1. The Presupposition: A World of Death & Darkness
The Bible is under no illusion when it describes a world without God as without hope. (2 Tim. 3:13). Without God the world has no inherent goodness to build on, no inherent spiritual and moral life in which it can grow, just confusion and darkness.

As election day grows closer, each of the political parties manifesto promises a bright future for Britain under their leadership. But none of them can actually change human nature or improve the morals of this country. We live in an awesome world of incredible technology and sophistication. Has anyone got one of the new generation phones yet?

Yet for all our sophistication, we can put a person on the moon but we still can't work out how to live together. For every innovation of speed like the 2 ghz pentium chip or new subsonic airliner there's also the capacity for faster downloading of internet pornography or destructive son of star wars missiles. The presupposition: A World of Darkness.

2. The Plan: A Community of Life & Light (Matthew 5:13-14)
Some years ago a magazine carried a series of pictures that graphically depicted a tragic story. The first picture was of a vast wheat field. The second showed a distressed mother sitting in a farmhouse in the centre of the field of wheat. The accompanying story explained that her four–year–old son had wandered away from the house and into the field when she was not looking. The mother and father looked and looked all day but the little fellow was too short to see or be seen over the wheat. The third picture showed dozens of friends and neighbours who had heard of the boy's plight and who had joined hands the next morning to make a long human chain as they walked through the field searching. The final picture was of the heartbroken father holding his lifeless son who had been found too late and had died of exposure. The caption underneath read, "O God, if only we had joined hands sooner." If only... The world is full of lost people who cannot see their way above the distractions and barriers of the world. They cannot find their way back to the Father's house until we join together as salt and light and sweep through the world to find them and bring them home. The great blessings emphasised in verses 3–12 lead to the great responsibilities of verses 13–16. The blessings of heaven, of comfort, of being righteousness, of receiving mercy, of being called God's children, with a home in heaven brings with it the privilege and responsibility of sharing these blessings with those around us. Jesus uses two simple analogies to explain our primary role.

2.1 Salt of the Earth
Salt has always been valuable in human society, often much more so than it is today. In ancient Greek history it was called theon, which means divine. The Romans held that, except for the sun, nothing was more valuable than salt. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, which is where we get the expression "not worth his salt" from. Salt was frequently used in the ancient Near East to bind a covenant, somewhat in the way an agreement or contract is notarised in our day. It was even required along with the animal sacrifices in the temple (2 Chronicles 13:5; Lev. 2:13). So in numerous ways Jesus' hearers—whether Greek, Roman, or Jewish—would have understood salt of the earth to represent a valuable commodity of high value and importance. Many suggestions have been made as to what Jesus meant. Some think Jesus is emphasizing the purity of white salt. For some its the arresting flavour of salt, for others its the preserving nature of salt. While each has some merit, none of them actually fits the wording of the text. Or the context of what Jesus says on salt elsewhere.

It took the idle listening to a BBC Radio Gardeners Question Time to spark off new insights into this expression "Salt of the earth". One of the experts was asked about how it was possible to increase productivity by organic farming methods without the use of lots of chemicals. In answer he explained that during World War II, when potassium fertilisers were in short supply, farmers resorted to an old technique. They used table salt as a stimulating fertiliser. An old technique? Stimulating fertiliser? Surely salt in water or the soil will kill plants? Let me quote to you J. M. Wilson, a leading Victorian horticultural authority, writing in "The Farmers Dictionary of Agriculture", dated 1850. Citing Cato, Virgil and Pliney, Wilson asserts, "The value of salt in small quantities, as a manure, appears to have been well known in ancient times." Between 1690-1823, however, a salt tax imposed by William III, raised the price from 6p to 20 shillings a bushel, and made its use as a fertiliser prohibitive. But with the lifting of the tax in the 1820's avant garde Scottish and English farmers "by means of enlightened experiment and patient recommendation, eventually brought it back into general favour." Wilson goes on to describe the results of a comparative survey. In one experiment in Essex, a field fertilised with five bushels of salt produced almost as much wheat as a field manured with a load of stable dung. So although salt may have been superseded by fertiliser in this century, from ancient times salt was a muck, a fertiliser, a stimulus to growth. So there you have it. The text itself suggests this is precisely what Jesus meant. Notice Jesus says "you are the salt of, or for, the earth", The word for 'earth' means land, ground, soil. The same word is used in the parable of the sower to describe the different kinds of soil. And in the parallel passage in Luke 14 Jesus underscores this interpretation. Salt which has lost its saltiness is, he says, "fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile".

By implication what then is good salt fit for what? The soil and the manure pile. We are dealing here primarily with an analogy of compost, not meat, with growth not decay, with life not death, stimulation not preservation. Jesus did not come to keep the world from going rotten. He came to save it and give it new life. We are not here to slow down the decay in society. We are here to bring it to life. Literally, Jesus is saying, "you are the salt for the soil, working to bring the seed which is the word of God to new life in people's hearts and lives." And the implications?

As a Fertiliser, Salt is for Scattering
In lumps, like any concentrated fertiliser, salt will destroy the chemical composition of the soil. It creates a desert. But appropriately scattered it will stimulate growth.
It is precisely when we appear at our weakest and diffused we are at our most potent and effective in the hands of the Master gardener.Not when we meet in church on Sunday but when we are scattered on Monday. Salt is for scattering.

As a Fertiliser, Salt is a Supplement
Salt does not exist for itself but for the sake of the shoots of Kingdom growth which God has planted. Fertiliser helps seeds grow. On its own it can do nothing. Its only a supplement. But in contact with the seed, with water and soil it works miracles. The church exists to reveal the God of love by our words and deeds. Everything we do should be geared to this purpose.

As a Fertiliser, Salt is a Stimulant
For salt to be of any use as a fertiliser, it must be distinct, pure.
To do any good we also must be pure and uncontaminated and at the same time in close contact with those who do not yet know Jesus. That is why our primary activities as a church are not those that take place in here for Christians. Our most important activities are those that help us build relationships with seekers and the unchurched. Things like the monthly lunch club, the men's breakfasts, golf days, Snakes and Ladders, Jesus Video Project, our football game this afternoon, Summer picnic in the Park, Rogation walk, Wentworth Carol Service, Connection deliveries, Alpha, Christianity Explored. These events are not peripheral or optional but central to our mission as a church. That's why in the months to come we will organise more and more seeker events because we want to have a greater impact for good in Virginia Water.

A recent study has shown that one in four people would come to a church event if they were asked. Can you imagine that? One in four. In Virginia Water that means over 1000 people would come to an event sponsored by Christ Church, if we asked them. But they won't respond to a cold sell approach from a stranger. They will if they know us well enough to trust us and come with us. The other statistic worth remembering is that 4 out of every five people come to faith through the influence of a relative or friend. What are the implications?

Last week the Bishop of Liverpool - James Jones challenged the Church of England to cut down the number of meetings it holds.... If we want to be the salt and light as God intends, we need to spend less time hidden away in church events and more time outside in the community making friends. If you want to see Christ Church grow come less often. Spend more time making more friends in your road, your club or your work place and turn it into a church. There are many ways to dig a garden but a wise gardener knows the value of fertiliser.

As a Fertiliser, Salt is Very Significant
Jesus says, "you are the salt of the earth." Jesus addresses his disciples not with an imperative but an indicative. He does not say "Be salt and light", but "you are" Nor does He say, "you will be", or "may be", or "can be" or "hope to be", but "you are... you are the salt of the earth, by virtue of being my disciples."
In both verse 13 and verse 14 the pronoun 'you' is emphatic.The idea is, "You are the only salt of the earth" and "You are the only light of the world." The world's corruption will not be retarded and its darkness will not be illumined unless God's people are its salt and light. The very ones who are despised by the world and persecuted by the world are the world's only hope. Again, notice, the 'you' in both verses is also plural. Each grain of salt has its limited influence, but collectively as we are scattered in the world that change will come. One ray of light will accomplish little, but when joined with other rays a great light is created. Jesus knew his disciples were raw and inexperienced. He knew how they would misunderstand him and eventually deny him. Nevertheless, Jesus says, "you are salt and light" Jesus had such confidence in his disciples. He believed in them, prayed for them, worked with them. And he does the same with you and I. Be the person God made you - model your life on Him and not the world, and you will indeed be the salt of the earth. Jesus reinforces this analogy.

2.2 Light of the World
Whereas salt is hidden, light is obvious. Salt works secretly, while light works openly. In John 8:12, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world," If Jesus is the light of the world, how can we be the light of the world also? Jesus is in heaven. In his place, we reflect his light. "Children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16) Christ is the true light, and we are His reflections. He is the Sun, and we are His stars and moons.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
" (2 Cor. 3:8)

A secret Christian then is as incongruous as a hidden light. Lights are to illuminate, not to be hidden; to be displayed, not to be covered. Christians are to be both subtle salt and conspicuous light. The presupposition - a world of death and darkness. The plan - a new creation community of life and light.

3. The Purpose: That Seekers Praise God (Matthew 5:16)
"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." (5:16) The word (kalos) for 'good' that Jesus uses here means not only quality—though that obviously is important—it also means attractiveness and beauty. Let me ask you - do people see the beauty of the Lord in us? By our language and our actions in their presence? What do they see and hear?Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, or do they see greed, gossip, bitterness, slander, envy?
You may be able to identify with Alfred. When his brother died, Alfred Nobel bought a newspaper to read his brothers obituary. He was shocked to discover that a dreadful error had been made. The paper had confused him with his brother and the obituary he was reading was his own. As a young man, Alfred Nobel had been involved in the invention of dynamite, and his premature obituary elaborated on the terrible death and destruction this powerful force had brought into the world. Nobel was devastated. He wanted to be known as a man of "peace." He quickly realised that if his obituary was to be rewritten, he would have to do it himself by changing the nature of his life. So Alfred Nobel did just that.

Now here is your assignment for this afternoon. I'd like you to write your obituary. Its not as morbid as you might think. Its not about dying but about living. Why? Because it gives you an opportunity to adjust your life, describe the ideal you, and define what it is you would like to be remembered for. Why leave such important matters to chance or someone else? God has a wonderful plan for your life. Jesus says you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Let him help you establish your path and guide you as you walk in it. In his book, 'The Heart of a Leader' Ken Blanchard says the beauty of writing your own obituary before you die is that it serves as a dream - a big picture of what you want your life to be and mean. So if you don't like the way your life is shaping up right now, change it. Change it today. God made you and always intends you to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus.

Today Nobel is known for his contribution to what? For war or peace? What will you be known for? What would you like to be known for? Then start today. Lets pray.

For Further Reading: Witness while you work

• Create meaningful quality relationships
Your efforts will work best if you first use the opportunity that the workplace affords to build friendships with your colleagues. People you work with inevitably see you as you really are, but this is no bad thing. You don't have to approach the task as a perfectly 'together' person out to help your poor, dysfunctional workmates. Some of them may be more together than you! You may find their humour filthy and their language offensive. You might find out about messed-up lives and unhealthy attitudes. You will almost certainly discover real kindness and human dignity along with loyalty and openness. Creating meaningful relationships might be a messy difficult business, but it's worth attempting.

• Preach the gospel and use words only when necessary

Words are not always needed, but there are times when people have to have an explanation and we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).

Be the salt of the earth
Do good deeds in the workplace, not just good work, as it is an important form of witness. Jesus is himself the greatest example of what this means. John the inspired writer uses a vivid metaphor to explain: The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:5). This principle of light shining, fulfilling its purpose despite darkness, extends to everything that comes from Christ which manifests itself in the life and work of Christians, and nowhere should it be more apparent than in the workplace. Every Christian can be, and should try to be, a force for good in the place where they work.

• Remember the golden rule
Bless those who curse you, speak against you and maybe even persecute you. This is not easy. Our base instinct is to retaliate. Try using the golden rule which says, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.

• Don't edit God out

I heard someone use this phrase and it caught my imagination. How often does an associate or workmate say Are you doing anything special this weekend?' or, "What did you do over the weekend?" How do you reply? There is often a tendency to edit God out. We may have been to church, be going to church or we may be taking part in some special church or Christian event, but we don't mention it! Snippets of information by way of response are enough, and they provide an ideal opportunity to start a conversation about the Lord.

Be creative about your witness
Start a Christian get-together. Who knows what it will lead to? Organise a work-based special event. More networking goes on within the workplace than in the community People at work know each other better than they know their neighbours and others Who live in their locality. For that reason alone there's probably more opportunity for witnessing in the workplace than there is in the community because people spend more time together at work than they do elsewhere.

• Exercise spiritual gifts at work
You spend more time at work than you do in church, so there's bound to be more opportunity! Pray for wisdom and discernment; pray for a word of knowledge; seek revelation about situations that confront you. Ask God for boldness and be ready to share your faith as he prepares the way and provides the opportunity

• Get others to pray for you

I know of one Christian who put a prayer letter together about his job then sent it to all his friends as a way of helping them to pray specifically about his situation. Why not? You might even extend the idea to include the membership of your church. Get them to pray for you and others.

From the Lifewise Guide to Work by Jim Dunn (Kingsway, £8.99). See also Making Life Work by Bill Hybels (IVP, 6:95)