Thursday, December 3, 2009

Salt or Light?

"What?!" you may ask. "Why do you say, ‘Salt OR Light?’ Isn’t it both . . . and, not either . . . or?"

Yes, you’re right. We are to be both salt and light. Jesus told us, "You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world." [Matthew 5:13-14] The title is actually part of a question.

My friend Harry (not his real name) was over, and I asked this question, "What is harder, being salt or being light?" Harry responded, "Without Jesus, both are impossible."

"That’s true," I said. "But for those of us who are already Christians, is it harder to be the salt of the earth or to be the light of the world?"

"I really don’t know," Harry said. "How would one be harder than the other?"
Let’s look at what it means to be salt and light to try to answer that question.

First, Jesus used two metaphors, both alike and different. Salt and light affect the world around them, but in different ways. Jesus’ explanation of the light make it clear that we are sources and transmitters of light, like lamps, lenses or reflectors. A lamp, lens or reflector does not have to have contact with it’s surroundings to shine light on them. Those the light shines on do not necessarily interact with the lamp, though they may. If someone likes the light he or she may come closer. Someone who does not appreciate the light may try to block it, or even become hostile and attack the lamp. Many others will simply ignore the light and eventually become insensitive to it.

How are we "the light of the world?" Those around us see what we do and hear what we say. This is important, our witness to the watching world. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Being light also means speaking out, giving verbal witness to the truth. We are to be witnesses, but in more ways that what we say or others see.

But being salt is harder. It is more interactive. Salt affects its surroundings through contact. Therefore, it is affected by its surroundings. People don’t just see what we do, but what we do impacts them. In everyday life, it is how we treat others, how we react and interact. Those who are close enough to the candle feel the heat and smell the wax, even touch it. In other words, they not only see and hear our witness, they feel it.

Why did Jesus use the metaphor of salt first? Because it has more impact. When we come into contact with other people, we influence them more by how we impact them than what we say. They are impressed less by the language we use and more by how we use the language. We may avoid obscenities and profanities while exposing obscene and profane attitudes. We may be strictly honest in very visible things, but not in how we deal with others in daily life. We can proclaim love to God while being unloving to those near us. For most of my life I’ve heard, "People don’t care what you know until they know you care." The talk is easier than the walk.

Jesus warned us against losing our saltiness. Just as we need power or fuel to produce light, we need a continuing source of saltiness to remain salty. Salt used to be produced in this area. Men drilling for oil found brine. So they drew the brine from these salt wells, evaporated the water and sold the salt. Jesus is not only our artesian well of living water, He is also our salt well. Living in close communion with Him keeps us salty.

The salt of ancient times was made by evaporating sea water. If the salt leached out, what was left was powdered silica and chalk, useful for paving pathways. It’s saltiness could not be restored. But if we have let our communion with God down and have lost our saltiness, He can restore it when we submit to Him again.

Back to the question, "What is harder, being salt or being light?" For many of us it is harder being salt than being light. It is not all that hard in today's society to make a profession of faith, to mouth things like "Thank God" and "Bless the Lord." We can say what ought to be done and be seen in our "Sunday best" on our way to church. But the real test is when we are tempted to cheat "just a little" to gain an advantage or save a little. Or when a co-worker gets a promotion we thought WE deserved. Or any other much-too-close situations. Then, when it really counts, it can be hard to "walk the talk." The same God who said to love Him, love our family members and love our neighbors, also said to love our enemies. He didn’t just say it, He set the example (Rom. 5:8-11). It is harder to be salt than light, but "with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:26)


Matthew 5:13 "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.
14"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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." [English Standard Version]

© 2009, Wesley G. Vaughn

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