Salt and Light

This week’s scripture reading – Matthew 5:13-16,

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Salt in History

This answers the question of which Bible verse says we are the salt of the earth but what does salt of the earth mean? Well, as part of his teaching and preaching ministry, it was a common occurrence for Jesus to speak to the people with similes, metaphors and parables. In this case, salt and light are used as figures of speech to provide examples of godly living. Salt as a substance, would have been in existence for several millennia given that the salt sea was referenced as far back as Gen. 14:3, All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.

Ye are the salt of the earth:

Matthew 5:13a

What is the spiritual meaning of salt in the Bible? Interestingly, salt also had somewhat of an ominous connotation during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with Lot and his wife fleeing the cities in Gen. 19:26, But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. Nevertheless, salt served an important part for the ancient Israelites in the Levitical priesthood’s offerings to God as recorded in Lev. 2:13, And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt. * (oblation – an offering to God)

Similar records from the prophets further corroborate the use of salt during burnt offerings to God in Ezek. 43:24, And thou shalt offer them before the LORD, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up [for] a burnt offering unto the LORD. For the Israelite diet, salt also would have served an essential part of cuisine as noted in Job 6:6, Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? 

Biblical Salt

But what does being the salt and light mean and how do we become salt and light of the world? In the New Testament, salt takes on a different interpretation with the words of Jesus as it is used to describe a pattern of faith, noted in Mark 9:50, Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. Paul also wrote to believers about “seasoned with salt” characteristics of faith by highlighting the importance of prayer, thanksgiving, witnessing opportunities to lost souls and to walk in godly wisdom, concluding in Col. 4:6, Let your speech [be] alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Since salt for dietary purposes would have been used as a seasoning to enhance flavours, provide texture to food, serve as a nutrient and to be used as a preservative for foods, the seasoned with salt phrase would have resonated well with readers of that day.  With this background on salt in hand, let us now look at the light of the world.

And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

Matthew 17:2

Biblical Light

We now also know the answer to where is the scripture ye are the light of the world but what does the Bible say about being light of the world? Well, previous Bible studies embellished upon the reference of light in scripture, particularly as it relates to the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the most notable examples is given during the transfiguration of Jesus as documented in Matt. 17:1-3, And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. For the three apostles this would have been a defining moment for them in looking upon the Son of God shining as the sun! He was no mere man before them. * (transfigured – to change in appearance)

Following this, the reference to light for the people of that age then occurred during times when Jesus was speaking to a multitude of people. At one time, he began to condemn the current generation who were intently fixated on seeing signs from heaven before they would believe, likening them to an evil generation from Luke 11:29. As Jesus continued further with his comments, the notion of light was referenced pertaining to the character of faith in Luke 11:34-36, The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when [thine eye] is evil, thy body also [is] full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore [be] full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. * The phrase “having no part dark” is also reminiscent of the study on pure in heart. * (doth – does)

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.

Luke 11:35

Light meets Darkness

The distinction here is clearly between light and darkness, or good and evil, most likely followed after Jesus saw the unbelief of the people along with their despicable comments relating his acts of healing to Beelzebub, the chief of the devils as recorded earlier in Luke 11:15. With Jesus also chiding them over their lack of repentance noted in Luke 11:32, all of these events therefore set the stage for his comments related to light versus darkness and good versus evil. 

Worldly Darkness

In order to fully understand the comment from Jesus in calling us the light of the world it is important to respectfully draw distinctions between people of faith and people of the world. First, the world is under condemnation because of the fall of mankind and this brought the introduction of an inherent sinful nature in all people. As Paul proclaimed in Rom. 3:23, For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. This is one of those all encompassing passage of scripture, that does not say a few, or some, or certain select people, but all have sinned. As sinners, people are in need of a saviour from the just punishment of sin before a Holy God.

Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

John 12:30

Secondly, this fallen world is under domination by the prince, or ruler of this world as noted by Jesus in John 12:31, Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. This ruler is Satan and he is absolutely contrary to all that God represents as further noted by Jesus in John 14:30, Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.  This so called prince is indeed the opposite of salt and light.

Light Overcomes Darkness

So who are considered the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Paul’s writings in his letters to believers provide an exceptional synopsis in tying the two distinctions noted of this world together in contrast to the glorious light provided by Jesus in 2 Cor. 4:3-6, But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is indeed the startling reality where the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God

2 Corinthians 4:6a

Further to this is Paul’s own conversion on the road to Damascus. He shares the words from Jesus, the risen saviour, which helped to show his miraculous transformation from persecutor of believers to preacher to the Gentiles. This harmonizes his life with the previously noted scriptures above and now referenced in Acts 26:18, …To open their eyes, [and] to turn [them] from darkness to light, and [from] the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith. As people come to Christ, their eyes are opened to the gospel of saving grace. * (sanctified – to set apart or free from sin)

Living as light

Herein lies the crux of the whole matter, that to be the salt of the earth and light of the world, people must first come to and believe in the true light, which is Jesus, before having any ability to have spiritual light in themselves. Paul further writes to highlight this difference between people of the world and people of faith in Eph. 5:8, For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light.

For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light.

Ephesians 5:8

Further to this, as someone comes to saving faith in Christ they are to walk in a different manner, not a physical walk but a new spiritual walk as Paul notes in Eph. 5:11, And have no fellowship with the  unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them. This is further reiterated in other letters of Paul as evidenced in 1 Thess. 5:5, Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. This light now builds together with the salt and light metaphor from Jesus. * ( reprove – refute)

The encouraging words in Paul’s letters continue to build upon this theme of light throughout as shown in Col. 1:12, Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Finally in this context, even the apostle Peter framed these words to lend further support of Christ’s light as indicated in 1 Pet. 2:9, But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. * (partaker – to take part in)

Jesus is the Light

To close off this Bible Study, it is fitting to reference a message provided by the apostle John noted in 1 John 1:5-7, This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. As Christians, we are to walk daily in the light of God.

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:5b

There is only one true source of spiritual light in a world filled with sin, darkness and lost souls. Jesus is showing the way for people seeking him with a sincere heart in John 8:12, Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The world often mocks the phrase, “come to the light”, but it is reassuring to know that the true light really does exist for all who desire to come to him in simple faith. Why not become the salt of the earth and light of the world that Jesus is calling us to be for his glory?

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this study on Salt and Light, why do you think Jesus often used simple phrases to describe more complex subjects?
  2. How would you explain the use of salt and light to someone who was asking what they mean from Jesus’ teaching?
  3. In the section Biblical Light what is associated with darkness from a Biblical perspective? Hint Luke 11:34-36.
  4. In the section Worldly Darkness, who is the prince of this world?
  5. In the section Light overcomes Darkness, who is the god of this world?
  6. Fill in the blanks about Paul’s conversion, from ________ to light, and [from] the power of _____ unto God.
  7. Why do you think people prefer to live in the darkness of this world instead of becoming the salt and light for God?

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