The Sermon on the Mount—Christians as “Salt” and “Light”
FOLLOWING the nine ‘happinesses’ of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commented as to how his followers would affect mankind. He said: “You are the salt of the earth.”—Matt. 5:13; compare Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34, 35.
Salt was well known to Jesus’ listeners. It served both to enhance the taste of food and to preserve it from corruption. Evidently, because salt represented freedom from corruption or decay, God commanded that it accompany “every offering” on his altar. (Lev. 2:13) During Jesus’ day priests officiating at Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem salted the animal, grain and frankincense offerings that were presented on the altar of burnt offering. Jewish history says that for this purpose a huge heap of salt lay near the ramp leading up to that altar. In the temple area there was a large storeroom, known as “the salt chamber,” to assure an ample supply.
Jesus’ disciples were to be “the salt of the earth.” This would prove to be true both in their activities of witnessing to others about God’s kingdom and in their personal conduct. Christian witnessing has resulted in many accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah and exercising faith in his sin-atoning sacrifice. This has opened up opportunities for such believers to have their lives preserved for eternity. (John 6:47; Rom. 10:13-15) Furthermore, by influencing people to live according to Bible principles, followers of Jesus retard the increase of moral and spiritual decay in human society.
However, Jesus added a note of warning, saying: “But if the salt loses its strength, how will its saltness be restored? It is no longer usable for anything but to be thrown outside to be trampled on by men.” Bible commentator Albert Barnes notes that, different from common table salt (sodium chloride), the salt with which Jesus and his contemporaries were acquainted “was impure, mingled with vegetable and earthy substances; so that it might lose the whole of its saltness, and a considerable quantity of earthy matter remain. This was good for nothing except that it was used, as it is said, to place in paths, or walks, as we use gravel.”
Christians must beware of discontinuing their efforts to share the “good news” of God’s kingdom with their neighbors. (Mark 13:10) Also, they must be on guard against falling into patterns of conduct that do not harmonize with Scriptural guidelines. Otherwise, they will deteriorate spiritually and become like spoiled salt—insipid, flat, tasteless—that is no longer good for anything.—Compare Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-29.
LIGHT THAT SHINES TO GOD’S GLORY
Further showing the beneficial effect that his followers would have on mankind, Jesus said: “You are the light of the world.”—Matt. 5:14.
From the inspired Word of God, especially the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, comes spiritual light that aids persons to see things as God sees them. (Prov. 6:23; Isa. 51:4; Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79; 2:32; John 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5) By their public witnessing activities, disciples of Jesus enlighten people concerning the sinful condition of mankind, God’s purpose to remove sin through Jesus Christ, and his Kingdom arrangement to bless with eternal life all who exercise faith in Jesus.—John 3:16, 36; Rom. 3:23, 24.
But being “the light of the world” involves more. The apostle Paul writes: “Go on walking as children of light, for the fruitage of the light consists of every sort of goodness and righteousness and truth.” (Eph. 5:3-9) Christians must be shining examples of conduct that accords with Bible principles.
With regard to his disciples as light bearers, Jesus further declared: “A city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain. People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house.”—Matt. 5:14, 15.
A ‘city situated upon a mountain’ would be seen easily, even from a considerable distance. Similarly, persons who imitate Jesus Christ are noticed readily as being a people “zealous for fine works.” (Titus 2:14) Their efforts to manifest godly qualities such as moderation, chasteness, diligence at work, wholesome speech and family togetherness favorably impress others. (Titus 2:1-12) They are also determined to be “no part of the world,” not taking part in its politics, warfare and immoral way of life. (John 15:19; 17:14-16) Sometimes this leads to ridicule and persecution of conscientious Christians.—Matt. 24:9; 1 Pet. 4:4.
With good reason, therefore, Jesus adds that people set a lamp, “not under the measuring basket [Greek, modios, with a capacity of two gallons],” but “upon the lampstand,” where it can illuminate an entire room. Followers of Jesus must not allow opposition from the world to cause them to hide or keep to themselves the truths that they have come to know about God. Nor can they take up the practice of conduct that does not accord with Bible principles, for, even if such persons continued zealously proclaiming Bible truth, their actions would becloud its value.—2 Pet. 2:2.
With reference to a lamp shining on a lampstand, Jesus next declared: “Likewise let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:16) What a powerful reason to continue “shining as illuminators in the world”! (Phil. 2:15) By observing a Christian’s “fine works,” individuals can perceive the excellence of their God. Frequently such observers are motivated to “give glory” to God by also becoming his worshipers. Hence, the apostle Peter admonished: “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against you as evildoers, they may as a result of your fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God in the day for his inspection.”—1 Pet. 2:12.