How to be a light of the world

Warm-Up: Matthew 5:1-16

I remember in my college days thinking I pretty much understood everything there was to know about Christianity. I grew up in the church, went to a christian school for 8 years, participated in discipleship groups and even led a few. Clearly, I thought, there isn’t much more for me to learn.

And then I read Matthew 5-7, famously known as the Sermon on the Mount.

It is one of the most foundational teachings in the Bible. Despite it’s fame and long list of quotable verses, it still takes me off guard and shakes me every time I read it. There is a depth and richness to the teachings of Jesus here that challenges everything we want to believe about religion. It cannot be ignored, and we certainly can’t pick and choose what we like about it.

Salt and Light

One of the famous verses comes from Matthew 5:13-16. In them, Jesus says,

“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.”

Being the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” have become so famous they’re almost cliché. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the most important and foundational truths we believe can lose their meaning when we hear them too much. We must actively work against this, for the world is in desperate need of salt and light.

salt photo

Why the world needs salt and light

Jesus chose to use the words “salt” and “light” for specific reasons. Salt provides several benefits, including:

  • It adds flavor to food
  • Salt works as a preservative, preventing good food from getting sick or going bad
  • It is actually required in the diets of humans and animals to stay healthy
  • Salt can be used to reduce or remove waste and treat water

In the same way, people need light. We often forget about this need in the 21st century, light is always available for us, both indoors and out. A few years ago, a miscommunication with our power company led to a night without power. It was crazy how dark our house was, and while we did light a few candles, it would have still been easy to trip on things I left on the floor or hurt myself.

During the time of Jesus, very few people would go outside at night. Darkness was an opportunity for people to get away with criminal activity, and so going out was risky. The streets were cluttered as well, so there were constant tripping and injury hazards.

We take it for granted, but we need light because it vanquishes darkness.

Rejecting escapism

One popular idea in modern times is that Christians should live separate lives from non-Christians. People exercise this to different degrees, but it can be tempting to only surround yourself with Christian friends, to only engage with Christian music and movies, and even to call the guy who advertises as the Christian plumber.

But this is escapism, and it prevents you from being salt and light. Salt is useless when it always stays in the salt shaker. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Jesus calls us to be a light in dark places, which means we must actually spend time in dark places.

This is, of course, what Embracing Exile is about. We aren’t called to reject non-believers or live separately from them. We are called to live among them, to be a blessing to them, and to act as representatives of God.

How to be salt and light

I’ve been thinking about these verses a lot lately. Christian culture has a tendency to get this wrong. It brings me sorrow to hear stories of people who were ostracized, judged unfairly, or rejected by Christians. If we’re really bringing salt and light to the world, then others should be encouraged, blessed, and loved.

When I started this post, I planned to make it a short list of practical ways to be lights in the world. I had a few good ideas in my head about what it meant to be salt and light, but as I continued to read through Matthew 5, 6, and 7, I realized that the entire sermon was filled with ways to be salt and light.

I also realized if I were to dive into each suggestion here, then it would be the longest blog post ever. So instead, I’ve chosen to turn this into a series. Yes!

It’s going to take some time, but over the next couple months I’ll be writing a post for each of the following ways in which you can be a light in the world. I’m going to be diving deep into the Sermon on the Mount, it’s going to be fun. Links will be added below as they come.

lighthouse photo

If you can’t wait, feel free to read the verses ahead of time. Jesus said it better than I will. If you want to follow along with this series, then please subscribe to Embracing Exile below, not only will you gain a better understanding of what it means to be salt and light, but you’ll also get a free eBook on 15 Leadership Principles from the Book of Nehemiah. Sweet deal!

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