Matthew 5:13-14 – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Because these two metaphors of Yeshua appear back to back in this passage in Matthew, most traditional commentators will apply a similar, combined meaning to both. An excerpt from Matthew Henry below will illustrate this point:
“Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were as a vast heap, ready to putrify; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines to season it with knowledge and grace. If they are not such as they should be, they are as salt that has lost its savour. If a man can take up the profession of Christ, and yet remain graceless, no other doctrine, no other means, can make him profitable. Our light must shine, by doing such good works as men may see. What is between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open to the sight of men, we must study to make suitable to our profession, and praiseworthy. We must aim at the glory of God.”
What I like about this quote is how Matthew Henry captures the idea that salt and light have to do with both the believers’ “lives and doctrines.” What is believed as doctrine should naturally pave the way for actions in life that support those beliefs.
The way I view this passage is in a similar way, with light standing for doctrine and salt standing for the physical things we do in interacting with the world around us. To me, this distinction is provided by the metaphors themselves.
For example, the light of the city on a hill simply radiates into the darkness, and can be seen even from a distance with no direct interaction with anyone; it just shines. To my way of thinking, this stands for believers being examples of righteousness based on the truth of what they believe. When doctrine is rightly aligned, the individual’s personal actions and habits are also aligned with the truth, and these can become a shining example to all those who see it.
By contrast, salt can only affect its purpose when it comes in physical contact with that which it is designed to preserve or cleanse as an antiseptic. In this sense, I view the “saltiness” of believers as those physical acts of compassion that are conducted in the process of reaching out to, as Matthew Henry puts it, the putrefaction of “ignorance and wickedness” among men. Believers must have a right doctrine, yes, but also right actions of compassion among non-believers. Otherwise, anytime someone believed in Messiah, they would simply be instantly transported into God’s presence. No, the reason we remain on this earth after the new spiritual birth is to be the light to the rest of the world with right doctrine, and to be the salt of purification to the world that is in many ways is considered rotting in its own ignorance and wickedness.
This purification involves believers being compassionately involved in providing real, tangible help to those who need it. If we are correct in our doctrine but it doesn’t spur us on to purifying actions in the world around us, then what good is that doctrine? Yeshua puts it this way:
Matthew 5:13 – “But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
If we are not exhibiting the salt of compassionate actions towards those around us, then our light becomes nothing more than an unattainable beacon of hypocrisy to a world that can only be preserved with our participation in helping to meet their physical needs. Instead, as our compassionate interaction with the world around us is recognized for its genuine intent, then the light of the true doctrine of the kingdom that we hold becomes brighter and more visible, allowing more individuals to be drawn to the truth of that light.
Don’t just be the light, remember to actively be the salt, too.
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