Salt and Light
A biblical cure for compromise and contemptible confrontation

Professed believers picketing, hurling insults, mocking, and in-your-face confrontation; the list could go on. Christians trying to blend in with the world, playing word games to sound like they accept the world, never speaking out against sin for fear of offending, trying to be popular; again the list could go on. Both are extremes, both are far too common, and both do harm to the cause of Christ. Sadly, a review of church history shows the propensity of gravitating to one of these two positions is strong. For the one, having chosen belligerent confrontation, the excesses of militant intervention are a real possibility. In the alternate, their choice of visible compromise almost inevitably leads to doctrinal compromise and irrelevancy. For both, unchanged, it is likely that history is doomed to repeat itself. A seemingly endless cycle of compromise or attempts to conquer have plagued Christendom for almost two millennia.

2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (NASU)

Be persecuted? It seems that one camp wants to provoke the world into persecuting them and the other wants you to believe that their methods have found a way to assure that persecution is only for those who really haven't mastered the right techniques. In fact, with the latter, they seem to think that most of their "persecution" comes from other Christians - as most of the world really doesn't have a problem with them. In contrast to their route of compromise, Paul's words in the verses which followed (v 13-17) show that he was emphasizing a life focused on knowing God's word, believing it, teaching it, and living it out.

Prior to Paul, Jesus directly spoke of persecution too. These following words came at the end of a message filled with "blessed are" statements, commonly known as the beatitudes:

Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Persecution because of personal righteousness is far different from persecution over belligerent and abusive action. To have things falsely said about you is far different than to have things validly said about you. As for it being "because of Jesus", one has to ask how many of those being persecuted are truly emulating the life and manner of Jesus, as recorded in Scriptures, versus what they think Jesus might have done. Jesus' reminder to remember the prophets certainly should narrow our focus. Prophets we're persecuted only for two things: staying true to God' word in their actions and remaining faithful to proclaim God's Word through their speech.

The previous passage, referenced from Matthew, did not end on the subject of persecution. The verses which follow emphasize a two-fold manner of living that is to characterize all believers. Here we are called "salt" and "light":

Matthew 5:13-15 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (NIV)

Salt is something that permeates. This metaphor focuses on inward change. If believers are truly changed on the inside, it means that our actions our lives will show it (i.e. Galatians 5:22-23 and Matthew 7:16-27). Imagine, for a moment, that I possess something that professes to be salt, but it does not act like salt 1, what would I do with it? Of course, I would throw it out as something that is useless.

Light is something that illuminates, beneficial to all that utilize it. The focus of this symbol is on the outward message. Believers having a true and pure message are to speak it faithfully, providing illumination to all that hear. As the passage so aptly illustrates; what good is a light if it is covered up? What good is the perfect message of God if never shared?

Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (NIV)

The order of the metaphors in Matthew, salt first, light second, is no coincidence. Any external message will not be believed unless the internal shows. Perhaps the reason the church has lost most of its ability to positively influence society today is because we so often have one without the other. For some it's easy to hammer out a message, to hurl invectives, to mock those who don't understand or believe - all apart from any overall difference in their own lives. When divorce rates and entertainment habits of the church match those of the world, what message do we really have for them? When our care of the widow, the fatherless, the poor, is no better than the world, again what message do we have for them? When our offer of a free gift comes with price tags, and even our church activities are only for those who can afford them, how are we any different than the rest of the world?

The cure for unwarranted confrontation is not to run to the flip side. Even if I live out my entire life as a life of giving, helping all I can, if I do not speak the message of life God has given me, all I've done is put a band-aid on a fatal wound. There has to be both salt and light.2

Haven't you read in the Bible where Paul was organizing pickets against the Roman government, John was preaching rebellion against the pagan governor, and Peter was imprisoned for try to block unjust executions of innocent people? You haven't? Of course not! Mostly because there's not a hint of it anywhere in the Bible.

It was during the reign of a Pagan ruler, who would use tax monies to make offerings and build edifices to the pagan gods, that Paul spoke the following. He told believers to submit, to respect, and yes, even pay the taxes.3

Romans 13:1-7 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)

This was not a one time message from Paul; he even called for prayers to be offered on behalf of those same authorities:

Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (NIV)

1 Timothy 2:1-4 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (NIV)

Peter, likewise, lived under the same despotic rulers:

1 Peter 2:13-17 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (NIV)

The example Peter provides, shortly after, is that of our Lord. Even when He suffered having done nothing wrong, He did not call for rebellion, or insurrection, or even disrespect, He was willing to suffer quietly as the greater testimony against their atrocities.

1 Peter 2:20-23 But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (NIV)

This is ultimate salt and light. Who Jesus was and is was on display for all to see through His actions, which then made His few words all the more emphatic as He subsequently spoke the truth. Peter is clear; we are not supposed to suffer because we are breakers of just laws, though we may suffer for refusal to participate in unlawful actions or because of speaking God's truth.5

1 Peter 4:15-17 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (NIV)

A host of believers living respectful, peaceful, law abiding, and God honoring lives would do more for changing this nation than hollow confrontations or a lukewarm gospel.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (NIV)

But wait, isn't it our duty to rail and picket against homosexual marriage and a host of other hot-button issues of the day? This is mandatory for all true believers; we're regularly assured by a host of Christian radio commentators and personalities. Without looking at the extreme, I believe even our civil words have lost their meaning, as our politicians and society as a whole see that we cannot uphold the sanctity of marriage within our midst. While divorce rates, the scourge of pornography, out of wedlock pregnancies and even abortions rates remain comparable to the world, what message does the church have that the world will want to listen to? On what grounds do we say we have the truth and a solution?4

By concerning ourselves with actions - indeed focusing almost solely on actions, which is the visible legacy of protests, pickets, petitions, and many polemical diatribes - the church becomes guilty of trying to change externals apart from God. In fact, the general message becomes; as long as you will act the way we want, we really don't care what you believe. Should it surprise us that unbelievers live and act as such, that unregenerate people do unregenerate things?

Consider the militant push by the homosexual movement to legalize so called "gay marriage." While Bible believing Christians understand that God defined the very word marriage as something between a man and a woman, this homosexual activism to redefine a word should come to us as no surprise. They are acting upon their unregenerate lusts and morals. Sadly a majority of those subsequently approving or lauding such changes are also unregenerate, legitimately acting upon their fallen nature. This is no different than the pagan Caesars, kings, and governors of old. They did what they thought was best based upon their fallen nature, religious, and moral beliefs.

What made a change, for the better, in society? History records that laws and standards favorable to Christian beliefs came about when a majority of people became (or professed) to be believers. What is going to bring about real change again in this nation? Only when believers start spending more time and effort in living out and sharing the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dare I say that one radically changed life will make a greater difference that all our belligerent picketers?!

If the slide towards atheist, deism, paganism, and cults, continues - if the beliefs of these people remain unchanged because they are unchanged by the power of Jesus Christ - we will see more and more laws and standard that are vehemently opposed to the Biblical standard of right and wrong. So what am I, personally, going to do about it? By God's grace I'll continue to live out the life He has given me, knowing that the world is watching to see what I do, to see if my actions are in keeping with my words. And yes, I will continue to speak the truth in love, sharing the "Who!" that is behind the "why?" of what I believe. Of course, in a democratic society, where we have obligation and ability to register our own beliefs by who we vote for and what we support, I must make the most of every opportunity. My prayer is that the day will come when there are enough other likeminded individuals to make a difference. And, if there is not? My responsibility to be salt and light doesn't change but neither do I have any responsibility to forcibly change others, or even expect change of this fallen world. At the end of the book, John said it well:

Revelation 22:10-11 Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." (NIV)


1. Can salt lose its saltiness?

Two possible aspects are in view regarding the ancient usage of salt; flavor and preservation. Salt's usage for the purposes of preservation was widespread prior to the advent of refrigeration. A secondary usage was for seasoning, even as we still utilize it today to add flavor to our food. While some have tried to say that this second concept would not have been in view at all, consider perhaps the oldest book in Scriptures, the book of Job, which upholds the ancient usage of salt for seasoning.

Job 6:6 Is tasteless food eaten without salt... (NIV) [Even Colossians 4:6 associates salt with seasoning!]

So how can salt lose its saltiness? Consider where most salt came from in the region, it was mined as salt rock. The problem with this type of salt is that its purity is far from perfect, with bits of inedible rock and minerals mixed throughout. While we can purify such in modern times, this ancient salt was used as it was. To preserve meat, merely crushing the mixture and coating the meat would allow the salts to permeate the meat, the same salt/rock mixture could be used repeatedly, but over time the salt itself would have leeched out of the mixture leaving mostly the inedible components. As such, the salt (rock) had lost its saltiness.

In regards to flavoring, this was even more pronounced. The salt rock mixture was placed into a cloth bag, which would be submerged in the soup or liquid of whatever was being cooked. The water would leech the salt through the cloth and provide flavoring, yet again, over time, all of the salt would be gone and only solid rock and minerals would be left inside the bag. Having lost its saltiness, the contents were then good for nothing except to be thrown out as dirt. In fact, Jewish sources claim that the entire bag with salt rock inside was known as "the salt". This way, when used up - literally devoid of its saltiness - "the salt" was thrown out.

2. There's been a lot of talk in the United States regarding socialism as of late. A majority of conservatives and many believers are decrying what they see as a slide towards socialism during this presidential administration. While it remains to be seen how socialistic the United States can get, the following is my quick thought on socialism. And since you might ask, "What does socialism have to do with giving?" For much of the world there is a belief that it is the way to help the poor, the sick, the widow, and the fatherless.

Perhaps if the church (i.e. Christians) were more doing more of what the Bible tells us - such as freely caring for the sick, helping the widow and the fatherless, giving to the poor, etc. - there would be far less need or desire for socialism, not to mention having an awesome venue and moral standing from which to spread the gospel. As the government takes over more of these things, and there becomes an expectation that the government must do so because no one else is doing it ("besides, we pay taxes to do it"), the church has virtually stopped trying and has lost a great opportunity.

Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew 25:45 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

3. Consider how far removed Paul's words are from the belligerent and insolent actions of those who claim divine right to withhold a portion of their taxes because they may be used for things that are wrong, including abortion.

4. The answer, of course, is that our grounds for proclaiming the truth is anchored in God's Holy Word and His perfect truth. This is something that the compromisers and doctrinal down-players within Christendom have even mostly given up. For those who profess to still stand of God's Word, how can anyone believe that we hold ALL of God's word authoritative when we are only willing to uphold or apply SOME of it? The world can see such a contradiction, why can't we?!

5. Many years ago I wrote an article entitled Higher Law which also wrestled with these issues. The primary focus of that article was to consider the question, when is it right to break man's law in order to fulfill God's commands? Certainly God's command to spread the gospel, to distribute and share His word, has been cause for many to be arrested through the years for violating laws of man.

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2009