by Lawson Mayo
Following the beatitudes, Christ turns His attention to the nature and purpose of being a true disciple. In doing so, He speaks of salt and He talks of light (Matt. 5:13-16). Salt and light! It is said that these are the elements that keep the world alive and pure. spiritually speaking, that is exactly what the followers of Christ are to do. Salt is used for preserving and seasoning and healing. Light is a radiant energy that dispels darkness. As Christians, we are to exercise an influence that will reflect the light of Christ; one that will heal and season and preserve.
Christians who lose their influence are like spoilt salt and hidden lights; they are useless to the cause of Christ. Some followers are hypocritical; they say they love God, but in reality their hearts are far from Him. Others simply lay aside their desire for divine things; they adulterate their love for God by lusting after their own whims. They forget their spiritual purpose. They abort their God-given mission. When this happens, their usefulness becomes null and void. Hypocrisy cannot reflect the brilliance of Christ's love. Spiritual deterioration cannot season and heal and preserve.
Those who heard Christ's message, in the first century, understood the metaphor of the salt. They were keenly aware that Syria's insipid salt was good for nothing. Exposure to the sun and the air and the rain rendered it useless. To cast it upon the land would blight the ground's fertility; it would kill their crops; it would diminish their harvest. The only thing they could do with the salt was to use it as rough gravel on the roads.
Another worthless salt was the bituminous salt from Lake Asphaltitus. This salt was used on the temple floor to prevent slippage in wet weather. I can relate to this usage of salt in a very personal way. In our lifetime, we have lived in some extremely cold climates; climates where the least bit of moisture would form a layer of ice on the walks, porches and steps. To keep from slipping, we would sprinkle salt on the icy surfaces. Not once, however did we scrape up that dirty, polluted, unsavoury salt to use as seasoning for our food. Why? Because it was no good! It was spoilt! It had lost its worth as far as the kitchen was concerned!
I can also relate to spoilt salt that's good for nothing but to be cast upon the ground. Besides living in some very cold climates, we have lived in some hot climates where nothing tastes better than a bowl of homemade ice cream on a warm summer day. If you know anything about making ice cream, you know that it takes a mixture of salt and ice packed around the milk churn to make its contents freeze, but what to do with that salty ice afterwards is a problem. If thrown on the garden it will kill everything it touches; if poured down the drains it will rust the pipes. The only alternative is to pour it along the fence row or in the sidewalk cracks where the weeds grow. It's good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men.
Christians, like salt, can lose their usefulness by losing their purity. Christ calls us to purity. He calls us to usefulness. He calls us to a life of worth. He teaches us, that we might teach others. He blesses us, that we might bless others. He preserves us, that we might preserve others. One who is contaminated by the forces of the world, however, loses his good influence. Worldly contamination is sin; it's a destructive force that keeps one from being a preservative factor in life. One sin, just one sin, can weaken our influence. One drink, one smoke, one unclean joke; it doesn't take much to affect the effect we have in life.
Some say that it is important to drink socially with unbelievers in order to influence them with the gospel. Foolish thinking!! What do we communicate when we lower ourselves to the sinner's level? How much influence can compromise make? Why must Satan take the lead? Is God's Word not sufficient to touch the hearts of men; is it not powerful enough to influence their minds and save their souls? A Christian that believes he must sin in order to convert the sinner, is blind to God's moral law. "If the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15: 14)! Have we not read this?
Don't, for a moment, underestimate the power of one blind guide, one weak Christian, one wrong-doer, one transgressor! One--Just one can do a lot of spiritual damage. One blind guide can lead a lot of innocent souls to destruction. One sinner can keep a family from serving God. One transgressor can affect the progress of the entire congregation. One evil-doer can kill the effectiveness of a righteous cause. One immoral book can lower the standards of a nation. One infidel can blast the faith of thousands.
"Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5: 6)? Adam's sin affected the whole race (Rom. 5). Achan's sin caused Israel's defeat (Joshua 7). Rehoboam's sin divided the kingdom (1 Kings 12). A little match can burn a forest. A little water can sink the ship. A little sin can keep the church from being pure. Early Christians were the salt of the Roman Empire; they preserved Christianity as a moral force during the Empire's social decline. Heroes of the Restoration Movement were the salt of the 18th century; they preserved the pattern of the church during its spiritual awakening. Are we acting as salt in the 20th century? Are we maintaining sound doctrine in our age? Are we counteracting the moral decay of our day? Are we saving the lost? Are we preserving the saved? Are we spreading our salt as it should be spread?
A barrel of salt in the corner of a butcher's stall is of no more value than a barrel of wood shavings. The salt must be spread on the meat in order to prevent decomposition. Likewise, spiritual salt is of little value as long as it's barrelled up inside a life. A person may be holding to sound doctrine, and the building in which he worships may carry a sign that reads "Church of Christ", but, if his faith doesn't flow through the streets of the world, if it doesn't reach out and touch others, it will not make an impact on the lost.
Furthermore, if we wish to preserve doctrinal purity within in the church, we must come to terms with the spiritual error that is creeping into this nation through our liberal brethren. We may have to draw lines of fellowship between ourselves and those who are adopting the digressive trends. We cannot barrel up our salt much longer and hope to win in the end. Spreading our salt within the brotherhood may not gain favour; it might even provoke reproach, but it's something that must be done if we want to please God.
Christ has said, "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattered abroad" (Matt. 12: 30). To mix with the world, to embrace its religious error, to join in its social sins, to adopt its tainted ways--individually or collectively--is a soul threatening action that carries an awesome consequence. Like salt, we must retain our personal purity if we're to be a prevailing influence for the Lord. There can be no healing of the sin-sick by children of God who have been contaminated by the despoiling forces in the world. Alcohol is wrong. Nicotine is wrong. Drugs are wrong. Premarital sex is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Fornication is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Abortion is wrong. Immodest dress is wrong. Mixed swimming is wrong. Gambling is wrong. Foul language, including euphemisms, is wrong. Lasciviousness is wrong. Dancing, including ballet for children is wrong, etc. etc. etc. There is not a thing in this list that is good and wholesome and proper for the Christian.
"But the Bible doesn't say we can't" is an excuse we often hear when someone wants to justify sin in their lives. Well, my diet doesn't say I can't have chocolate candy, ice cream, cherry pie, and cake. But what's going to happen if I eat these things? Am I going to lose weight? Of course not! The list of foods that my diet gives me negates everything that's not listed. Common sense tells us this. The Lord says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments"--not, "If you love me, you can do anything that I have not written on tablets of stone."
Individual Christians may lose all sense of virtue; they may sin openly; they may sin privately; they may abuse their talents; they may abase their good name; they may lose their fervour. They may do many things that cause them to lose their influence. Whole congregations may become corrupt. They may add to and take from God's Word. They may bring the world into the church. They may teach a social gospel. They may allow Satan to stand in their pulpits and sit in their pews. They may do many things that cause them to lose their influence. When we lose our influence, whether individually or collectively, we become as salt that has lost its savour. We are good for nothing, absolutely nothing, except to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. When our lives cease to have a positive effect on the world, we are of no value to God--that's the lesson of the salt!
A faithful Christian is an active force that cannot be ignored. His presence is readily known. He is recognised for his ethical, moral, and spiritual principles. His life serves as a rebuke to the permissiveness of the world. In the first century, there was no doubt where the Christians stood. Their life personified Christ. They lived in harmony with God's will. Their faith set them apart. Their influence was profound. Their allegiance was strong. And... their persecutions were great! Where are our persecutions? Is our identity unknown? Have we lost our saltiness? Have we hidden our lights?
The chief end of the Christian's life is to glorify God; this is the thrust of Christ's life-altering lesson. We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As salt, we are to have a positive effect on the lives of others; we are to season and heal and preserve. As light, we are to guide mankind toward heaven; we are to reflect the brilliance of Christ; we are to dispel the spiritual darkness of the world. To quote from J.W.McGarvey: "As light dispels darkness from the world, and enables men to see how to journey and labor, so the disciples, by their good works, their teaching, and their example, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and enable men to see the way of eternal life. In this way, they are the light of the world".
Through us the world draws its spiritual inferences and reaches its religious conclusions. Because of Satan's craftiness, the world walks in darkness. It's ignorant of God's Word. It's filled with error and unbelief. It has misconceptions about Christianity. There is a form of godliness, but it's a godliness without power. It is our mission, our duty, our responsibility to counteract the destructive concepts that Satan has created. We must be instrumental in bringing men out of darkness. We must teach and exhort and reprove (Matt. 28: 19; Acts 2: 40; Gal. 6: 1). We must earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). We must share with others what Christ has done for us (Mark 5: 19).
The words "Let your light shine" imply that effort is necessary to develop the influence we should have. It requires work to keep our light shining brightly. Our example must be impeccable if our teaching, exhortation, and reproof is to make an impact. It must be genuine; it must be soul-stirring; it must be without reproach. When a non-Christian sees a breach of faith in our lives, our influence suffers a mighty blow. Inconsistency will dim our light. A failure to practice what we preach can extinguish it. That's why we must work--I mean really work!--to keep our lights shining.
Someone has suggested that it takes seven prismatic colours to compose a pure ray of Christly light: humility, sorrow for personal sin, meekness, a deep-rooted desire to be righteous, mercy, pureness of heart, and the ability to impart the peace of Christ. In other words, those who cultivate the attributes that Christ alluded to, in the early part of His sermon, are the ones who will shine the brightest.
Our lights should be constant; they should be conspicuous; they should be useful. Christianity should be active; it should be pure; it should be life-giving. It is not the blazing comet or the wandering star that guides the mariner; but the fixed star. The candle that sets on a candlestick giveth light to all those in the house. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Have you ever driven late at night toward a city that is set on a hill? If so, you know that city cannot be hid. The city where I went to university is such a place. In fact, the campus is called "The Hill" because it sits a little higher than the rest of the land. Its lights can be seen for miles in the darkness of the night. The nearer you get to the city, the brighter the lights become. Finally, when you reach the city, you can see the lights that created the glow: street lights; porch lights; sign lights; all sorts of lights working together to dispel the darkness of the night. One porch light or one street light couldn't possibly do much lighting, but collectively they light up the whole sky. That's the way it is with Christians. One believer in the world couldn't make much of an impact, but collectively we can reflect the love of Christ to all the world.
Collectively! That's the key when it comes to light! Independently, we can do very little, but together, we can illuminate the world. Noah served as a light in the old world, but his light, alone, wasn't bright enough to save man from the flood. Lot served as a light in the city of Sodom, but his light, alone, couldn't hold back Sodom's destruction. The prophets served as lights among the tribes, but, acting independently, they could not keep God's children from falling into sin again and again. Alone, regardless of how bright our light might be, we cannot save this nation from sin. Alone, we cannot keep the church from digression. Alone, we cannot produce a bountiful harvest within our own congregation. But together, we can shine as lights in the night; together we can become a tremendous influence for the Lord
What folly it would be to put one's light under a basket. Such an action would display a certain ignorance. But what do we do with our influence? We hide it! We cover it up with various and sundry things: thoughts that affect our disposition, actions that affect our credibility, attitudes that affect our relationships, etc. From the earliest days, followers (individually and collectively) have covered their lights. Peter covered his light with swearing (Matt. 26: 69-74). Ananias and Sapphira covered their light with lies (Acts 5: 1-6). Simon covered his light with greed (Acts 8: 18-23). Demas covered his light by shirking his duty (2 Tim. 4: 10). The church at Ephesus left its first love; the church at Pergamos held to the doctrine of Balaam; the church at Thyatira followed in the way of Jezebel; the church at Sardis appeared to be alive, but in reality it was dead; the church in Laodicea was lukewarm. On and on we could go; God's Word is filled with examples of light-hiding Christians.
Everyone has influence. Some have good influence; others, bad; but we all have influence. As Christians, we need to make sure that our influence is always for righteousness' sake. The deeds that are done by a child of God should be done in accordance with God's will, for the good of man and the glory of the Father. The more service we render, the more effort we put forth, the more love we bestow, the brighter our lights will shine. Just as a moth is drawn to the light of a porch, non-Christians should be drawn to Christ through us. To hide our lights robs God of the glory that is rightly His. It negates our mission. It defeats our purpose. If our lives are to please God, we must show the world that we are, indeed, a unique people.
The often quoted statement about God having no feet but our feet and no hands but our hands is a truism. God accomplishes His will through us. If we are to fulfil our mission, we must be about our Father's business.
No doubt you recognise these words as a song that we sing in our worship from time to time. It's thought-provoking message is worthy of consideration. Many songs carry the theme of light in their verses. Another song that I would like to call to your attention is a song that aptly illustrates Matthew 5: 16. That song is "Let the Lower Lights be Burning"--you are familiar with the words; let me tell you the story that inspired the song to be written.
"Let the Lower Lights be Burning" was written by Philip Bliss one night after hearing a minister tell the story about a sea captain trying to bring his ship safely into the harbour on a stormy night. It was a special harbour where ships could obtain relief from the treacherous winds that would develop on Lake Erie in the USA. At the entrance, rows of lights were lit each night. At the head of the inner harbour, a large beacon lighthouse provided a centre guide. The captain must keep his ship in the centre of the shore lights and steer toward the beacon. On a dark, stormy night in 1869, with waves like mountains and no stars visible, the light house blinked only one light. The captain asked "Where are the lower lights?" "Gone out sir", replied the pilot. "Can we make the harbour?" the captain shouted. "We must or we will perish, sir", said the pilot. With a strong hand and a brave heart, he steered on. But he missed the channel and crashed into the rocks. Many lives were lost. The newspaper that recounted the tragic story reported that the one in charge of the lower lights "didn't feel up to refilling the oil reservoirs". Since no one had ever mentioned that they used the lights, and since he wasn't feeling up to the work required, he let his duty slide that night. The last stanza; the one that reads:
refers to the kerosene lamps which were common at the time of the writing. It was important that the wick be trimmed regularly, removing all the burnt part of the wick so the lamp would burn brightly. So it is with our lives; it's important to keep our lives trimmed, so our lights will shine brightly, free from the tarnishing effect of sin.
In closing, let me quote the preacher who told the story that inspired this
song: "The master will take care of the great light, let us keep the lower
lights burning". Remember: we are called out of the darkness unto the marvellous
light of Christ (1 Peter 2: 9). Have we answered the call? Are we keeping our
lights shining brightly? We should, you know, if we are to be a powerful
influence in this world.