Metaphors are powerful figures of speech that use familiar things to shed light and bring knowledge about unknown things. A metaphor describes an object or action in a way that is not literally true, but helps explain an idea by comparison. A teacher may say, “My classroom was a zoo”—which, though not literally true, may have rightly described the teacher’s day.
Jesus used metaphors, comparing physical things to spiritual realities, so people could better understand truth. He referred to Himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:48), to show He was as essential to spiritual life, as bread was to physical life. He said “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), to teach that He was the only way to heaven.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (verse 14). These two metaphors describe the influence His followers were to have on the world.
Salt and light are totally different, yet closely related. Salt is a tangy, flavor enhancing preservative whose effects are only noticeable when it makes contact with something else. Light penetrates and dispels darkness as it shines. Salt that is not salty is useless—and light that is hidden is hopeless. Jesus used salt and light to picture the essential work of His followers in this world.
Both salt and light impact whatever they touch. Similarly, the Christ follower should influence people around him or her, with flavor and light. President Woodrow Wilson told about being in a barbershop when a man entered and showed such care for others, that they were affected. The man took a personal interest in the barber who was cutting his hair, along with others in the shop. Every word he spoke expressed genuine kindness. President Wilson purposely lingered after the man had left. The barbers did not know the man’s name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts. Later the president learned that it was D. L. Moody who had been in that chair. His manner and conversation evidenced both salt and light.
If Christ’s followers are to be salt and light in the world, what can we learn about that? In the metaphor we can see:
1 The Problem of the Word—Corruption and Darkness
When Jesus called His disciples the “Salt of the earth”—it was because the world was corrupted and needed the preservation only He could provide. In this world, we are surrounded by the moral and spiritual corruption of sin. All of mankind is infected with this deadly virus. God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The compounded effects of sin can be seen in our society, declining morals, and increasing violence. Jesus calls on His followers to be salt—a preserving and cleansing agent.
Jesus called His disciples the “Light of the world” because the world contains moral and spiritual darkness that needs the light of Christ. Jesus said, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19-21). The world without Christ is in darkness.
2 The Plan of the Savior—Salt and Light
The world is corrupt—so Jesus calls Christians to be like cleansing, tangy salt. This means if the Lord’s people are to minister to the world, they must be separate from the world and its corruption. Christians cannot offer cleansing if they are participating in the pollution. Jesus said, “but if the salt has become tasteless (lost its savor)…it is no longer good for anything” (Matthew 5:13). Christ calls his followers to be holy and obedient to Him in everything. The only way Christians can be “salt” is to be different than the world.
The world is darkness—so Jesus calls Christians to be like a bright light, illuminating the moral darkness. Light emits brightness that causes darkness to flee. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14, 15). As Christians follow Jesus they too emit light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
3 The Peril of our Failure—No Savor and Hidden Light
If the salt loses its savor, becomes stale, it is useless or “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). A born again Christian cannot lose his salvation, but can lose his influence and usefulness to Christ. A savorless Christian is a great loss. He or she will fail to lead others to Christ or influence others toward Christ. What a tragedy!
Another peril is the loss of light, which has a natural attraction—“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). When light shines, things become visible, but when it is hidden, darkness prevails.
4 The Purpose of our Commitment—to Glorify the Father
When Christians are salty—and their lights are shining—God is glorified! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Good works are never to magnify the Christian—but always to glorify the Father! After clarifying that salvation is by God’s grace through faith, Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Followers of Christ are to “show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). With God’s help let’s be salt and light to this corrupt and dark world, showing the love and salvation of His Son in all we do!