Making a Lasting Impact
Do you ever yearn to make a difference in the world? To do something significant with your life? Do you ever wonder, “Why am I still on this earth?” I tell you, there is no greater satisfaction than to know you have been used by God himself to touch someone’s life perhaps for eternity! And being used by God is certainly not limited to pastors. Anyone can be used by God. Today Jesus calls us to consider—along with his original followers—who we really are in Christ.
Last week, in the Beatitudes, Jesus talked a lot about what we do. We extend mercy, we receive comfort, we make peace. We receive lots of blessings as a result. Today it’s not so much what we do, but who we are to a watching world.
Who are you in Christ? And what makes you different from the rest of the world? Jesus uses two very emphatic “you” statements to tell you who you are. You are salt and you are light. An ancient Roman official once commented, “There is nothing more useful than salt and sunshine.”
Let’s first consider salt. It has lots of redeeming qualities, such as making things more flavorful. Through our lives, we should invite others to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Or consider Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Salty Christians leave people wanting more of the gospel, more of God’s love.
Salt certainly adds flavor. But the ancient world prized it most for its use as a preservative; after all, this is before refrigeration. When we live as Christians, we help preserve the world; we make it a better place. Did you know it was Christians who formed the first literary programs on the streets of England? They called these reading programs for the poor “Sunday School” and used the Bible as the text. Christians built the first public hospitals. Christians built the first colleges and the first children’s homes. Until the 1930s, churches alone cared for the downtrodden of society. Still today Christians lead the way in charitable giving. All these things help preserve the world—they help hold back the evil so that God can continue to save, as he wills no one to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
But there’s another way we act as a preservative, a more personal, individual way. When we share our faith with others, whether in word or deed, we partner with God to save some from the path of hell. We help preserve their souls, because every person matters! Everyone is precious to God.
Jesus asks the question, “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 underfoot” (v. 13). It’s a puzzling question, because pure salt—sodium chloride—can never lose its saltiness. It will always be salty. Some think Jesus was referring to the polluted salt that came from the Dead Sea. It was mixed with minerals and lost its effectiveness over time. People would just throw it on paths to block the weeds.
But maybe Jesus’ question is rhetorical, since Jesus knows true salt never loses its saltiness. Maybe he’s saying true believers—those who follow him—they will always be salty. They can’t help it. Which makes you wonder why some Christians don’t act too Christian. A bumper sticker read, “Jesus, save me from your followers!” We all can appreciate some truth in that at times, as we see people who don’t seem too salty, too flavorful to others, and maybe sometimes find ourselves behaving like that. Yet, as we cooperate with God’s spirit at work in us, we become saltier.
So, Jesus reminds us to live salty lives, helping preserve our world and people who need the Lord. And then he reminds us to let our light shine. [Did anybody else here grow up with that song? ... “This little light of mine...Hide it under a bushel, no!”]
Like salt, light has a number of functions. Light guides and light illuminates. We need to guide people to the “light of the world.” Here Jesus calls us that, but in another passage (John 8:12), he calls himself that. Jesus is like the sun and we’re like the moon. The sun is a source of light, but the moon has no light source of its own; it merely reflects the sun’s light. We are like the moon, reflecting the Son of God at work in our lives.
Jesus shares a couple of illustrations to stress how our light should shine. He talks about a town on a hill that can’t be hidden because of all its lights. Back then you could see a hilltop city miles away from the torch lights. Jesus might have been referring to the most famous hilltop city, Jerusalem, or perhaps one of several cities that could be seen from Capernaum, where he was preaching.
Jesus also talked about a lamp in a home. Back then they had little clay lamps that burned olive oil. Jesus says, you wouldn’t light a lamp and then put it under a bowl (or bushel). No, you only put it under a bowl if you want to put it out. In an average one-room home, you put the lamp up on a stand so everyone in the house can see.
Jesus makes his point in verse 16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” He’s already clued us into some good deeds in the Beatitudes: to work for righteousness, to extend mercy, to make peace. All these things bring God honor, especially if we redirect any praise coming our way toward God at work in us. I wonder if young Peter was thinking about this moment many years later when he wrote in 1 Peter 2:12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Adlai Stevenson once said of Eleanor Roosevelt “She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.” As Christians, we need to warm the world. One thing is true of salt and light; they need to be used for good. If salt is to preserve, it has to come into contact with that which it preserves. You can’t just put a salt shaker in a meat house and expect that meat to remain unspoiled. No, you have to rub it into the meat. You can’t cover your light with a bowl and expect it to do much good. No, you need to let it shine.
Sometimes well-meaning Christians insulate themselves completely from the world. They make only Christian friends, they shop exclusively at “All-things Christian,” they listen only to Christian music, watch only Christian shows, go only to Christian concerts. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, but if you hide away from the world all the time, God might as well rapture you now! The Lord has left you here for a reason, and every day is an opportunity to be salt and light, to intersect with the culture around you.
Sure, your very closest friends should be Christians, but you need some non-Christian friends to be salty with. You may be the only Bible that someone ever reads. You may be the only church service they ever attend. Jesus hung out with all kinds of people; he even got accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Well, at least that last part was true. He is certainly a friend of sinners, thank God for each one of us!
When I think of salty and bright Christians, I think of our own Ms. Sarah, who went to be with the Lord just a couple of weeks ago. Just a few months back, I would find her walking the halls of the Mission with her walker on Sunday afternoons, visiting people in all different wings, bringing her famous smile and warm touch of a handshake. One time she told me how her feelings were hurt because someone advised her to stop talking to Jim, one of our stroke patients, because people might think she was flirting with him. Listen, Sarah loved everyone, male and female alike, and she didn’t mind telling them that, along with how much she loved Jesus! I told her that, truthfully, it warmed my heart to see her go up to Jim, even when he couldn’t say anything in return, and talk with him and touch his hand and tell him how special he is and how much God loves him. Sarah was just being salty and bright with the light of Christ.
A simple question to consider as we close and prepare to take the Lord’s Supper: If you were arrested and put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Let us be salt and light to a world in great need of a Savior. Would you join me in prayer?
Father God, thank you for this challenging teaching from your son. Help us to think about it all week: how you want us to be saltier and brighter as Jesus shines in and through us. Help us to care about people as you do, to love and forgive with your strength, and to be prepared to give you glory when people wonder why our lives are different. In Jesus’ name, amen.