Over the years I’ve listened to sermons, read books and articles and had conversations with people about Matthew 5:13-16 and its meaning. The big emphasis seems to have been about living lives that are distinctive from the world around us, which of course is the very essence of saltiness but that then moves into an emphasis on being distinctive by being counter cultural and speaking up for justice, defending the vulnerable, feeding the poor, getting involved in youth projects and offering debt counselling.
Don’t get me wrong, those are all great things to do but if you are looking for true saltiness, then first of all, those things are not actually going to make you stand out from the crowd and offer distinctive flavour. There are plenty of good hearted secular people who want to house the homeless, feed the hungry and offer advice and advocacy for the asylum seeker. So, in what ways do we actually stand out as distinctive?
Secondly, whilst all of those things are good things to do and we can find plenty of Scriptural support for them, this is not what this specific passage is getting at. Have a look at the context with me.
Have a look at what comes before this passage (Matthew 1:1-12), we have just been looking at the Beatitudes. We have discovered that they are not listing lots of different types of people but are describing the attributes of God’s people. What is more, these people will be happy, even though and indeed specifically because they are persecuted (v10 -12). Distinctiveness will lead to persecution. This was true of the prophets as well. We might say that they were quite salty. This was because they spoke of God’s judgement but also of the coming hope of deliverance through the Messiah. They pointed to Christ.
Then when we take a look at what is coming up, we will see that Jesus talks about how he fulfils the law, how our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees and how that abounding righteousness is discovered in deep heart change so that it is no longer about external actions only.
Now, come in with me to the main section and look at the second part (v14-15). Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. Now remember two things. First of all, that Jesus is himself the light of the world so that we are only light in so far as we have his light shining within us. Secondly, the imagery of light concerning Jesus is that he is the one who stepped into a dark and sinful world to defeat the darkness and overcome evil.
I wonder if you can see where this is taking us yet? If our distinctiveness is seen in us reflecting the light of Christ that overcomes darkness, facing persecution for pointing to him and living lives that demonstrate the heart change that only he can make possible, then our saltiness, our distinctiveness is that we point to Christ. That’s the very point of our good deeds shining out, they demonstrate that we are new creations. Our distinctiveness must be that we proclaim the Gospel.
So, keep going with all the great and loving things you seek to do. Love those who are seen as unlovely, care for the vulnerable. However, most of all, make sure you are sharing the Gospel.