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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

Salt & Light: A Metaphor of Purpose

Up to this point, Jesus has laid the foundation for all the rest of the sermon that He will now teach. He wanted to begin with the internal condition of the heart before He gave the practical outworking of the law.

To summarize, if we are going to keep God’s law properly, we must first:

  • Recognize our spiritual poverty, be broken in our spirits about our condition and seek Jesus and His righteousness for comfort.

  • In response to Jesus' comfort, we should have a spiritual desire to be closer to Jesus that results in a life of meekness, mercy and peacemaking regardless of how others treat us.

Those who live out Christ’s beatitudes are “Salt of the earth” people.

Just before Jesus started on the really practical stuff of law-keeping, He wanted to take a moment to teach with metaphor and illustration. He did this because He was a master teacher (Rabbi) who understood how to teach, and so that people would leave the sermon with a tangible way of remembering the plot and purpose of His sermon.

We read His words in Matthew 5:13-16:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

Could there be a more tangible illustrative tool than salt and light? Jesus, as a master teacher, recognized that this metaphor would trigger remembrance at every meal and at every sunset!

Why Salt?

Historically, salt was first and foremost used to stop putrefaction and decay. Flavor was a secondary result, not the primary goal. As they didn’t possess refrigeration, most meat that was going to be saved was preserved with salt. The only way they would have known if salt was still going to be effective was by how “salty” it tasted. The flavor of the salt indicated the potency, as well as other bi-products that were contained in the salt. One of the biggest products produced in Israel to this day is mineral salts from the dead sea. The Romans loved this area because they could mine massive amounts of salt to help preserve the food necessary for the soldiers going all over the empire. The water in the dead sea smells like rotten eggs because of the sulfur content. One of the interesting ways salt from the dead sea has been used is on human skin to help cleanse, purify and preserve health. This salt Jesus was referring to didn’t just preserve food, it could even preserve the health and vitality of the human body!

This metaphor is less about taste and more about salvation. We aren’t here to make the world feel better or taste better. We are primarily here to save it from death and decay. That view changes our level of severity and intensity in how we live in the world.

We need to learn to look into people's eyes, see the despair, and with our eyes offer them hope, the hope of Jesus Christ. After all, the eyes are the light of the soul. The eyes are the only connection your brain has to light, and researchers are learning that sunlight is really important to mental health. UCLA health did a study on light and concluded that we need 10 minutes of sunlight a day in the summer, and almost 2 hours of sunlight a day in the winter for a healthy intake of vitamin D (UCLA Health, 2022). We tend to do the opposite! When the world is the darkest, we are getting the least amount of light, and that not only effects our mental health, it even affects our physical health and our ability to find infections such as flu or Covid-19. With that in mind, let's look at the metaphor of light.

We aren't here to make the world feel better or taste better; we are here to save it from death and decay.

Why Light?

In Jesus' day, light was a luxury that could make life so much better. Light was certainly necessary, but it was expensive to produce the different types of fuels necessary to create it. Most people used little oil lamps in their homes, and the city streets were often lit up with crude torches. The fuel for light was so expensive that Emperor Nero used Christians as torches in Rome to save from having to use more expensive and natural fuels.

Jesus drew two applicational conclusions from light:

  1. Light can and will be seen at great distances, just like Jerusalem lit up with torches at night and set up on a mountain could be seen for quite some distance (which is still true today). Conclusion: if you really do belong to God, it will be unmistakeable and undeniable.

  2. If you are going to invest what it costs to have light in the first place, why would you then cover that light up? Light that is covered may as well be darkness. Conclusion: our light is too valuable to keep hidden.

Jesus said the result of burning brightly in word and deed is that people will glorify God! So that begs the question of motive, “Am I about my glory or God’s glory?” Martin LLoyd-Jones said that knowledge is enlightenment, but we are the only true light. We carry the truth. “We have discovered all this great knowledge, but we don’t know what to do with our knowledge.” (Lloyd-Jones,140)

What we have on offer to the world is a message of healing and illumination that should give more hope than all the science of our society can produce. During the recent solar eclipse we experienced, one of the messages I heard from the media over and over again was that this eclipse would bring people together. Think about that! Doesn’t that just seem so typical of our secular world to think that only darkness, the covering of the sun, can bring the world together?! Even more, the covering of the light of God’s Son, because our world hates God’s light! In fact, John attests to this fact in John 3:19-21:

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

In contrast to the world's approach to light, Peter says of believers in 1 Peter 2:9-10,

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

Spiritual Health & Wellness

There are two questions we need to ask ourselves when it comes to the metaphor of salt and light:

Question 1: Do I spend enough time evaluating my spiritual health?

Question 2: Do I spend enough time considering my spiritual wellness?

The World Health Organization defines health and wellness in this way: "Health is the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease, or infirmity. Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence" (Stoewen, 2015).

When it comes to preserving your spiritual health, the greatest preserving tool (like salt) is the application of Scripture to your life! How much time do you really spend trying to apply the Scriptures to your everyday life? Remember, we must ponder to practice. Pondering is less about reading, and more about processing and applying!

Here are some practical evaluation questions for our spiritual health:

  • Is what I am about to do or consume going to produce thoughts that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praise worthy (Phil. 4:8)?

  • Is what I am about to do or consume going to lead my thoughts into the direction of temptation to lust, complain or criticize?

  • Is what I am about to do or consume going to keep me from more healthy and/or productive activities that would aid in my sanctification?

Pondering is less about Scripture reading, and more about processing and applying Scripture.

When it comes to spiritual wellness or thriving, it’s not enough just to ponder. We must also practice! Light is literally the burning and consuming of resources to create more opportunity. If your life is about the collection of resources, you will not experience spiritual wellness or thriving. God has given you what you have to spend it for His Glory! Being light will consume every part of your life, from your physical health, to your financial success, to your spare time.

Here are some practical evaluation questions for our spiritual wellness or thriving:

  • Is there a better use of this time?

  • Is what I am doing going to foster an attitude of worship and communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit?

  • Is what I am doing going to create opportunities for deeper growth and connection with other believers?

  • Is what I am doing going to create opportunities to show love and care to unbelievers?

  • Is what I am doing going to create temptation for other believers who struggle with weakness associated with this activity, resource or entertainment?


Being in natural light improves mood, increases happiness. UCLA Health. (2022, March 25).

Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1976). Studies in the sermon on the Mount: One-volume edition. Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Stoewen, D. L. (2015b, September). Health and Wellness. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne.

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