The Meaning Of Matthew 5:13-16 (what it means to be salt and light)

“You are the salt of the earth. 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.“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 

In Matthew 5:13-16 we see Jesus give a powerful illustration, he tells his followers to be the salt and light.

This might seem like a strange illustration to us today, but it would have instantly connected with his 1st-century audience. With a deeper look into the meaning of Matthew 5:13-16 this illustration can take on a new life for us today.

We are going to dive into the explanation of Matthew 5:13-16 and see what it means to be salt and light.

The Context Of Salt And Light Meaning

To understand the meaning of salt and light we need to understand the context in which it was written. We find this passage in the beginning of the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave, what we call the Sermon on the Mount. 

Mark Moore says this of Jesus’ sermon, “The beatitudes describe the character of a Christian. We might get the impression that these kingdom citizens are monastics—some peace-loving, quiet, secluded cloister. Perhaps, because of their humble, submissive character, they could have little influence on their society. Jesus shatters these notions. These beatific citizens have, oddly enough, a worldwide impact.” 

The same is true for us today. If we apply the Matthew 15:13-16 meaning to our lives, we can change the world around us. 

The Meaning Of Matthew 5:13-16

To help his followers understand how they can do this, Jesus illustrates his teaching with two items found in every home in 1st-century Palestine: salt and light. 

With these two items Jesus shows that there is a significant difference between citizens of this word and citizens of his kingdom. But this difference can be adulterated and willfully hidden. And in doing so a Christian gives up their influence in the world. 

This is a passage that we should not ignore. Salt and light have a positive use in this world and also a stinging effect if abused. The same might be said of Christians who don’t take passages such as this to heart. 

Let’s take a closer look at the salt and light meaning to see how it applies to our lives today.

You Are The Salt Of The Earth Meaning

You are the salt of the earth. 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. Matthew 5:13

Today salt is primarily used to enhance the flavor of our food. Which was also true in the 1st-century world. But in Jesus’ day, salt did much more than that. In a world without refrigerators (or ice), salt was the primary way in which food was preserved. It was also used to purify sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13). Salt was a massively important commodity in the ancient world. 

Jesus is saying here that just as salt was critical to preserving food, so to are Christians responsible for the preservation of morality, justice, and social conscience. But not only does salt preserve, it flavors. Likewise, Christians should add flavor to the world.

This is the role of the church. To preserve and flavor. And historically this is exactly what the church, and followers of Jesus, have done. Advances in medicine, the arts, science, prison reform, creating orphanages, creating child labor laws, pushing education, and abolishing slavery have been led by followers of Jesus. The church has added flavor in significant ways. 

But when Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth” he also reveals a problem. Sometimes salt can lose its flavor. Now, salt cannot actually lose its flavor, but it can become diluted or defiled. That’s what Jesus means here. 

When salt is mixed with something else it can no longer be used for its intended purpose. It’s useless. And the same is true for Christians. When we become mixed with the things of this world we give up our influence, our flavor, in society. 

You Are The Light Of The World Meaning 

Jesus isn’t done yet with this illustration. Not only are you the salt of the earth, but the light of the world. Matthew 5:13-16 ties both of these together. 

Today we take light for granted. With the flip of a few switches, we can have all the light we want. But in the 1st century light was harder to come by; when it was dark it was DARK. So when you had some source of light you would never hide it or cover it, you would let it shine. 

Jesus describes himself as the light of the world. And his followers are to shine the light for all to see. But what often happens is Christians would rather hide it. 

Jesus uses this illustration of hiding light to show the absurdity of hiding his light. 

So what exactly is the light that we are supposed to shine? Mark Moore gives a thorough answer, ‘“Light” is not a theological confession nor an ecclesiastical organization. It represents the good deeds of an individual Christian. It simply will not do to hide our personal responsibility behind an illumined church sign or to tuck it away in an organizational structure. Each Christian is called to move into the world and live in such a distinctly different way that the unredeemed person can catch a glimpse of God.” 

This is what it means to shine our light. The world is a dark and hurting place, and we have the light that can shine through us… if we let it. 

Applying Salt And Light Meaning To Our Lives

This passage challenges followers of Jesus to evaluate their lives to see what they are producing. Salt and light ought to be the natural product that a Christian produces. Salt preserves and light illuminates. 

How can a follower of Jesus do that? By staying committed to the commandments of Christ. When a Christian departs from this they become bland and their effectiveness hindered. It’s only by remaining in Christ, staying focused on him, and loving those around us that we can be the salt and light in the world.

In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus uses two common, and prominent, things to teach heavenly truth. This is a powerful passage that each follower of Jesus should prayerfully use to evaluate their life to see if they are being the salt and light of the world. 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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