Salt and Light in the World of Work (Matthew 5:13-16)Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Following the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers that people who receive these blessings matter:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, 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 in heaven. (Matt. 5:13-16)
If you are a follower of Jesus living the beatitudes, you matter. You have an important role to play because you are the salt of the earth. Salt preserves and Christians help preserve what is good in the culture. In the ancient world, salt was very valuable: the Greeks thought it contained something almost divine, and the Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with salt. A soldier who didn't carry out his duties “was not worth his salt.” You are a seasoning agent. In a sense, you can bring the distinctive flavor of God's values to all of life. You can make life palatable.
Faith: How Open Can You Be?
Findlay debated with himself for some time, and then made a conscious decision to leave a Bible on his desk at work. Since becoming a believer he wanted to let others know about his newfound faith, and had concluded this small step could open some doors.
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Note that salt, to be effective, must be in contact with the meat or fish it is to preserve. To be effective, we must be involved where we work and where we live. This puts us in a tension because the dominant culture doesn’t necessarily like us. The majority of the time, living according to the beatitudes may make us more successful in work. But we need to be prepared for the times it doesn’t. What will we do if showing mercy, making peace, or working for justice jeopardizes our position at work? Withdrawing from the world is no answer for Christians. But it is difficult to live in the world, ready to challenge its ways at any time. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus acknowledged the reality of persecution. But in our contacts with the culture, we must retain our “saltiness,” our distinctiveness. It’s a balancing act we’re called upon to maintain.
“You are the light of the world.” The job description of a Christian is not only to maintain personal holiness, but also to touch the lives of everyone around us. At work, we touch many people who do not encounter Christ in church. It may be our most effective place to witness to Christ. But we have to be careful about how we witness for Christ at work. We are being paid to do our work, and it would be dishonest to stint our employers by using work time for evangelism. Moreover, it would be dishonorable to create divisions at work or a hostile environment for nonbelievers. We must avoid any possible taint of seeking self-promotion by proselytizing. And we always run the risk that our failings at work may bring shame on the name of Christ, especially if we seem to be enthusiastic about evangelism but shoddy in actual work.
With all these dangers, how can we be salt and light at work? Jesus said our light is not necessarily in the witness of our words, but in the witness of our deeds—our “good works.” “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father who is in heaven.” The beatitudes have spelled out some of those good works. In humility and submission to God, we work for right relations, for merciful actions, and for peace. When we live as people of blessing, we are salt and light—in the workplace, in our homes, and in our nation.