Yesterday, we considered from Matthew 5:1–12 that Jesus’ kingdom has, as it were, an open-door policy. As a disparate crowd gathered around him, he moved up a mountain and began to address his disciples (5:1), who needed to learn that God’s kingdom was for people from all walks of life.
In the section that follows, however (5:13–16), Jesus shows that, while he invites people from all walks of life into his kingdom, he does not leave them a disparate group of people. Instead, he forms them into a people with a common goal—a high and holy calling. He illustrates this with two examples.
First, he uses the example of salt: “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” (5:13). Salt has many properties, but the one that Jesus draws attention to is its flavour. Salt has an unmistakable, distinct taste and only serves its purpose when it maintains its flavour. Similarly, though God’s people come from all walks of life, he forms them into an unmistakably distinct people.
Is your life distinctly that of a follower of God? If you lose your distinctiveness as a citizen of God’s kingdom, you become, for all intents and purposes, useless. You have lost your effectiveness in your high and holy calling. Both Old (Leviticus 20:23–24, 26; Deuteronomy 7:2–6; 26:17–19) and New Testaments (2 Corinthians 6:17–18; Titus 2:13–14; 1 Peter 2:9–10; Revelation 18:4) call God’s people to be distinct, and the imagery of the salt emphasises the same. We should be distinct in our separation from sinful conduct, false teaching, and godless influences and companions. If you profess faith in Christ, there should be no doubt to the outside world that you are distinct.
Second, Jesus uses the example of light: “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” (5:14–16).
Again, Jesus appeals to Old Testament precedent. Israel was called to be distinct (see above), but not for the sake of distinctiveness itself. The nation’s distinctiveness served a purpose: It was meant to be a gospel light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6). Sadly, many Israelites—and certainly the Jewish religious leaders—had come to believe that God had set them apart to the exclusion of the Gentiles, when, in fact, God had set them apart as an example to the Gentiles. Israel’s purpose was, by its distinctiveness, to be a witness to pagan nations. Instead, it hid its light under a basket, thus nullifying its very purpose. Unseen (or extinguished) light is as useless as flavourless salt.
Notice, also, that while he uses the second person singular (“you”), Jesus speaks about a “city on a hill.” Individually, Christians should let “this little light of mine” shine, but it is as the city’s lights shine together that the light pushes back the most darkness.
The light, in this context, is “your good works.” Your lifestyle should bear witness to the truth of the gospel. Elsewhere, Jesus claimed that he was the light of the world (John 8:12). We are only the light of the world to the degree that our “good works” align with Christ’s. As people see Christ in us, we are light to the world. If we claim to be disciples of Christ, but people do not see Jesus in us, we have voided our high and holy calling.
What, exactly, is that calling? It is not to draw attention to our own distinctiveness and brightness. It is, instead, to point people to Christ. It is to allow people to see our good works and so glorify our Father in heaven (5:16).
We exist to reflect God’s glory and wisdom back into the world. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, so our high and holy calling is to reflect the light of the true light of the world back into the darkness of unbelief. Is this true of you? Is this true of our church? Are we a city on a hill—and is your light a part of that—reflecting God’s glory into a dark and dying world?