The Fruit of the Beatitudes – Salt and Light
13 You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16).
Matthew continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with Jesus’ teachings on application of the Beatitudes. Jesus gives many examples of the obedience to relationship rather than the obedience to the letter of the Law.
Jesus gives a characteristically simple answer to the question of whether men have been converted: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16).
Luke (6:43-45), John (15:1-8), and Paul (Eph. 5:9) all bear witness to this test of righteousness. Paul gives a more detailed account of the progression of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26. Good fruit is the inevitable result of being grafted to the vine, Christ’s analogy of the evidence of conversion.
The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control – cannot be hidden. These all work together in harmony.
The truth that we have discovered in the cross of the Sanctuary and presented by Jesus on the Mount is tempered by the overarching spirit of mercy. Truth without mercy is unbearable, and mercy without truth is useless.
We will be tested until we are proven, until our natural response to the world around us is no longer our response, until we are no longer defensive, taking things personally. This is freedom.
“Therefore, by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20).
Following the Beatitudes, Jesus shows the effects of our pruning away the world and of being grafted to His truth, to Himself. Before He begins, He offers two cautionary parables, one on salt and the other on light.
Salt is vital for life, as well as being a flavor enhancer and preservative. (Note that man-made commercially processed salt is a counterfeit, although it does fulfill the roles of providing a salty taste and preserving food.)
Salt’s ability to add flavor to food is not due solely to its own taste. Salt brings out the flavor in other foods by making those foods more volatile, that is, increasing their aroma. Our sense of smell is a key element in our sense of taste.
Salt also reduces bitterness. The symbolism here is huge. Bitterness is Job’s state when he feels farthest from God (Job 7:11). Bitterness is the opposite of the Christian spirit. Our Christian faith, our salt, is an antidote to the bitterness of life separated from God.
Jesus’ statement to the disciples and the others in His audience, “You are the salt of the earth,” is an affirmation. His question, “but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?” is a warning: if we fall out of relationship with God and return to our flavorless previous condition, how can our relationship be restored?
Peter reminds us of those who had belonged to God previously, but had forsaken Him: “For if God, who did not spare the angels who had sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment,….” (2 Peter 2:4).
Paul speaks of those after the cross who have fallen away, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened…and have tasted the good word of God…if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame” (Hebr. 6:4-6).
To apostatize, to defect and become an enemy to God, is to choose absence from His presence. God cannot restore those who remain in rebellion and be faithful to His character, to the freedom He has granted to us. Those who choose the broad way, the lost who cannot or will not find their way home, hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven; seeking restoration, they will find it.
The Prodigal Son comes to mind (Luke 15:11-33). Was not the son that was lost and found again given a second chance? Yes, he was, as was Israel, and as have we all been given a second chance, and many more times than two, also. Jesus says to Peter that we are to forgive one another “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22). Jesus is saying that God’s mercy to our errors is infinite. In the parable that follows (Matt. 18:23-35), Jesus says that the mercy we give will be returned to us in the same measure.
Losing our saltiness is mixing with the world and accepting its saltless flavor. At this point, we are the prodigal son in his rebellious state. We are reassured that when the prodigal son “came to himself” and humbled himself before his father, he was restored. The lost was no longer lost. All that was required was a change of heart. So we are restored when we change our hearts, lay down our arms, and cease rebellion. It is at this point that forgiveness is possible.
Jesus’ said, “For he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40). We are assured of the justice of God’s judgment and that the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for all (e.g., Rom. 2:12ff), that none is condemned who is not actively in rebellion. Their restoration comes when they permit it.
The flavor of salt is lost when it is watered down, so diluted by its surroundings that it is tasteless. Jesus says that such are “good for nothing, but to be thrown out.” Likewise, the follower of Christ is to maintain his character, his flavor, by being in the world and yet distinct from the world. The “saltiness” of the Christian, the flavor that contrasts with the flavor of the world, must remain separate even when mixed.
Like salt enhancing the flavors of other foods, the Christian brings out the unique flavor of individuals, allowing those people to replace the negative flavors with more positive ones. The Gospel overcomes the flavor of bitterness and draws out the unique character of each individual.
The Bible begins with the story of Creation, and God’s first command is, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). The Creation of the “lights in the firmament of the heavens,” were not created until the fourth day (Gen. 1:14), and so we see that God’s light alone was sufficient. Light has many purposes, and allowing us to see things as they are, seeing them in truth, is of great importance. Light must come first so that all may see the character of God.
The Gospel of John also begins with the story of Creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:1-5).
Jesus is light. The imagery of Jesus, both man and God, as light is appropriate.
Light does not conform to the physical laws of our world. The wave-particle duality of light is also the wave-particle duality of matter. From a Christian perspective, this has significance, but it is a tangent to our discussion here. Let us leave this as an example of the strong possibility of error in our “either-or” way of seeing things, that “both-and” is often a more accurate way of thinking.
John uses the story of Jesus healing the blind man, giving him sight for the first time, as a metaphor for the blindness of men who are born into a knowledge set, a way of thinking, and persist in it, even if it is incorrect. We see what we expect to see – light as particle or light as wave. How much are the things that we see only things of our own preconception rather than reality?
The Pharisees had created a religion which allowed them to be in control. The fact that this was a false religion with no basis in reality did not prevent them from exulting in it. All they had to do was to convince the people that they were dressed in righteousness. Jesus called them on the fact that they were not blind, and yet they were unable to see the reality that stood before them (John 9:41).
Light shines, but its brightness may not be well-received. How light is received is not the concern of the light. The light shines where it will, and that is all that it can do. Light cannot make men see.
We are to be light. This is the reflected light of heaven, the light that showers on us all. We reflect this light through our character or, if we do not accept the light, we become like the black hole which is not benefited by the light and from which light cannot escape.
Light gives us the freedom to see clearly and to understand correctly. As the light of the world, we are to correctly represent God and His character. We will represent either light or dark, truth or error.
Satan chose dark over light, the lie over the truth. He made a choice. With that choice comes a certain knowledge of the future. His only hope of escape of the judgment is successful rebellion against the law of God, against His character. This is why he seeks to destroy the light. His only weapon is the lie.
This is Satan’s recruitment lie: “You will not surely die.”
This is his banner: “I will ascend.”
Only if darkness reigns can the light, the laws of mercy and truth, be overturned.