Community Group Study Guide — Living as Salt and Light
Imagine hearing Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount for the first time so you cannot anticipate what’s coming next. You’re a 1st century Jew living as a farmer, fisherman or you have a cottage industry at home. Jesus is speaking about what it looks like to be “blessed” in his kingdom as he moves through the Beatitudes and he ends with the final beatitude saying “blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil agains you falsely on my account…” Sounds like a future that promises to be met with opposition and resistance. Does this life with Jesus only offer pain and suffering? We heard him promise that there is a reward for following him, but that seems so far off. How would you respond? Would you follow Jesus?
Yet on the backdrop of those words about persecution, Jesus speaks to our identity as his people. Even though we’d face resistance Jesus declares “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” Jesus speaks to the identity of his disciples, telling them who they really are and Jesus assures them of the way that God will use them as a transforming influence for good in the world as he brings glory to his name.
The people of God are salt and light because the world is decaying and dark. The Bible is unique in how it affirms the goodness of creation, yet at the same time sees clearly the darkness of the world and the brokenness that is there because of sin. Since the world is broken and filled with darkness God calls his people to be a blessing to the world and he promises to use his them for goodness in the world as he reveals who he is to the praise of his name.
The image of salt in the ancient world communicates adding flavor and preventing decay, primarily in meat. Without refrigerators or ice to keep things from spoiling they used salt to bring out the taste in food and to prevent it from going bad. In a world filled with sin and brokenness, God uses his people as salt. As we follow Jesus we add some flavor to the world and in a significant way prevent the downward spiral of sin and decay by just a little pinch at a time.
You are likely more familiar with the image of being “light in the world”. We all have had the experience of walking into a dark room, turning on a light switch and being able to see what is really there. Light exposes darkness, shows us a way out and reveals what is hidden. God will use his people to show holiness and truth to the world and this passage tells us that there will be people who see your good works and the good works for the church and give God glory because of it.
This identity as salt and light means that God desires to use his people to do good and be a blessing to the world for the purpose of bringing praise to God (Matthew 5:16). The goal is not to do good for goodness sake, or to seek praise for ourselves, but instead to live out righteous lives for the goal of showing the world who God is and what he is like. This may feel a bit like a paradox especially when we consider what Jesus says later on in the Sermon on the Mount where he tells his disciples to “do things in secret” like giving, praying and fasting. However, the reason he gives for doing those things in secret is so that we chase after the right reward – praise from God and not praise from people. The same principle applies here in the Light of the World passage, we are to live out true righteousness, not so that we are celebrated but so that God is praised.
These images should be an encouragement for followers of Jesus to have a healthy public faith where God has placed you and with people who do not yet have a relationship with God. We learned in our last study (Matthew 5:10-12) that we will be persecuted for righteousness sake and on account of our association with Jesus. However, this passage does give us a counter balance and tells us that some will indeed see who we are in Christ and how God is at work in us and come to a place of praising God. This is an encouragement for us, as individuals and as a church community, to be deeply involved in our community, neighborhoods and families. People in our culture may oppose Christians and some of the things they stand for but at the same time this passage would tell us that others will find it appealing to see a godly faith in real life.
In a dark and broken work, God calls his followers to be salt and light. We as the church can prevent and reveal darkness in the world as we live out lives of faith in Jesus. God promises to use our good works, as individuals and as a church community, to bring glory to his name; meaning that even though some will oppose the church and persecute Christians others will see what God is doing through his people and give him praise for it.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:10-16
Jesus statement on his followers being persecuted for their relationship with him and then his encouragement to live as salt and light so people would praise God seem to be a paradox. How do these two things fit together? Why would people who are persecuted need encouragement to let their light shine before others? Why would people who are living out their faith for others to see need to be warned of persecution?
Read 1 Peter 2:9-12, Galatians 6:9-10 and Ephesians 2:8-10 as a group. What is the purpose of good works in the life of a believer according to these passages?
The study guide talked about how God created the world as good and filled it with beauty, yet we also know that it is broken and marked by sin. Do you find that the darkness in the world discourages you or motivates you to let your faith in Jesus shine?
What are some ways we can live a life of faith in Jesus so that others can see?