Being Salt and Light in Washington
In a town known for its divisions, back-biting, and scandals, how ought Christians reflect Christ in their offices and communities?
One of Ministry to State’s core values is to “Provide encouragement and support in the development of a Biblical world and life view for those in government who make a profession of faith.” In other words, we feel called to help Christians in government learn how to live out their faith Monday through Saturday, not just on Sundays. We believe that Scripture directs us, and the Holy Spirit enables us to be agents who bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to a world often filled with the opposite of those things.
This means that Christians will continually be learning how to speak, think, and act in wise and loving ways towards those who do not share our faith. Two biblical metaphors that Jesus gives to help us do this are the metaphors of being “salt” and “light.”
“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. 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.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
In both of these metaphors, Jesus teaches us that Christians have a responsibility to care for the unbelievers among us. Like salt that is rubbed into decaying meat, Christians are to help society flourish and not fall into ruin. Like light that shines from the sun or from a lamp, Christians are to shine brightly into this world to illuminate a new and better way: the way of Christ.
Jesus is saying that Christians are not meant to be passive in this world but active! After all, salt is to be rubbed into meat and light shines into darkness.
But Jesus also warns us of two great dangers.
The first is being a salt that has no taste, or practicing a Christianity that is unappealing and off-putting. Salt, as a flavorant, brings out the best of what it is seasoning, wetting the appetite, and making the food that has been seasoned with it taste its best. But, as Jesus points out, salt that has lost this ability is useless. It must be thrown out.
Similarly, the life of a Christian is meant to be appealing in the same way that salt is meant to be flavoring. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear to us by using a similar metaphor in Colossians 4:5-6: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
In other words, Christians are meant to wisely and graciously speak to unbelievers with speech that is both appealing (seasoned with salt) and personal (answering ‘each person’). The way we speak and act towards unbelievers is meant to make them want to taste more and more of what Jesus really has to offer.
Sadly, most of us in Washington D.C. have seen a lot of rancid Christianity that is unappealing, impersonal, and off-putting. We have seen rioters storming the Capitol Building carrying flags proclaiming Jesus’ name. We have heard and read harsh words coming from Christians directed towards our politicians, whom some of us call “boss” or “friend.” Many who work in government put up with harassing phone calls and emails from people who claim to be Christians.
Furthermore, there is a large segment of the population who identify as Christians that wish for our culture to be determined by a “moral majority” that seeks to impose traditional values and morals on our culture through forceful rhetoric and political action rather than by following the way of Christ.
Suffice it to say, there is a lot of salt that needs to be thrown out.
The second danger is being light that is hidden, or living out a faith that is unapparent and hypocritical. In verses 14-16, Jesus warns us against the danger of hiding away from the world and not engaging with it in any way. Rather, he commands us to “let our light shine before others” by “doing good works” which “give glory to [the] Father.” Being passive or indifferent towards unbelievers is not an option.
Many Christians hide our faith from others and live our lives in a way that looks so similar to unbelievers that our gospel light is all but hidden. Many of us buy into the ideologies of American consumerism so much that charity and good works are far from our thoughts. Often our speech and actions demonstrate that we have been shaped less by our faith and more by our culture. To the watching world, this makes our faith both seem unapparent and hypocritical.
So how do we avoid falling into the dangers that Jesus is warning us against in Matthew 5:13-16?
Perhaps the first thing to be said is that our words really matter. Christianity that is unappealing, impersonal, and off-putting is a great danger to Christian witness. Jesus warns that we must think before we speak. That means that before we speak, post, tweet, retweet, share, like, or email, we must ask ourselves, “How will non-Christians see this?” or “What will this make non-Christians think of me or Christianity or Jesus Himself?” Only then can we avoid the danger of rancid Christian witness.
We must also remember that the world watches us. How we act during a staff meeting, how we talk to our colleagues, or how we treat our spouse are all things the world observes. We must make sure that when unbelievers look at our behavior they first see the light of Christ in us, that they see our faith informing the way we act, think, and speak.
As Tim Keller has eloquently said, “Christians are called by God to be living so sacrificially and beautifully that the people around us, who don’t believe what we believe, will soon be unable to imagine the world without us.”
Finally, we must remember that it is Christ who gives us both our saltiness and our light. It is no surprise that these verses come immediately after the Beatitudes. Saltiness and light are produced only in people who intimately remember the gospel: that though we are poor in spirit, ours is the kingdom of God.
So how can we be salt and light in Washington D.C.? Let us first remember the gospel. Then let us “walk in wisdom amongst outsiders” and let our speech “always be gracious” so that we may know how we ought to answer each person.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Resident in Washington, D.C.