I was recently asked to address a group of young professionals on how they could be “salt and light” in the workplace. I was grateful for the opportunity to address this question because it’s precisely what Christian men and women should be thinking about as they go to work each day. As I pondered this inquiry and searched Scripture, I landed on a text that I did not expect and with a conclusion that I did not anticipate.
The idea of Christians as “salt and light” is found in Matthew 5:13-16 where Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “salt of the earth” (v. 13) and “the light of the world” (v. 14). In this article I am going to focus on the metaphor of “salt” because this particular metaphor resurfaces in Luke’s gospel.
Losing our Flavor
Although salt was used to preserve foods and enhance flavor during Jesus’s time, in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus speaks of salt only with reference to how it tastes. The concern is that the disciples might lose their flavor.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lots 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.Matthew 5:13
Jesus addresses this same possibility in Luke’s gospel. We will focus our attention on this latter passage.
Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.Luke 14:34
In the ESV, this saying by Jesus is separated from the previous passage by the subheading, “Salt Without Taste is Worthless.” While I generally appreciate subheadings for the sake of quickly locating particular passages and verses, this subheading actually hinders the reader from making important interpretational connections between this passage and the previous passage.
In the previous passage (vv. 25-33), Jesus presents his disciples with the conditions of discipleship. If they are going to really follow Jesus, they must be willing to embrace absolute loyalty to him. Even the relationships that humans most naturally cherish and to which we feel a sense of allegiance will be subservient to the call to ultimate loyalty to Christ:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:26
Of course, Jesus is not referring to a literal hatred, for Christians are called to honor their parents (Matt 15:1-9) and love others (Matt 22:39), including their enemies (Luke 6:26). Christians are no longer characterized by hatred, but by gentleness and courtesy (Tius 3:1-3). What Jesus means here is that our loyalty to him will appear as hatred to those with whom we are closest because we have chosen to follow Jesus rather than please them or obey their will. An illustration might be helpful at this point.
“You Must Hate Us!”
Consider a young college graduate who has been touched recently by a sermon on global missions. Through this sermon, the Spirit begins to create in him an undeniable sense of calling to reach the nations for Christ. He gathers pertinent information, seeks the counsel of his pastors, prays diligently, searches the Scriptures, and asks his friends for wisdom. Finally, the decision is made: he will apply to missions agencies and begin the training process.
After he’s made the decision, he plans to share the news with his family. His parents and grandparents are not believers, but the young man hopes they will see some value in what he is doing. His hope, however, is immediately dashed.
Both his parents and grandparents are appalled that he would give up a good career and face the possibility of immense difficulty and an early death to travel overseas to “share the gospel.” Besides, such a move away from home would mean that he would rarely, if ever, see them again. “You must hate us,” his mom declares. “No, I love you, very much. But Christ has called me to preach the gospel to the nations, and I must follow him, even if it means going against the wishes of my family.”
Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow him, they must take into account what it might cost them in this life. If they don’t consider the cost of discipleship, they will be blindsided and fall away from the faith when faced with persecution. They will be like a man who starts building a tower but who never finishes it because he didn’t consider how difficult or expensive the project would be. They will be like a king who must sheepishly ask for terms of peace with his enemy because he underestimated what it would take to defeat the opposing army. Jesus summarizes his admonishment this way: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
But what does renouncing all things for Christ’s sake have to do with saltiness? As Jesus points out, if salt loses its taste, it’s not good for anything. If salt contains no flavor, what use are these little white granules but to be thrown away with the trash?
Here’s the point. If a professing disciple does not prepare himself for discipleship by forsaking everything to follow Jesus, when trouble comes along, he will shed the Christian convictions that hastened the persecution. Once the professing disciple loses these spiritual qualities—he doesn’t stand for truth with any conviction; he no longer pursues a holy life—he will only taste bland to those around him. He will have been flavored like the world and therefore offer nothing savory or compelling to those around him. He will lose his saltiness.
How, then, do we serve as salt and light in the workplace? The only way we can remain flavorful to those around us is by renouncing everything to follow after Jesus. If we are going to maintain the savor of the gospel, everything must be subservient to our loyalty to Christ: our jobs, our promotions, our reputations, and our financial stability. Why? Think about it. If we are faced with internal policies at work that directly conflict with biblical truth, the only way we will be ready to speak counter-cultural, flavorful words into such situations is if we are ready to bear loss for the sake of Christ.
I am not suggesting that in every instance of possible conflict over spiritual issues in the office you will be faced with a potential pink-slip, or that you should be characterized by a flagrant disregard for your reputation among your fellow employees. But, the implication is that if we are not willing to give up everything to follow Christ, when we are finally asked to, we may yield to opposing pressure and cast aside the convictions that brought us into conflict in the first place. When this happens, we lose our flavor and we are in danger of becoming useless to Christ.
Therefore, we are in need of God’s grace to sustain us on his promises of future joy and inheritance (e.g., Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 4:16-18). If our hope for ultimate happiness is rooted in this life, we won’t be ready to forsake all and follow Jesus when the situation calls for it. But if, by the Spirit, we are able to grab hold of future spiritual realities by faith, we will be enabled to bear the reproach of Christ and maintain our distinctive flavor. Over time, unbelievers may even be drawn to Christ through our witness because in us they taste something completely different than the drivel they get from the world. May it be so, for the glory of God.