By Dr. Glen Schultz
“My children need to be salt and light.” This is by far one of the most oft-given reasons why Christian parents continue to send their children to secular schools. They usually quote Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:13-14 where He declares, “YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world” (emphasis mine).
Parents use this verse to support their decision to educate their children in secular programs. After all, this is what Jesus commanded every Christian to be, right? With this being said, the debate usually ends. So how should we address the salt and light issue when it comes to educating our children?
Whenever I have heard someone teach on how to correctly interpret the Bible, they always begin by emphasizing the importance of context. Peter wrote that no portion of Scripture is open to private interpretation. We must view any portion of God’s Word in light of what other portions of the Bible say about it. Context is extremely important.
Let’s look at the context of these words from our Lord. Matthew wrote that Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. This resulted in large crowds following Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. With this backdrop, the writer opens up chapter five by telling us when Jesus saw the crowds, He withdrew and went up on a mountain.
We also know from other similar occurrences, whenever Jesus saw large crowds, He looked on them with compassion. One gospel writer stated that Jesus saw the masses as sheep wandering about without a shepherd. They were lost and had no hope.
On this occasion, a group of people saw Him withdraw to a hillside, and they went to Him. This is an important point because when this group came to Jesus, He sat down and began teaching them. It is to this group of people that He told them they were to be the salt and light of the world.
Who was this group of individuals that Jesus addressed? Matthew 5:1 identifies them as His disciples. The lost did not come to Him. Children didn’t come to Him. It even appears that new believers didn’t come to Jesus. His disciples came to Jesus, and it was to these people He delivered what is now referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.
Christ’s strong charge to be “the salt of the earth and light of the world” was given to His disciples. It takes a disciple of Christ to be salt and light in this dark and lost world. When we take this charge and apply it to others who are not yet disciples of Christ, we are taking this passage of Scripture out of context.
So who would be a disciple of Jesus to whom He would give this charge? Again, we must look to the Scriptures for our answer. Here are some things that God’s Word states are characteristics of a disciple:
Disciples are Christians who are obeying all that God has commanded (Matthew 28:20).
Disciples are people who daily deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
True disciples are those who continue in His Word, know truth, and are set free from the captivity of false philosophies (John 8:31-32).
A disciple must be a workman who is able to rightly divide (handle/interpret) God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
Disciples are ones who can endure hardships like a soldier and are not entangled in the things of the world (2 Timothy 2:3).
Jesus is our example of this type of person. On several occasions, He would challenge the teachers of His day. It usually went something like this: “You have heard it said… But I want to take it to the next level and give you its full meaning.” Christ could handle God’s Word accurately. He recognized false teachings when presented and not only said He didn’t believe it but was able to rebut it with truth. This is what a disciple must be able to do if he/she is going to be salt and light in this world. It will require him/her to be well trained and equipped for spiritual warfare.
When parents send their children into secular, postmodern, anti-Christian environments as salt and light, they are declaring their children are disciples of Jesus who know truth, can rightly divide/apply God’s Word, have denied themselves, and can endure the hardships of being a soldier who avoids the things of the world. This is a pretty big order for any Christian adult much less for children.
I can remember responding to a pastor of a large evangelical church who had just asked me how do I handle the salt and light passage when it comes to how we educate our children. I asked him who came to Jesus in Matthew 5. When he told me it was Jesus’ disciples, I asked him how many elementary age children in his church were disciples of Christ. He said none of them had gotten to that point yet. I then asked him how many high school students in his church were mature disciples of Jesus. He said there were probably four to five that came to his mind who might qualify as a disciple. To those statements, I asked him the following question: “With the exception of those few high school students who may be strong disciples of Christ, aren’t you taking Matthew 5:13-14 out of context?”
Can We Expect a Child To Do This?
I want to look at this passage from another perspective. To do this, I will need to go back to the days when I taught high school chemistry.
Salt is one of the most abundant compounds found in the earth. Have you ever wondered what salt can do? This is a very important question to ask and answer before we expect a child to be salt. Salt is an amazing compound that can perform several different functions. Consider the following:
Salt preserves This is the most common use of salt that is applied to Jesus’ admonition for His disciples to be the salt of the earth. When I lived in Virginia, I visited a ham house at a local farm. Inside, all the hams hung from the ceiling heavily caked in salt to preserve them from spoiling. When a Christian tries to be salt in this world, he/she must cake an anti-Christian, postmodern culture with the distinctiveness of Christianity. To do this, salt must keep its “saltiness” so it can preserve the culture.
When one sprinkles salt on a grilled steak, he doesn’t do so to preserve it but to flavor it. Christians are to flavor this world with Christlike character. It takes time for a Christian to develop the godly character needed to add this distinctive flavor to a lost world.
Salt creates thirst The old adage that says you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, is true. However, if you put a salt block there, the horse will become thirsty and drink the water. Restaurants sometimes offer customers free popcorn or other salty snacks. The motive is not just to be nice but to cause the customer to be thirsty and run up a large beverage bill. Christians who are equipped to be salt must have the ability to cause lost people to thirst for God and His salvation. Few children have this ability.
It may not be something anyone wants to experience, but one can clean out a fresh cut by running some salt water over the wound. I would rather use a soothing ointment, but if it isn’t available, salt can provide protection from infection. Again, this is a very difficult thing for a young, immature Christian to try and do.
When I was growing up, my mother would make me gargle salt water to heal sores that would sometimes form on my lips or inside my mouth. I remember the awful taste and how I wanted to spit it out, but she made me keep it in my mouth for some time so the sores would heal. I cannot imagine sending any of my children out into this world to try and heal the wounds caused by sin.
Salt melts coldness
Growing up in the Buffalo, NY area, I endured many a harsh winter. One thing we always kept in the house and in the trunk of our cars was salt. When salt is spread on an icy path or road, it lowers the freezing point of water and ends up melting the coldness. To be salt, Christians must have the maturity to go into a dark, lost world that is cold to the gospel. We are to have the character and maturity to melt the cold hardness of a lost person’s heart. This is hardly something that most children are capable of doing.
Salt raises boiling points
We live in a violent world. The news is filled with tragic accounts of people whose boiling point is reached, and they go berserk. The results are disastrous. When one puts salt in water, it actually raises the boiling point so the water will get hotter without boiling. This allows potatoes or spaghetti to cook at a quicker rate, and the result is tastier food. As salt, Christians must raise the boiling point in society as we live our lives as peacemakers. It takes a mature, godly Christian to be able to do this.
As you can see, salt has a lot of very useful purposes. Sometimes we get the idea that being the salt of the earth means that we just need to be “in” the world. If we carry our Bibles to work or school and pray before we eat our meals, we are fulfilling God’s expectations for being the salt of the world. When we consider what salt is expected to do, we understand that just letting people know that we are a Christian is not enough.
To do any of the functions listed above salt must, first of all, make contact with whatever it is trying to influence. When we send a young child or teen into this dark, sinful world to be salt, we are expecting them to be able to make contact with the world around them and be a powerful force to restrain the effects of sin. This puts a child in a very dangerous situation because it takes a strong, mature faith in God and a very good grasp of God’s Word just to survive in this dangerous culture, much less do the work of salt.
As we educate our children and youth, we must be diligent to protect them from the dangerous philosophies of this world while we prepare them to develop the character to one day be salt in this world. Children are not equipped to do the work of salt. Therefore, they should never be put into situations that require them to do the work of a mature disciple of Christ.
This Little Light Of Mine
I remember well one of the childhood songs that I loved to sing at church. It wasn’t just fun singing the words; it was also fun doing the motions. Did you sing it as a child?
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel—NO! I’m going to let it shine. Hide it under a bushel —NO! I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
Won’t let Satan blow it out. I’m going to let it shine. Won’t let Satan blow it out. I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
As little children, we were so proud to raise our little index finger pretending it was our candle that we were going to let shine. We would put a cupped hand over our finger as if it were a bushel basket and then quickly pull it off so that it wouldn’t hide the light. Then we would protect our candle with our hand as if Satan were there trying to blow our candle out. When I think back to that little song, I now realize that I really didn’t understand what Jesus meant when He told His disciples they were to be the light of the world. He went on to tell them you don’t put a light under a bushel but on a lampstand so that it will give light to the entire area around it.
What Jesus was telling His disciples was going to be a very challenging task for them to accomplish. Being light in a dark world is a tough assignment. Of course, as human beings, we don’t have any light to shine in and of our own selves. In 1 John 5, John declared that God is light. For a person to be the light of the world, he/she must first know Jesus Christ as his/her Lord and Savior. So a child who has not yet become a Christian cannot be a light to the world.
Second, we find that the Psalmist wrote that God’s Word is a lamp to one’s feet and a light to one’s path. For one to be a bright light in this world, he/she must possess a strong knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. This goes beyond mere memorizing verses. It requires one to not only know what the Scriptures say but also have the boldness to believe it to be true. When this happens, it will result in that person living out God’s Word in every aspect of his life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained to His followers that when you are a light to the world, it will be seen in your good works. For their good works to be light to the world, their works had to be of greater significance than the human efforts of the Pharisees. Think about a beautiful full moon shining in the dark of night. The moon has no light of its own. However, when the moon is rightly in line with the sun, the sun’s light reflects off the moon and can be so bright that one can see to walk around in a field at night. Knowing the moon cannot produce this beautiful light on its own causes the person to give the credit to the sun for what the moon is reflecting.
So it is with the Christian who is rightly in line with God (who is light). When we are in fellowship with the Father—abiding in the Son and continuing in the Word—we are in a position where we can reflect the glory of God in our lives. When the lost person sees our good works, he knows we are mere men, and the only way we can shine a bright light is by the way we live our lives through the power and grace of God.
It is also true that light has total control over darkness. People often tell me they’re concerned about how dark the world is becoming. No matter how hi-tech we become, we can never produce a dark switch. The only way darkness can exist is by turning the light off—which means Christians are not giving off the light they should be in our dark culture. We live in a time when Christian parents, church leaders, and educators must be fully committed to God so we can be what God expects us to be—the light of the world.
Before we can expect our children to be lights in this world, it is imperative that we shine so bright that they know what it really means to be the light of the world. When I was a child, I wish someone would have explained what those simple words in that song really meant, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”
We Better Get This Right!
We have been looking at Christ’s admonition for His disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. There are several important points we need to remember when we attempt to have our children act as salt and light:
Jesus taught Matthew 5:12-16 to His disciples. He never told children and youth they were to be salt and light.
Salt has many uses, but all of them require it to come into direct contact with whatever it is trying to influence.
Light has full command over darkness, and if darkness exists, it means that light has disappeared.
For a Christian to be salt and light, it requires him to have a very strong grasp of God’s Word, and he must have the maturity to refute error with biblical truth.
I think you will agree that it is an extremely challenging assignment for a Christian to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In fact, I believe one must be willing and able to enter into spiritual warfare if he/she truly wants to be salt and light. I encourage you to read passages like 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6 to understand the severity of entering into spiritual warfare.
With this in mind, we need to realize that our children and youth should not be sent out into spiritual warfare without being fully prepared for the battle they will definitely face. When I have shared this with parents and pastors, I frequently hear the person justify why they are sending their children to secular educational programs with these words: “I don’t want to shelter my children from the real world.”
I find it interesting that we don’t want to “shelter” our children when it comes to education, but we are unwilling to be consistent with this kind of thinking in other areas of life. For example, would we be willing to send our children to a church that uses the Book of Mormon or the Quran as its source of truth? What about allowing your child to live with an ungodly family in your neighborhood for a couple of weeks? Of course, the parents I’ve posed this question to quickly say they would never do such a thing. Parents know their children need to be protected from bad influences in some areas of life but are not willing to be consistent in their theology—especially when it comes to where they send their children to school.
Jesus always taught the importance of protecting one’s children from ungodly influences. We find several New Testament writers warning Christians about the importance of avoiding false teachers. So, should we try to “shelter” our kids from the real world? First of all, it is impossible to “shelter” our children from the real world. However, we must still protect our children from the false philosophies and ideas that are aimed at taking them captive. Here are two statements that I believe to be of utmost importance to parents, church leaders, and educators when it comes to protecting our children from the false ideas of this world:
The goal of protection must not be to “shelter” our children from the world. The goal of protection must be to “prepare” our children for battle with the world!
Protecting our children is not the problem. The problem is with the goal we use for protecting them. If it is merely to “shelter” them, then we are setting them up for failure because when they leave our care and go out into the real world, they will be destroyed. As we protect our children from the influences of the world, we must always be “preparing” them for the battle they will one day enter into. In other words, the education we give our children at home, church, and school must prepare them for the spiritual war God expects them to fight as an adult. They must be fit for battle!
Kevin Swanson states it well in his book, Upgrade, “For a child to be fit for battle and be salt and light, he must be prepared to confront the world, to wrestle with principalities and powers, to cast down imaginations that oppose the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
These are powerful words. When God sends us out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, He expects us to be able to confront the principalities and powers of darkness. We must be prepared to do battle so we can destroy the ideas and speculations of this world that oppose God’s truth. Unfortunately, not too many adult Christians are fit for battle in today’s world, much less our children and youth!
Therefore, we should never send our children to secular education programs when they are not prepared to do spiritual battle while there. Again, I call your attention to the warning Swanson gives. As you read his words, think about how ill-prepared a child or young person is to tackle topics such as these: egalitarianism, God-eliminating evolution, materialistic socialism, relativism, environmentalism, atheism, pluralism, sexual freedom, etc. Can children ever be prepared to combat those ideologies? The answer is no; therefore, it makes sense that children should not be subjected to a steady diet of falsehood through their education.
I found an interesting parallel to this concept in the book of Numbers. There were a couple of times that God told the nation of Israel to conduct a count of the people. In each of these instances, we find that they numbered the men who were twenty years and older who were fit for battle. Even though the young men had to be physically prepared to fight the enemies that were all around them, the enemies also represented pagan cultures. God was not merely wanting to defeat Israel’s enemies—He wanted to eliminate the false gods of the surrounding nations. To accomplish this required all men who were twenty years old and up to be physically, mentally, and spirituallyprepared and fit for the battle.
I wonder what would happen if every Christian parent would dedicate the first 18-20 years of their children’s lives to fully prepare them to confront the pagan culture that exists all around us. If the home, church, and school were fully committed to making sure every child was fit for battle by the time they became twenty years old, I believe we would see a generation of Christians who would enter adult life and actually be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That generation would then be able to do what our generation has failed to do—turn their world upside down for God’s glory.
Let’s join forces and prepare our children to make sure they are fit for battle!
Volume 8 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review