Rethinking Verses: Salt and Light

Sometimes ideas get ingrained in the mind and it takes a long long time to remove them, even when they are wrong. Take for example the idea of being “salt and light”.

For the last 15 years, being “salt and light” has been for me synonymous with standing for fundamental Christian values in the culture. Being informed. Speaking truth. Voting for Jesus. The phrase has been a rally cry to not retreat from the public sector nor to surrender the Christian heritage of America. There’s a “watchman at the gate” ring to it – “Be salt and light”! Nothing wrong with all that, but in reread Matthew 5 it doesn’t fit:

Matthew 5:13–16 (ESV)

13 “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.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

15 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.

16 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.

The point of being salt and being light is not “corrective” to the culture, but to bring people to glorify the Father (verse 16). That is done as the world sees our “good works” and perhaps says something like this:

“I may not agree with those Christians, but I’m thankful for them.”

or maybe even something like this:

“Father, I surrender my life to you because you are greater than anything in this life.”

In any case, the point of being salt and light is not so much that Christians go around and speak against all the darkness of the society, but that Christians live godly Jesus-like lives. Specifically these verses on being salt and light are tied to the previous 10 verses that talk about the “blessed” attitudes of living. This is the taste of “salt” and the glow of “light” that Jesus spoke of:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3–12, ESV)  

This is not to say we should be silent in our culture. Lets speak truth, but let’s also remind ourselves of what salt and light means and how it is that the Father is glorified – by undeniable lives and not by irrefutable arguments.


Don’t Buy The Lie

What we think about God does in fact matter. It is what ultimately matters.

It may not feel like that for good stretches of a month, or a year, or 10 years, but make not mistake about it, what we think about God ultimately shapes how we react to God and how we follow God. It shapes our marriages, shapes our parenting, shapes our friendships, our work ethic, our view of self, our dreams and passions and deep soul desires. Nothing in life is left untouched and unshaped by our view of God.

I’m reminded of that as I read these two accounts. Both are from theology professors, both therefore teach the word of God, and both are from fathers that lost their daughters.

Those that have read my blog posts here know that I have followed RC Sproul Jr and his ongoing season of grief over the death of his wife and daughter. These are not about him. These are other men, like many men out there, that have found their life hit a season they hoped would never come.

You may wonder what my fascination with stories like these are, to which I would say: I’m both a father and a teacher of the word. One carries potentially the greatest pain in life (the lost of a child) and the other the greatest answer in life (the truth about God). Therefore, I read with great desire these stories of men whose fatherhood crashes against their pastoralship. I want to know – “How does their theological reflections on God shape their strength in life’s disasters.”

Enough said. I invite you to read two men’s testimony who are going through the same situation but hold vastly different theology:

What Good Grief Looks Like When A Daughter Dies” – By Ben Witherington (an Arminian pastor)

Reflections on the Loss of Our Daughter – By Fred Zaspel (a Reformed pastor)

NOTE: I have no desire here to convince you to understand God through an Arminian or Calvinist hermenuetic. I simply want to encourage you to believe that thinking, studying, and deeply reflecting on who God is within the revelation of scripture (i.e. theology) is the greatest endeavor you can do to shape your heart and life.

A Warning and a Warning About The Warning

Many, including myself, we have been so deeply moved by the writings of A.W. Tozer.  There is both a depth and warmth to so much of what he pens, much like J.I. Packer and John Stott’s writings.

A new biography has recently been released on Tozer’s life. It’s a hard honest look at both his victories and his apparent contradictions. I have not read the book, only reviews of the book, but just reading the reviews does to me what “hard honest looks” at my heros always does: warns, humbles, corrects.

Here is part of Tim Challie’s review of the review:

Tozer was a man who dedicated himself to reading, study and prayer and who delighted to be in the presence of God. “There is no way to measure the hours he spent in a typical day or week reading books and wrestling with ideas, but it was substantial. In a similar vein, we know that he increasingly devoted many hours each week praying, meditating on Scripture, and seeking deeper intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. During the 1930s Tozer read voraciously, and he also developed a magnificent obsession to be in Christ’s presence- just to worship Him and to be with Him.” Yet he was a man who was emotionally and spiritually distant from his own wife. “By early 1928 the Tozers had a routine. Aiden found his fulfillment in reading, preparing sermons, preaching, and weaving travel into his demanding and exciting schedule, while Ada learned to cope. She dutifully washed, ironed, cooked, and cared for the little ones, and developed the art of shoving her pain deep down inside. Most of the time she pretended there was no hurt, but when it erupted, she usually blamed herself for not being godly enough to conquer her longing for intimacy from an emotionally aloof husband.”

These strange inconsistencies abound. Tozer saw his wife’s gifts for hospitality and encouraged her in them; yet he disliked having visitors in his own home. He preached about the necessity of Christian fellowship within the family of Christ; yet he refused to allow his family or his wife’s family to visit their home. For every laudable area of his life there seemed to exist an equal and opposite error. This study in opposites leaves for a fascinating picture of a man who was used so greatly by God, even while his life had such obvious sin.

Full review here: (

Another reviewer shared this summary:

Perhaps the most damning statement in the book was from his wife, after she remarried subsequent to his death: “I have never been happier in my life,” Ada Ceclia Tozer Odam observed, “Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me” (160).

Full review here: (

Oh to learn from the life of others (from their good and their bad).  Now before you completely write of Tozer as a hypocrite, these warnings from John Piper about how we handle all these warnings from Tozer’s life is great:

Sean Lucas seems to say that Tozer’s wife’s greater happiness with her second husband implies Tozer’s “failure to love passionately his wife.” When she remarried after his death she said, “”I have never been happier in my life. . . “Aiden [A. W. Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.” Lucas may be right to infer from this sentence that Tozer loved his wife poorly. But Tozer’s wife’s statement does not prove it.

We would need to be as penetrating in our analysis of her spiritual condition as we are of A. W. Tozer’s. Not feeling loved and not beingloved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? I know nothing about Tozer’s wife. She may have been far more godly than he. Or maybe not. It would be helpful to know.

Again I admit Lucas may be totally right. Tozer may have blown it at home. Lucas’ lessons from this possibility are wise. But I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, “If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.” There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.

I am not saying Tozer’s wife did this. I am saying that the assumption that her feeling unloved equals her being unloved creates the atmosphere where emotional blackmail flourishes.

Maybe Tozer loved his wife poorly. But his wife’s superior happiness with another man does not show it. Perhaps Lyle Dorsett’s new biography of Tozer, A Passion for God, penetrates to the bottom of this relationship.

(NOTE: Nothing in this blog post is original. It’s a reproduction of a post from the Gospel Coalition (, only rearranged in an order that helps me best process things)

Ought Not Is A Serious Matter

“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”(James 3:9-10)

The subtle force in James condemnation of praising God while cursing people is found in the words “ought not” – these things ought not to be so. This doesn’t seem so bad at first glance, but a quick lookup of the “ought not’s” in the New Testament reveals how seriously God takes the sin of our mouths.


The blasphemy of anti-christ

Mk 13:14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.


The unloving hypocrisy of the pharisees

Lk 13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”


The pagan ignorance of Athen’s philosophers

Ac 17:29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.


The deathly hatred of the Jews towards Paul

Ac 25:24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer.


The sinful act of homosexuality

Ro 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.


The shameful tactics of false teachers

Tt 1:11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.


Into this bag of serious sinful actions that ought not to happen, James lumps in the sin of praising God with the same mouth that curses men & women.

It ought not to be.


He Will Surely Do It

It’s funny how scripture often interprets scripture if we keep reading scripture.

This morning I read

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 5:23)

That verse sounds like a prayer. It conveys a hope for the sanctification of the believer. As such, it also conveys an amount of uncertainty to it like all prayers. And yet, as I read the next verse, any uncertainty of the completion of sanctification for the believer is destroyed:

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thess 5:24)

I love that. “He will surely do it!” Why? Because He is faithful. Faithful to what? Faithful to the call that He gave to each believer. And what is this call? It’ is the call of salvation, the saving call of the Spirit of God.  He will surely do it!

Life’s Goal



I love this greek word that I can’t pronounce. I love words that convey big pictures because I tend to be a big picture type of person. Three times, and only three times, is this word used in the New Testament and each time it’s a force that blows across the whole of life.

Here they are:

“and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thess 4:11)

“and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20)

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Cor 5:9)

Perhaps these would make for a good epitaph.

“He aspired to live a quiet life, his ambition was to preach the gospel, and his aim was to please God.”

I will be satisfied if by the grace of God those longings are what drives my life.

People Of The Word

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess 2:13)

I love that hope – “the word of God, which is at work in you believers”. It’s interesting to me that Paul in 1 Cor 15:10 talks about the grace of God at work in him. It may be that the way grace works in a believers life is through the instrument of God’s word.  Meaning, one of the primary means of grace in a believers life is the word of God.

Lately I have been thinking about the power of the word of God. Not the sermonized word of God, not the missionized, not the movementalized, not the bookalized (I’m making up words now) but simply the word of God.

As I understand early church history, one of the things that was paramount for the church was simply the public reading of God’s word. This was mainly due to the fact that having personal access to the scriptures of the New Testament not a reality during that time. So when believers gathered, they wanted to get as much of the divine word of God in them as possible. While there was always a homily that was delivered in the church service, much time was dedicated to simply reading the writings of the apostles. There was a very high view on hearing the word of God, of just listening to the words read as if God Himself was speaking from heaven. This is why Paul tells Timothy

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Tim 4:13)

Last night at our church’s prayer meeting, we started by simply reading Psalm 115, 116, and 117. There was something about reading, listening to the word, without commentary and without sermonizing, that felt like the tilling of hard soil in preparation for planting.

Hmm…. how will these stirrings work out into my personal life, my family life, and the church I pastor?