Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

May 10, 2005

Christian, You Are the Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13)

Ask anyone what salt tastes like and they’ll almost certainly say, “salty.” There is simply no other way to describe it. The saltiness of salt is its definitive property. Although it has other properties--white, granular–-these are not definitive. Saltiness, on the other hand, is so very definitive of salt that we would have trouble even imagining unsalty salt. Salt without its definitive property would be of no value. Salt is defined by, and valued for, its saltiness.

Now, many commentaries on Matthew 5:13 will speak of salt’s use as a flavoring agent and as a preservative. They’ll say that Christians are to be like salt in the world, flavoring and preserving. That’s all well and good, but I want to focus on something even more fundamental than that. Jesus, in using the salt-metaphor to describe his followers, is suggesting that just as salt has a certain intrinsic property--its saltiness--without which it would be of no value, Christians also have certain intrinsic characteristics that are definitive, and without which they would cease to be “Christianly.”

Christian, as salt must be salty, you must be Christianly. There must be something about you, something shared by all believers and followers of Jesus, which is definitive. Something that marks you, sets you apart, identifies you as “one of them.” A Christian without these special characteristics would simply not be “Christianly.”

Do you see? Jesus is calling you to be what you are. To live, to show forth, what He has already made you. This is not something you muster up, not something that comes with training, with education, with erudition, with experience, but it is simply a natural concomitant of your new nature in Christ Jesus.

All of which begs the question, just what are these Christianly characteristics? What constitutes the “saltiness” of a Christian? Well, Jesus had just been pointing out some of these characteristics in the run-up to this verse, where he described eight fundamental traits of the “blessed.”

1. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be “poor in spirit.” That is, he knows his own absolute poverty of spirit--his spiritual helplessness--apart from God. He is not self-reliant where spiritual things are concerned, but God-reliant.

2. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be ready to mourn. It well might be asked, for what reason ought the Christian to mourn? My first instinct is to consider what makes God mournful. What breaks God’s heart? The Christian’s heart is broken by these same things. Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He was willing to weep with those who wept. The fallen state of the world caused him sorrow. So should it be among His followers.

3. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be meek. He is not self-assertive, always claiming his rights and prerogatives. He assumes nothing, gladly taking the lowest seat, having the attitude, in whatever position he finds himself, of a servant.

4. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be hungry and thirsty for righteousness. It is his all-consuming passion. Righteousness is alignment with God’s will. It is also the overriding theme of the Word of God. Unrighteousness to a Christian is like gall to one who thirsts. It only increases his thirst.

5. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be merciful. Judgement does not enter into his approach to the world or to sin. He sets aside judgement in favor of mercy, knowing that in the end the final arbiter of all things will be Jesus Christ. Although there will one day be a day of judgement, this is the day of mercy.

6. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be pure in heart. Another way of saying this would be “wholehearted.” The Christian is not divided against himself. The Christian does not serve two masters. The Christian’s life can therefore be said to be a living sacrifice to the Lord his God.

7. Just as salt is salty, the Christian should be a peacemaker. In a world that seeks not God, a world that has wandered away from the rule and reign of God, a world full of people who lack all of these Christianly characteristics, there will often be conflict. The Christian, then, will find himself in the midst of the competing claims of self-assertive people who are anything but meek and merciful. It is the Christian and only the Christian who can truly and consistently be the peacemaker in such situations.

8. Finally, just as salt is salty, the Christian shall be persecuted. This is just going to happen. The Christian’s meekness and self-effacing behavior will be taken advantage of and ridiculed by the assertive. His mercy will be rebuked and his peacemaking not only unappreciated but actively undermined. Nevertheless, like Paul he will count it all blessing, because he knows that his reward is in heaven.

Now, Jesus says that anyone who has these characteristics is happy (alt. “blessed”). And he goes on to say that such people are the salt of the earth. Salt is drawn from the earth and has a usefulness to people that is pretty nearly essential to civilization. If we think about the usefulness of salt, we get to the business of its preservative and flavoring influences. But the point is, as salt must be salty in order to be useful, Christians must be Christianly in order to be useful in terms of God’s Kingdom plan for the earth. If we are not showing forth these kinds of qualities, we are not being used in his plan.

Christian, you are the salt of the earth. Do you believe it? God in his immeasurable wisdom and sovereignty has chosen to manifest his Kingdom plan in the earth through his called out children, his Jesus people, to whom he has given all that is necessary for life and godliness. Christian, be what you are.


Blogger Milton Stanley said...

This is dynamite, Bob. I'll be writing about it at my blog today or tomorrow. Peace.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what about this? (When Jesus uses the word salt to symbolize destruction:

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I should have identified myself in the comment above. I'm a student writing a research paper about the meaning of salt in the bible and it's relationship to holiness. I'm simply curious as to how you would connect these two divergent ideas about salt.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

It seems to me that there are many terms that have multiple uses as symbols for sometimes divergent things. Another Biblical example would be "yeast," which is often symbolic of something bad (even a small amount can spread through the whole loaf), but in at least one case, the parable of the yeast in Matthew 13, it has no such connotation, but in fact is associated with the Kingdom of God. Same thing with the case of the salt. It's all about context. There were solid experiential reasons to associate salt with lifelessness, destruction. On the other hand, there were (and are) solid experiential reasons to associate salt with preservation, for example. There need be no confusion here. Always look to the context!

BTW, I pray the Spirit will impart great insight to you as you work on this paper. It sounds very interesting! Best wishes, Bob

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob: I have been out of fellowship for way too long. This past week three of us began a Bible study in my kitchen. We agreed to begin with the Sermon on the Mount. It was great. Many things drew my attention and I was mostly curious about the phrase "salt of the earth". You have done a wonderful job in giving me further insight that makes perfect sense. I will be sure to bring along copies of your views to our next Bible study - next Wednesday. Thank you so much! Diane

1:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salt has always been a precious commodity in the world. H.R. Malott, Chief Field Representative of the Salt Institute writes:

The possession and control of so valuable a commodity has often been an objective in war, and indeed the cause of war. More wars have been fought over salt than over gold. The early salt road via Solaria from Rosettia to Rome was constantly guarded by Roman soldiers who fought off marauders and hostile armies seeking salt. The Germans waged war for saline streams. In our own country, many of the Indian wars were fought over salt licks or salt springs; these were few and widely separated and the Indians protected them at all costs.

The importance of salt in ancient times is equally apparent. The Bible makes numerous references to salt. In the book of Job, written hundreds of years before Christ, is found the line, “Can nothing which is unsavory be eaten without salt.”

Probably the most familiar reference to salt occurs in the story of Lot’s wife. Lot was a nephew of Abraham who lived with his wife and two daughters in Sodom. Just before the wicked city was destroyed for its sinfulness, two angels came to Lot and warned him to escape, cautioning him and his family not to look back once they departed. Lot’s wife, however, disregarded the command and turned to look back at the burning city. She was turned to pillar of salt.

Whenever salt is mentioned in the Bible, it is as a most important essential. We especially notice this in the direction of religious services. When Elisha sweetened the waters of Jericho, he cast salt into them to illustrate its purifying power. Since earliest times salt has been associated with value and worthiness. Thus, the Bible reference, “Witness, we are the salt of the earth.”

Homer called salt “divine” and Plato terms it a “substance dear to the Gods.” Shakespeare mentions “salt” 37 times in his immortal plays. The wide-spread notion that he spilling of salt entails evil consequences is probably a relic of the notion of its sacred character in early times. Anyone misfortunate enough to spill salt is supposed to incur the anger of all good spirits.

Throughout the ages, a belief in the sacred properties of salt has persisted. In Scotland, salt was held in high repute as a charm and the salt box was the first chattel to be removed to a new dwelling. As the poet Robert Burns was about to occupy a new house in Ellisland in 1789, he was escorted along the banks of the River Nith by a procession of relatives carrying in their midst a bowl of salt resting on the family Bible.

One of the interesting things about salt is that when it is used it loses itself. You do not see salt in your food because it makes its contribution and is gone. When used in various chemical processes, salt also dissipates after fulfilling its purpose.

Salt used on icy highways and streets makes winter travel safe and disappears. In the same way, Christians who are the salt of the earth do not hesitate to give of themselves as they serve their God and their fellow man. In Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth but if the salt lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted. It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of man.”

Salt never loses its taste. It will become rock hard, it will become damp so that it won’t come out of the shaker unless you unscrew the top and pour it out. Even so, it tastes the same. It is still salt.

Salt in the days of Jesus Christ, as today, had many purposes. The religious ritual demanded that all sacrifices be salted before they were offered to God. New born babies were rubbed with salt. A grain of salt placed in a tooth cavity was the usual remedy for a toothache. One of the most extensive uses of salt was in preserving meat and fish. As there was no refrigeration in those days, meat and fish were packed in salt to draw blood and moisture from them (even in this process salt performs its purpose and disappears).

A primary source of salt was the shore of the Dead Sea or the Salt Sea that is referred to many times in the Bible. Nothing was known about refining salt in those days. It was difficult to tell the difference between the salt and the sand on the shores of the sea so this substance which they called salt was really a mixture, sometimes more salt than sand. When it was more sand than salt, it had “lost its savor” and therefore was good for nothing but to be “cast out and trodden under the foot of man.” Jesus said to His followers: “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, it is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trodden under the foot of men.”

When Jesus says "You are the salt of the earth", He was saying to those He was preaching to that they were special to God and that they were a precious possession to God.

One other note: Salt can only lose its flavor when it has been contaminated by an outside source.

3:15 PM  
Blogger phizo said...

your explanation for 'you are the salt of the world' is very good.
In our place southern most part of India, salt is a cheap commodity and easily available. it is really a news for me that wars have been waged for salt.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Anil said...

Bob, This is really fantastic. I was meditating on this verse today, and I am sure God put the same view to me...but the way you brought forth the living waters is amazing. God Bless - ANIL PALA

10:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home