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.