What does is mean to be “salt” in Matthew 5:13?
Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
Now, it might seem strange to compare us to salt but Jesus is using a universal commodity that is found around the world. Every culture needs salt. Salt is necessary for life. And it’s one of the many gifts of God to this world. We use salt in cooking, in cleaning, in science, in medicine and the Lord is telling us (here) that WE have the privilege of being salt-like Christians in the world. Now, this is a tremendous privilege and responsibility so, let’s talk about what it means to be the salt of the earth…
Most of us are familiar with salt…. We probably have it in our kitchen, maybe even in our garage. In it’s basic form as sodium chloride salt is found around the world but it will take on different colors depending upon the minerals that are combined with it.
For instance, there’s…. Pink Himalayan Salt, Black Italian Truffle Salt, Yellowish Spanish Rosemary Salt, Red Hawaiian Salt, Light Grey Celtic Salt, Brownish Canadian Salt, Persian Blue Salt. And plain old white Mediterranean Sea Salt.
According to the website “sea salt.com” there are over 14,000 different uses of salt. And so, we’ll take the remainder of our time to read them and next week we’ll figure out WHICH ONE Jesus is talking about…Okay, I won’t read ALL of them…
But if there are 14,000 uses of salt which ONE is Jesus’ referring to in verse 13? Answer: People have been trying to answer that question for centuries... I have found at least 10 common suggestions… (aren’t you glad it’s not 14,000?).
One of the most common suggestions is that Jesus is referring to salt’s preservative qualities. When you have a piece of meat (or fish) that you want to preserve you pack it in salt to keep it from spoiling. And salt preserves food because it kills the microbes that produce decay. And so, salt also kills.
You see this in Judges 9:45 where the Lord talks about spreading salt into a field. Salt kills things. Ice Cream Maker Illustration: When I was a kid my parents use to have these gigantic pool parties. And one year we, had this huge pool party in the middle the summer, and something like 50 people over to our house… And coolers were filled with ice to chill drinks. We had a grand old time and then / everyone went home. One when of our friends stayed to help us clean… and we were taking the coolers that were filled with melted ice, and dumping them onto the bushes in our landscaping to give them a big thirsty drink in the heat of summer…. So, our friend saw all this going on, and took the ice cream maker that we used… and poured the water right onto the next bush. If you’ve ever made homemade ice cream, you know that it takes a lot of salt… and so, that poor bush was soaked in ice and salt. Well, you can imagine what happened…. Pretty soon, the plant died. My parents replaced it and then next plant died. And for the rest of my childhood—that little spot in our landscaping was always the dead zone. Nothing would grow there. Why? Because it had been salted. So, salt can kill. But for this reason, salt also has a medicinal effect.
Salt kills bacteria…. That’s why people gargle with water. Ezekiel 16:4 talks about rubbing salt on a baby that was just born. The salt would kill any germs on that newborn baby.
Salt breaks down other molecules and so it’s good for cleaning stains, scrubbing coffee pots, getting rid of mildew and a host of other uses. But for most of us, we use salt to flavor to food…. Flavor. So, we add salt to our steak, we add salt to our spaghetti, we even add salt to our salsa.
But then again… if you put too much salt in something, it makes you thirsty. If you coat a steak in salt … at some point you’re going to get thirsty. Along those same lines…salt can be irritating (not just painful or thirst-causing) but it can be annoying.
If you were making chocolate chip cookies and you accidentally put in salt instead of sugar, you’ll take one bite and spit it out because it’s gross. So, salt can do all kinds of things. But back in the biblical day there was a few more reasons for salt. For one thing salt signified “friendship”.
In our day and age, salt is common and cheap. Amazon sells Morton Salt for less than $2 a pound. And if you’re having dinner with your family you probably use “plain-old” Morton salt. But if you’re having guests over, you might serve up the Pink Himalayan Salt. And if they’re really special guests, you might break out your Blue Persian Salt! So in our day, salt is as easy as going to Ridley’s or getting it off of Amazon... Back then salt was so valued that sometimes is took the place of money. Sometimes, Roman soldiers were paid their wages in salt… and that’s where the phrase developed where a derelict soldier “wasn’t worth his salt.” . And so, using salt was a bit like burning cash…. And when you’d have a friend over you would show the value you place on the friendship by giving them salt with their “Mutton, Lettuce & Tomato” sandwich.
Along those lines… Because of salt’s value and what it represented as an enduring preservative salt was sometimes used in covenants to demonstrate their priority or solemnity. Numbers 18:19 describes the Jews covenant with the Lord as a “Covenant of Salt” one that is EVERLASTING and of GREAT importance.
Finally, for all these reasons… salt was used to added to sacrifices to honor God.
Okay, so there were tons of uses for salt…and that brings us back to the question: . What did Jesus mean when He said, “You are the salt of the Earth” in verse 13?. That’s an important question because which USE of salt you choose will have a tremendous impact on the application of this principle.
For instance, if we focus on salt preservative qualities that means we should seek to preserve society… and get involved in politics, and the sciences and the arts to keep society from moral decline. (But that often puts us in a strange dilemma of joining a society that is in rebellion to God and under His judgment and doesn’t want to be preserved).
In fact, older commentaries pointed out that salt was used to kill things and show God’s judgment so our role is to announce to the world it’s under God’s judgment.
Sometimes preachers will say that since salt creates “thirst” we are to create thirst for Christ and live our Christian life SO ATTRACTIVELY that people look at how we live and say, “I want what she has!”. Or, maybe we’re to add flavor to life and connect them to the joy of the Lord is there strength... Or maybe we’re to be medicine and bring people to the healing truths of the Lord. Or maybe we are to establish friendships and invest in relationships with people of the world. I’m not sure Jesus wants us to be thinking in any of these categories. The fact is Jesus compares us to a product that has 14,000 uses but He doesn’t give us any hint about which one He means... And I think that’s because Jesus is not calling us to a specific function in society, but a KIND of engagement.
Salt is a vital part of life. It is a gift of God with a myriad of uses. It’s an integral part of life. And without salt we will eventually die. How many of us have salt in our home? WE ALL DO! And just as salt is ubiquitous in our world…it was in their world (too). And just as it has a ton of uses today…It had a ton of uses back then. And just as it’s a blessing to US and it was a blessing to them. And Jesus is shipping us—as KINGDOM SALT—into this world to make a KINGDOM IMPACT. |. The point is about influence and value. If we live out the Beatitudes(and the rest of the “Sermon on the Mount” we will be like exotic salt… bringing minerals from a far off Kingdom into the world around us.
Maybe we are to be about preserving souls. (Maybe not preserving a culture that is in rebellion to Him, but bringing His truth into this world so that people can be reconciled to God through the cross. Maybe we are to show how fantastic it is to be reconciled to our Creator. Maybe we are to bring warnings of God’s coming judgment for the world to know. Maybe we are to bring the medicinal Word of God so that people can be healed by the truths of Christ. Maybe we are to be a little bit irritating to people as we boldly bring God’s truth to the world around us. All of this would naturally happen AS we live out the Beatitudes and the rest of this sermon.
So, I believe Jesus’ compares us TO SALT because our Kingdom Impact is related to our:
Quantity is tied to the word “you” in verse 13. “You” is plural. This is for all of us. We are ALL called to be salt in this world. And our effectiveness in this world is ENHANCED when there is a sufficient number of us to actually HAVE AN IMPACT. The lone Christian who is off doing their thing, will typically have much less of an impact on this world for Christ.
When I was in Bible College, I used to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. These were people who were near to death. And I wanted them to hear the Word of God, I found that the ministry was always difficult. The people were bitter at life and hardened to the Lord. And when I was alone, I struggled to even find something to talk about. But there was another person from my Bible College who also served there…. And when we worked together, we would talk with each other, and talk with the residents…. For the most part our impact was greater when we were together. I can only imagine the impact would have been even that much more if there were 5 or 6 of us volunteering together to reach them for Christ. The more people who are involved life-on-life work in this world the greater the impact we will have.
Likewise, in order for salt to work, it needs to have close proximity. Jesus say, “You ARE the salt of the earth.”. That Word “are” points to our present tense role and reality in this world. This is our identity. This is our purpose. We ARE to ACTUALLY go into the world.
Salt has no impact on your steak as long as it sits in the saltshaker. Salt has no impact on the roads as long as it sits in the back of the plow trucks. In order for salt to have an impact, it has to actually engage the food / field / road / sacrifice / bacteria / or whatever it’s being used for!. And so, when we engage with the world, we are bringing God’s Kingdom principles into their kitchen.
Salt is a potent force…. But it has to be in close proximity to whatever it is having an effect upon. And so, Jesus is calling us to be in close proximity to the world, to bring His kingdom reality into the lives of everyone else around us.
When you think about your role in this world… You may have a work environment where you’re when of the only Christians there… (God has put you there to be salt and light for the gospel). You will be in places that probably the rest of us will never be in. Those are your opportunities to bring God’s truth to those people. So, Jesus calls us to have a close proximity with this world but He also WARNS US that not all proximity is good. Salt comes in so many colors because it soaks up the minerals around it. Sometimes people engage with the world and end up becoming like the world.
If you’re keeping up with your Key Chapters Bible Reading, then today we discussed Sodom and Gomorrah. The main character is a guy named Lot and he had virtually no impact on his community. If anything, the community impacted him.
So, notice Jesus’ warning in verse 13 about becoming “tasteless”. Verse 13 says, “Your are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?”
Now, this word that is translated as “Tasteless” is not normally translated this way. It’s the Greek Word “mo-rain-o” (from which we get the Word “Moron”). And as far as I know—this is one of the only places it’s translated as “tasteless”. In other places in Scripture, this word is typically transited along the lines of “foolish”. It’s used in Romans 1:22 where it says, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” And it’s also used in 1st Corinthians 1:20 where it says God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.” . And I think Jesus’ point is that just as it’s absurd for salt to become unsalty, it’s absurd for Kingdom People to lose their Kingdom Impact in this world…. So, how do this happen?
Can salt become “unsalty”? “yes” and “no”. In the literal sense, “pure” salt doesn’t just change form. But the key word is “pure”. If something gets mixed into it, so that it’s diluted, it’s influence will decline. Back in Jesus’ day they didn’t get salt from the salt mines, or even salt rocks (like we do). Their salt wasn’t purified and iodized and packaged in tamper-proof containers. They would find places where the salt was on the surface of the ground—and they would scrape it up. The thing is, if they weren’t careful they’d scrape up a bunch of dirt along with that salt. So, that kind of salt would be no good. Or maybe they’d have a container of salt in their house, and accidentally dropped something into it…
Maybe some ash from the fireplace, or some lime powder that you used in the latrine… You can imagine, if you’ve got salt that is a 50-50 ratio of salt and something else—it’s not going to be good for much of anything. You wouldn’t want to mix that into your food, because you’d be mixing in impurities. You wouldn’t want to rub your newborn baby with that (for the same reason). You wouldn’t want to give that to your friend… (that would insult them!) . So, you’d have this polluted / diluted salt and it would be USELESS. And so, in verse 13 Jesus warns us this this salt… “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”
These folks didn’t have Gallegos Sanitation taking their garbage to a landfill… they had to deal with it right there. And so, if you had bad salt that you couldn’t use…and you had to figure out what to do with it…You wouldn’t want to mix it in with your garbage because you’d probably use that for composting. You wouldn’t want to throw it into your fields because you’d hurt your crops…. And so, the best thing would be to throw it someplace where it wouldn’t do any harm… Like the road. It’s just where people walk. And if you killed a few weeds, no one would mind. And so, Jesus is warning this crowd that if they no longer have a pure, kingdom impact on the world they will be cast into the road where they won’t do any damage.
I think Jesus is getting at a similar warning that He gave to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:5 where they were growing cold in their love for Christ and He warns them to either repent or He will remove their lampstand.
So, when it comes to God’s people, how can they lose their “salt”? I think one of the clear ways we would lose our saltiness is by simply staying in the saltshaker. The purpose of the salt is to be shaken out into the world…. And at times, we can be so, huddled together, that were not actually outside of these walls, engaged with the world, and bringing God’s truth and to the world around us. We gather to scatter… And if we stay in the saltshaker… And if we are not seeking to bring kingdom truth into the world around us, we are effectively TASTELESS Christians because we are not in the proximity for anyone to even know the salt is here.
Along the same lines, we need to guard against being corrupted by the world. This is becoming a huge problem in the church today. Again, if you harvested salt by scraping it off the ground, if you were not careful, you’d mix in dirt and the salt would be ruined. This is what’s happened in the church today.
When you hear the surveys of Christians… our beliefs are becoming like the world’s.
When you look at the Christian books and Music that’s out there… they often reflect the world’s principles more than God’s. They talk about all kinds of stuff... But many so-called Christian books aren’t actually trying to explain Kingdom Living for today… they’re trying to sell books and programs…. And this is affecting our testimony (which is another way we become “tasteless”) .
Sometimes Christians corrupt our impact by corrupting our testimony. This week I came across a story about a woman who was pulled over by a police officer because she was cursing at other drivers and making obscene gestures. So, the cop pulled her over. Pretty soon she found herself in the back of the police car, mystified about why her actions deserved that penalty. And the police officer spent some time working on the situation, and finally came back to her and apologized saying, “I’m sorry ma’am, your car had a bumper sticker that said, “I love Jesus” and “Follow me to Sunday school” and when I saw how you were acting, I figured you must have stolen this car!”. She had corrupted her testimony so that she no longer acting like a Kingdom Christian in this world.
We have the privilege of being salt to the world... But if we stay in the saltshaker and refuse to have proximity to the world, or if we corrupt our message with the world’s message, or corrupt our testimony with sinful behavior, Jesus will put us someplace where we won’t do anyone, any more harm. And so, that’s a solemn warning to every church, and every believer.
So, that’s the metaphor of salt and how we are to be “salt” in the world.