Salt of the Earth

April 30, 2018

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13

God has left His people here on earth for a purpose. We are called to make a difference in this decaying world. How are we doing?

Imagine for a moment the scene of the Sermon on the Mount. Here was Jesus, called by many a rabbi, seated on a plateau overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Before Him was a handful of men—not scholars, not wealthy men, just rough ordinary guys, just like many of the guys you know today. It was to this motley crew that Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth” (5:13).

A Preservative

Jesus’ words had a threefold application. First, in Jesus’ day salt was used as a preservative since there was no refrigeration. His listeners would have understood Him to be saying that they were to have a preserving effect on the world that they were living in.

We tend to think that the world is not that bad, but societies actually tend toward corruption and decay. The early stages of Roman history were generally decent, but as we read in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, things went downhill, and the empire was eventually destroyed from internal decay. Jesus was essentially telling us, You can slow that process down. We can’t completely reverse it; the Lord will do that when He returns. But Jesus intends us to have an impact on our culture that slows the rotting process.

Seasoning and a Thirst for God

Second, the people listening to Jesus, as we do today, used salt to season their food. As Christians, we are to bring flavor and zest to others’ lives. We are to bring out the potential and all the good things in life, just as salt brings out flavors that are otherwise bland.

And third, salt stimulates thirst. Jesus intended His followers to develop in others a thirst for God.

Now we don’t say to salt, “Okay, preserve,” or, “Spice things up.” Salt naturally does those things. If we really are the salt of the earth, as Jesus said we are, we will naturally have the impact that salt is intended to have. But here’s the thing: in order for this to happen, we must be living the Christian life. Sadly, so often people are Christian in word but not in practice and subsequently do not have the effect that God intends them to have.

Christian Counter Culture

As we’ve noted often, and as John Stott reminds us, “This sermon is built on the assumption that Christians are different, and it issues a call to us to be different.” He goes on to say, “Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and checkered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture” (Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount).

Today we hear far too often about pastors committing adultery, Christian husbands and wives divorcing, Christian women wondering if it’s possible to find a Christian man who doesn’t try to get her into bed after a few dates. Too many people who say they’re Christians are not living like Christians.

Attraction of Christianity

Another great tragedy in the modern church is its desire to be like the world and to be liked by the world. An advertisement for a church some years ago read, “The sermons are relevant, upbeat, and best of all, short.” It said, “You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin and damnation and hellfire. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching. It is sophisticated, urbane and friendly talk. It breaks all the stereotypes.” This church was proud of that. But if people are going to commit themselves to something, wouldn’t they want it to be different? I would think so.

The attraction of Christianity is in the fact that it is different. Only when we are distinct from this “crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15) will people be attracted to Christ through us.