MATTHEW 5:13a (part two)-c
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:13a (part two) “Ye are the salt of the earth:. . .”
Romans said, “Nothing is more useful than sun and salt.” Homer called salt divine; Plato deemed it a substance dear to the gods. Being a precious commodity essential to life, the imagery of “salt” could yield several metaphorical applications.
Salt creates thirst. Believers’ lives should be so attractive that they create in the lost a desire, a thirst, for God. The old adage is, “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink.” Yes, but we can feed him salt pills to increase his thirst.
Salt seasons. It keeps food from being bland. Christians should live such exciting lives that the lost see their own existence as being stale and flat in comparison. People’s lives truly are tasteless and bland till seasoned with the salt of heaven.
Thirst and seasoning are powerful salt metaphors, but not the essential one Christ meant to convey in our text. Jesus was referring to the antiseptic quality of salt, its ability to render bacteria ineffective. This well known preservative quality of salt was pictured in the Old Testament sacrificial system. “With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (LV 2:13b). Salt was required in all sacrifices to symbolize the offerings were offered from pure, incorrupt hearts. Jesus’ meaning in our text was clear, all who live the Beatitude-life are the moral disinfectants of society.
The great sea of humanity tends to pollution and foulness, and without salt inevitably becomes putrid. Society can be kept clean only by means of a preservative. Christians are meant to be this great antiseptic in a culture of decay.
Today standards are being lowered–standards of what we expect of political, educational, and religious leaders, standards for everyone in honesty, loyalty, diligence, conscientiousness, morals, proper speech, esteem for elders and authority.
It is up to Christians to prop up these standards, to save society from decomposition and cultural death. If a decent and moral way of life is to be preserved, the result hinges on Christians. Humble, God-fearing Christians in any nation, state, county, city, or organization keep it from rotting. If saints were taken off the earth it would stink to heaven. Believers are the most valuable people in any society.
History, at the bottom line, is the story of God’s chosen people. The blessing of Heaven flows to, through, and because of, them. Sodom would have been saved had God been able to find in it ten righteous people (GN 18:32). In the storm at sea, every life in Paul’s ship was saved due to him (AC 27:24). At Elisha’s word Israel and Judah defeated Moab, but the prophet said he would not have even looked at wicked King Jehoram of Israel had it not been for the good King Jehoshaphat of Judah (2 K 3:14). Believers are important. Their influence should count.
Each Christian needs to do significant soul searching. Are we wielding the full antiseptic influence God meant for us to have on those around us? This is the issue raised in Tony Evans’ thought provoking book, “Are Christians Destroying America?” We need to ask, is our presence defeating the corruption around us?
Matt. 5:13b “. . .but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be
If salt loses its salty flavor, how can it be made to taste salty again? As we all know, sodium chloride is sodium chloride, and cannot lose its saline quality. However, its level of concentration in a given medium can become so low that it is adulterated to the point of being unable to make the mass taste salty any longer.
The salt of Jesus’ era was rarely the pure sodium chloride we enjoy today. The mined rock salts of His day were impure, adulterated with other chemicals. Exposed long enough to the elements, the sodium chloride in these mined rocks would finally leach out, leaving the rest of the mass tasting saltless. This created a dilemma–salt was a remedy for unsalted meat, but what can be done for unsalty salt? Nothing, as any homemaker knew. Thus, Jesus drew the obvious conclusion.
Matt. 5:13c “. . .it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to
be trodden under foot of men.”
In Jesus’ day, if a piece of mined rock salt lost its salty taste, it became useless. It could not even be thrown in the manure pile, because it might still have just enough sodium chloride or other unsafe chemical compounds in it to make barren the ground on which it fell. No one risked scattering it around a house, yard, or garden, for the very item which had originally been secured to provide help at home was now able to communicate only barrenness and harm.
If rock salt failed the purpose for which it was bought, it had failed altogether, being truly “thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Unsalty salt was strewn like gravel on paths and walkways, where it could at least possibly fill a crack and keep grass and weeds from growing.
The implications of this metaphor are frightful. Though believers cannot lose their salvation, they can lose their influence, and when Christians do not fulfill their function of preservation by penetration, they become worthless and contemptible.
To fulfill our mission as effective antiseptics in a rotting culture, Christians must be “salt of the earth” without losing our “savour.” We are to make contact without dilution. “Make contact”–“without dilution”–both are essential to success.
Christians must make contact with unclean people. Salt becomes valuable by touching the impure. Salt checks decomposition by intercepting rotting cells. The teeming swarm of humanity, to be preserved, has to be penetrated by living salt.
We may want to withdraw from the world, to retreat, but we must not. We have to engage the lost, to talk with them, to listen to them until we earn the right to be listened to. Believers need to be omnipresent in society, influencing and enriching everything–society’s work and commerce, industry and education, recreation and culture, laws and literature. Let’s get out of the salt-shaker and into “the earth.”
As we make contact with the mass of mankind, our penetrating of society must be “without dilution.” A Christian cannot withdraw from the world, but must “keep himself unspotted from the world” (JM 1:27). If we penetrate society, but become polluted, we shall be scorned, trodden under foot by the passing multitudes, by the very ones we thought we could influence by becoming like them. Salt is effective by being different from the medium into which it is put. Its power is due to its difference. Saints influence society only as long as we are distinct, offering an alternative. A rotting mass needs new options, not more of the same. We can fulfill our preservative function only as long as we retain our distinguishing virtues.
If we cease to make contact, or become diluted, we end up useless, and “uselessness invites disaster” (Barclay), as ghosts of our past hauntingly remind us. The church at Antioch is gone, as are the seven churches in Revelation, and Augustine’s church in North Africa. Maclaren says that in Damascus, the city where Paul began his ministry, a Mosque has over its archway the almost obliterated inscription, “Thy kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting Kingdom.” Above it is written in bold relief, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His prophet.” The salt lost its savor, and was thrown out. Let us beware the loss of our cutting, clean, penetrative edge.