Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
Many Christians are just enduring their life on earth. They can’t wait to go to heaven. But God has a purpose for them on this earth. His purpose are encapsulated in these words: “You are the salt of the earth…” Just what did Jesus mean by this? We will have some idea when we consider the uses and benefits of salt.
Salt heals. When Romans go to war, they carry with them a bag of salt. This salt will be applied to wounds sustained during battle to prevent infection and to bring about healing. Salt not only heals bodily wound, it heals relational wounds too. When a dispute has been settled between two neighbors, they would come together to share a dish of salt. Each of them would lick his finger, dip it in the salt and then eat the salt together. The Bible tells us that the Redeemed have been given the Ministry of Reconciliation.
Salt adds taste. Salt, just a dash, adds to the taste and pleasure of a meal (Job 6:6). The Jews, God’s Chosen People, have been responsible for some of the most interesting and important inventions and discoveries in the world. Their discoveries and inventions have transformed the way men live.
Salt produces thirst. So, Believers should produce spiritual thirst in those around them.
Salt-famine causes civilization to collapse. During Europe’s Dark Ages, due to glacial melting, the ocean levels rose flooding all the salt flats of Europe causing a salt famine (ref. Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe by Belgian historian Henri Pirenne). The daily average ration fell to less then two grams per person and caused many to die from dehydration and madness. To get salt, some who were stronger would assault the weak, cut their jugular vein and drink the victim’s salty blood, giving birth to the myth of the vampire.
So when Jesus said that His disciples are the salt of the earth, He is saying that they are the highest good, the supreme value which the earth possesses, for without them it cannot live. They are the salt that sustains the earth, for their sake the world exists. In casting out the disciples the earth is destroying its very life. The “divine salt”, as Homer called it, maintains itself by fulfilling its proper function. It penetrates the whole earth, and by it the earth subsists. Spiritually, any nation or civilization that evicts Christians or Jews from its communities eventually experience collapse. God told Abram that if as little as five righteous people can be found in an evil society, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, He will stay His judgment and wrath.
The salt crystal is an enduring mineral. Large salt mine deposits, surviving thousands of years, and under great pressure, still hold their flavor and taste. Also, salt has a very high melting point (over 800 degrees Celcius), which means that it can be subjected to extreme heat and still retains its particular chemical composition. Hence, Believers, who are true salt, will be able to endure most suffering and persecution. Peter, in writing to the saints, said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19). Peter also says that, “you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Note that Peter did not say that trials make your faith genuine. But rather, trials will test our faith and will find it either genuine or not.
So salt cannot be affected by trials. But it can be affected in other ways. We are warned, as the salt of the earth, that we should not lose our flavor (Mat.5:13; Mar.9:49-50; Luk.14:34).
How does Salt lose its saltiness?
The picture shows pure ‘sea salt’ being harvested by hand. The seawater is channeled into shallow flats which allow the sun and wind to evaporate the water. The remaining salt crystals are then harvested by hand from the flats. In this natural method only the heat of the sun is used to separate the salt from the sea water. Is this what Jesus meant when He said, “Everyone will be salted with fire”? (Mark 9:49)
This is the kind of salt that Jesus had in mind when He said to His disciples (and to us), “You are the salt of the earth.” Today, most of the salt we consume have been processed. The type of salt Believers are is pure.
Salt is pure – In the same way that the sea salt is harvested from seawater, Believers, the salt of the earth, have been harvested from the world. They have been separated, set apart from the world, never to be joined together again. Hence, Believers must never join themselves with the world again. Doing so would render them impure and ineffective.
Salt can only be ruined if it reacts chemically with some other substance. By analogy, Believers, who are the salt of the earth, will lose their purity and ‘saltiness’ when they interact with the elements of the world, when they begin to ‘blend’ with the world.
It is to be noted that Jesus did not call Himself the ‘salt’, but His disciples. But only as long as they remain ‘salt’ and retains its cleansing and savoring properties can the salt preserve the earth. The salt must remain salt, the disciple community must be faithful to the mission.
Notice, also, that Jesus did not say: You must be the salt.” It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not. They have been made salt by the called they have received. Neither did He say, “You have the salt”. The disciple is the salt. And so it is possible for the ‘salt’ to lose its savor and cease to be salt at all. It just stops working. Then it is indeed good for nothing but to be thrown away.
Everything else can be saved by salt, however bad it has gone – only salt which loses its savor has no hope of recovery. The call of Jesus Christ means either that we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it. There is no question of a second chance.