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 5:13-16)
Salt makes a fascinating analogy which provides a wealth of application so often missed. On the surface it’s a relatively simple concept, but the depth of the practical application to our Christian walk is vital. It’s a sensitive commodity, is salt, one so easily misused, over-used, or not used at all.
The Dead Sea and last night’s dinner at so-and-so’s house both provide an excellent example of misuse and overuse. It should have been a wonderful meal – certainly it smelt good when we walked through the door, and anticipation teased at us through the pleasantries and warm-up to dinner. We sat, taste buds tingling…and restrained a gasp as we took the first mouthful. Someone had ‘double-salted’ the pot, and the result was an unpleasant anticlimax in which the flavour of the food was swallowed up in salt.
One of the most interesting facts about the Dead Sea is that it contains, on average, about 8.6 times more salt than the oceans. The result? It can sustain no other life forms at all, aside from a few microscopic organisms. Also interesting is the fact that it contains bromide, a potentially lethal chemical, which has to be removed during the harvesting process before it can be ingested.
These facts paint an interesting picture: Too much salt can prevent healthy growth, and can even be toxic. So how, we may ask, does this concern us as Christians. Simply put, it reminds us that the Holy Spirit should direct the salt-shaker. Too much enthusiasm can be as harmful as too little, and a surrendered, Spirit-led life should dictate how much salt should be added, when, and how. to understand this fully, let’s look at the verse in more detail.
Jesus tells us here that we are the salt of the earth. We are called to fulfill in the world the simple yet invaluable function of salt. Firstly, in sufficient quantity, salt is used to preserve, i.e. to prevent corruption. Before the invention of refrigerators, salt had a vital function in preserving foods, especially meats, and was also used as a disinfectant and antiseptic, amongst other things. It held it’s own as much-prized and often expensive commodity because of this. Jesus it saying the same thing about us. Our influence on the world should be to prevent corruption, to disinfect, to cleanse.
The other use, of course, is that salt adds flavour. How many times has a meal been flat and lifeless due to inadequate salt? The savour is missing, that little ‘something’ that sets it apart and makes it exceptional. It’s bland, tasteless, and unappetising, a pale shadow of its full potential, and certainly not someone that suggests seconds unless one were seriously hungry. It would be edible, but unpalatable, and would have no distinction at all. Jesus is reminding us that He intends us to be the ‘something’ that adds flavour and savour to life. We are to add that difference that makes things extraordinary. But again, we need the Holy Spirit to do the ‘shaking,’ because He is the ‘master chef’ and knows exactly how much is needed, when, and how.
So we’ve seen, then, the effects of both too much and too little salt, and our responsibility in this regard. What about the rest of the verse? What happens when we ‘lose our saltiness?’ This happens when we no longer walk a Christian life that is different, set apart, distinct from the rest of the world. We fail to add the zest and vigour that God requires of us, we offer nothing of distinctive value, we make no noticeable impact on the world. We cease to function as God intended.
Keep in mind that salt is distinctive. Nothing can really replace it. Nothing can fully do what salt can do in such a simple and meaningful way. Salt that loses its saltiness essentially loses its value. It becomes completely and utterly useless. It has no other purpose – it cannot be ‘resalted,’ and it actually destroys the fertility of any soil this ‘salt dust’ may come in contact with.
So how does salt become ‘unsalty?’ Through exposure to sun, rain and soil particles – some salt, for example, in lying in its natural form, is exposed to too much of the above influences and becomes tasteless. In Israel, such salt was discarded by being thrown out onto paths and non-agricultural sites in order to dispose of it, hence Jesus’ reference to it being ‘trampled underfoot by men.’ What He is in effect saying here is that if we expose ourselves to the ‘elements,’ the things of the world that are not of God, sooner or later we will be rendered tasteless. We will be so mixed and adulterated by worldly influences that we lose the distinctive qualities that set us apart like salt for a real and meaningful purpose. At this point, we have no value and there is nothing left to do than to be thrown out as utterly useless.
What a sobering thought! We generally take salt for granted. It’s on the shelf and we simply use it without thought to it’s real value and purpose. It’s so easy to take our ‘saltiness’ for granted as well. Instead, we should make every effort to preserve this in ourselves – but how? First, by studying the Word, which adds the distinctive flavour and keeps it ‘topped up.’ Second, by preserving it properly – living lives surrendered to God, lives that are holy and set apart so that we cannot be mixed or corrupted by things of the world. Finally, but making sure we’re ‘full up’ in the shaker, and letting the Holy Spirit add us as He chooses. Surrendered lives, constantly in the Word and led by the Spirit, are the requirements for a healthy salt that God can use to deal with corruption and disease in the world around us.
What an awesome task for such a simple, humble commodity, such as we are.
Keep me salty, Lord. Help me set myself apart, like salt, for Your purposes. Help me to learn and grow and remain surrendered to You. Fill me with Your Word and lead me in Your ways so that the qualities You have placed within me through Christ may make a difference in the world.