THE SALT IN THE WORLD
1. In the news a week or two ago, I heard about an odd dust-up involving Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino, a character on the infamous MTV show “Jersey Shore.”
a. According to the reports, he has been accustomed to frequently wearing a certain name brand’s apparel in his public appearances.
b. But that company, which itself has no particular reputation for virtuous advertising, has now offered to pay him not to wear their clothing!
c. Apparently they are not too thrilled about the influence of their patron.
2. How different that is from the way our Lord thinks of the influence of his people!
a. His servants are like the aroma of his own sacrifice to God (2 Cor. 2:15).
b. His people are a letter from Christ, open to being read by everybody (2 Cor. 3:3).
c. His kingdom is like leaven, hidden in a large amount of flour but having its impact on all of it (Matt. 13:33).
d. His disciples are like a city set on a hill, like a beacon to the world (Matt. 5:14).
e. They are like a lamp on a stand, giving light to all in the house (Matt. 5:15). Each of these illustrations expresses something of the confidence the Lord has in the positive impact common people who belong to him will have.
3. But none of them are quite like the image the Lord seems to have used most often: the salt in the world. It shows up three times in his teaching, and in very different contexts.
a. In Matthew 5:13, right after he turned the values of the world on their head in the Beatitudes – “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.”
b. In Mark 9:49-50, when he was saying it is better to get rid of whatever causes you to sin and to enter the kingdom of God than it is to be thrown into hell whole – “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
c. In Luke 14:34-35, as he said that anyone who would come after him must count the cost and make the commitment – “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
4. It is obvious that there is something about being the salt in the world that must capture the imagination and challenge the heart of every Christian.
1. When the Lord speaks of salt, he is using imagery from a vital element of daily life, one with quickly grasped meaning.
a. Salt was valued in their day, along with oil and wine, as one of the basic staples of life, and you can tell from reading the Bible that it had a number of uses.
i. In their lives as in ours, of course, it was a seasoning. Job questioned whether what is tasteless can be eaten without salt (Job 6:6).
ii. Maybe for that reason, salt was an expression of the covenant and a necessary element in some of their sacrifices. Lev. 2:13 said, “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering....”
iii. Salt was also used as an antiseptic. Because of its medicinal values, in the old days newborn babies were bathed in it and rubbed with it (Ezek. 16:4).
iv. Especially important was the vital role salt played as a preservative. With no way to refrigerate or package things, salt was the only thing they had to prevent decay and to keep things from putrefying (Ex. 30:35).
v. Salt could even serve the purpose of judgment. When a place was “sowed with salt,” it either became barren and empty, or was considered to have been placed under a ban (Judges 9:45; Deut. 29:23; Zeph. 2:9).
b. The people who heard Jesus may have known of all these uses, but the one that would have stood out is the role of salt as a preserving influence.
i. After all, the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee would salt their catch to preserve it. (J. Lewis, Matthew, Part 1, 84)
ii. One of the most distinguished towns of eastern Galilee was Taricheae. The name means “saltings” and was derived from the salted fish industry there. (Dockery and Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 35)
iii. When he says that his disciples are the salt in the world, he is making a startling statement.
(1) They are the preserving and purifying influence upon which the world depends.
(1) Their presence is what fights off deterioration and decay and stops the world from becoming utterly corrupt. If they don’t serve their purpose, what else is left?
2. When the Lord speaks of his disciples as the salt in the world, he is making a statement, not issuing a command.
b. The emphasis is on the “you are.” “You are the salt of the earth” is a word of assurance.
i. He was talking to common people who may have felt unnoticed and unable to make much of a difference.
ii. Besides, the qualities Jesus had pronounced blessed – poverty of spirit, heartbreak over evil, meekness, starving for righteousness, mercy, and so on – not only don’t seem to get you anywhere, but do get you persecuted!
c. But here’s the point: being the salt in the world is not something you try to do; it is something that comes from what you are.
i. The people of Christ will be salt in the world because of the worldview they assume. That there is a personal God who exists without the universe; that he created it and rules over it and has revealed himself within it; that man’s life and being are from him and have a purpose; that the purpose involves being loved by God and loving him through Christ – convictions like these are distinctive!
ii. The people of Christ will be salt in the world because of the lifestyle they adopt. Because they are learning him, their way of life is characterized by righteousness and holiness and truth (Eph. 4:20, 24). A commitment to honorable self-control and loving service and obedient submission to the Father’s will in word or deed, even if the cross is involved, is certainly not the way of the world! It will be a challenge to it.
iii. The people of Christ will be salt in the world because of the message they assert. Some think the “have salt in yourselves” in Mark 9:50 is a reference to having the word of the Lord in your life. The Lord’s people are called to “hold forth the word of life” until he comes (Phil. 2:16). “Christ, and him crucified” is claim that has always been taken by the world as a confrontation – it may sting like salt.
3. When the Lord says his people are the salt in the world, he is challenging them.
a. The salt has to be different from the world.
i. Jesus emphasized the sobering truth: salt can lose its saltiness, and if it does it is worse than worthless.
ii. Of course, pure sodium chloride doesn’t change into something else. But their salt had impurities in it, and if the saltiness leached out, what was left was bitter or barren white dust, useless.
iii. It is the fact that real salt is so different from other substances that makes it possible for it to have an influence for good on them.
iv. But this is also the fact that so challenges our time. Ronald Sider, a prominent evangelical writer, has written The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. In it he cites surveys that show people who attend these churches beat their wives and have children out of wedlock at about the same rate as their non-religious neighbors, and are more likely to be racist. He says evangelical churches have “so strong a desire to copy the culture of hotel chains and popular music” that they lose any religious distinctiveness they ever had. He writes, “There is increasingly little difference between an essentially secular activity like the popular entertainment industry and the bring-‘em-in-at-any-cost efforts of evangelical megachurches.”
v. On the other hand, Martin Lloyd-Jones pointed out that “the glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, when invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
b. The salt has to be involved.
i. It has to come into contact with what it would have an influence upon.
ii. One of the implications of Jesus’ use of this image is that there is no place in his teaching for hermit Christianity. We can influence people for good only as we earn the right to do so by knowing and loving them.
iii. Separation from the world is not isolation from it.
iv. Paul, for example, went forth with the prayer that God would open a door for the word (Col. 4:3).
v. He advised, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5-6).
1. The salt in the world. What a crucial role the Lord’s people have! At school, in the work place, around the neighborhood, everywhere – be your true self as a learner of Christ, and be a participant in people’s lives.
2. When we say “what has the world come to?” we may be saying “what has become of the salt?”
3. “You in Christ” is how you come to be salt. “Christ in you” is how you keep you keep your saltiness.