Our church has been going through a sermon series on the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). As a part of this, I had the privilege of preaching on Matthew 5:13-16 in which Jesus uses two word pictures to describe his followers: salt and light. As I prepared the sermon, it was the former that struck me this time, as it describes an aspect of the nature of the Church, which I had not formerly considered. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men” (Mt. 5:13 – HCSB). There are some very interesting things packed into this verse that come out, if we look at what the people in Jesus’ day thought about salt. First, salt was very valuable, so much so even that it was prized above gold! Second, salt was one of the most powerful preservatives of the day. It prevented decay and allowed food to be transported over long distances without refrigeration. It also was used as a flavoring agent, as it is today. Salt did its job invisibly, in the background, but very tangibly. In the same way, the Church of Jesus Christ salts the societies it exists in, usually invisibly and silently, but tangibly. My mother has frequently said that by simply being in a society Christians make a difference. Their very presence alters things, prevents the moral decay of society from progressing at the rate the Enemy, his unseen minions, and their collaborators among the humans desire. Hence the opposition against the Church by the world at large. The Church makes a positive difference.
Historians tell us that salt in first-century Israel was largely mined from the Dead Sea region and consisted of more than just sodium chloride, allowing the “true salt” to leach out of the compound, thus becoming tasteless and worthless. Interestingly the Greek word that is translated “lose its taste” is elsewhere translated as “become foolish”1.. Whether or not Jesus uses hyperbole here, as some commentators suggest, we can observe that in the past the Church has “become foolish” by compromising her values and message; and thus, became irrelevant for the preservation of good in society. She became a voice of whoever was in political power and no longer preached the Gospel or made a moral difference in word and deed. The Church in the West is facing this dilemma again. If the Church desires to remain salty, she will have to accept that she will be persecuted when she remains true to the teachings of Christ, much like her cells in Asia and Africa are experiencing. We see how Christian ethics have shaped western culture and how they are being actively opposed, because we are the salt of the earth. Let us live up to it, because our very presence preserves the good in the world. This hidden part of our nature as Christians is paired with our open witness to Jesus’ message (the “light” in Mt. 5:14-16). Let us remember this as we live our lives in a broken and dying world.
Image Credit: Kevin Carden | Lightstock
- 1. J. Goetzmann, “Wisdom, Folly, Philosophy,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), pp. 1023–1024