We often read this descriptive statement from Jesus with little real emotion. We have become so familiar with it that it has become almost a colloquial expression. We refer to a good person by noting that "He's the salt of the earth." Usually we mean little more than "He's a good ole boy." I seriously doubt that is what Jesus had in mind when Jesus affirmed that Kingdom citizens would be the salt of the earth.
First, we should note that the statements "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world" are simple statements of fact. This is not an option, it is an observation. Kingdom citizens have this role in God's Kingdom agenda. Further, we should note that these two statements are presented in a context where Jesus has just warned of insults, persecution, and false accusation (Matthew 5:11). "Good ole boys" do not generally generate such intense reaction. Thus when someone lives a salty lifestyle it cannot be ignored. It will not always be appreciated, but it will never be ignored!
In my role as National Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth, I spend a lot of time in my car driving from one state to the next. I try to use the time productively by listening to books on tape. Recently the mayor of Hendersonville loaned me a book on salt. I was amazed to discover that the book was lengthy enough to require thirteen compact disks. Surely there couldn't be that much to say about salt! To my great surprise the book was both entertaining and informative, and yes, there was that much to say about salt. Little did I suspect that a study of the history of salt would take me on a journey through the history of the civilized world. I had no idea that salt was such a precious commodity that it defined trade routes, caused international conflict, and could be used as a means of barter. We are precious to the Father and essential to His Kingdom purpose.
When Jesus declared us to be the salt of the earth He paid a high compliment and gave us tremendous responsibility. Now we must pose the question that naturally follows Jesus' comments: "Have we lost our saltiness?" Jesus indicates that if salt looses its flavor it no longer has any value. Strictly speaking, pure salt cannot lose its salinity, but the impure salt dug from the shores of the Dead Sea could gradually lose its flavor as the sodium chloride dissolved (J.R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture, 1978, p. 60). Jesus has called us to be pure salt. If we are going to make an impact for Christ, we must allow the Holy Spirit to create and preserve the character of our Father in us. Let's think together about being salt.
Salt enhances flavor.
For most of us, salt is a rather simple and often overlooked commodity that is contained in a salt shaker on our table. We pay little attention to it until we discover that it is missing. It is not unimportant that salt draws little attention to itself. It is virtually invisible, but it gives flavor to the food item on which it is placed.
Here is the question that every Kingdom citizen should ask: "Do I provide flavor to the situations and circumstances on which God sprinkles me?" Unfortunately, many Christians go with the flow when they find themselves in a setting where abusive speech or coarse jesting is the "soup du jour." What is your response when you are placed in a setting where gossip is the "blue plate special?" Do you join the crowd or do you bring flavor? Paul gives us good advice: Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt. So that you may know how you should answer each person (Colossians 4:6). Do we enhance the flavor of life for those around us?
Salt preserves from decay.
Before the days of refrigerators, people used salt to preserve meat and vegetables. Salt was essential to people who made their living fishing. Without salt, the fish could not be preserved long enough to transport it to the marketplace. One of the well-known towns in ancient eastern Galilee was named Taricheae, which actually meant "saltings." The book of Numbers speaks of a covenant of salt which symbolizes its perpetual nature.
When Jesus called His disciples to be salt, He was challenging them to act like a preservative in the midst of a decaying world. Evangelicals have been quick to point to the cultural decay indicated by the moral depravity that is flaunted in primetime every evening on our televisions. We have pointed an accusing finger at Hollywood. The question remains-have we sprinkled enough salt on our schools, neighborhoods, places of business, and halls of government to act as a preservative against decay? Our culture needs for us to both maintain and preserve our salinity.
To be a preservative we must get involved and stay involved. We need Christians in the public arena-whether it is the school house, the board room, or the halls of government. We need to affirm to every believer that each is called to be a Kingdom agent where they live and work-serving as salt and light.
We cannot overlook one of the ways that we can act as a preservative in terms of our culture. We can exercise the right to vote and to do so with the understanding that we are the salt of the earth. This means that we should look at moral values and issues and vote based on conviction. We must be informed and involved. In our form of government the ballot box is one clear-cut opportunity we have to sprinkle salt by voting based on values and not political parties.
My colleague John Revell has co-authored a stimulating book entitled, Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. You will find it both timely and challenging. John and his co-author Ken Conner call us to apply salt and light in the civil arena. They argue that failure to become involved is actually sinful silence. Read the book, study the issues at stake, and vote your convictions. We are called to be a preservative.
Salt serves as an antiseptic.
You may have discovered this function of salt by wading into the ocean with an open cut. You may also recall that salt in an open wound can be painful. People will not always understand or applaud our desires to help cleanse them from the effects of sin through the salt of the gospel. They may actually accuse us of being intolerant or judgmental. If we are called to disinfect a dying world, we cannot compromise with sin. A word of caution! If you remember our quotation from Colossians, Paul reminded us to be gracious when we administer salt to a wound. To serve as an antiseptic we do not need to be abrasive or abusive, the salt will do its own work. I can still remember my mom applying antiseptic and immediately blowing the cool air of her breath to make the pain endurable.
Salt can serve as a catalyst for fire.
This function is certainly less well known to us today but would have been apparent to the first century disciples. In Palestine, an outdoor oven was called "earth," and one of the common fuels used for firing it was dried dung. To make the ovens burn better, the bottom was lined with salt plates, and salt was sprinkled on the dried dung. The first followers of Jesus may well have thought about this use of salt. He was calling them to ignite spiritual fires. We are called to be a catalyst for spiritual revival. When it begins, we should serve like salt, enabling it to burn with greater intensity. It is tragic to see many Christians who continually douse the enthusiasm of new believers rather than helping them to burn brighter.
Salt creates thirst.
All of us have experienced firsthand the incredible thirst salt creates. When we have salt-cured ham for breakfast, we discover that we are thirsty throughout the day. We sit down with a bowl of nuts or a bag of chips to watch a ballgame and find that we can consume large volumes of soft drinks.
As Kingdom citizens we should live in such a manner that the world is made thirsty for the gospel. The church today has a tendency to brag about the size of our saltshakers (seating capacity) or the amount of salt we had in our shaker last Sunday (attendance), rather than asking about how much salt we sprinkled on the community during the week. We will know when our lifestyles produce salt by the thirst we create in our friends and neighbors for the truth we have discovered.
I have been challenged by Zechariah 8:23 which says, In those days, ten men from nations of every language will grab the robe of a Jewish man tightly, urging: Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. This passage looks forward to the days of Messianic fulfillment. I am praying that EKG will produce in us a lifestyle that is so distinctive that people will grab our garments and seek to go with us because God is among us. Pray that God will use EKG: The Heartbeat of God to bring revival and its accompanying salty lifestyle.