Jesus said that we are to be the salt of the earth, so what did He mean by this?
Worth their Salt
In ancient times, salt was a valuable commodity. So much so that it became a currency of sorts. Sometimes people were paid with salt or paid for something with salt. If someone didn’t work hard enough, or their character seemed questionable, they might be thought of as “not being worth their salt.” In fact, the word “salary” comes from the word salt. For example, a Roman soldier’s salary specifically meant the amount of money allotted to that soldier to buy the amount of salt he would need, but sometimes they paid the Roman soldiers wages along with a provision of salt. The salt was actually worth more than the wages they receive, because salt was an expensive, but it was essential. Salt is not just vital to the human body, but before there was refrigeration or preservatives, it was the only way they could preserve food. Just about everything was salted. If not, spoilage would occur and food supplies were sometimes scarce, but salt does a lot more than just protect against spoilage. Salt enhances the flavor of food. Job asked, “Can something tasteless be eaten without salt, Or is there any taste in the white of an egg” (Job 6:6)? Not for me there isn’t. Until I use a little salt, the white of an egg tastes a little like unflavored gelatin; without taste. A lot of things taste better with salt.
Salt of the Earth
Jesus said, “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” (Matt 5:13), but what did He mean by saying salt that’s lost its taste is “only good to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet?” When salt becomes mixed with impurities, it’s basically worthless for human consumption, but there is one purpose that corrupted salt has, and that’s to be trampled on. Salt wasn’t even good for cleansing wounds when it had impurities in it, so the bad salt would be spread out over the roadways and walkways. The salt repelled water and hardened the ground over time. Since the impurities of the salt rendered it useless for humans to use, it was only good for one thing; being “thrown out and trampled under people’s feet,” meaning it is no good to anyone…unless that is, you want something to walk on, but what did Jesus mean by saying we’re the salt of the earth?
The Apostle Paul mentioned the idea of saltiness when he wrote to the church at Colossae: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” (Gal 4:6), but what is speech seasoned with salt? Paul states the desired outcome as knowing how “to answer each person,” and hopefully like the Apostle Peter said, “with gentleness and respect,” (1 Pet 3:15), so salty speech is gentle speech. It is giving the right and godly response, regardless of what was said. Salted speech contains words that show respect and dignity for others. We don’t focus on what response people deserve to hear, but a response people need to hear. We know that harsh words stir up anger, but soft answers can calm things down (Prov 15:1), so our words should not respond in kind, but when insulted, “answer each person…with gentleness and respect.” That is speech seasoned with salt. Salted speech contains words that edify, encourage, and exhort. They build upward and not tear downward. That’s the reason Paul commanded Timothy to, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim 2:14). As someone has said, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink, but you can feed them salty peanuts (1 Pet 3:15).
Preservative and Cleanser
I remember in one of the first jobs of my life, my boss would sometimes wash out the coffee pot. He used crushed ice and salt water to do it, and by the time he was finished, it was crystal clear. He also said it disinfected it because salt water is a cleanser and acts as a germicidal. He also used a bit of salt in making his coffee by adding some salt to the coffee grounds before brewing, and it did make it smoother. As a kid I remember gargling with warm salt water and my sore throat going away or my toothache easing up. There are lots of things you can do with salt besides spice up the taste of food. In fact, you can’t get away from salt because there’s salt in just about everything you eat. Some of it acts as a preservative, but most of it is supposed to help give improve the taste of the food. Of course, the bad thing is, too much salt can kill you. If you’re lost at sea, don’t drink the seawater! Drinking saltwater might help temporarily, but it rapidly increases your thirst, and the more you drink, the closer and closer you’ll get to dying from dehydration. Too much salt can increase the risk for many things, like stroke and high blood pressure. And adding too much salt on food will ruin it, so if we are to be salt in this world, using speech that is salted with gentleness and respect, we can’t overwhelm people to the point of being obnoxious. Too much can leave a bitter taste in people’ mouth. Too much of anything is usually not good.
In the context of Jesus’ saying we are the salt of the earth, I believe He was saying, we are to be an example for the world, set upon a hill for everyone around us to see, like He mentioned in this same paragraph (Matt 5:13-16). We are to be a light that shines in the darkness, but a light that we don’t hold in someone’s face, but neither do we leave it at home (under a basket), so Jesus’ comment about our being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, was in the context of letting our “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). It was a matter of having our speech salted with kind words of grace, even to those who hate us and abuse us. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). In short, be the salt of the earth. But first, you have to get out of the shaker.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.