Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:13
My wife and I returned recently from vacationing in Alaska. The scenery was stunning, a daily reminder of God’s grandeur and omnipotence. The next day, we needed these reminders. A gunman from Allen, Texas, attacked a Walmart in El Paso, killing at least twenty people and wounding twenty-six others.
The next morning, a gunman opened fire in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, killing at least nine people and injuring twenty-six others before he was killed by police.
What words describe your reaction to these tragedies? Horror? Outrage? Anger? Grief? You’re shocked, but you’re probably not surprised. There have now been 251 mass shootings in America in 2019, and the year is only seven months old.
The fact that we’re shocked but not surprised is one of the most tragic parts of these tragedies. It’s easy to lose hope, to believe that this is just the way things are now and that there’s nothing you and I can do to make a difference.
But hopelessless is the wrong way to respond. We must find a way to make a difference of some kind. Counselors tell us that when dealing with grief, doing something positive for someone else is vital. For them, of course, but for ourselves as well.
Paul Shane Spear: “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”
This week, as we continue studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we come to one of the greatest compliments paid to anyone in all of Scripture. We’ll learn that it applies to us. And we’ll learn how God can use even our lives to change the world, one soul at a time.
The next time you get discouraged about our fallen planet, remember what we’ll learn today. And decide to be who Jesus says you really are.
Who is spiritual salt?
“You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus of Nazareth. Following his Beatitudes, these words begin the most famous sermon in human history. Every single word deserves our attention this morning.
“You”: Jesus’ word is plural, not singular. Whatever it means to be the “salt of the earth,” it means it for every one of Jesus’ followers.
No matter how mature spiritually you may think you are or are not, no matter what you know about your faith, if you are Jesus’ follower you are the “salt of the earth.” You may not know much, but then neither did they at this beginning of Jesus’ ministry with them. If you follow Jesus, you are addressed here. You are included.
No matter what your past has been. These disciples were of little account in the world’s eyes. While they were successful businessmen, Galileans were seen as second-class citizens compared to the city sophisticates in Jerusalem and Judea.
Tax collectors would join their number, and farmers, and prostitutes and slaves. And murderers. God always uses surprising things to do his work. Dust to make Adam, a rib to make Eve. A desert bush to call Moses. A slingshot to defeat Goliath. A baby in Bethlehem to save the world.
No matter what your future may be. Every disciple addressed initially by these words would die a criminal’s death except one, and he was a convicted felon.
We all have something in our life which we think exempts us from being used fully by Jesus. Failures, shame, insecurities, inabilities. But the Bible says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).
Jesus knew we’d need help believing it. And so his Greek is emphatic, literally translated “You, yes, you.”
“Are”: This is a present-tense statement. It’s true right now, of every one of us.
This is not a status you are to work to attain. You are the salt of the earth, at this very moment. If Jesus is your Lord, you’re in his spiritual saltshaker. This is who you are.
And it’s your nature, not just your location at church or your work during the week. Salt is always salt, no matter where it’s found. Whatever it happens to be doing. Whether it’s sitting in the saltshaker as we are this morning, or part of the ocean, or flavoring a potato. It is always and everywhere sodium chloride, salt.
You are Jesus’ hands and feet: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Right now.
“The”: The Greek uses the definite article, so that it can be translated, “You and you alone are the salt of the earth.”
Jesus’ description is true only of us. There are no others. These words are addressed only to his followers. This function cannot be fulfilled by political leaders, or military generals, or economists or business leaders, or doctors, lawyers, teachers, athletes, or musicians.
And not only by preachers, deacons, or staff members. Not only by seminary graduates. There is no clergy/laity distinction in the Bible. Every member has a ministry. Every person is saved to serve. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says to us all.
Being “the salt of the earth” is a calling we each fulfill. And we alone.
What does spiritual salt do?
So what is it that we each are uniquely? The “salt of the earth.” In first-century eyes, this would be the highest compliment Jesus could possibly pay his followers. Salt was so valuable in the ancient world that it was considered to be worth a man’s weight in gold. The ancients would choose salt over gold. Why?
First, salt was the only means of preserving food in the first century.
There was no refrigeration, of course. No way to keep food. During the routine crop failures and economic depressions which plagued them, salted meat and food was all they had with which to survive.
And so we exist to preserve the world spiritually. God created the world to be good. In fact, when his creation was completed, he called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But human abuse of our spiritual freedom led to the “fall” which changed everything. Now “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
You and I exist to preserve the world spiritually. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The only hope for mankind to be preserved from spiritual, eternal death is the gospel we exist to give the world. The message of the Church is the only spiritual hope of the world. And of your neighbors and friends. For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?
Second, salt was the primary purification agent in the first century.
Rubbing salt onto meat or food was their only way to purify it so it wouldn’t poison them. Rubbing salt into wounds, as painful as this is, was their only way to cleans the wound so it wouldn’t become infected and kill them. Salt was the penicillin of the ancient world.
Christians are the purification agents of the earth. We are to be examples of purity in all we do. James 1:27 admonishes us to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
You know some Christians whose lives are so pure and moral that they encourage you to be pure and moral as well. It is said that when people saw George Truett, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, on a downtown sidewalk, they would stop and stare. There was something about him, a godliness and purity, which caught their attention. And he made others want to be godly and pure as well.
Who is more godly because they know you? For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?
Third, salt was the chief seasoning for common people.
Most had no access to expensive imported spices. They had no way to make food palatable except with salt.
Christians are the seasoning of the earth. Jesus promised that he came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Salt makes you thirsty and seasons what you eat. Who wants the faith they see in you? For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?
How can we be spiritual salt today?
So how do we fulfill our purpose well? It is crucial that we do so. Jesus warned us: “If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (v. 13b). None of us wants this. How are we “salt of the earth” effectively today?
First, stay pure.
Salt is no good when it loses its purity. Nothing can salt salt. When it is impure, it is of no value.
We are to contact our world, or our salt is no good. But we must maintain our purity, or our contact is no good. The Bible says, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . . You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other” (Colossians 3:5,7–9). How pure is your salt?
Second, leave the saltshaker.
Salt does nobody any good in its container. It doesn’t matter how beautiful its container may be, or how many grains of salt it contains. It only matters that the salt does its work. And this work can only be done when the salt leaves the saltshaker and contact that which needs what it can do.
One of Satan’s great strategies is to keep the salt in the saltshaker. Know only Christian friends. Attend only Christian functions. Keep the team in the huddle so it won’t get into the game. All the while, Jesus commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Be the salt of the earth, in the earth.
For whom are you praying evangelistically? Do you have a list of unsaved friends you’ll bring to chapel, or to a Bible study or a concert or an event? Who is being influenced by your salt?
When salt does its work, you can’t see it. You can’t find it. It’s gone. Only its influence remains.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). The Bible says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Is your motive in Christian service to be honored, or to honor Jesus? In your career? In school? Mine in this sermon? How selfless is your salt?
Last, be encouraged.
Salt cannot tell whether or not its work has been effective. It does its work, and the rest occurs as it will. Believe that God will use you, and he will. The river touches shores the source never sees. If you will act as the salt of the earth, a very little will change everything.
The first believers “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). They didn’t know it, but we do. Be encouraged. You are valuable beyond measure. You are the salt of the earth.
Denzel Washington: “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”
Edward Everett Hale: “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Of course, the greatest example in history of one person changing history is the life and legacy of the Lord Jesus. Think about it: a baby born in a cow stall to peasant parents, worshiped by field hands. He grew up in Nazareth, a town so small it’s not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament.
He became a carpenter, then an itinerant rabbi. He never wrote a book or owned a home. His followers included none of the celebrities of his day. He was eventually betrayed by a disciple, condemned by the religious authorities, and executed by the government. His corpse was then laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Today, more than two billion people call him Lord. The book containing his story is the best-selling book in history. More books have been written about him, more paintings have been painted of him, and more songs have been sung to him than to any other person in history.
And when he comes back, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11).
Today, pledge to continue his ministry on earth. “You are the salt of the earth,” he tells us.
Will you be who you are this week?