Your Utmost for His Highest
Dr. Jim Denison
A few days ago, the PBS program Frontline presented a special edition entitled “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” The show described ways people have responded to the question, “Where was God on 9-11?” Most of the news was not good.
Marian Fontana, writer: “I couldn’t believe that this God that I’d talked to in my own way for 35 years turned this loving man into bones, and now I can’t bring myself to speak to him anymore because I feel so abandoned.”
Tim Lynston, security guard: “I look at [God] now as a barbarian, and I probably will. And it’s a sad situation. I think I’m a good Christian, but I have a different view and image of him now, and I can’t replace it with the old image.”
Josh Simon, rabbinical student: “There was a God on September 11th who didn’t even mind that God’s own name could be used as the final prayer of a suicide hijacker as he plowed into a building. We needed, and I know I needed, to have another God to turn to at that moment, or there was going to be no God.”
Voices at the program’s beginning: “Religion drove those planes into those buildings.” “If people can kill for God in this way, this is the best reason never to believe in God!”
Why should a hurting world trust God in such times as these? Why should your friends? Why should you? Take a moment. Look around. You’re looking at the answer.
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 no account in the world’s eyes. Simple fishermen. 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?
Salt of the earth: So what is it that we each uniquely are? 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?
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 were all they had with which to survive.
And so we exist to preserve the world spiritually. As the Howard Center Bible study this weekend makes clear, God created the world to be good. In fact, when his creation was done 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?”
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 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?”
And 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” (John10:10).
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. Next week we’ll study Jesus’ warning: “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, 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 28:18). 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 the Billy Graham Mission, or to worship, or to a Bible study or a concert or an event? Who is being influenced by your salt?
Bill Hybels is pastor of the largest church in America. But he makes time regularly for his sailing club on Lake Michigan. He never joins a club which contains a Christian. He wants his salt to transform his world. Who is your sailing club? Who is your life touching? How effective is your salt?
Second, stay pure.
Salt is no good when it loses its purity, as we’ll see next week. 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?
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, KJV). They didn’t know it, but we do. Be encouraged. You are valuable beyond measure. You are the salt of the earth.
For ten years Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional guide has helped me every day. Its title captures the decision before us this morning: “My Utmost For His Highest.” Your utmost call, your purpose and identity, is to be the salt of the earth. The preserving, purifying, seasoning salt of the earth.
Will you leave the saltshaker this week and contact someone who needs Jesus? Will you stay pure? Will you disappear so Jesus can appear in your life? Will you be encouraged?
The one definition of success for salt is this: it does its job. It performs its purpose. Will you?
Mother Teresa was in New York City to open a new orphanage. A press conference was held at the site. Someone asked the famous nun how she would measure the success of this endeavor. She smiled into the camera and said, “I don’t believe our Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love.”
Do you agree?