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).