Salt was a valuable commodity in ancient times. Biblical references to salt are found mostly in the Old Testament. The Law of Moses required that offerings be seasoned with salt: “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (Lev. 2: 13). This command was made probably because salt typified the eternal nature of God’s covenant with Israel (cf. Num. 18: 19). “Salt was often used among Oriental peoples for ratifying agreements, so that salt became the symbol of fidelity and constancy” (The New Bible Dictionary).
“Salt” appears eight times in the Gospels (Matt. 5: 13; Mk. 9: 49-50; Lk. 14: 34) and twice in the epistles (Col. 4: 6; Jas. 3: 12). The apostle Paul exhorted the Colossian Christians to season their speech “with salt” – with wholesome and palatable words: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4: 6).
In His Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ used the simple concepts of salt and light to describe the important role of believers in the world: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5: 13-16).
Why did the Lord liken His followers to salt? Which of its properties can be applied to us, as the disciples of Christ?
o Salt enhances the taste of food
Salt is an essential ingredient in our kitchen because of its flavour-enhancing quality. Without salt, our food tastes insipid. In his reply to his friend Eliphaz, Job compared his grievous afflictions to unsavoury food without salt: “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6: 6).
Similarly, as salt enhances the flavour of food, Christ’s followers must live in a way that will influence the world for good. God’s Word has called us to be His witnesses in this sinful and troubled world. Where there is enmity, let us follow Jesus’ command to love our enemies: “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Lk. 6: 35). Where there is strife, let us “… follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Rom. 14: 19 cf. Matt. 5: 9; Jas. 3: 18). Where there is sadness or distress, let us bring comfort by showing mercy “with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12: 8).
o Salt is a preservative
In the absence of refrigeration in ancient times, salt was used as a preservative for food. Even in our present day, we have foods preserved by salt – salted eggs, salted vegetables (kiam chye), salted fish. Likewise, Christians, by their influence, witness and prayers, are used by the Lord to preserve the world from complete moral decay.
“Mankind, lying in ignorance and wickedness, were a vast heap of unsavoury stuff, ready to putrefy; but Christ sent forth his disciples, by their lives and doctrines, to season it with knowledge and grace, and so to render it acceptable to God, to the angels, and to all that relish divine things” (Matthew Henry).
If not for the holy influence and prayers of God’s children, “the earth would be but a stinking dunghill of drunkards, unclean persons, thieves, murderers, unrighteous persons, that would be a stench in the nostrils of a pure and holy God” (Matthew Poole).
But Jesus also sounded a warning – of the worthlessness of salt that had lost its flavour: “but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted” (v 13a). When salt loses its useful qualities, it is insipid and tasteless; it is fit to be cast out and trampled upon – “it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (v 13b). So it is with Christians whose careless lives do more harm than good to those around them. Instead of being a godly influence and channel of blessing, their bad testimony is a stumbling-block to all who relate with them.
As “the salt of the earth”, believers are given the privilege to bear the name of Christ and to influence the world for good. Our affections, attitudes, actions must reflect our Christian witness.
Let us take heed to the Lord’s warning. Just as salt can lose its savour, we too, can mar our testimony and be “thenceforth good for nothing” if we fail to live for Him. May the Lord help us to be His instruments of grace and blessing in this dark and sinful world. May He use our witness to draw lost souls unto Himself. (… to be continued)