Jesus Christ often used things and practices that were familiar to his listeners in order to make a point. As part of his “Sermon on the Mount” recorded in chapters 5 – 7 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says to His followers:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matt. 5:13, NKJV).
Through the use of this metaphor of salt, Jesus makes it clear that His followers should have impact in this world. In other words, he wants His followers to add a lil’ salt to the world. Let’s look at the purposes of salt.
Salt Induces Thirst
One purpose of salt is to induce thirst. That’s why bars provide free salted snacks for patrons. Bar owners know that the more salt that patrons ingest, the thirstier they will get. The thirstier they get, the more beer they will imbibe. The more beer they imbibe, the more revenue will increase. When Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth,” he first means that his followers are to induce thirst in others for him. Through the actions of Christians, non-believers should get a thirst for and a yearning after Jesus Christ.
Salt Enhances Flavor
A second purpose of salt is to enhance flavor. My wife likes me to season the salmon whether I’m cooking or she’s cooking. She knows that I will add many different spices to it – a little curry, a little basil, a little cumin, a little cilantro, a little turmeric, and of course, just a little salt. The salt is not meant to overwhelm the taste of the salmon. It just enhances it. When Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth,” His intent is that his followers enhance others, without overwhelming them. Christians should make others better by influencing without inflicting pain. When responding to others, Christians should be graceful in speech as if seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6).
Salt Preserves Matter
A third purpose of salt is to preserve matter. It’s a curative agent. It serves to cure things. Before the age of refrigeration, farmers would preserve meat by rubbing a generous amount of salt into it, wrap it in a burlap sack, and hang it in a shed to cure. After a few weeks of hanging in the shed, the meat would be preserved and now could last a long time even without refrigeration. When Jesus said, “you are the salt of the earth,” he meant that as his representatives, his followers should be preservatives in the lives of their families and communities. Joseph told his brothers that despite all the evil they intended for him, God sent him into Egypt ahead of them to preserve them and to preserve their heritage (Gen. 45:5-7). Like Joseph, Christians should act on behalf of others by sharing the gospel message with them and interceding for them so they too would come to salvation though Jesus Christ. Christians are God’s means whereby spiritual lives are preserved and kept by God.
Salt Always Has Purpose
Clearly, salt always has purpose. Interestingly, even if it loses its flavor, salt still has purpose, if for nothing else to be “tossed out and trodden under the foot of men.” This actually was a practice in ancient times. If salt was affected by impurities or moisture and could no longer perform its intended purpose, it would be tossed unto the path leading to the house so that it could kill the grass on the path. The salt had a new purpose, but now it was being walked on. Christians who are not functioning in their intended purpose of inducing thirst, enhancing flavor, and preserving matter, are still useful to God, even under difficult circumstances.
Salt Glorifies God
Finally, salt glorifies God. Christians are the salt of the earth. Their purpose is to induce thirst for Jesus Christ, enhance those around them with the love of Jesus Christ, and serve as curative agents in their families and communities. Christians are the salt of the earth who should impact others by influencing them for Jesus Christ as they interact with them in the market place of life. Christians are the salt of the earth who must have relevance in the surrounding culture as they mingle among the people and make a difference in their lives. Christians are the salt of the earth who demonstrate their savor by their good works and as a result, glorify God (Matt. 5:16).
Consider whether you are currently being “salt” in the lives of those within your sphere of influence. Are you creating a thirst for Jesus in those who don’t know Him? Are you enhancing other people’s lives? Are you a preservative or curative agent within your family or community? If not, why not? If not, determine what you would need to do now to be true to the Savior’s words – “you are the salt of the earth.”