Matthew 5:13 (NIV)
“You are the salt of the earth. But 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.”
In Jesus’ day, salt wasn’t used primarily as a flavoring. It was used as a preservative, especially for meat, and was literally worth its weight in gold. Without refrigeration, meat would quickly spoil. So people would soak the meat in brine and dry it, a bit like jerky. Then it would keep for a while without rotting. But if the salt used to preserve the meat was impure, having too many non-salt contaminants in it, it wouldn’t preserve the meat as well. Or, if too little salt was used, the meat would spoil.
When Jesus described His disicples as the salt of the earth, He was referring to their ability to preserve society, and keep it from falling into ruin and decay. As representatives of God’s kingdom, and people in whom the Holy Spirit would dwell, God’s power would be able to flow freely through them, and not only preserve the societies where they lived, but to positively transform them as well.
But if this salt of the earth loses its saltiness, its ability to preserve society from decay, it becomes worthless, good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled by the people of the world. This loss of preservative ability in the people of the kingdom happens the same way that it does with salt: either the salt has too many impurities so that the effectiveness is diluted, or it doesn’t have enough of a presence in the society that is to be preserved.
The lack of purity comes by allowing our hearts and minds to become worldly, focused on things other than the advancement of God’s kingdom, and on allowing compromise and sin to break the vital connection we should have with God. Soon our lives and lifestyles become virtually indistinguishable from those of the world, and we have no ability to change or preserve anything. Instead, we get swept up and carried along in the world system ourselves.
The lack of preservative power also comes from a lack of focus on the expansion of God’s kingdom. Other things begin to take a higher priority: jobs, family, entertainment, politics, or even church activities. Very few Christians in America today can point to anything that they have done in the last week that has been powerful and effective in actively growing God’s kingdom. Many can point to church activities, but most of those are focused on worship and fellowship – good things, but things that do not actively grow God’s kingdom or transform society.
The test that must be made is to look at the society around us, and ask ourselves if it is at least as good as it was last year, or 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. If not, then the salt has lost its saltiness, its ability to preserve, and it should not be surprising if it experiences being trampled by the people and structures of the world.
The solution is not to blame the powerful (and often better organized) forces of evil. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4 NIV) for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4 NIV) Instead, what is needed is wholehearted repentance, and a return to our first love, and the things that we did at the beginning (cf. Revelation 2:4-5). Then, we need to make sure that we are, and continue to be, holy and pure, and actively connected to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, so that our preservative power and our witness are not diluted by sin. Finally, we need to get involved in our society. We need to make sure that we don’t hole up in our church services, and don’t allow the other things in our lives to keep us from actively and purposefully engaging the dark and hopeless places in our world. We don’t have to go far. There is darkness, hopelessness, and decay right next door, across the street, and downtown. We must take the hope that we have within us, our relationship with God through Jesus, into those places and make a difference, starting today.
Father, I can’t say that our society is any better today than it was last year, 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. Pretty much everyone agrees that it is MUCH worse. And it’s humbling to read these words and to realize that we have not been the salt that should have preserved it. It is tempting to blame other things, spiritual forces, politicians, activist groups. But this one verse won’t let us do that. Forgive us, Lord, for growing lax in our roles as preservers and transformers of society, for retreating within our churches, and homes, and places of business, instead of actively engaging with our society. Help us, help me, to truly repent, to make a 180 degree turn, and to be what You have called me to be: the salt of the earth. Amen.