“You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)
When I was younger, this verse puzzled me. What did Jesus mean by this? Over the years, after studying and listening to Bible teachers, I now have come to a better understanding of what this verse means. It is a basic principle that has become buried with the changing of times and customs over the centuries. If you had lived during the days of Jesus, you would immediately have understood what He meant by it. However, in our modern day time, the significance is somewhat obscured. The message that Jesus was trying to teach His disciples applies to us today as well, so what is Jesus trying to tell us? I would like to suggest five points that this simple verse teaches us.
1. You are valuable
Before you can offer anything to anyone else, you have to believe that you are of value yourself. Jesus wants you to know that you ARE valuable. By telling us that we are salt, Jesus is saying that we ARE valuable. You see, in the days when Jesus lived on earth, salt was such an important commodity that it was sometimes used as payment to Roman soldiers. The English word “salary” derives from the Latin word, “salarium,” which means payment in the form of salt. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “worth your salt.” This phrase comes from old Roman usage of salt as a paycheck. So, if Jesus tells you that you are the “salt of the earth,” He is in essence telling you that you are of much value. You have something important to offer the world.
Think about who Jesus was addressing when He first spoke these words. He was talking to the twelve disciples who included a mix of ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, and roughneck rebels as well as a few well-educated men. What should this tell us? It doesn’t matter who you are, you are valuable, and you can offer something beneficial to others. You may be just an ordinary person without any wealth, titles, or degrees like Peter, James, and John, but Jesus says you still have something to bring to the table. Maybe you have a reputation for being a rebel. That’s okay, because Jesus can use your passion and zeal like He did Simon the Zealot. It doesn’t matter who or what you are, where you come from, or what you have done, Jesus says you are valuable, and He can use you to do good in this world.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
2. You can make life more bearable for others
In America today, salt is plentiful, and we primarily use it to make our food taste good, to make it more appealing to us. Without salt, the food that we need for nourishment would taste bland and unappetizing. Jesus is saying that as His disciples, we can make life more appealing to others. We can make the future appear brighter to others. How do we do this? We make the world a better place for others by imitating Jesus Christ. Jesus was and is someone who loved others, has compassion on others, and someone whose mission in life was to help others. If we make it our life goal to imitate Jesus, we will show kindness to others even when they act badly. We will always be ready to offer a helping hand, a comforting touch, or an encouraging word to those who need it.
What would life be like if there was never anyone to sympathize with you or encourage you when you went through hard times? What would your life be like if there was never anyone to turn to for help when you needed it? Thank God that we have people in this world that we can turn to for comfort, encouragement, and help. People who are able and willing to do this for us are like salt on our food. They make our lives more appealing and more bearable.
As Christians, Jesus says we are the salt of the earth, so our purpose is to make the world a better place in whatever corner we happen to live.
3. You can make the world a better place
Back before the days of refrigerators and freezers, salt was commonly used to preserve food. People would rub salt into meat because the salt would prevent the decay of the meat, so that the meat would last longer and still remain healthy to eat. This process is known as curing and is still used today. A society without laws and morals will decay rapidly. Corruption, theft, murder, and all sorts of dark, evil elements will take over a society without any laws and morals. Living in such a society would be terrifying. You could trust no one, and you would have no peace.
However, living a life of goodness, honesty, and integrity will preserve a society so that people can live in peace and harmony with one another. As disciples of Christ, when we strive to live our lives honestly, we can help preserve the society in which we live so that it does not deteriorate to such corruption.
Over the last few centuries, many Christian churches and organizations were formed to carry out this “preserving.” We now have homes to take care of orphaned and abandoned children. We have organizations that fund the poor and needy. We have groups that provide comfort and counseling to those going through difficult times in their lives. We also have groups who work to protect people and their rights. As individual Christians, we can all work together to continue this operation of preserving others in our society.
4. You can make others thirsty for Christ
If you get too much salt in your mouth, it makes you quite thirsty for water or some other kind of liquid that will quench your thirst. Jesus wants us to live in such a way that it makes others thirsty for what we have. I don’t mean material goods, because you can be a billionaire and still be thirsty. Material possessions may make us feel good for a moment, but then before we know it, we feel thirsty again and go searching for something else to quench our thirst. What is that we are truly thirsty for? Most of us thirst for inner peace, love, and contentment, and it is Jesus who can give us this true thirst-quenching.
When Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well of water, this is what He told her:
“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)
In other words, when we drink, or partake of Jesus and His ways, our lives become a continuous, steady supply of satisfaction. We will always have obstacles, storms, disappointments, and so forth, but having Christ in our lives will keep the longing of our hearts quenched.
As disciples of Christ, we should be so filled up with the love, peace, and joy of Jesus, that when others see us, they thirst to have whatever it is that makes us feel happy, loved, and content.
5. Don’t lose your flavor
As we look again at Matthew 5:13, we see that there is more to what Jesus said about being salt of the earth. Note what else He adds to it: “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.”
Jesus says we are valuable, that we all have something to help the world a better place around us, but if we lose our flavor, it is good for nothing. What does this mean? As stated in the above points, it is when we live our lives imitating Christ that we season, or influence, the world around us with His love and His ways. If there is no difference between the way we live and the way the world lives, how can we make a difference? This is what Jesus means by losing your flavor.
I once worked in a factory that made a certain brand of potato chips, and I recall how there was a part of the process where there was a machine that functioned as a giant salt shaker. As thousands of chips came passing beneath this salt machine every minute, they would all get seasoned with the salt that steadily poured from the machine. Every now and then the machine would either stop working or would slow down its salt production, so the chips would not be seasoned as they should.
As Christians, we should be like this machine and try to flavor all the people we encounter every day with the seasoning of love, truth, and mercy. If we ever stop like the machine, the people around us may not be seasoned. They may be in need of comfort, encouragement, or spiritual guidance, and they may not receive it if our salt machine is not working, or if we have lost our flavor.