Christians as salt (Matt. 5:13)

Published on Sunday, 12 November 2017 05:21
Salt had a variety of usages in the ancient world and we can get an overall picture of what the illustration means by considering them. First, salt was used in confirmation of a covenant. Note this question in 2 Chronicles 13:5: ‘Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?’ The salt symbolised the contents of the covenant. In David’s case, it was a picture of the permanence (salt preserves) of the prominence (the role) that God had given to David and his descendants – they were to be the rulers of God’s people. A third feature of the covenant relationship was that of peace between the parties. 

We can see how this meaning of salt can apply to the followers of Jesus. Believers are the evidence of God’s covenant to save sinners; they are a permanent reminder to others that God has that plan; and they will be that reminder as they live together in a community marked by peace (this third point is illustrated in Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in Mark 9:49-50, that his disciples should ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another’).

Second, salt was used in the ancient world to make the ground of enemies incapable of growth. For example, in Judges 9:45, the writer comments: ‘Abimelech fought against the city [Shechem] all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.’ The reason he did this was to ensure that they could not use the land again for crops. In applying this to Christians it would suggest that they are to prevent wickedness appearing. The presence of a group of Christians in a community should cause some sins to disappear.

Third, salt was used as a preservative in preventing food from going putrid. Christians are God’s preservative for preventing a society descending into nothing but sinful practices. Obviously, the higher percentage of Christians the greater their influence for good because they will cause good things to become normal activities.

Fourth, it was and is well-known that salt seasons food, that it enhances the enjoyment of a meal. Paul writes in Colossians 4:6: ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.’ It is not only our actions that need to be flavoured, so do our words as we witness to other people.

It is essential in a sinful society that Christians function as salt. This is why Jesus has placed them in their time and place. We have already mentioned what salt indicates they should be. How can we continue as salt in our society? Many features could be suggested but I would mention three. The first feature that is essential for Christian witness is clarity. People need to know what we believe. Second, there must be consistency, that we live up to biblical ideals daily. Third, there must also be compassion, for we want the world to taste the mercy of God.

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