It’s one of my pet peeves, and I hear Christians say it all the time, usually with an air of superiority.
“We shouldn’t be surprised things are getting so bad. The only thing that’s going to fix it is Jesus coming back.”
We say it about politics. About cultural trends. About R-rated movies. About the irresponsible kid next door.
Jesus said something different. He said:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. (Matthew 5:13)
The people of God are the salt of the earth. Which should change the conversation.
Jesus coming back isn’t “the only thing that’s going to fix it.”
YOUR PRESENCE is.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH SALT?
Salt has two properties that I believe are key to understanding this verse:
1. It makes us thirsty, and conversely, enables us to become hydrated by actually holding on to water. Without proper salt in our diet, water just runs through us.
2. It guards against rot. Even today, salt is used as a preservative. In the ancient world, it was THE preservative.
What does it mean that you are the salt of the earth?
It means that YOU–by your presence, by your lifestyle, by your faithfulness to God–act as a preservative in your culture. You keep it from going completely rotten and corrupt.
Not only that, but you have the potential to make people thirsty for God and enable them to retain the grace he gives them.
SALT IN SODOM AND GOMORRAH
In Genesis 18, Abraham spars with God about the destruction of the twin cities Sodom and Gomorrah. God said the cities had become so wicked that he was going to destroy them, but Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if even fifty righteous people remain in it. God agrees. Abraham, realizing that fifty righteous in these cities is too tall an order, lowers the requirement to forty-five. Then forty. Then thirty. Then twenty. Then ten.
God agreed on every count. But there weren’t ten righteous people in that city.
God sent two angels into Sodom and Gomorrah to bring out the four people who did qualify, and after they were gone, he rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed the cities.
Here’s the key: As long as a certain number of righteous people remained, the cities could not be destroyed. Their presence there acted as a preservative, preventing judgment from coming.
Had there been more righteous to begin with, the city might never have needed to be destroyed. Its wickedness might actually have been beaten back by the presence of light.
Remember Lot’s wife? She failed to act as salt in Sodom and Gomorrah, instead succumbing to the force of the wicked culture around her. When she looked back, she was turned into a pillar of salt.
That’s called irony.
NOAH’S FLOOD AND THE FAMILY OF ISRAEL
Genesis tells us that in the beginning, evil and violence spread very quickly through the earth. The descendants of Adam and Eve plunged into rampant wickedness so bad that by the time of Noah, Noah was considered the only righteous man alive. Of everyone else, God said that every thought of their hearts was only evil all the time.
Think about that. Only evil all the time. What kind of world would that be to live in?
But God promised after Noah that he would never again destroy the world with a flood, which meant he needed a plan to keep things from getting that bad again. He had one: a family.
Early in the history of the reconstituted world, God called a man named Abraham and promised to bless the world through him and his descendants. Abraham’s chosen line became the nation of Israel, and in Exodus chapter 20, God did something unprecedented: he gave these people a law. He opened up the vaults of heaven and gave them teachings, principles, and strictures that would keep them from succumbing to the rot of wickedness.
Ultimately, to provide a family for the coming Messiah, whose presence would save the whole world.
And in the meantime, to salt the earth.
One small nation, historically persecuted and in biblical times rarely actually faithful to their own call, nevertheless acted as a preserving agent in the earth and stopped the pre-Flood world from ever becoming a reality again. They created a thirst for God and allowed God’s grace and blessings to linger here.
It was to a crowd of people from this nation that Jesus first said, “You are the salt of the earth.”
STAND UP AND SALT SOMETHING
Today, disciples of Jesus have the same call. We are not just supposed to sit back and shake our heads at how bad things are. We are to understand ourselves as agents of preservation and hydration.
We are here in our country, our culture, our time for a reason, and the reason isn’t shaking our heads at other people.
We’re here to intercede for them. We’re here to bring godly perspectives into play, to bring them up in conversation, in business, in ministry. We’re here to bring other people into the kingdom. We’re here to conduct our own lives in a way that counteracts the corruption around us.
Jesus warned his hearers that salt can lose its saltiness, and if it does, it’s no longer any good as a preservative. It won’t work. Corruption will win, and the salt will be thrown out and trampled on.
Today, don’t lose your saltiness. This is so much bigger than you. Most of us grieve where our world is going these days, but what are we doing to stand in the gap?
Jesus will come back and fix things. But in the meantime, he’s already provided an answer to the rot.
The answer is you.
(This is Part 33 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)