“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Matthew 5:13 ESV
God has good plans for us, but they require us to work hard in pursuit of His will for our lives. We must daily take up our crosses and decide to follow Jesus through every obstacle that presents itself. We must seek Christ as our greatest treasure and satisfaction.
What Did Jesus Mean When He Used the Phrase ‘Salt of the Earth’?
Jesus often chose common subjects to demonstrate His teachings. “Salt was so important and valuable that Roman soldiers sometimes were paid in salt,” wrote Greg Laurie for Harvest Daily Devotion, “Hence the expression, ‘He’s not worth his salt.’” Salt on its own is used for clearing roads and preserving food, but it also enhances the taste of everything it’s added to. Even in ancient times, “salt was a symbol of lasting concord,” the New Testament Greek Lexicon defines, “because it protected food from putrefaction and preserved it unchanged.”
Jesus taught His followers to be careful not to lose the flavor of their Creator. Most of the salt used in Israel came from the Dead Sea, which contained impurities. Impurities can cause flavor loss. Right before this verse, in the conclusion of the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaimed blessings over those who are persecuted, not only for living in sake of righteousness but for living for Him. He described His followers, and believers today, as salt and light, clearly called to influence, improve and make the world a better place (The Moody Bible Commentary).
Colossians 4:6 teaches, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (NAS). Paul used the same Greek word for salt as in Matthew 5:13. Preserved and flavored salty speech means our words are infused with the very love of Christ, and His Holy Spirit living in us as believers. His presence in our lives permeates all we do, even our speech. “Salt is a preservative and is tasty. The Christian’s conversation is to be wholesome and helpful” (NIV Study Bible Notes). Our reactions are to bring glory and honor to God.
The Message paraphrase of Matthew 5:13 reads, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.” Those who seek God see others as He sees them. When we love people for who they are, it can reveal the best in them and encourage them to grow, just as salt adds wonderful flavor to food. We can be vessels of God’s love to the people He purposefully places around us. The commentary that prefaces the VOICE paraphrase of Matthew 5:13 explains, “Salt draws out the good flavors subtly hidden in the food and preserves what would otherwise spoil, as do those who claim to be children of God.”
If we are chasing our own plans, goals, and ambitions, or that of the worlds, we lose our saltiness. “Jesus also uses a graphic image - how can true salt stop being salt?” the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible informs, “Jesus compares a disciple who does not live out the values of the kingdom with unsalted salt -salt that cannot fulfill its purpose.” This begs us to consider if we are being complacent in obeying God’s directives. The Amplified Bible translates, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste (purpose), how can it be made salty? It is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and walked on by people [when the walkways are wet and slippery.]” Jesus uses the salt analogy to teach His followers, and believers today, to submit our agendas to Him so that we may not lose our saltiness, nor the privilege of becoming a vessel of God’s love to those around us.
Why Would Jesus Use This Analogy?
To better understand why Jesus would use this analogy, it’s important to look at today’s verse in context with the verses that preface it. Jesus, in the famous Sermon on the Mount, preached the Beatitudes before discussing salt and light. The Beatitudes explain the sacrificial way Jesus calls us to live. Matthew 5:11-12 says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (ESV)
Following Jesus will cost us. It cost the prophets in the Old Testament and the disciples and apostles in the New Testament. Believers throughout the centuries have willingly suffered for what Jesus stands for. Christ uses the salt analogy, I believe, to assure us that following Him is worth every earthly cost. I believe He is encouraging us to continue on in pursuit of righteousness. “Joyful suffering for the sake of Christ is startling, spectacular, salty,” wrote John Piper in Salt, Suffering, and Satisfaction.
The verses following Jesus’ teaching on salt and light read:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good words and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV)
Jesus used common analogies His audience understood, to encourage them to keep fighting the good fight, assuring us it would not only be worth it here on earth, but for eternity in heaven …with Him. “We’re not garlic, or paprika, we’re salt,” prayed Scotty Smith, “Salt preserves and fends off decay. Salt heals and soothes; it has medicinal value. Salt brings flavor and enhances other flavors. And salt only works when it’s out of the saltshaker …”
Jesus came for us to live life to the full, to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. It is He, in us, beaming through our flesh to brighten up this world with a peace and love that transcend human understanding. He is the salt. It is He in us that makes us visibly and audibly different. He’s imploring us not to lose Him. Keep seeking, knocking, and pursuing Him.
How Can Christians Be the Salt of the Earth?
Christians can be salt of the earth by growing in a relationship with Christ through the daily pursuit of Him through His word and through prayer. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, gifted to us on account of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, we can be assured we’re never alone. As we follow and remain in Him, we are able to let go of the things of this world, and gradually take hold of all things eternal. We focus less on material possessions, awards, and accolades. “We are here as ‘salt of the earth,’ to be a blessing to the world,” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “We are here to glorify Christ in our daily life. We are here as workers for him, as ‘workers together with him.’”
Mark 9:50 reads, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Another definition for the Greek root of salt is wisdom and grace exhibited in speech. Each day, we must recalibrate our flesh by submitting to the Lord in prayer and in search of Him in His Word. Daily obedience to God waters the roots of His alive and active word in our lives. Christ, in us, is the Salt. His Holy Spirit, living in every believer, reveals a layer of flavor we are unable to see, perceive and experience without Him. “We must do a work of preservation … or we lose our influence and become as insignificant as a layer of dust on city streets,” wrote Chuck Swindoll for Insight for Today from Chuck Swindoll. The work we do for Christ begins with a daily pursuit of Him.
Jesus clearly taught that His followers were meant to make a difference in this world. In order to do that, believers must take up the call to live differently. The world doesn’t need more of itself, it needs more of Christ. Salt is common, often sitting on our pantry shelves until we pull it out to season something. We will live our lives shelved unless we choose to allow Christ to use us in this life. As believers, we have the opportunity to participate in His Kingdom work. The eternal reward is ours to behold and look forward to! But it’s not just heaven we have to reach for. Jesus died for us to live THIS life to the full. When we let Him shake us up and work through our lives, we experience His peace and love here and now. It is in the little, everyday decisions to choose and follow Love, that we operate as salt of the earth.
A Prayer to Be the Salt of the Earth
We don’t want to be dull and bland. We don’t want to lose any of the flavor You have created and purposed for us to behold! Please, Lord, use our lives to bring out the best in everyone You purposefully place around us. Give us self-control and make us slow to speak. Let our actions and words bring glory and honor to You. Forgive us for the times we have fallen short, and for the times we will undoubtably fail again. Don’t let our sins stop us, Father. Help us to keep confessing, repenting, and turning from the sins that so easily entangle us. Jesus, thank You for being our Salt and Light. It is You in us, the true Salt and Light, that seasons and shines our lives and those around us. We love you more every day and will continue to pursue You, no matter the cost. For we know the pain this side of heaven is a reality we will face and walk through. Strengthen us to persevere, and rejoice, through it all, knowing everything we walk through here on earth brings us one step closer to You.
In Jesus’ powerful name we pray,
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Jirkaejc
Meg, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, is the author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” and “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” She writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. Meg earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters, which led her to pursue her passion to write. She has led a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. Meg, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, lives by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.