Date: Sunday January 12, 1997
NT Text: Matthew 5:13
Sermon Title: You are the salt of the earth
Major Recent Event: Difficult week
Recurring Theme in Ministry:
Own "life story" connection: Trip back home
The 10th Article of the Mennonite Confession of Faith states among other things that, The church is called to witness to the reign of Christ by embodying Jesus' way in its own life and patterning itself after the reign of God. Thus it shows the world a sample of life under the lordship of Christ. By its life, the church is to be a city on a hill, a light to the nations testifying to the power of the resurrection by a way of life different from the societies around it.
The church is also to give witness by proclaiming the reign of God in word and deed. The church is to seek the lost, call for repentance, announce salvation from sin, proclaim the gospel of peace, set free the oppressed, pray for righteousness and justice, become a channel of God's healing, serve as Jesus did, and without coercion urge all people to become part of the people of God. Even at the risk of suffering and death, the love of Christ compels faithful witnesses to testify for their Savior.
In his teaching on discipleship Jesus spoke to the people about the Kingdom of God, and the cost of doing God's will. Then, in Matthew 5:13 Jesus gives his followers the greatest compliment that can be given to any person, and at the same time also a very serious warning.
"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."
This passage speaks to us about our Identity as Christians. It speaks about our character and our task as followers of Jesus. It challenges us to evaluate our effectiveness as witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world. And it calls us to live a conscientious Christian life.
Have you ever wondered who you really are? We often hear of someone going on trip to Europe, Africa, or South America to "find themselves". We have a tremendous need to know who we really are. What it is that makes us tick. What it is that we believe in the depths of our heart, and so on. We also ask the question, "Who am I as a Christian?" What do I believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit? And what am I doing to let others know about who I am?
Jesus knew that we sometimes doubt our Identity as his followers, and so he gives us a tremendous affirmation of who we are. He says, "Listen up my friend, You are not just anybody living a casual life with no set purpose in life. You are the salt of the earth! You are a light in a world darkened by human sin. You are my witnesses."
The people in Jesus' time would have made an immediate connection between the purpose of salt and the purpose of Christ's followers. Salt was connected to three special qualities: purity, food preservation, and flavoring.
1) No doubt its glistening whiteness made the connection easy to the concept of purity. The Romans said that salt was the purest of all things, because it came from the purest of all things, the sun and the sea. Salt was the most primitive of all offerings to the gods, and according to Jewish sacrificial requirements, all offerings were to be complimented with a salt offering (Leviticus 2:13 Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add
salt to all your offerings).
I haven't checked with a Chemist, but my understanding is that pure sodium chloride does not deteriorate. Jesus makes it clear that it is as unthinkable for his disciples to lose their character as it is for salt to become saltless. Our identity as the salt of the earth calls for purity. In a world that characteristically keeps lowering its standards -- standards of honesty, standards of diligence in work, standards of conscientiousness, moral standards, and so on -- we are called to remain pure and unadulterated. Christ expects from us no less than the standards of absolute purity in speech, in conduct and even in thought.
As Christians we will always be confronted by the devil's enticement to lowering our standards. And there will be times when we give in to the temptation. When that happens we must come before God and ask him to purify us through the blood of Jesus Christ.
2) In the ancient world salt was the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad and rotten. Salt preserves from corruption. If Christians are to be the salt of the earth, we must have a certain antiseptic influence on life. The Christian community is in a very real sense the conscience of society that keeps it from going bad. Through our influence on others we foster God's grace and goodness in society.
3) Probably the greatest and most obvious quality of salt is its ability to add flavor to things. Saltless food is generally tasteless food, even sickening food. Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Christianity adds flavor to life. On the other hand, bad Christianity makes people sick. As the salt of the earth we need to rediscover the lost radiance of the Christian faith. In a worried and distraught world we Christians should remain full of the joy of life. Christians must add flavor to life.
Connected to the fact that salt adds flavor to a dish is the fact that salt makes us thirsty. Someone said that although you can lead a horse to the water you cannot make him drink. That is true. However, if you add some salt to the hay chances are that the horse will get thirsty and will want to drink. Similarly, if our words and actions are seasoned with a taste of the eternally loving God, this will stimulate the appetite of the people we influence. When used in the right proportions salt can make an ordinary dish so tasteful that everyone keeps coming back for more.
When we prepare a dish it isn't enough to have both the saltless meal and saltshaker on the table. Salt has to be mixed into the food in order to be effective. Similarly Christ expects us not to stay isolated from the world, but rather to be in the world, to touch the people around us with the purity and effectiveness of a true Christian disciple.
Jesus went on to issue a warning that salt when it becomes tasteless or loses its flavor, it is fit only to be thrown out on street to be walked on by people. The same applies to us. We are meant to be the salt of the earth, and if we do not bring to life the purity, the antiseptic power and the radiance that we ought, than we do not live up to our purpose as Christ's witnesses. Then we're good for nothing.
We will either have a redeeming impact on the world or the world will rob us of our Christian faith. Dwight L. Moody, the great preacher, once wrote in someone's Bible: "This book will keep you from your sins, or your sins will keep you from this book."
This warning is one that we should not take to lightly. What happens to salt that looses its taste? It is good for nothing. Can't even use it as a fertilizer in the dung heap, says Mark. And there is no way that it will ever regain its taste. When salt looses its saltiness its forever worthless. Hebrews 6:4 speaks a severe judgment on Christians who turn back from their responsibility, It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
As people committed to Christ and His Body, we are the salt of the earth. You are the salt! I am the salt! This is our Christian identity and calling. It is the greatest compliment that our Lord and Master could give us.
As we look for an application for our daily Christian walk we are reminded that purity in Christ does not leave any room for greed, and lust, even indifferent living. Our standards of life and conduct must reflect the ultimate values of God, in whose image we are made. We live in the world but we are not of this world. Our inheritance is in heaven with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We are also challenged to influence our community for Christ. We are called to speak out against social corruption, to be instruments of peace and justice in the world. We are challenged to be intentional in our Christian walk, and to consider the consequences and ramifications of our actions.
As the salt of the earth we have the privilege to let the world know that we are children of the living God. Colossians 4:6 invites us to, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
God gives us a great identity in Christ. And he expects from us that we live up to our purpose as the salt of the earth. God desires that we may have pure thoughts and actions. God also grants us the joy of life that serves as a foretaste of the eternal to everyone we meet.
May God grant us the conviction to be the salt of the earth.