Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13,14)

Today's Scriptural truths teach us a very important concept:  With God's blessings come expectations; with honor comes responsibility.  Let's take a look at what Jesus had to say about us in its context:

"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.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).

As you may recall, Matthew 5 is the beginning of our Lord's "Sermon on the Mount".  Prior to today's teaching, Jesus had declared (in Matthew 5:3-12) the character qualities of those in the kingdom of God and the blessings ("Blessed are ...") that result from those qualities...even though in this world, kingdom-livers are likely to be persecuted by men for those very same qualities God commends.

Jesus proceeds then to use two metaphors to describe what His people are to look like and how they are to act, including His expectations inherent with those descriptions...salt and light.  We will look at the first metaphor today and tackle the second next time.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth.  Though you don't hear it much anymore, in bygone days people (especially men) that were looked upon as really good, giving, caring people were referred to as "the salt of the earth," as in, "Hey, there goes Jim, he's the salt of the earth!"  It was clearly a compliment.

Jesus's metaphor would have called a somewhat different, though related, picture to mind in the first century.  First of all, salt was a very valuable substance.  In fact, Roman soldiers at that time were paid in salt, called a salarium (Latin for salt).  That is actually where we get our English word "salary".  Pretty cool, huh?

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying we are very valuable!

Second, covenants or business contracts in the first century were sealed with an exchange of salt, signifying the binding nature of the agreement.  God makes covenants with us and salt beautifully symbolizes that God's covenants, including marriage covenants, are forever.  In a day (both then and now) where people find it very easy to break covenants, promises and contracts, salt reminds us that we are to be people of faithfulness and keep our word, like God does.

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying we are a picture, a reflection, of God's faithfulness to His covenants and promises.

Third, salt was used in the first century to preserve food (especially meat, like fish) from corruption, since there was no refrigeration.  Salted fish didn't rot.  And salted societies don't either.

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying that we have been placed in society as agents of moral and ethical purity that are to stem the tide of sinful corruption...in our families, places of employment, in our government...wherever we are.  We do that by how we live (and don't live!) and by what we say (and don't say!).

So, as you can see, when Jesus said that we are "the salt of the earth", He was saying a lot more than "he's a great guy".  He was saying that we are of high, high value to Him and to society and that we are to faithfully live as examples of God's faithfulness to His promises, stemming the tide of (or at least slowing down) the rotting of society due to sin!  

That is significant!  Our lives are clearly VERY significant in Christ.

Jesus, however, warned us that our identity as salt can go south pretty easily.  We can lose our saltiness.

How is that possible?  Salt by its very nature is...well...salty.  The only way salt can lose its saltiness is if it gets mixed with other stuff (as it did in the first century), like sand, dust,  and dirt.

Hopefully you get the picture.  When our lives become so infiltrated by the non-kingdom values and practices of the culture around us, we lose our saltiness.  We cease being a good representative of God and His kingdom faithfulness.  We cease being effective in stemming the tide of corruption around us.  We lose our value to God as an agent of preservation in society.

In the first century, such diluted, polluted salt was just chucked into the streets,where people walked all over it.  And isn't it true that un-salty Christians are ultimately devalued, disrespected and disregarded by the people around them, being viewed as hypocrites?

Brother or sister in Christ, you most certainly did not learn Christ that way!  If the Holy Spirit is showing you today that you have allowed the things of this life to dull your saltiness, there is still time to change.  Repentance...a change of your mind leading to a change in your life ...leads to restoration...a return to usefulness in the kingdom of God.   

So, if you are in Christ, the question today is not "Are you salt?"  You are!

The question is, "Are you salty?"

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