Sermon on the Mount:Ye are the Salt of the Earth

By Keith Sharp

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thence forth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men (Matt. 5:13).

The theme of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is the righteousness of the kingdom of Heaven. The Master began His discourse by describing the righteous character of the citizens of that kingdom and announcing the resultant state of blessedness in the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). The final beatitude revealed how the world will treat the citizens of the kingdom. They will be persecuted for their very righteousness (Matt. 5:10-12). Then, in Matthew 5:13-16, the great Teacher instructed His disciples how they should in turn act toward the world. This passage reveals the relationship of the righteous citizens of the heavenly kingdom to the wicked world.

The Lord announced, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” This is a figure of speech called a “metaphor”-an implied comparison. Disciples are in some ways like salt. How are we like salt? Before the invention of refrigeration and among people who could not afford good meat, salt was even more important than it is to us. According to Barclay, the Greeks called salt “divine,” and Romans claimed, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.” Unknown to most people, Christians are of utmost utility to the world.

The foremost function of salt in ancient times was to preserve meat. Salt was rubbed thoroughly into the meat to prevent its spoilage. The most High has always and, through His mighty Son, yet does rule the kingdoms of men, giving them to whomsoever He will (I)an. 4:25; Rev. 19:11-15). He rules and judges in righteousness (Ps. 9:8; 97:2). The righteous lives of His saints preserve any nation. Without such preservative, God will soon destroy even our nation (cf. Gen. 18:22-32).

It is also the role of salt to flavor food. I enjoy an egg for breakfast, but, without salt, the egg is unpalatable to me (cf. Job 6:6). Christians make the world palatable to the Lord, else He would spew it out.

We are the salt “of the earth.” Salt is useless unless it is applied to food. Keeping it in the pantry accomplishes nothing. It must be within yet different from the world. We must be in, although not of, the world (Jn. 17:14-18). The child of God who retires as a recluse to the wilderness is valueless as salt. To be useful, we must associate with people of the world.

But, we must be careful lest we lose our “savor,” i.e., saltiness. Salt in Palestine was dug from the earth and was impure, being mixed with clay. If left exposed to the weather, the salt content would largely dissolve, leaving only useless clay with enough saltiness to sterilize any soil upon which it was cast. We as Christians can fall from grace, abandoning our lives of righteousness. We walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), but we must take heed lest we lose that faith (Heb. 3:12-13).

Wherewith shall unsavory salt be salted? “Salt is a remedy for unsavory meat, but there is no remedy for unsavory salt” (Matthew Henry). When a child of God, one who is thoroughly acquainted with the Word of God, loses his faith, there is nothing to restore that faith until his attitude changes (cf. Mk. 9:50; Heb. 6:4-6), for the Word of God, which he has rejected, is the instrument for producing faith (Rom. 10:17).

Such unsavory salt “is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men” (cf. also Lk. 14:34-35). Sterile and sterilizing salty clay was worse than useless; it was a detriment. It could not be used on food, nor could it be cast on the field. It was carefully swept up and thrown on the roadway, where it could do no harm. It was thus trampled under foot. Christians who have lost their real faith, as demonstrated by sinful or indifferent lives, are the very hypocrites that people of the world use as an excuse not to be Christians. They are worse than useless. They hinder the work of the church in turning away the lost, discouraging the faithful and leading astray the immature.

Christian, what kind of salt are you? Do you help preserve and make palatable our nation to God? Or, are you yourself an unsavory hindrance to the cause of Christ? Ye are indeed the salt of the earth.

Truth Magazine XXI: 43, pp. 681-682
November 3, 1977