The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

10 – Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:13:

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.

According to this passage, the influence of salt is two-fold.  Number one, salt represents a silent and a negative influence.  Number two is light, which represents a positive and open influence.  We will concentrate in this study on verse 13.  Let’s read it first and then we will analyze it.  Jesus talking to His disciples, after describing what that should be like, says:

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.

First of all, let us notice that we are to be the salt of the earth before we are the light.  It is easy for us human beings to want to be in the limelight.  But salt is a very silent, a very unnoticed influence.  So Christ put being salt of first importance.

This essential commodity was used in two ways in the days of Christ.  Today we normally use salt mainly for flavoring our food.  But in the days of Christ, and especially to those he was speaking to — the disciples who were living by the Sea of Galilee, most of them were fisherman — to them, salt was primarily used as a preservative.  They caught the fish and they had to transport it from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem.  That was the main market.  It was a distance of about 60 miles.  You try carrying fish on the back of a donkey for 60 miles, which took about two or three days.  They had no ice or fast transportation, so they rubbed the fish with salt and it kept it from rotting so it arrived in a safe, saleable condition.  Today we put the fish on ice.

It is in this context that Christ primarily meant “You are the salt of the earth.”  Of course, He also meant that we Christians are to be a flavor in the world, but, primarily, He was using the word “salt” as a preservative or antiseptic.  That was understood by the people He was talking to and who knew very well what he was referring to.

Incidentally, when the Communists took over in Ethiopia, everything was rationed.  Gas was rationed, sugar was rationed, and we were allowed 10 gallons of gas a week.  That was all and we had long distances to travel.  I was driving from Addis Ababa to our college, which was about 150 miles, and two young men stopped me on the road.  They had a pickup and I said to them, “What can I do?”  I thought they were broken down.  They had run out of gas two miles before and were walking toward Addis Ababa.

I said, “If I give you any of my gas, I will probably run out before I reach the college.”  One of the young men said, “We are desperate, come and see.”  So he took me to the pickup and it was full of fish and they were transporting this fish from the lakes right up to the big hotel in Addis Ababa.  I asked how long they had been waiting there and they said, “For two hours.”  He told me that there was no ice on the fish and if they didn’t get them to the hotel in a short time they wouldn’t be worth anything.  So I told them I would take the risk and supply them with one and one-half gallons, which was enough to take them into town.  So I gave them the gas and one of the boys turned around and said to me, “This is true Marxism.”  And I said, “I am sorry, I have to correct you.  Those two hours that you were waiting was true Marxism; what you are seeing is true Christianity.  Marxism only gets things done at the point of a gun.  I’m giving out of concern for you.  Please don’t give Karl Marx the credit.”  He didn’t know what to say; he was embarrassed.

What did Christ mean when He said, “You are the salt of the earth?”  There are very important implications.  Number one, what do you use salt for?  To preserve live fish or dead fish?  Dead fish.  Salt is needed only to preserve something that is dead, something that will rot.  And Jesus said to the Christian, “You [that is the human race] are the salt of the earth,” it implies that the world is rotting.  It is dead and the Bible does teach that.  First of all, let me take you to a statement Jesus made Himself:  Matthew 8:20.  Have you ever wrestled with this statement?  Jesus was approached by certain people and they wanted to follow Him and asked where He was staying:

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He was saying, “If you want to follow me, please don’t expect material things.”  Verses 21-22:

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  [He was giving an excuse.] But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

What did Jesus mean by that?  He meant that the unconverted could take care of the unconverted.  He was talking of people who were physically alive but spiritually dead.  If you turn you to Ephesians 2:1, I will remind you of a passage that we looked at in the beginning.  Paul says that we, by nature, are spiritually dead:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins....

When Adam sinned, he did not die physically, he died spiritually.  And the physical death began the process.  Spiritually, the world is dead and it is rotten.  This is the clear teaching of Scripture, which completely contradicts the theory of evolution.  Because they say we are getting better and better.

Let me give you an example.  Turn to Genesis.  When did this rotting process begin?  It began the moment Adam and Eve sinned.  And by the time we come to Genesis 6, what does God say?  Especially in verse 5 onwards.  Genesis 6:5:

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

Not only was his actions evil, but his mind was perverted and was evil constantly, so that in verse 6:

The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.

And so God destroyed the earth with a flood and give it a new chance.  But the flood did not restore men’s spirit and so the rotting process began again.  And so you have Sodom and Gomorrah within a few years and God had to destroy them by fire as an example.  And so all through the Bible you have it.

You look even at the Jews.  God called the Jews out of Egypt, out of paganism.  He restored His truth to them, but what happened?  The rotting process began.  Man without God.  All of this is in harmony with Romans 1:18 onwards.  Man, because he is spiritually dead, is ungodly, says Paul in Romans 1:18.  And even though he has the knowledge of God, he does not want to retain that knowledge.  Seeking to be wise, he becomes a fool.  And that is what happens:  he gets worse and worse.  Romans 1:18-23 (read the rest of the chapter on your own):

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

So number one, the Bible clearly teaches that the world is spiritually dead and, therefore, it is rotten spiritually.  And we as Christians must act as a preservative.  We retard the process by our influence.  The implication, if we are the salt of the earth, is that the world is rotting.

Number two, how does salt preserve?  It is only when it comes into intimate contact with the dead flesh.  That, of course, brings a very important lesson to us.  It implies that Christians cannot be salt by isolating themselves from the world.  And we Adventists are guilty of that to a large degree.

We must be clear:  the Bible teaches, on one hand, that we are not of the world.  In other words, our thoughts, our deeds, our actions, our objectives, our mind-set — everything must not be in harmony with the world.  But, on the other hand, we are not to be aloof.  In the days of Christ, there were a group who cut themselves off from all society.  They were called the Essenes and they locked themselves up in those caves near the Dead Sea.

Then, in the Dark Ages, you have the monastic system and all the time you have hermits keeping themselves from the world, but that is not what God intended.  Let me give you the words of Jesus Christ.  Turn to John 17:15-19.  Jesus puts it very clearly there in His prayer to His Father.  Listen to what He says to His Father:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one....

So there is a danger.  When you mix in the world and rub your shoulders with the world, there is the danger that, instead of influencing them, they influence you.  Continuing, from verse 16:

...They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  [Then He offers this request of His Father.] Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  [That is why we need to spend time with the Word of God, otherwise we will lose our saltiness.] As you sent me into the world [“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son....”], I have sent them into the world.  [To be what?  To be salt and light.] For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

In other words, we are not to be isolationists.  There will come a time when probation will close and we will have to flee.  But, until that time, we have a work to do.  And the only way we can do it is by rubbing ourselves close to the world and let the rotting process be retarded.  That is one function.  The other function is to be light.

I want to give you one more text regarding this:  1 Peter 2:9.  What does Peter say about the Christians?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

So we are not of the world, but set apart, to “declare the praises of God” to whom?  The worldly people.  God wants us to show His praise to the world.

Number two, we can only be the salt of the earth as we rub ourselves against the world.  We are not to keep ourselves isolated.

Number three, the proportion of salt.  How much salt do you need to preserve?  Which is more in quantity, the fish or the salt?  The fish.  It takes a little salt to preserve a lot of fish.  Please remember that we may not be many in numbers.  As we mingle with the world, as true Christians, we may be insignificant.  You may ask the question as you read the Beatitudes, “How is somebody who is poor in spirit, mourning about our sinfulness, we are meek, how can we affect the world?”  Jesus says, “It is not what you are that affects the world, but what is in you.”  Christ in you is the power.

And He does not depend on quantity, He does not depend on budget, He depends on people who have a dynamic relationship with Him, who are walking in the Spirit.  And even though we are few, it can affect many.

I will give you my own experience.  When I was in the academy (or high school, we call it secondary school in the British system), I wasn’t a practicing Christian.  I was a Roman Catholic, but I wasn’t a practicing Christian.  I used to play for my school.  We called it football, but it was something different than we call football here in America; you’d call it soccer  At the end of the game, we would sit in our little pavilion and sometimes we would crack dirty jokes and things and use foul language.  But there was one of students who was a very sincere Christian.  The moment he walked in, there was silence.  He didn’t say a word; his very presence is all that it took and there was silence.  The dirty jokes stopped, the foul language stopped, he was acting as salt, he was acting as a retardant.

Sometimes he would, of course, talk to us.  But, at that time, we were too young to appreciate what he was saying; he was being a light.  But sometimes he said nothing, he just stepped in and there was dead silence.  Sometimes we would make our own cigarettes and smoke them and the minute he walked in, the fires went out.  He was acting as salt.  As I look back, I realize that, even though he didn’t say a word, he was influencing us.

But let’s go to our text (in Matthew 5).  Jesus says in verse 13:

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 salt of the earth,” but (there is a “but” there) if you are no longer salty, you are of no value to God and you are of no value to man.  All you are fit for is “to be thrown out and trampled on.”

If you were to go to that area where Christ spoke, it was quite common to see big lumps of saltless salt.  The salt there was not the refined salt we have here and some of the salt had lost its ability, its saltiness, to preserve.  So you would have big mounds of this and people would walk all over it and trample it down.  Jesus was saying, “If that is how you end, you are useless.”

In 1975 I was in Damascus, the place where Paul was converted.  We were with an Arab, a Muslim.  I felt sorry for them.  They were having a hard life.  They were homeless.  They were in Israel for so long.  That was home.  I was with this Arab, he was a guide.  We were talking and we were at the spot which is believed that Paul saw the vision.  It is tradition; we don’t know exactly where he was converted.  There was a huge, beautiful archway and in beautiful, gold letters were these words:  “There is only one God, Mohammed is His prophet.”  Of course, it had the word “Allah” (for God).

He said to me, “I want you to look very carefully.  You will discover something very important.”  You could see that he was very sarcastic and I asked what was there.  He said, “Look carefully.”  And I looked, and lo and behold these words were inscribed on top of some other words that were rubbed but not completely removed.  And I could read in very faint letters, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  And then he told me the story.

He said, “This archway wasn’t built by the Muslims, it was built by the Christians.  But we Muslims in the Seventh Century defeated the Christians in the Middle East.  We have taken over.  I said to myself, “Christianity in the Middle East has lost its saltiness.”  It is fit for nothing.  It was torn down in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries by the Islamic hosts.

This is the thing that happened in the Middle East.  This is exactly what happened in the Eastern European bloc.  Do you know all the Communist world was once Christian?  Do you know that Russia was once a Christian country?  Do you know that one of the best manuscripts of the Bible was in Russia?  When they became Communists, they didn’t want it and they sold it to the British museum for 90,000 pounds.

We must be careful because this is beginning to happen in America.  We are losing our saltiness and the result is that, when the church, when Christians lose their saltiness, they are useless.  Useless to God and useless to man.  That is why it is important that we take counsel in the words that Jesus spoke to the Laodicean Church (Revelation 3:15-21):

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

“I am knocking at the door.  I want to come in.  I want to change you so that I can transform you so you are really the salt of the earth.”  If the few Christians who are in this country do not mix with the world and allow their saltiness to preserve this world, we are going to go further and further into the rotting process.

Ever since the 16th and 17th Centuries, especially since what we call the “Birth of the Scientific Age,” the Christians in Europe began to turn their backs to God.  They said, “We don’t need God.”  That is why the 18th Century was called the “Age of Enlightenment.”  That is why in France they said they didn’t want the Bible.  They had the mind; they had reason.  Unfortunately, the Christian theologians began to take that route, too.  We have liberal theology, we have modern theology, we have theology that is leaning heavily on the human mind.

The mind can invent wonderful instruments.  It can find its way to the moon and even send a satellite toward Venus, but, as far as morality is concerned, as far as spirituality is concerned, science cannot redeem us.  In fact, science today has invented a monster that can wipe us out.  The only thing that can preserve this world from rotting is Christians.  Jesus says to you and me, “You are the salt of the earth.”  If the salt loses its saltiness, it is fit for nothing.

It is my prayer that, even in this valley, we will be salt.  We are not many, we are few, but if we have that living connection with the source of our salt, we will affect our community.  It is my prayer that, whether you are at work or whether you are on the playground — it doesn’t matter — as you rub with the world, it is my prayer that you will have a tremendous influence upon those that you rub against.  At work, at play, in the shops, in the mall, as you rub with people, it is my prayer that somehow they will realize that there is something in this person that tells them that they need to change.

Once you have done that, then, of course, you can turn to verse 14 — which we will see in our next study — where Christ will say, “You are the light of the world.”  We have a two-fold function.  The salt is a negative function.  It simply retards the rotting process.  And, wherever there has been a reformation in the Christian church, there has been an effect on society.  You read the history of world:  when there was a reformation in Europe, there was a change in the culture, there was a change in society.  When there was a revival in England in the 19th Century under John Wesley, it affected the prison, it affected the government, it affected everything.  And when we have a revival in this country, it will change our senators, our society, it will change people for good.

But that in itself will not save them.  We have to be also the light of the world.  That will be our next study.  I feel that we need to emphasize the responsibility that we have in the world.  We are not simply insignificant people.  The world may think that we are just Christians.  But, in God’s eyes, we have an important responsibility.

It is my prayer that we rub with the world; they need salt.  Everywhere we need to be salt.  It is my hope that we will not be simply superficial Christians but that we will be the salt of the earth.

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