Matthew 5:13: Salt

Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (NRSV).

Christians are the salt of the earth. In the same way that salt gives food a decent flavor, the presence of Christians is supposed to make the world a better place, or at least a less bad place than it would be without them. But Christians need to have flavor to give flavor. And they have flavor when they follow Jesus’ commands to love God and neighbor.

My interaction with this passage is rather negative, but I don’t want to dwell too much on that in this post. Christians have often beaten me over the head with this passage, using it to say that I should be a happy happy extrovert. According to their spiel, when I enter a place, I should have a positive effect on it, as I draw people to Christ with my (fake) winsome personality. But if you’re an introvert who fades easily into the background and is not even remembered a lot of the time, then this command can be a huge burden, especially when you feel that you’re disobeying God.

But I’ll come back to that shortly, only I’ll be a little more positive, I promise. Right now, I want to turn to Mark 9:50: “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Have salt in yourselves. Like I said, you need to have flavor to give flavor.

But how do I get flavor? Colossians 4:6 is insightful: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” There is speech that is seasoned with salt. It contains grace, love, truth, and wisdom, the kind that Jesus Christ brought (John 1:17). We communicate savory speech by first absorbing savory speech.

And how do we absorb savory speech? We eat God’s word, and that has a positive effect on us. Seventh-Day Adventist founder Ellen White said that by beholding we become changed. As we continue to reflect upon the beauty of God and his Son, Jesus Christ, we come to look more and more like them in our attitudes and behavior. And Ellen White was not getting this idea from her own mind, for II Corinthians 3:18 says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Lest someone accuse me of importing Paul into Matthew, let me say that the Sermon on the Mount contains a similar idea. Jesus states in Matthew 6:22-23: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

The object of our gaze influences the kind of people that we become. If we focus on money, sex, status, prestige, people who hurt us, etc.–“the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (I John 2:16)–then we will become corrupt. That’s why Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29). And a desire for money does not only mean wanting a big mansion with a swimming pool and a butler, for Jesus also criticizes a preoccupation with life’s necessities (Matthew 6:25-31). Sure, we should have a plan for our provision, since the Bible emphasizes the work ethic, especially in Proverbs. But our focus should be on our loving God, who values us more than the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, both of which benefit from God’s goodness (vv 26-30). As Jesus says, “[S]trive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

How do I follow this? I do a daily and a weekly quiet time. I go to church. I attend AA meetings. Do these things magically transform me into a loving person? No, but I’m better than I’d be without them. Plus, I never know when I might hear or read something that gives me strength, hope, and inspiration.

But it is possible for the word of God to have no impact on a person. Both Paul and James criticize those who hear God’s word without doing it (Romans 2:13; James 1:22-25). The word of God somehow has to bear fruit in one’s life.

And where am I on this? Well, as I said, I’m a better person having read the word of God than I’d probably be otherwise. If I didn’t interact with positive things, then my mind would be mostly negative, filled with bitterness, hatred, lust, jealousy, and other bad feelings. At least my daily quiet times give me some opportunity to think about something positive, for a change.

The effect on me may be small, and yet significant. I remember reading Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God, and he said that good fruit can include any thought or action that glorifies God. Extroversion and community service are not the only examples of good fruit. Good fruit can encompass any inclination or desire I have for good.

And that can actually lead to good works. Often, I do not reach out to others because I do not know how to do so. But as I learn social skills from my therapist and books, I receive a road map on how to love. The Bible tells me the importance of love, but social skills help me to put that love into practice. If I ever become socially adept, I can use those skills for evil–to manipulate others, seduce women, or become someone who is nice to people’s faces while shredding them behind their backs. But I do not want to do that, for I have absorbed other values through my reading of God’s word.

God’s values influence me in choices that I may encounter. If a homeless person wants something to eat, God’s values tell me that I should give him food. And, interestingly, I have had opportunities to encourage homeless people in God’s word. That’s a blessing, since I get to pass on what I’ve absorbed. And, to be honest, the encouragement has not been one-sided, for homeless people have encouraged me with their faith in God. I once asked one of them if God provides for him on a day to day basis, and he responded with an unequivocal “yes.” I don’t have to possess all the answers to encourage people with God, since I can often find God’s wisdom in them.

Now that I’ve ditched my chance for a divine reward (since Jesus says I should do my good deeds in secret), let me stress that I still have a long way to go. I want inner peace. I want to forgive. Often, I feel that I have not grown much over the ten or more years of my relationship with God. One way that I am blessed is through this blog, for that gives me an opportunity to bless others with the things that bless me. Indeed, my posts contain a lot of negativity, since this blog is a form of free therapy for me. Overall, it is about my growing and healing. And I hope that my journey can touch others, even if I’ve not reached many of my destinations.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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4 Responses to Matthew 5:13: Salt

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks, Barb (though I’m sure your message is automated).


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  4. James Pate says:

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