The affirmation is straightforward: ‘You are the salt of the earth’. This means that, when each community is itself and is true to itself, the world decays like rotten fish or meat, while the community of faith, the bride of Jesus, can hinder its decay.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” | Matthew 5:13
- Of course God has set other restraining influences in the community. He has himself established certain institutions in his common grace, which curb man’s selfish tendencies and prevent society from slipping into anarchy. Chief among these are the state (with its authority to frame and enforce laws) and the home (including marriage and family life).
- These exert a wholesome influence in the community. Nevertheless, God intends the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be his own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people. As R. V. G. Tasker puts it, the disciples are ‘to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or non-existent’. Sound familiar?
- The effectiveness of salt is conditional: it must retain its saltiness. Now, strictly speaking, salt can never lose its saltiness. I am given to understand that sodium chloride is a very stable chemical compound, which is resistant to nearly every attack.
- Salt can become contaminated by mixture with impurities, and then it becomes useless, even dangerous. Desalted salt is unfit even for manure, i.e. the compost heap. What was then popularly called ‘salt’ was in fact a white powder (perhaps from around the Dead Sea) which, while containing sodium chloride, also contained much else, since, in those days, there were no refineries. Of this dust the sodium chloride was probably the most soluble component and so the most easily washed out. The residue of white powder still looked like salt, and was doubtless still called salt, but it neither tasted nor acted like salt. It was just road dust.
So too a disciple of Jesus. ‘Have salt in yourselves,’ Jesus said on another occasion. Saltiness is followers character as depicted in the beatitudes, committed discipleship exemplified in both deed and word.
- For effectiveness the disciple must retain his Messiah likeness, as salt must retain its saltiness. If disciple of Jesus become assimilated to non-believers and contaminated by the impurities of the world, I lose my influence. The influence of disciples in and on society depends on their being distinct, not identical.
- ‘The glory of the good news is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.’ | Dr Lloyd-Jones
Otherwise, if we disciples are indistinguishable from non-believers, we are useless. We might as well be discarded like saltless salt, ‘thrown out and trodden under foot by men’. ‘But what a downcome,’ comments A. B. Bruce, ‘from being saviours of society to supplying materials for footpaths!’