Attributes of a mature Christian - saltiness

 

At our Leadership Retreat at the start of this year, which resulted in our focus on spiritual growth and spiritual maturity, we identified some attributes of what a mature Christian would have.

 

I want to talk about one of those today. And next week about the one that we often run together with this one.

 

Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

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 underfoot.

The term ‘salt of the earth’ has become part of everyday language, meaning an individual or group considered as representative of the best or noblest elements of society.

But biblically it means much more than that.

To start us off I want to read a comment from a Doctor of Divinity in 1905, 113 years ago: Society is corrupt and tending to corruption. You do not salt a living thing. You salt a dead one that it may not be a rotting one. Jesus is saying “human society, without my influence, is a carcass that is rotting away and disintegrating; and you who are my followers are to be rubbed into that rotting mass to sweeten it, to arrest decomposition, to stay corruption, to give flavour to its insipidity, and to save it from falling to pieces of its own wickedness. You are the salt of the earth.” (MacLaren 179)

What is surprising to me is that could have been said this week and not 113 years ago. Society is still corrupt and getting corrupter (if that is a word).

The analogy of society without God as a rotting carcass is certainly impactful, our mind pictures go rampant.

I don’t think I need to go into why that picture is so true for today. It is obvious in every newspaper, TV or media article we pick up.

Let’s focus on the salt that we are to be. Let’s examine its qualities:

Salt in ancient times was highly valued.  The Greeks called salt divine.  It was pricey like gold. Salt has been harvested for 8000 years in cultures all around the globe Camel train caravans often numbering more than hundred camels have journeyed to the salt mines of Taudenni in the Sahara Desert 500 miles (800 kilometres) north of Timbuktu to the Mediterranean since the 12th century and still do.

And salt has played a key role in most religions across the world.

At the time of Jesus salt was connected in people’s minds with 3 special qualities:

Salt is connected with purity

Clearly its appearance is of glistening whiteness.  Think of the Bonneville Salt Flats (where they do the world speed records) or the salt farm at Lake Grasmere in NZ.

I remember seeing pyramids of white salt at Mt Maunganui awaiting processing.  Pure salt is white like snow.

We are called to be pure like snow but we could also be called to be pure like salt.

A Christian must, as James said, “keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27)

If a Christian is to be the salt of the earth he must be an example of purity. A Christian must be the person who holds aloft the standard of absolute purity in speech, in conduct, and even in thought. (Barclay 115)

And it is not only a personal stance that acts like salt, but we are reminded that the presence of a good person hinders the devil from having elbow room to do his work. We need to rebuke and hinder the operation of corruption, even if we don’t have the power to breathe a better spirit into the dead mass (MacLaren 180). Our mere presence in a bawdy lunchroom can change the tone of the conversation.

And the salt analogy has another truth for the Christian:

Salt does its work by being brought into close contact with the substance upon which it is to work. And so, as we are brought into contact with much evil and wickedness, we are not to seek to withdraw ourselves from contact with the evil. The only way by which salt can purify is by being rubbed into the corrupted thing. (MacLaren 181)

The Christian fortress mentality of keeping away from the world and its temptations means we cannot do what salt does. Salt does not affect by being far away, but only by contact.

Some time ago, we received a prophesy from another church which said that Eastside is camped among the enemy whereas most church only do foraging strikes into the enemies camp and retreat back to the safety of their lives. 

At Eastside, we are being salt rubbed into the society in which we live and breathe, by being in close contact daily with the world.

Salt was a preservative

Salt keeps things from going bad and rotten and holds decay and putrification at bay. Salt preserves from corruption

If a Christian is to be salt of the earth, he must have a certain antiseptic influence on life. He must be the person who by his presence defeats corruption and makes it easier for others to be good. (Barclay 116)

Salt does its work silently, inconspicuously, gradually. We can play the humble inconspicuous silent part of checking corruption by a pure example.

Salt protects – think of muttonbirds; and salt heals – think of salt gargles for mouth ulcers.

 

Some people put salt on tomatoes and watermelon or pineapple. Yet, I have never heard such a person say, “Oh, that is great salt!” People say, “That is a great tomato or great watermelon or a great pineapple.” Why? Because the job of salt is not to make you think how great salt is, but how great the salted food is.

The insignificant granules of salt make a difference.  You are the salt of the earth and you can make a difference.

Salt gives flavour to things

Food without salt is sadly flavourless and tasteless. Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Christianity lends flavour to life. The tragedy is that so often people have connected Christianity with precisely the opposite. Oliver Wendall Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” (Barclay 116)

If we have the good news, how come we act like we have sucked lemons? We are to be the Good news.

Marva Dawn: The good news of the Trinity would be more convincing to the society around us today if Christian communities were stronger in their sense of belonging to one another, in their care for each other, and in the vitality of their witness made possible by deeper discernment of who they are and how they might serve the world.[1]

If we are flavoursome, how does it show? How do people see that the Good News is something worth seeking? 

The story goes about a young salesman who was disappointed about losing a big sale; and, as he talked with his sales manager, he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied, “Son, take my advice: Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.”

A salty Christian makes others thirsty for Jesus, the Water of Life.

The citizens of the kingdom, no matter how despised they are and how insignificant they may seem to be, they alone, not the scribes and the Pharisees, are the salt of the earth

We are meant to be the salt of the earth, and if we do not bring to life the purity, the antiseptic power, the radiance that we ought, then we invite disaster.

William Barclay translation:  if the salt has become insipid, how can it regain its saltiness?

We blame the world for the demise of Christian values in the world, and perhaps don’t ask ourselves to what extent we might be responsible. John Stott said, “You can’t blame the meat for going rotten. That’s what meat does. You blame the salt for not being there to preserve it.”[2]

As a corporate church, if we become tasteless and anaemic we will be snuffed out of existence. We see testimony of this in church history. The seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation are no more. The churches of Corinth and Ephesus are all but non-existent. We look in vain for the church of North Africa where the great Augustine (354–430) ministered.

This can happen to our church as well. Even if we seem to be flourishing today, we may become tasteless tomorrow. The church of today has a tendency to brag about the size of our salt shakers (our church buildings) or the amount of salt we can put into our shakers (our worship attendance), rather than truly salting our communities with the good news and good works of Jesus Christ.

The whole point of salt is to leave the shaker and hit the meat. We must impact our world with the life of Christ. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.[3]

[video clip from 00:58]

Sources:

William Barclay The Gospel of Matthew Vol 1

Alexander MacLaren The Gospel According to St Matthew Chapters 1-8 1905

William Hendriksen The Gospel of Matthew

 

 



[1] Marva Dawn Joy in Divine Wisdom: practices of discernment from other cultures and Christian traditions 120

[2] Mark Greene “The Great Divide: overcoming the SSD Syndrome” lecture 2001

[3] https://bible.org/seriespage/2-mission-possible-matthew-513-16