What Does It Really Mean to Be the “Salt of the Earth”?

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salt of the earth

Howdy, friend. Today is just one of those days. I’m feeling extra tired, and getting started much later than I’d planned. Last night, after doing my usual Pilates routine, my lower back started hurting. After some stretches this morning, my back feels much better, but now the problem seems to have migrated to my upper back and neck. Go figure.

But, I’m here! I’m finally sitting down to write this post, which I’ve been planning to write for several weeks. And boy, is it a doozy… 😉

We’re going to tackle a passage of Scripture that has often perplexed me, and maybe it has you too. In Matthew 5:13-14, Jesus famously said:

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.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think the “light of the world” part is pretty straightforward. In a nutshell, we’re called to be like a flashlight or lamp in the darkness, to show others the way to Jesus. Not that hard to understand, right?

But that first part, the part where he says we are “the salt of the earth”… That’s a bit trickier. We’re supposed to be like salt? Really? I don’t get it.

Salt of the Earth

In our modern times, salt gets kind of a bad rap. In snacks like potato chips, salt can be somewhat addictive, just like sugar. Restaurants add copious amounts of salt, to make their food taste better (and keep us coming back for more!). And as such, most of us get way too much salt in our diet, which can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure. Salt becomes the villain of the story.

However, in Biblical times, salt was a much more highly valued substance! It was used not only for flavor, but especially for preservation.

I remember reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school. In the early part of the book, there is a scene where the family butchers a pig, and they pack most of the meat in salt, to preserve it so they’ll have food to eat on their journey. And I found that so fascinating. Like, wow, so that’s what people did before they had refrigerators and freezers to preserve food!

But still, what does that mean for us as Christ followers? If we’re really the salt of the earth, what are we preserving or flavoring?

be salt and light - hand lettering

The Properties of Salt

As I’ve thought and studied and prayed over this topic, a few important points came to me. If you’re like me and have difficulty comprehending Jesus’ directive to be “salt”, hopefully these will help you understand better…

  • SALT as a Preservative :: If salt keeps food from going bad (at least for a time), then perhaps we are tasked with preserving the good in the world. Through loving our neighbors and doing good, we can counteract the bad, just like 1 Peter 4:8 says: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
  • SALT as Flavor Enhancer :: It really doesn’t take much salt to bring out the best flavor. Case in point, I love roasted veggies tossed in oil and sprinkled with sea salt. But I have to be careful not to be too heavy-handed with the salt shaker, lest I overpower the flavor of the veggies. A small amount of salt will enhance, while too much salt will overpower so all you taste is the salt and not the food itself. And likewise, in our efforts to share the gospel and influence culture for Jesus, I think we need to be careful to not dump the whole salt shaker out at once. We need to love lots, be gentle in our approach, and add our “salt” in measured doses, so as not to overwhelm anyone.
  • SALT as Connector :: This one is kind of a bonus! Some years ago, there was a devotional in Upper Room magazine written by a parishioner of a particular church. They were having a big event, and they had invited an ice sculptor to create a giant cross made of ice. Only, just as the sculptor was putting the finishing touches on it, one arm of the cross broke off! But he quickly put salt on the broken part, pressed it back into place, and held it there for a few minutes, until the parts were solidly reconnected! This led to a revelation for the writer of the devotional, that as “salt of the earth”, we can be the (re)connecting element in our families, churches, and communities. WOW.

The takeaway…

So if you and I want to be the salt like Jesus said, we need to preserve goodness, use love to bring out the best in others, and bring people together in unity. Salt is inherently good and useful for many things, and light is the beacon in the darkness by which people can find Jesus. With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, may we be salt and light every day. 🙂

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