Matthew 5:13-20 You are the salt of the earth

Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus said to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth”

It is a strange illustration.
But salt is important - especially in a world where there were no fridges and no antiseptic cream
It was considered to be one of the essentials of life: it preserves, heals, flavours.
It was added to the Old Testament sacrifices
And it is also used as a metaphor, a picture, for wisdom: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone”. (Colossian 4:6)  

So when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth”, he is saying that without God this world is flat, broken and everything will rot and die.
But his followers are the salt of the earth.
And you are to be the people who bring the flavours of the earth to life, who bring healing, who point to that which is eternal.

There are two things that I would like to note.

1.  Jesus does not tell his disciples to add salt. He tells us that we are salt

In the previous verses, Jesus has told us what it means to be people who are salt in this world.

The salt of the earth are people who are poor in Spirit – who know that we need God
They are people who mourn – who see sin and death, and what they do to people, and they weep
They are people who are meek – who are so sure of their identity and destiny in Jesus that they do not need to assert themselves and are willing to do the slave-like jobs
They are people who hunger and thirst for God and God’s values
They are people who show mercy, who are pure in heart – who are honest and transparent
They are people who seek to make and build peace
And these people have such confidence in the love of God and in the hope that God has given us, that when others mock them or persecute them, they are filled with joy.

It is not really what we do that makes the difference. It is who we are, with Jesus, that makes the difference. It is about that quality, that inner something.

We are not called to add salt. We are called to be salt.

2. Salt people are salty

Jesus speaks about doing and teaching what is right
He speaks of good works (v16); he speaks of having a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (v20).

The Pharisees were good people, ‘righteous’ people.
They added salt: they brought the word of God, the wisdom of God. They did good. They taught good.
But they were not salt. It was only skin deep.

It was what has been called an external righteousness.
They did what was right, they followed the Old Testament law, because it was the way to get on in the world, to win approval, to please their parents, because they were afraid of what would happen if they were ‘found out’ – or whatever.

And because of that this was a harsh righteousness: it was judgemental of those who didn’t manage to keep the laws – they had, so why couldn’t other people? It led to a multiplying of additional rules. It led to either people being crushed because they didn’t keep the rules, or to pride when people thought they had kept the rules.
And it was done not for the glory of God but for their own glory.

Jesus here is speaking about a different kind of righteousness.
Not an external righteousness, but an internal righteousness.

And the reason that we live this internal righteousness, this new way of life, is not to bring glory to ourselves – so that others respect us or honour us – but to bring glory to God.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

And this inner righteousness, these good works come from someone who has a changed heart.
They do not come from someone who is ‘holier than thou’ (the sort of person who thinks or says, ‘I’m better than you, and I’m going to judge and condemn you), but they come from a woman or man who knows that they are a sinner, who knows that they are messed up, but who knows that they are beloved and forgiven and accepted by God.
So, it is not fear that motivates us – fear of what others will think if we don’t do it – but love for God.

If we come to Jesus, and remain with him, we will change. We will become salt.

How we see God will change; how we see other people will change. Our priorities will change; so will how we meet disappointment or success; It will show when we lose it, how we lose it, and what we do when we’ve lost it; in the way we talk to customers, or pupils or colleagues, people in the shops or the people who work for us; It will show in a growing respect for every life, and in how we treat our bodies and other peoples bodies; in how we are prepared to say sorry or speak the truth even if it is not to our advantage; in what we want to talk about; in how we spend our money or use our gifts and time.

The unknown author of the letter to Diognetus (written sometime in the 2nd century) writes: “The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, not practice any eccentric way of life. … They pass their lives in whatever township—Greek or foreign—each man's lot has determined; and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behaviour there is more like transients. … Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh; their days are passed on earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws. They show love to all men—and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood, and condemned; yet by suffering death they are quickened into life. They are poor, yet making many rich; lacking all things, yet having all things in abundance. … They repay [curses] with blessings, and abuse with courtesy. For the good they do, they suffer stripes as evildoers”.

Don’t get me wrong.
I am not saying that as people who follow Jesus, who have come to Jesus, that we will be perfect, or that our motives will not be really mixed up, but - just as salt cannot help but be salty, and just as light cannot help but shine - so a person who has received the love and mercy and forgiveness of God as a gift, who is filled with the Holy Spirit, who is close to Jesus, cannot but begin to do good works.

It is a great illustration that Jesus uses: salt.
I know that there are people who think, ‘Yes, I have come to Jesus. I try to trust him and follow him. But I am a pathetic Christian. I am so small, so insignificant’.
Well, it doesn’t matter. You are salt, and only a tiny bit of salt can make a huge difference. And if you want to find out how big a difference, just put a tiny bit of this salt on an open wound.

Several years ago I bought a second hand bible. Sadly, it has now fallen to pieces. But in the front, someone had written a motto: ‘Do whatever good you can to whoever you can whenever you can in the name of Jesus’.
The person who knows the love of Jesus will, along with all the muck that is in them, want – with all their heart – to do that.

Salt people are going to be salty

One last question: How do we not lose our saltiness?
There is a terrible warning here for people who lose their saltiness.
And before you say that salt is sodium chloride and sodium chloride cannot lose its flavour, Jesus is not giving a chemistry lesson, but is quoting a well-known proverb. And you know that if you mix your salt with lots of things that are not salt, you can’t use it for anything apart from gritting the road.
So how do we not lose our saltiness?

1. Hold on to the law and the prophets. Hold on to the teaching of the Bible
In verse 18, Jesus says of the Old Testament: ‘’not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished”.
He says, ‘Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven’ (v19)
Some say that when Jesus says, ‘all is accomplished’, he is speaking of his death and resurrection. But I suspect he is speaking of his return in glory and the establishment of his Kingdom – when we will be made perfect.
And until then, we must not let go of the Old Testament.
Yes, there are bits of the Old Testament that are hard to read; there are bits that we do not understand; there are bits where God seems to do what is awful, and of course we need to read the Old Testament laws in the light of the New Testament, and of how Jesus understands them.   
And let God be God. He is, as CS Lewis wrote, no tame God. God is far bigger than our ideas and concepts of what is right. And one day we will begin to understand.
And we thank God that even though He is beyond our understanding, yet because of Jesus we can approach him with confidence. We can call this God ‘our Father in heaven’. We will not be burnt up or consumed. God loves us.
So read and study and meditate on the scriptures – the Old Testament but particularly the New Testament. Learn passages by heart. Talk with each other about what you do not understand. Read commentaries. Ask Josh or Dan or Nicolette questions. Join a bible study group, or the online bible study
We lose our saltiness when we let go of the Scriptures – when we stand in judgement over them, and do not allow them to stand in judgement over us.

2. Hold on to the one who the Bible points us to. Hold on to Jesus.
He fulfils the law and the prophets, the Old Testament. They speak of him.
Go to him, call on him, trust him, receive his mercy, his forgiveness, his love. Ask him to change my heart – and to go on changing me, until I am fully like him, until I am salt.


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