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A Salty Metaphor

18 November, 2003 1:20 PM

Tonight at Living Room we are continuing our series on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) by looking at Mtt 5:13-16 (and maybe Mtt 17-20 if we get time).

The words 'You are the Salt of the World/Earth' have struck me afresh as I've contemplated the passage this morning in preparation. A number of things are buzzing around my little head:

1. We don't get any choice in the matter - we are Salt. The choice comes in how (and if) we express this saltiness.

2. We are the Earth/World's salt. Our relationship to the world is central to Jesus in this description.

3. Salt is useless unless it interacts with another substance. On its own it does very little. It cannot enhance food's flavor or preserve food (as it was used in Jesus day) unless it comes into contact with that food. As Salt we are useless unless we interact with our World (or as some have said - get out of the salt shaker).

4. My memory of chemistry is that salt is a stable compound that can't lose its 'saltiness' by itself. The only way it can lose it's taste is to be diluted and mixed with other compounds. (water, dirt...anything) The danger in 'interacting with our world' is that we become diluted as we mix into it.

5. As I look at how many Christians interact with the world today I wonder if many fall into two camps. Either they remain in the 'salt shaker' (or their holy huddles) and don't interact with the world they live in for fear of being contaminated or they become so mixed up with the world that they become somewhat diluted. Instead of having an impact on the world the world dominates them and they lose their saltiness. I guess balance is sometimes hard but so much of Jesus message calls for it.



I really enjoyed tonight's discussion on Mtt 5:13-16 (yeah we only got through the four verses). Some really great things came out of our discussion - here are some of things we discussed:

In addition to the above we talked a lot about the struggle that all of us have to find that balance between losing our saltiness and removing ourselves from the 'earth' altogether. Its all very nice in theory but when it comes down to living it its bloody hard.

A few other things that came out of our discussion:

6. In the context Jesus was speaking into both salt and light were very valuable commodities. Salt was even used as currency and was seen in ancient Greek culture as divine. When we hear that we are 'salt and light' I think we miss some of the significance of what that means as we take both for granted.

7. Similarly both salt and light were essential components of life in Jesus day (as they are today). Those listening to Jesus would have known the implications of a life without access to them. Without salt they would not be able to preserve food - meat would rot within hours. To say to his followers that they were the salt and light of the world is actually to say to them that they are to play central roles in the world. He bestows on them (and us) an incredible honor, privilege and also responsibility.

8. When added to food salt gently permeates it and brings out the flavor of what is already there. When you serve up the meal you generally can taste the effect of the salt but would be pushed to identify where it is - you can't see it too much. Perhaps this is a model of how we should approach our world - mix through it - permeate - draw out the flavors and be a part of enhancing it.

Thanks for your comments so far - feel free to leave of your reflections.



Perhaps the dynamic you seek is not as easy as it sounds. I love getting out of the salt shaker and leading the congregation I serve to do the same but we are under constant criticism for compromising the gospel when I think we are a trying to live the gospel.

After all we follow the One who is good but never safe.

Glenn Teal » 18 November, 2003 12:27 PM

Good thoughts, Darren.

Laura » 18 November, 2003 12:54 PM

Good thoughts as usual, Darren. A few idle thoughts from me and badly expressed. And I invite the more erudite Bible scholars amongst you all to correct me...I'm thinking aloud.

I wonder if, when Jesus chose to express himself in metaphor, he chose the metaphor to express some reality. So the referent is not 'salt' in this case. So we don't think, how is salt used and what does that say about how we behave, but what is Jesus talking about which he then expresses in terms of salt and light. It sounds barely different but I think the implications are more divergent.

When I look at it that way I suspect that salt and light are speaking of the way of wisdom (that balance of which you rightly speak). And if I suspect if we explore the theme of wisdom in the Bible you find that your own relationship with God is foundational(the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom) as is obedience to him (the wise and the foolish have a strong moral overtones in the way they are used in the Bible) and that how you respond to the world is a matter of observation, judgement and ongoing dependence on God (for example the Proverbs tell us a wise man answers a fool, and in the next breath not to answer him....it depends on the circumstances...but at the same time Proverbs tells us there are no mechanistic answers - for example, do this and you will succeed or do that, and God will always reward you. Even the wisest man remains dependant on God, not on his own wisdom.)

As always, it is relational and it starts and ends with God. You learn to be salt and light, by grounding yourself in God (can never encourage someone enough to pray and read the Word...how do we do God's will if we don't know Him, who He is, how He interacts with people), in your community of faith(how many lessons could we learn if we listened to our elders - or avoided their mistakes, or to those who have walked many years on the Way or who can shed light on our own blind spots) and by observing the world, doing, and learning from experience. There are times when you will act in some way to prevent a bad situation getting worse (be salt) and there are other times when the wisest thing to do, for your own sake or for the sake of someone else, is to step back and let it go bad, or expose something for what it is etc etc.

It is the balance of which you speak of Darren. And as Glenn says it's not an easy dynamic. And sometimes you will stuff up and sometimes you won't. But the knowing, learning, doing all go together. But I think the starting point is not seeing it as straightforward obedience - it is that too. It's not a matter of is this Christian is this worldly. I can't really see those sort of categories in scripture. It is the way of wisdom. Not just any wisdom, but wisdom as scripture describes it and embodied in Jesus, who is the wisdom of God.

OK you can now all tell me I'm a raving lunatic. :-)


saint » 18 November, 2003 4:25 PM

Let me check myself as I didn't express myself clearly..yes there is a way of the world and the way of wisdom, of God in the Bible. I should have said we often use the categories of 'worldy' and 'Christian' incorrectly

saint » 18 November, 2003 4:35 PM


Great points about the salt. :)

I also see Christians as needing to live within this tension -- not becoming absorbed by the surrounding culture, but also not remaining aloof from it.

One of the greatest products of the Reformation was the sense of Calling -- that God had given each individual unique gifts, and that each was called to a particular work in life. Because this calling came from God, it had dignity and value, no matter if it were humble or great. And because it came from God, it was holy -- whether "churchly" or secular work.

Too often Christians think they're only being salt when they're doing beach evangelism or leading a Bible study or the like (and of course these are important.) But we need to recapture the Reformational understanding that we're salt 24/7, and that God has called us to be salt wherever He's placed us.

Discoshaman » 18 November, 2003 4:48 PM

Don't forget that Salt makes you thirsty.

"Felix" » 18 November, 2003 8:35 PM

Good thoughts, if you don't mind I would like to use some of this for our young adults group sometime. I once had an entire bible study on this subject for about 4 weeks, it was very intense, but I like how you sum it up here... should make for some great discussion.

TravisM » 18 November, 2003 11:13 PM

Great thoughts. I very much enjoyed this post, it helped to look at this passage in a diff. way!

Beth Sargent » 19 November, 2003 2:46 AM

Hi, ive been reading your blog for the past two days, and i stumbled past this bit. I'll tell you this. I'm no christian anymore, i've given up trying to reconcile myself with the inherent contradictions and hypocrisies. However, when i read this post, i felt a little, well, touched. I guess sometimes i feel a lot like a grain of salt that went out into the world and diluted itself. but it doesnt make me feel bad about it. In some ways i feel i may have transcended that earlier rigid state of "saltiness" and now have the independence to think towards other states. i just wanted to tell you that and thank you for the blog tips.

» 19 November, 2003 8:51 PM

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