“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 … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5: 13-16).
Although Jesus’ statement regarding being the light of the world is related directly to His disciples’ good deeds, His words at the same place in the Sermon on the Mount regarding being the “salt of the earth” do not say exactly what the salt represents. All we are told is that it is important that salt has “saltiness” or “flavor” and if it loses that, it isn’t good for anything.
Despite attempts to explain the symbolic importance of salt in this verse as a preservative, a purifier, a symbol of righteousness, and other things, it would seem best to simply accept Christ’s words that if the salt loses its flavor, it is useless. This was, after all, the primary use of salt – to give flavor and make things pleasing and palatable – as we see in the Book of Job: “Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt?” (Job 6:6a). The apostle Paul used a metaphor of salt in a similar way, saying: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6). This understanding of the function of salt to make something pleasing and acceptable seems to be strengthened by Jesus’ additional comment recorded in Mark: “Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50). Here we are to be “palatable” and thus acceptable to each other and at peace.
Understood in this natural way, Christ’s words that His disciples are the salt of the earth mean that they represent humankind to God in a pleasing manner – making the world “palatable” to Him, as it were. As the light, His disciples represent God to humanity through good deeds. The expressions thus encompass in only a few words the roles and responsibilities of discipleship as it relates to God and man. Representing humanity to God and God to humanity might seem like huge responsibilities, and they are, yet we can be encouraged. Jesus does not say to His disciples “Strive to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” He says “You are the salt and the light.” We can always strive to better serve in these ways – and hopefully we will – but if we are His disciples, if we have not lost our spiritual “flavor” and we have the good deeds that are part of our calling, we can rejoice that we have the privilege to function as salt and light in God’s plan.
This week’s new article on our site, “Discipleship Illustrated” by Whaid Rose, is specifically on the subject of discipleship in the Sermon on the Mount. It is taken, with permission, from his “Last Word” column in the Bible Advocate. The article incorporates a small climbing analogy and is a personal favorite for me. Be sure not to miss it!