Just when you think you’ve got it covered you learn something new. For instance, I can’t tell you how many sermons and teachings I’ve heard about being the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). I’ve even given a few myself. A few Sunday’s ago I learned something about salt that opened up a new way of thinking about how I interact with the world around me. To give credit where credit is due, my thanks goes to Kyle Benefield for bringing out this truth.
We know the verses which use salt as a metaphor. Jesus taught, “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” (Matthew 5:13, NLT) And, “Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”” (Mark 9:50, NLT) Paul encouraged, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6, NASB95) For years I’ve heard about salt as a seasoning and a preservative and that we as Jesus’ followers should also be those things in the world. Rightly so. But Kyle highlighted something specific that researchers have discovered about salt. It’s one of those truths that we see but don’t really think about until someone points it out.
None of us like to eat just salt, at least no one that I know of. I remember being given salt pills one day after a hot August football practice. I nearly threw up trying to get them down. Yet, we sprinkle salt on many things. Most of the time it makes a lot of sense. French fries and popcorn are pretty bland without salt. But some folks think I’m kind of strange when I dash salt on cantaloupe and watermelon. Then there’s the really strange practice of putting salt on fresh pineapple.
Salt does more than just make things taste salty. Its real job is to enhance the flavors that are already there. Researchers have discovered that salt does this by suppressing the perceived bitterness in foods. Maybe that’s why some folks sprinkle a little salt in their beer or coffee. Or why a little salt on fresh pineapple makes it taste sweeter.
This idea of suppressing perceived bitterness is part of how we are to be like salt to the world around us. It doesn’t take much digging to find bitterness and contention. The bitterness levels are pretty high right now in a lot of life areas. It seems like everyone has an axe to grind against someone else.
Now, we know or should know that bitterness is the fruit of unforgiveness and bowing to anything or anyone other than God (Deuteronomy 29:18). Truth is often sacrificed on the altar of bitterness. I know a father that loves his children but they can’t see it because of their own bitterness and unforgiveness towards him.
Instead of adding to the bitterness already in the world our task as followers of Jesus is to tone down the perceived bitterness so the true flavors can come out. We do that by being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). We tone down bitterness by being forgiving even when we could be righteously offended. We block bitterness when we choose to use words of grace instead of words of accusation. We reduce the perceived bitterness anytime that we pray for folks with love and compassion while expecting nothing in return. We reduce bitterness whenever we lay aside judgment for the sake of demonstrating Christ’s love and mercy. I don’t know about you, but that puts a whole new light on what it means to be the salt of the earth.