Are you familiar with the English proverb, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”? Its meaning is as obvious as the phrase is popular: you can present someone with an opportunity but you cannot force them to capitalize on it. A person will do as they will. However, you can make a horse thirsty. If you put a little salt in his feed, he is going to want to drink.
Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Jesus did not say we have the potential to be the salt of the earth. He said we are the salt, without question. Therefore, we need to live up to that expectation. He also said, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). As Christians we are to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:5-6). The salt is the word of God. Not only should we read and teach it, we must also have it within ourselves. Once we put the Scriptures into practice in our own lives, we can be a benefit to others. If we do not, then we are the salt that has lost its flavor.
How do we be “the salt of the earth”? It is not enough to know the what (to be the salt) and the why (salt is flavorful, it serves as a preservative, and it makes you thirsty) revolving around these scriptures. It gives us a false sense of accomplishment. It gives us the feeling that we can check these off as mastered when in reality it may not actually be so. James sums it up best: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). To be the salt of the earth, we must live in a way that makes the people around us thirst for righteousness because of our example.
Consider the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah (Ex. 1). Pharaoh tasked these women to kill the male newborns of the Hebrews, yet the midwives feared God and resisted that evil. These women risked their lives in obedience to God. Recall that the Israelites were slaves in a brutal environment at that time (Exod. 1:14). I am sure the women’s example bolstered the faith and hope of the Israelite community and reminded them that they were to fear God more than Pharaoh. Note, however, that there was no ostentatious showdown of rejecting the Pharaoh’s appointed task. Instead when Pharaoh asked why they had saved the male children, they gave a calm, clever response (Ex. 1:19). God blessed them for it and Jesus affirmed it when He said, “Blessed are the meek” (Matt. 5:5).
Timothy’s grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, shaped Timothy into a man of God. Through their faith, they led Timothy to have a genuine faith of his own which led him to become a gospel preacher (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Timothy was well spoken of by the brethren and Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him (Acts 16:1-5). Lois and Eunice were the salt in that they trained up a child in the way he should go. It is much easier to be a good example to others when you were raised by good examples and could see that your guardians actually were doers of the word and not hearers only. Mothers, ask yourself this. Am I leading my children to Christ through my example?
Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, is another good example of how to be the salt. She was “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). After she became ill and died, Peter was urged to come. When he arrived, widows stood by her body and wept. They showed him the garments that she had made (vs. 37-39). Obviously, Tabitha’s salt had not lost its flavor.
Recall how Phoebe was commended as a servant of the Lord (Rom. 16:1). Paul said she had been a helper to many and to himself. In today’s society, many people only look out for themselves and step on others to do so. Phoebe was not that way; she loved to help and was uplifting to others. In addition, Priscilla and her husband Aquila were faithful workers for the Lord and risked their lives for Paul (vs. 3-4). When Apollos, a Jew mighty in the Scriptures and the way of the Lord but who only had knowledge of the baptism of John, arrived in Ephesus and began to speak in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila “took him aside and more accurately explained to him the way of God” (Acts 18:24-26). They did this in a private manner so as not to cause a scene. “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). They handled an uncomfortable situation in a flavorful way. Apollos went on to other places speaking boldly of Jesus Christ and greatly helping other believers. I’m sure each of their actions encouraged one another.
These are by no means all the examples of how to be the salt of the earth. I find that Romans 14:17-19 gives the essence of what it means to be the salt of the earth: “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
We are not to be slaves of sin but instead be slaves of righteousness because we have died to sin in baptism and walk in newness of life through Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:1-18). We must walk upright and live like we have salt in ourselves. This means no filthy language or crude jokes. No watching inappropriate things on TV or dressing immodestly. Instead, we must show grace and mercy to others and go out of our way to help others and keep the peace.
Consider Paul’s words in the following passages:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
This makes people who see you thirst for righteousness by your example. Once we cause people to be thirsty, we lead them to where they can quench their thirst.
Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well that “the water that I shall give will become in him a fountain that springs up into everlasting life” because He is the Messiah about whom she knew (John 4:14ff). The woman went and told the men in the city about Jesus and they believed in Him. She made them thirsty and they wanted their own water so they sought out Jesus for themselves (vs. 28-30, 39-42). Once you get that powerful drink of water, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ripe for harvest (John 4:35)!
Samantha, her husband, Ty, and their children live and worship in Florence, SC.