The Scriptorium

Salt of the Earth

We are the salt of the earth, says our Lord. Matthew 5.13

Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount: Righteousness (1)

Pray Psalm 24.1, 2.
The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

Sing joyously Psalm 24.1, 2
(Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
The earth is the Lord’s, as is all it contains;
the world and its peoples He daily sustains.
He founded it fast on the seas long ago,
and bid gentle rivers throughout it to flow.

Read Matthew 5.1-13; meditate on verse 13

1. To what does Jesus liken His followers?

2. What are they supposed to do?

Having explained that righteousness is one of the aims and aspects of life in the Kingdom of God (cf. Rom. 14.17, 18), Jesus now turns to a somewhat fuller explication of the nature and power of righteousness (vv. 13-20).

He begins in a way that will characterize much of His teaching. He uses a metaphor. The beauty of metaphors is that they invite us to take something unfamiliar and think of it in more familiar terms. Metaphors appeal to both the mind and the heart; they are to be understood, but also to be enjoyed and embraced.

Being a citizen in the Kingdom of God is a fairly abstract idea at one level. Jesus has already outlined the most characteristic aspects of life in the Kingdom. Kingdom citizens mourn for their sins; they keep focused on God in His purity; they work to be righteous and to show mercy and peace; and they prepare themselves to rejoice whenever anyone reviles or otherwise persecutes them. And, at all times, they have an eye to their home beyond this space/time framework, in the Kingdom that exists in its fullness in the world to come.

Now Jesus zeroes in on righteousness. He says it’s like salt. Or rather, He says that citizens of the Kingdom, who have as their aimgrowing in righteousness, are like salt. We are the salt of the earth. We have been invested with a value and a power as citizens that can only result in one of two outcomes. Either we “season” the earth, or we will be “thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” There’s no middle ground. There is no place for those who are the salt of the earth to simply sit in the shaker, enjoying the company of their fellow salt crystals, with no intention of fulfilling any larger calling. Sooner or later, salt that does not season is salt that will be thrown out.

The application Jesus makes here is salt as a savory seasoning (the meaning of the Greek verb, be seasoned). Salt brings out the flavor of things, making them taste even better. Believers are the salt of the earth. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. He made it all good, but at present, it groans and travails under a burden of sin (Rom. 8.20-22). Everything on the earth and in it has rich potential for good, for expressing that which refracts and reflects the very character of God. But the environment groans – from abuse, neglect, and indifference. Species die. Forests are depleted. Streams and lake are strangled by pollution. Human culture – also fraught with potential to glorify God (Acts 14.17) – is likewise in a period of decay. Consider the state of the arts, music, film, literature, and other cultural forms in our day, not to mention the vast wasteland areas of the Internet and the increasingly dehumanizing educational and political systems. These all have potential for good; but they are becoming unpalatable to God, and should be to His people as well. Our calling is to salt these areas – the whole earth and everything in it – with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, so that beauty, goodness, and truth might once again flourish throughout the earth.

Salt had another use in Jesus’ day. It was a preservative for meats. Thus, not only does salt bring out the inherent goodness of things – a goodness put there by the grace of God – it also preserves the goodness that exists, so that it will not quickly decay. We are the salt of the earth. You are the salt of your Persoal Mission Field.

The righteousness to which we’re called is not exhausted in personal ethics. It extends to cultural transformation, the care of creation, and the rebuilding of institutions so that they honor God and do good work (cf. Rom. 13.1-4). We are the salt of the earth! And because we have neglected “the earth and its fullness” as a proper focus of our Kingdom-and-glory calling (1 Thess. 2.12), all its fullness is falling to the decay of sin, and it groans and travails, waiting and yearning to experience the freedom we have in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

Seeking righteousness means fulfilling our calling as the salt of the earth – and all its fullness.

1. What does it mean for you to be the salt of the earth?

2. How can Christians salt relationships in their Personal Mission Field?

3. What can we do to salt other aspects of the earth and its fullness?

Why must you be salt? Jesus says in effect: “You are accountable not only for your own life but also for that of the entire world. I am sending you not to one or two cities, nor to ten or twenty, nor even to one nation, as I sent the prophets. Rather, I am sending you to the entire earth, across the seas, to the whole world, to a world fallen into an evil state.” For by saying, “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus signifies that all human nature itself has “lost its taste,”
having become rotten through sin. John Chrysostom (344-407), The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 15.6

Use me to salt the earth and its fullness today, O Lord, especially as I…

Pray 24.3-10.
God takes care of His earth by the clean hands and pure hearts of His saints. Pray that He will use you as salt in your Personal Mission Field today.

Sing Psalm 24.3-10.
Psalm 24.3-10 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
Oh, who may ascend to the Lord’s holy place?
And who may appear to His glorious face?
All they who are clean in their hearts and their hands
and true in their souls with the Savior shall stand.

A blessing all they from the Lord shall receive
who seek Him and on His salvation believe.
For these are His people, the children of grace,
who earnestly, eagerly seek for His face.

O lift up your heads, all you gates of the soul,
for the Savior would enter and render you whole!
The Lord strong and mighty in battle draws nigh;
He rules in His glory above us on high.

O Who is this King, Who approaches our gate?
His might is before us, His glory is great!
This King is the Lord of all glory above,
Who comes to indwell us in mercy and love!

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore