THE PARADOX OF SALT
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Salt is a paradox because it is both vital to your health, and one of your health's most deadly enemies. Dr. Conrad of Bethel is a great example of the importance of knowing this paradox. He had too much salt in his system, and needed to reduce his intake of salt. This a theme heard everywhere in our day, and books and pamphlets warn of the poisonness impact of salt, and all it can do to destroy you if you take in too much. Dr. Conrad heeded the warning, and did such a good job of denying himself salt that he wound up in the hospital. When I visited him, he told me he was there to get resalted. He had taken so much of the salt out of his system that they had to put a saline solution back into him to restore his health. Too much of a good thing can kill you, but it is also true that too little of a good thing can kill you.
Salt is not a friend or an enemy, it is both, and, therefore, has to be both loved and hated in order to be kept in balance, so as to be a blessing rather than a curse. There is no wisdom in being either pro-salt, or anti-salt. Real wisdom is in being pro, and anti salt.
I am not for it or against it, but for it and against it. The Bible uses salt almost always in a positive way. Until modern times salt has been positive in the minds of most people, and this positive thinking has to be our foundation when we consider the subject of salt.
Salt has been sacred to many peoples, and not just the Jews. Even Plato, the Greek philosopher said, "Salt, as the law testifies, is a substance specially dear to the gods." It is still a custom in some countries to put salt in a coffin, for salt is the symbol of incorruption, and of immortality. It is considered to be distasteful to Satan. But Jesus, at least three times, is recorded as saying that salt is good. In Mark 9:50 he said, "Salt is good, but if it loses it's saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." In Luke 14:34 he said, "Salt is good, but if it loses it's saltiness how can it be made salty again." As Christians we need to focus on the good effects of salt, and strive to be that in relationship to the world. In a previous message we looked at salt as a Preventer and as a Promoter. Now we want to look at a third aspect of salt.
SALT IS A PURIFIER.
It is one of the oldest and most widely used antiseptics. In other words, it has healing power. It does not just prevent corruption, it can also heal and restore after corruption has already set in. Salt was sort of the penicillin of the ancient world. New born babies were rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth as protection against infection. Jesus may have been rubbed with salt as he lay in the manger. Salt was almost certainly a part of the spices used on his body for burial. Early Christians use to put a pinch of salt on the tongue of a baby as a symbol of purity, and that this child was dedicated to God.
It is out of the positive value of salt that some superstitions developed. It is, for example, considered bad luck to spill salt. I doubt if very many take this seriously today, but it is an old superstition. You are suppose to throw some of the salt over your shoulder if you do spill it, for Satan stands ready to take advantage of you for spilling the salt, and incurring God's displeasure. This superstition is embodied in DaVinci's famous Last Supper. He has painted Judus with a tipped over salt shaker in front of him.
It is no superstition however, that salt is a healer and purifier. It is no accident of nature that the oceans are full of salt. The whole earth depends upon the salty seas for healing and purifying. All of the pollution of the world's rivers runs to the ocean where the poisons are neutralized by the salt water. This provides a source of ever fresh water to be evaporated, and taken around the world with its life giving power in purity. One cubic mile of sea water holds 125 million tons of salt. The dead sea is 6 times greater than that. This salt not only prevents, but it cures after the poison is a reality. So the Christian is not only to prevent the world from going rotten, they are to work constantly to heal, cleanse, and reverse the process of sin which decays life, and restore life to health. This is a very positive power.
Salt, in order to heal, must often sting and bring discomfort and pain. Professor Theodore Christlieb of Germany once said, "Salt, applied to a wound, causes a burning pain; so the Christian, with the testimony of his word and act, is often laid upon the wounds of the world, in order that it may feel its misery and become painfully aware of its departure from a state of moral health. The truth that cannot wound has no power to heal. The bee that has no sting can give no honey." I don't know if you have ever cured a canker sore with a styptic pencil, but I have. The pain is almost unbearable, but you do it on purpose, because the pain is killing the sore, and you chose to take the pain for the value of the healing.
The Christian can be a very positive power in the world even when they are being a pain, if the pain is designed to heal. Not everything Christians do that irritates and stings are healing. They are just rubbing people the wrong way, and this behavior is not in any way having a purifying influence. They are not at that point salt of the earth in the way Jesus intends them to be. Pain without the purpose of purifying and healing is a part of the negative side of life. The key idea of Jesus is that we are to influence the world in a positive way. Whether people become Christians or not, even the non-Christian world should be influenced by Christians. Cotton Mather, the early American preacher, wrote a book of essays. Benjamin Franklin read the book and it changed his life. He began a powerful influence for good. This Christian book was salt that was keeping the wounded earth from being as sick as it otherwise would be.
To be salt means to have an influence on the world. This is what makes the facts of our modern day somewhat scary. The church is growing, and the majority of Americans are professing Christians, and yet we see our nation becoming more and more secular, and sin of all kinds is popular and openly accepted as the American way of life. There is a contradiction between the number of people claiming to be salt, and the lack of their influence on the lifestyle of the world around them. We need to keep a balance between the prophets of doom, and the positive thinking preachers. There is much truth in both, for the facts will support either one if you look at just one side. There is a good case for this being the best of times for the church. The church is expanding world wide; the Bible is reaching more people than ever in history; Christian radio and TV are powerful around the world; and Christian literature and music is a thriving business. However, the non-Christian world has also been thriving, and its lifestyle is the way of life for millions, with all of its immorality. The dark side is just as real as the bright side, and so there is a good case for both pessimism and optimism.
The Christian has an obligation to first of all be an optimist. He can rightly be a pessimist too, but only part time, and in relation to specific negative realities. A Christian even has a right to feel America could go down the tube, and experience the judgment of God, and lose it's place as the greatest power on earth for the spread of the Gospel. That could happen, and no one can deny it. Even so, the Christian must be an over-all optimist, and recognize that Christ will conquer Satan, and good will triumph over evil. Influence is what it is all about, and we know influence does not depend upon quantity as much as quality. A little salt makes a big difference in how an egg, or a tomato tastes. It is not the majority of the matter in your mouth, but only a fraction, yet it makes a major difference.
It is a false basis for pessimism when Christians say, we are so small, and the minority, and so we can have no power or influence in how things will be. This kind of pessimism is not legitimate for the Christian, for it is a denial of the power of quality over quantity. The Bible makes it clear, little is more than enough when it is surrendered to God. David with his five smooth stones is quality against the quantity of Goliath and his mighty weapons. The little lad in the Gospels with his five loaves is more than a match for the great task of feeding the 5 thousand. His quality overcame the great quantity of the crowds need, because he surrendered it to Christ. Five stones and five loaves are not much, but five becomes a significant number when you think of the 5 fingers you have on each hand, and what you can do with those 5's if your hands are yielded to God.
Salt is capable of having an influence that far greater than you would think because of its insignificant size. One Christian in a plant; one Christian in a class; one Christian in a block; one Christian on a board; one Christian on a team; or one Christian in any group can have an influence on that group that reveals the power of quality over quantity. This means the numbers are not the key to Christian optimism. The minority can be superior to the majority if what they do, and seek to accomplish, is for the good of the majority. This means Christians should be everywhere in our culture. They should be in politics, and law, and all branches of the government. They should be in the schools, industry, and business of all kinds. They should be in the arts and sciences, and anywhere where it is not inherently evil to be.
The only way salt can do anything of value is to come into contact with the food it is meant to influence. This is why the Christians have to be in world, but not of it. If the Christian does not get out of the salt shaker into the meat the meat will rot, and it will not be all it was meant to be. Kenneth Wilson pointed out that the Christian is the salt, and not the pepper of the world. The peppery Christian is the hot, pungent, fiery and stinging Christian. A little pepper goes a long way, and there is not a need for a lot of this kind of Christian influence. That is why the holes on the pepper shaker are smaller than those on the salt shaker. You don't need as much pepper as salt.
Salt, because it preserves and brings out the value already in the food, is basically a positive influence. We are not in the world to spoil it, but to keep it from spoiling. We are not to try and destroy the world, and its system, but to bring out the values, and make them serve the kingdom of God. The world has values worth preserving, or Jesus would not want us to be the salt of the world. Our task, therefore, is a positive one of building, and not tearing down; of enhancing, and not of degrading. We are to be primarily for rather than against. We are to labor for what is good, rather than give our life to try and reverse the decaying process in what is already rotten.
The Christian who chooses to be pepper rather than salt often fights a futile battle. Kenneth L. Wilson wrote this interesting comparison between pepper and salt.
Pepper calls attention to itself. That is it's business. Salt, on the
other hand (unless it is overdone), calls attention to what it salts.
Salt in the proper measure on the potatoes sends out a message
that, being interpreted, reads, "Hey, these potatoes are good!"
Pepper, whatever you put it on, calls attention to itself. That is
what it is suppose to do. It's a little like the sauce on spaghetti.
Who eats spaghetti for the tongue-tingling taste of unadorned
spaghetti? If someone says, "This is great spaghetti!" you may
be sure they are talking about something other than spaghetti.
They are talking about what's on it. That's the way pepper, too,
works. It shouts, "Hey, that's me you taste!"
And so I think that Jesus didn't say, "You are the pepper of the
earth," because He didn't expect us to call attention to ourselves
but to make something or someone else palatable, acceptable,
zestful. If he had said pepper, it wouldn't take that much pepper.
But salt-it takes a lot of salt.
The peppery, here-I-am-and-don't-you-forget-it Christian goes
a long way. Just a comparative smidgen takes care of global
demands. But there is always a need for the its-my-job-to-make-
you-look-better Christian. There's always an opening for the
Christian who is willing to push the other person forward, bear him
up, keep him at his best, let him be paid the compliment, preserve
his goings out and comings in."
We need to see that salt works in silence. It is not a noisy influence, but like the sun, it has a great impact on the whole world without a sound. Just by being what it is it has its influence, and salt is the same way. Words can be weak, and not followed up by action. This can make Christian words, when not applied, be a negative influence. The Christian needs to be something first before his saying something will count. The Christian needs to bring out the best in the people around him. This will earn them the right to speak and to be heard. Few people have less influence than the loud mouth Christian who is always spouting spirituality, but who never adds flavor to the life of those he touches.
The goal is positive, and, therefore, if the method of the salt's working does not lead to a positive end, one is not being what Jesus intended. Jesus clearly implies that salt and light can both fail to achieve their end. The salt can fail to be salty, and the light can be hidden so men do not see. If, however, they do feel the taste and see the light, but are negatively impressed, and do not glorify God, then they have also failed to function as intended. In other words, salt and light need to lead to changes in the world that please God, and benefit man. If they do not do so, they are not in the will of God. But here is where the paradox of salt comes in. It's job is to prevent decay, and prevention is very difficult to determine, because you are dealing, not with what is, but with what isn't.
Two elderly ladies were boarding a plane, and as they walked by the insurance concession, one said to the other, "Aren't you going to buy any insurance?" The other responded, "No, I use to, but it never seemed to make any difference." Of course it never made any difference, as long as tragedy is prevented. Prevention is a non-event, and thus, hard to appreciate, for it is a non-experience. Christians are doing their job best when they prevent terrible falls and sins. But since they never happen, there is no evidence to work with as there is with healing and restoration. So the paradox of salt is that it does it's job best when there is nothing happening. If there is no scandal in government; no split in the church; no injustice in the courts; no rip offs in the business world, or any other negative events that never make the news, then salt is at work doing the will of God.
Note the personal touch. You are the salt. It is not any organization, or committee, or government, but you. People are God's method of preserving the world, and promoting His truth. The people He uses are unique, but they are not rare. Salt and light are two very common elements. They are very cheap to purchase because they are common. Nobody is going to pay a lot for salt or light, so Jesus selects two elements that are common to make it clear that the Christian does not have to be some rare specimen to make a difference in the world.
Most Christians are just people like their neighbors. They are not outstanding, and do not attract any more attention than does a salt shaker, or a light bulb. They are just part of everyday life, yet they play a very positive role in that everyday life. Christians, just by being what they are, make a difference. They have an influence on the people round about them. They help establish a standard of ethics and justice that does have an impact. The only reason our society has not been completely corrupted is due to the presence of Christians in all areas of our culture. The problem is not that the world is corrupt, for this is to be expected of fallen man. The problem is, when the salt begins to lose its saltiness, and Christians no longer have a different standard from the world. There is trouble then, for with no salt to change the taste, and give people a higher light to aim for, the world drags the church down to its level, and the whole thing begins to rot.
The focus of the Christian, therefore, is to be on his own life. If Christians keep themselves unspotted from the world, and maintain Christian ideas, they will be the salt of the world no matter how corrupt it becomes. If the Christians lose their salt, and their standards, then they will be of no value to change the world, and also of no value for God's purpose. In other words, there's nothing on earth more worthless than a Christian who has no influence for God, and does nothing to aid God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Here is clear teaching as to what God's will is for every Christian. It is God's will that you be salt and light, and make a difference in some way that is positive. You have got to add a zing, or your not good for a thing.
Salt helps to satisfy the hunger, and stimulate the thirst. A Christian is to so relate to people that life taste better, and they see real value in Godly living. This will produce a thirst for those values that can bring them to God. Our goal as salt is to help make people thirsty for the knowledge of God. Dr. Charles Brown was the pastor of a large church in California. One Sunday a stranger handed him a check for ten thousand dollars. Half of it he wanted to go to Methodist Missions, and the other half to Presbyterian Missions. Some years later the man died and left another one hundred and ten thousand to be divided between the two missions. Dr. Brown got in touch with the man's partners in business to find out more about his commitment to missions.
The partners had a Chinese cook, and quite often the man who is now dead would treat him unmercifully, and make the air blue with cursing. Yet the cook did not respond in hate, but endured it in good spirit, and did his job well. One day he caught his cook reading the Bible. He grabbed it and saw that it was in Chinese, and he was amazed. He asked him where he got it, and he explained that it was from his mother who was a Christian, and she got it from missionaries. He asked if it was the Bible that enabled him to remain quiet and respectful even when he was being cursed? The cook smiled and said, "yes." The partner was deeply impressed, for he remembered that his mother had given money to take the Gospel to China, and his father was angry with her for wasting her money on the heathen. He realized that his mother's own money could have purchased the Bible that changed his cook's life.
He could not, for the life of him, remember if his mother gave her money through the Methodist or the Presbyterian Mission, and that is why he split his gifts half and half. The story does not reveal if the partner surrendered to Christ, but it does reveal that the Chinese cook did more than use salt to make meals taste better. He was salt making all of life taste better, for his Christian conduct led to a great investment in blessing the lives of others. That is what being salt is all about. It is being what God wants you to be in relationships, so that you bring out the good that is potential in those relationships, and thereby add flavor to all of life. Someone wrote,
The Christian adds a hope, an outlook, an
excitement that it would not have without
him. He does not supplant what is, but
wakes it, brings out the best in it, nudges
it more alive, more noble than it knew it
was or could be. Salt brings out the hidden
capacity of men to be the children of God.
Life is often bland and tasteless, and that is why people are willing to take such risks with alcohol and other drugs, and that is why they risk all on some fling. People want life to be delicious and tasty, and Jesus expects Christians to show the world that life can be far better without the salt substitutes that Satan makes so attractive, but which lead to such sad side effects. This is a tall order, and Christians fail as often as they succeed. The reason is because they have not worked hard enough to develop a Christlike perspective on life, which Jesus revealed in the beatitudes. Only when the Christian can be happy in all of life's tough times, can they add flavor to the lives of others in tough times. It takes a mature Christian to make all of life taste better.
This is what Paul is saying to the Colossians in Col. 4:5-6, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Does what you say taste good? Is it seasoned with salt so that people find your tongue a pleasant addition to the conversation? Charles Banning wrote,
"The other day I was filling my small ink bottle from a large
ink bottle. Carelessly I filled it too full and a little ran over
on my desk. Now what was it that ran over and spilled on the
desk? Was it milk or coffee? Of course not. I filled the bottle
with ink and it was ink that ran over. Influence is the over-
flow of life. What flows over and enters other lives is that
with which one has filled his own life. You cannot fill your
life with fear, hate, criticisms, neglect or selfish interest and
then have grace, truth and love flow over into the lives of
Stanley went out to Africa to search for Livingstone.
Stanley was not a Christian. For days he watched the
missionary at work. His sympathy and patience with the
natives, his untiring efforts to help, his never failing faith
and good cheer, and his eagerness to serve became a
challenge. Stanley said, "When I saw his untiring efforts,
spending himself for Christ and human need, I became a
Christian at his side though he never spoke to me about
it." The over-flow of Livingstone's life won Stanley."
Every Christian should desire to do good, and have a positive influence with the same intensity that those who do evil desire to achieve their goal. Mussolini said, "I am obsessed by this wild desire-it consumes my whole being: I want to make a mark on my era with my will, like a lion with its claw. A mark like this," he said as he took his nails and made a scratch in the back of the chair. He made his mark, but it was for evil. Let us pray that we can make a mark for the cause of Christ, and be effective as the salt of the earth.