Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the juice of the mallow? – Job 6:6
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. – Matthew 5:13
To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenseless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Texts: Ex. 19:3-6; Jer. 10:2-5; John 17:6-26; Col. 3:5-17
Hymn: Do Not Despair, O Little Flock, LBW 361
Salt is basic seasoning. Without it meals are bland or even inedible. Salt is also used to preserve food. And although today we worry about eating too much salt, it is still essential to life. Without salt the body cannot function and quickly dies. So when Jesus calls his followers the salt of the earth, he means to say they are necessary and essential to the world. The world has lost its flavor and fallen into corruption. Light is near to darkness, and hope has descended into the bars of the Pit (Job 17:12, 16). But the church brings something into the world it cannot do without. Christians are the seasoning of life; the special ingredient which preserves the world for the future.
But what is that special ingredient exactly? We might be tempted to answer this question quickly with a reference to the forgiveness of sins, but the gospel is more than a message we announce; it is a pattern of life we display. Jesus did not call on his disciples to sprinkle salt, he said to them, you are the salt. What you do, and how you live will bring flavor to the world. God’s people are a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9), joined to Christ, who is reconciling to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:18-20). The church conforms to her Head, displaying meekness, kindness, patience, forbearance, and the love of Christ which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col. 3:12-14). This is the true salt. Christians, through their mildness, peacefulness, and charity, bring forth true humanity, winning the world over to the love of Christ.
There are times, indeed long historical periods, when the church does not appear to be winning at all, but rather losing. Ancient Israel was delivered into Babylonian captivity. The churches of the Reformation were nearly destroyed in Germany’s Thirty Years’ War. Today, thankfully, in our country the threats to the church are not so grave; but even so, when we read about declining church attendance and growing atheism, see declining sexual morality and the dissolution of the family, and note the spread of physician assisted suicide as well as the persistence of abortion, we can begin to despair of the world and the direction of our country. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Hearing these words of Jesus, we may be tempted to misunderstand them as a command to hate the world in kind, and begin to rail against unbelief and immorality like an angry crusader. But the righteous culture warrior is, deep down inside, a misanthrope who has given up hope. The temptation to hatred and despair was one the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer confronted and rejected shortly before he was executed for opposing Hitler; “The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him. The only profitable relationship to others is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humanity, but became man for men’s sake.” Christ did not warn His disciples about the world so that they should view it as the enemy. Rather, “I have said this so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)
Christ has reconciled all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:20). Everything is placed under his feet, who is head of the church, which is His body (Eph. 1:22-23). Of course, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him, but we see Jesus, and that is enough (Heb. 2:8-9). Times of trial are no cause for despair, because we know that Christ is building his church now and always. Indeed, Christ’s building project lasts forever. Thus, united with Christ, the church confronts the world with a calm confidence.
“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:3-4). In the Revelation to John Christ warns His church against falling away from love. A church without love is like salt without saltiness. It is good only to be trodden under foot. But Christ sends his disciples into the world so that the genuineness of their faith, more precious than gold, may redound to His praise and glory (1 Pet. 7). “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). You are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14); therefore, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). The church, bound with Christ in love and patience, will always prevail.
Heavenly Father, You are the creator of all things, seen and unseen. Thank you for redeeming the world through the death and resurrection of your Son, so that united with His body I may participate in His work of reconciliation. I confess that, doubting in the truth of His reconciliation, I have despaired of your creation and looked upon the world with anger and hostility. Help me to love my enemies, O Lord, and to display patience and kindness to strangers, so that my witness may redound to your glory and praise.
In Christ’s name, Amen.