“Have Salt in Yourselves”
1. With what should our “utterance” be seasoned, and why?
SALTS of an organic, vegetable sort are very vital to our bodily health. There is a salt that is very essential to the health of an organized body of worshipers of God. In agreement with this is the counsel of one of the foremost guardians of the spiritual health of the first-century Christian congregation, namely, the apostle Paul. In writing to a congregation with which he had yet to get personally acquainted, he said: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.”—Col. 4:6.
2. So what question arises as to the apostles who tried to prevent a “certain man” from expelling demons by using Jesus name?
2 This makes us wonder how much of such “salt” seasoned the utterance of men on the occasion that the apostle John called to the attention of his Teacher, Jesus Christ. About this we read: “John said to him: ‘Teacher, we saw a certain man expelling demons by the use of your name and we tried to prevent him, because he was not accompanying us.’”—Mark 9:38.
3, 4. (a) Likely John was then expecting what, and why? (b) What selfish element appeared in John’s explanation, and what does it indicate about his view of matters?
3 This sounds as if John was expecting a word of commendation, an approving pat on the back, from the Teacher who was instructing them in the Christian way. John may have had in mind how Jesus cured that particularly stubborn case of demon possession up north near Caesarea Philippi. He may have felt that he was protecting Jesus’ right to authorize others to expel unclean spirits, demons, from their helpless victims. From John’s viewpoint, a person not thus authorized by Jesus had no right to use his powerful name in exorcising wicked spirit demons. But a selfish element comes to view in the reason that John gave for trying to prevent the certain unnamed man from casting out demons. John said that they engaged in preventive acts “because he was not accompanying us.”
4 The mention of “us” revealed that John did not have just Jesus in mind but had all twelve apostles also in mind. On a previous occasion Jesus had sent out these twelve apostles to preach the good news of the Kingdom and to perform cures, including the liberating of the victims of demon possession. (Matt. 10:1-8; Mark 6:7-13) So John viewed the apostles as an exclusive, title-holding team of healers.
5. For the guidance of his indignant zealous apostles, what comment did Jesus make regarding that “certain man”?
5 Consequently, as John and his fellow apostles reasoned, what right did that “certain man” have to use the name of their Teacher when working at expelling demons? In doing so, the man was plainly infringing upon the rights of Jesus and his apostles. However, did Jesus view the matter in that way? The Bible record shows that he had no word of approval for his indignant zealous apostles. “But,” as Mark 9:39-41 goes on to say, “Jesus said: ‘Do not try to prevent him, for there is no one that will do a powerful work on the basis of my name that will quickly be able to revile me; for he that is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink on the ground that you belong to Christ, I truly tell you, he will by no means lose his reward.’”
6. By using Jesus’ name in expelling demons, what was that “certain man” doing with respect to that name?
6 Why should this “certain man” have been prevented from carrying on his work of expelling demons by the use of Jesus’ name? Had he been trying to revile Jesus’ name by doing so? Had he thus been dragging the name of the Messiah in the mud, making it appear vile, giving it a bad association? He was not using the name of Jesus in the way that the seven sons of the Jewish chief priest Sceva did later on as a formula for exorcism, as a magical name. (Acts 19:13-16) The demon did not say to that “certain man”: ‘I know Jesus, but who are you?’ and then refuse to leave the demon-possessed person. But this “certain man” really had faith in Jesus’ name and succeeded in expelling demons. By this course he was actually magnifying the name of Jesus, making its power become manifest.
7. Why was this “certain man,” although not accompanying Jesus and his apostles, yet for them?
7 Hence, this “certain man” who was not accompanying Jesus and his apostles was not against them and drawing attention away from their witness work. Logically, since he was not against them, he must have been for them, although not accompanying them. It could hardly have been expected that, at one moment he was doing miracles that exalted and spoke well of Jesus’ name, but at the next moment he was speaking evil of Jesus. It would be inconsistent, unreasonable, for us to expect that, by a powerful miracle, the man would bring honor and respect on the name and afterward privately speak evil of the name and work against its bearer and his apostles. So the apostles should take no further preventive action against the man.
8. On the basis of what principle would this “certain man” not go unrewarded?
8 The unnamed man would not lose his reward for what he was doing. Evidently he was in line for discipleship of Jesus Christ. He was doing something that compared favorably with what Jesus said was deserving of a reward, namely, the giving of a cup of water to a thirsty person on the ground that this one was a disciple belonging to Christ. Such an act might seem to be the least thing that one could do for the relief of another, but it was indicative of something that meant a lot to Jesus Christ. It meant that the giver of the cup of water was in favor of Jesus as the Messiah and gave to the extent of his ability to support the cause of Christ. The rule later laid down by Jesus applies here: “To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) Jesus Christ as King would not let this go unrewarded.
WILLFULLY STUMBLING OTHERS TO A FATAL FALL
9. What concerns us about the effect on the “certain man” made by interference from Jesus’ apostles? Why?
9 When the apostles tried to prevent that “certain man” from further expelling demons by the use of Jesus’ name, was their utterance to him with graciousness, seasoned with salt or in good taste? We have reason to doubt it. What concerns us is, Was the man stumbled by the words and actions of the apostles toward him when he was doing a fine work not disapproved by their Teacher? This is something really serious, for Jesus went on to say: “But whoever stumbles one of these little ones that believe, it would be finer for him if a millstone such as is turned by an ass were put around his neck and he were actually pitched into the sea.”—Mark 9:42.
10. A stumbling of one of such “little ones” willfully would be tantamount to what, and why?
10 The person being stumbled to a fall might be ‘a little one,’ but that would not minimize the seriousness for the one causing the stumbling in this case. Why not? Because it involved “one of these little ones that believe.” This would designate a believer in Jesus as the Messianic Son of God. The belief of such “little ones” puts them in the way to everlasting life. So, if anyone willfully, purposely, inconsiderately caused such a ‘little one’ on the way to eternal life to take due offense and stumble out of the living way into destruction, it would be tantamount to committing murder. It would show a lack of love for the one stumbled.
11. In what respects does stumbling another unintentionally differ from doing so willfully?
11 In 1 John 3:15 it is written: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.” Unintentionally, without our being aware of it, we may offend others—which is serious enough—and we hope that this may not result in an irretrievable fall away from Christian belief. When learned of, such an offense would be given due attention and amends would be made for it. But when a person shows indifference and no concern for the spiritual welfare of a fellow believer and argues that each individual has conscientious rights and is free to take full advantage of his rights, he displays selfish, unloving disregard for the everlasting life of another, also for that one’s relationship with God. He underestimates the value of that believer for whom Christ died.—Rom. 14:15.
12. How did Jesus express indignation toward one who willfully stumbles another to a fall?
12 What if a professed Christian does not mind stumbling “one of these little ones that believe” and thus betrays how cheaply he values the eternal life of that one? Then Jesus Christ does not think much of the life of the one willfully causing another to fall. Jesus expressed his indignation toward such a deliberate stumbler of another. How? He said that it would be finer and safer for others if such a criminally negligent offender were sunk in the deep sea, prevented by a large millstone from surfacing.
13. As regards causing stumbling, what especially should we guard against?
13 So it benefits us to keep from stumbling others to a fall, even the most insignificant one. We do well also to keep from letting ourselves be stumbled by others of whom we expected more because of their Christian claims. But do we value our own prospects for eternal life highly enough so as to guard against stumbling our own selves? What—stumbling ourselves? Yes, indeed. How?
14. According to Jesus’ added words of caution, how could we stumble ourselves to a fall?
14 After speaking about stumbling “one of these little ones that believe,” Jesus added the caution: “And if ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go off into Gehenna, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life lame than with two feet to be pitched into Gehenna. And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it away; it is finer for you to enter one-eyed into the kingdom of God than with two eyes to be pitched into Gehenna, where their maggot does not die and the fire is not put out. For everyone must be salted with fire.”—Mark 9:43, 45, 47-49.
15. What was the Gehenna of which Jesus spoke, and of what did he use it as a symbol?
15 In the cases just given, Jesus points to destruction by fire. In Jesus’ day the Gehenna, or Valley of Hinnom, that he mentioned lay to the south and southwest of Jerusalem. His words confirm the fact that this Gehenna was used as an incinerator for the rubbish of the city and that the corpses of criminals considered unworthy of honorable burial with a resurrection hope were pitched into it. If a corpse failed to land in the fire but fell upon a slope or ledge that was warmed by the Gehenna fire, it would decompose and be consumed by the maggots that bred. The fire was kept burning continuously, day and night, in order to consume completely what was pitched into the city’s dumping ground. So Gehenna became a symbol of everlasting destruction, as when Jesus said to the Jewish scribes and Pharisees: “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?”—Matt. 23:33.
16. In what way do those pitched into Gehenna neither enter into life nor into the kingdom of God?
16 Those who are sentenced to Gehenna do not enter into the kingdom of God, either the heavenly rule with Christ or its earthly realm during the millennial reign of Christ. Those whom God sentences to Gehenna do not enter into life at all, even though having all their body members. Hence, Gehenna pictures the state of nonexistence, annihilation, destruction by the adverse judgment of God. Just as the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day stumbled themselves into Gehenna, so a dedicated, baptized Christian of today can stumble himself into being sentenced by God to Gehenna, everlasting destruction. Let us remember Judas Iscariot.
17. How did Judas Iscariot stumble himself into thievery?
17 This Judas of Kerioth became the treasurer for Jesus and his twelve apostles. In time he came to covet what was put into the money box. So he reached his hand in and helped himself to what his covetous eye saw and he pocketed it. He let eye and hand make him stumble into thievery, even robbing Jehovah’s Messiah. Five days before Jesus’ death, at a banquet held in Jesus’ honor in Bethany (near Jerusalem), Judas made a hypocritical comment in favor of public charity. Regarding this, we read: “He said this, though, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box and used to carry off the monies put in it.”—John 12:6.
18. Into what, finally, did Judas let body members of his stumble him, and how?
18 Finally, in quest of further financial gain, Judas let his feet carry him to a meeting with the chief priests and temple captains and bargained to betray his Master Jesus for thirty pieces of silver money. (Luke 22:1-6) Then, in order to get a betrayer’s payment into his grasping hands, Judas’ feet led the band of armed men to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on Passover night. (Luke 22:47, 48; Mark 14:10, 11, 43-46; Matt. 26:14-16, 47-50; 27:3-5) After his traitorous act Judas had the satisfaction, for a while, of resting his covetous eyes upon those thirty silver pieces in his very own hands. There was now no way for Judas to undo matters, which his eye, hand and foot had worked together to bring about. He had let these body members make him stumble into unforgivable sin. (Matt. 27:4) Hopeless, he committed suicide. Even though his disemboweled body may not have been pitched into Jerusalem’s literal Gehenna, his “soul” was destroyed in what Gehenna symbolized. (Acts 1:16-19; Matt. 10:28) With good reason Jesus had spoken of him as “the son of destruction.”—John 17:12.
19. What did Jesus mean by saying that “everyone must be salted with fire”?
19 Jesus concluded his discussion about a disciple’s letting his hand, foot and eye make him stumble into Gehenna by saying: “For everyone must be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49) That is to say, everyone guilty of letting body members make him stumble to an irrecoverable fall had to be “salted with fire.” The fire with which he must be thus salted was the “fire” about which Jesus had just been talking, the fire of Gehenna. What would this mean for the individual salted in this way? Not the same as the effect of one’s being salted with salt. It would mean the individual’s destruction. When the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were sprinkled or “salted” with fire from heaven in the neighborhood of the Dead (or Salt) Sea, they were destroyed. (Luke 17:28, 29) Jehovah God holds to this rule of dealing with those who have no one else to blame but themselves for stumbling to a fall as He does to an inviolable “covenant of salt.”—Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5.
20. In order to safeguard ourselves from being “salted with fire,” how do we remove the offending hand, foot and eye?
20 As a safeguard against our being “salted with fire,” how shall we cut off our offending hand or foot or throw away our offending eye? Our doing so literally would not correct or remove the wrong impulses that have expressed themselves through the natural hand, foot or eye. The removal process must be carried out in a figurative way. The apostle Paul showed how to follow Jesus’ counsel, saying: “Deaden, therefore, [what?] your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of those things the wrath of God is coming.”—Col. 3:5, 6.
21. How do we carry out this ‘deadening’ process?
21 To do such a ‘deadening,’ we really have to exercise self-control over our literal bodily members that are upon the earth. For instance, we must restrain our eyes from reading pornographic literature or looking at filthy motion pictures or television presentations, or using our hands in thievery or immoral practices, or gratifying the urge of our feet to dance suggestive dances or to walk companionably with a ‘friend of this world’ into areas of temptation. We must spiritually kill our love for “the things in the world,” that is, “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life.”—1 John 2:15-17; Prov. 6:16-19.
THE “SALT” TO HAVE IN OURSELVES
22, 23. (a) Finally, to what salting did Jesus refer? (b) What kind of salt did Jesus tell his apostles to have in themselves, and why them?
22 Jesus did not end up his discussion with a reference to salt in an unfavorable way. (Mark 9:33-49) He went on to say: “Salt is fine; but if ever the salt loses its strength [or, becomes without saltness], with what will you season it itself? Have salt in yourselves, and keep peace between one another.”—Mark 9:50, and marginal reading.
23 As a seasoner, literal salt is generally fine. “Will tasteless things be eaten without salt,” asks Job (6:6), “or is there any taste in the slimy juice of marshmallow?” Salt can certainly make eatables more palatable. But if ever the grade of salt commonly used in Jesus’ day lost its salty strength, it could not be refined of its foreign admixture and it became unfit for cooking and eating purposes. It itself could not be reseasoned for eating by humans. Appropriately, Jesus used salt as an illustration. He told his twelve apostles: “Have salt in yourselves.” But why did Jesus tell them to do so? It was because, in their argumentation among themselves on the way back to Capernaum, they had betrayed a lack of this fine figurative salt within themselves.
24. What is that figurative “salt”?
24 Salt of such a kind pictured that quality of one’s personality that makes one act in good taste in one’s treatment of others. It makes what one says more palatable to others and easier to swallow, more digestible to another’s thinking. Thus it makes one more agreeable to have around, yes, desirable.—Prov. 16:21, 23.
25. How did even eating literal salt together result beneficially?
25 Eating salt together, as in the case of a host and his guest, creates good feelings, fine relationships between the eaters. Salt was even used in the payment of wages to an employee for services rendered. (Ezra 4:14) That our having the figurative salt as a trait of our personality is a good and valuable thing, the apostle Paul emphasized when he wrote: “Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside, buying out the opportune time for yourselves. Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Col. 4:5, 6) Note also Proverbs 15:1.
26. Our having the figurative “salt” in ourselves helps us to keep what final admonition of Jesus to his apostles, and with what consequences to ourselves as his disciples?
26 The having of “salt” in ourselves and the seasoning of our utterance with it will help us to do what Jesus said when closing his discussion with his twelve apostles: “Keep peace between one another.” (Mark 9:50) Our being tactful, considerate, wholesome and pacifying in utterance and conduct will certainly promote peaceful relationships with one another as Christ’s disciples. It will make evident that God’s spirit is within us, for “the fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace.” (Gal. 5:22) Also, “the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable.” (Jas. 3:17) So it displays a high degree of wisdom when we obey Jesus’ admonition about peace. It is a mark of true Christian discipleship in the midst of a competitive, disunited, disintegrating world. It holds us together as God’s organized people under Christ.
[Picture on page 508]
To ‘have salt in oneself’ means possessing the quality that makes one act in good taste toward others