“You Are the Salt of the Earth”
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its strength, how will its saltness be restored?”—MATTHEW 5:13.
1. What is common salt?
SALT is an amazing substance. Chemically, it is composed of sodium, an unusual metallic element, and chlorine, a poisonous gas. The fact that these two dangerous elements can combine to form a beneficial compound is a marvelous provision of the Creator for mankind’s good.—Psalm 104:24.
2. How can it be illustrated that salt prevents decay and can be a preservative?
2 For one thing, salt is very effective in preventing decay. To illustrate: A certain man put the skins of two slaughtered sheep in the trunk of his car and set off on a long trip in the heat of the African sun. When he finally opened the trunk, there was a repulsive odor and the skins were crawling with maggots! Nevertheless, the fleeces were washed, and salt was rubbed in thoroughly. The effect? They became soft bedside floor mats that were used for years.
3. What can be said about the value and availability of salt?
3 Clearly, then, salt is invaluable as a preservative. It also has other value. In fact, in ancient China it was prized next to gold. The Latin word for “salt” is sal, and in the days of imperial Rome, troops received part of their pay (salarium) in salt. From this comes the word “salary.” In most places today, of course, salt is rather common and inexpensive. The oceans contain some four and a half million cubic miles (19 million cu km) of salt—enough to bury the entire United States a mile (1.6 km) deep! Even when Jesus Christ was on earth, salt was fairly plentiful. For instance, the waters of the Dead Sea provided a good supply, and there were salt-bearing hills near the place where Lot’s wife became “a pillar of salt.”—Genesis 19:26.
4. Why can we say that salt has importance with regard to life?
4 Salt also has medicinal value. Our bodies contain some eight ounces (230 g) of salt, without which we would die. So salt is essential for life. But as used in the Bible, salt also has figurative significance that has a bearing on Christian life and activities.
“Seasoned With Salt”
5. As regards food, what purpose does salt serve?
5 When a cook forgets to use salt in preparing some dish, the food may taste so flat that people refuse to eat it. As Job said: “Will tasteless things be eaten without salt?” (Job 6:1, 6) Salt accentuates the flavor of food. Both this property of salt and its usefulness as a preservative are applied figuratively in the Scriptures. Salt is used particularly in describing the right kind of speech.
6. How does Colossians 4:6 apply to the ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
6 The apostle Paul wrote: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” Another translation reads: “Let your conversation be always gracious, and never insipid.” (Colossians 4:6; The New English Bible) True Christians spend many hours talking to people about God’s Kingdom. Of course, not all of Jehovah’s Witnesses are naturally fluent speakers. Yet, if they appreciate the message deeply and speak with conviction and warmth, they can turn the hearts of many people to the truth of God’s Word. How vital it is, then, for the speech of Jehovah’s servants to be gracious and appealing!
7. A Christian’s “seasoned” words can have what good effect?
7 A Christian’s “seasoned” words not only enable the hearer to get the fine flavor of the Bible’s message but also tend to preserve the lives of those listening to it. So, just as salt is essential for life, the speech of Jehovah’s servants can mean life to those who listen appreciatively to what they say about God’s purpose and Kingdom.—Compare John 6:63, 68.
8. Why should graciousness characterize the speech of Christian ministers?
8 Accordingly, graciousness should characterize the speech of Christians as they speak to unbelievers. Sometimes hearers of the Kingdom message reply in a harsh or rude manner. But Jehovah’s servants must never answer back in that way. Rather, they must always be gracious. What does it mean to be gracious? It means to be kind, pleasing, courteous, and merciful. A Christian’s kind, patient way of handling questions, objections, criticism, or bad manners often make a vital difference. As a proverb says, “An answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Proverbs 15:1) Graciousness, courtesy, and tactful replies in the Christian ministry can soften people who, although hard and bitter in manner, really have good hearts.—Proverbs 25:15.
9. How should Christians communicate with fellow believers, and why?
9 How, then, should Christians communicate with fellow believers? Ungraciously? Never! Why? Because these dedicated servants of Jehovah are also part of “the flock of God,” which is to be treated with tenderness.—Compare 1 Peter 5:2-4; Acts 20:29.
10. What bearing should Ephesians 4:29-32 have on the language used by Jehovah’s servants?
10 Should a servant of Jehovah use bad language when speaking to workmates who may have irritated him? Would it be proper for a Christian foreman to use unclean speech when workers disappoint him? When Christian husbands and wives are somewhat annoyed, should they scream abuses at each other or at their children? Never! Paul wrote: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth . . . Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”—Ephesians 4:29-32.
“Have Salt in Yourselves”
11, 12. To “salt” of what kind was Jesus referring at Mark 9:50, and those words would call for what kind of speech and action?
11 Since we are imperfect, we all have times when we speak in a manner that is unsuitable for a Christian. As the disciple James candidly admitted: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (James 3:2, 8-10) Jesus’ early disciples were no exception to this, and they had to be reproved for failing to speak graciously to one another. For instance, on a certain occasion the disciples argued hotly about who was the greatest among them. Jesus gave the entire group some fine counsel against stumbling others and thus being “salted with fire,” or being destroyed in Gehenna. He then concluded with the words: “Have salt in yourselves, and keep peace between one another.”—Mark 9:33-50.
12 Obviously, Jesus was not there referring to the small amount of literal salt found in the physical bodies of his disciples. Rather, he was referring to their being considerate, tactful, wholesome, and peaceable in word and conduct—acting in good taste toward others. This is vital so that true Christians can remain at peace with one another.
“The Salt of the Earth”
13. What did Jesus mean when he told his followers, “You are the salt of the earth”?
13 Concerning his followers, Jesus also said: “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) By saying this, Jesus did not mean that his disciples literally were salt. Rather, salt is a preservative, and the message that Jesus’ followers carried to the people would preserve the lives of many. Indeed, his disciples had a preserving influence upon those who listened to their message, preventing spiritual and moral decay among such individuals. There was no question about the fact that the good news declared by Jesus’ followers would preserve life.—Acts 5:20; 13:46-48.
Salt Preserves From Corruption
14. To resist worldly corruption, what is needed?
14 From Jehovah God’s elevated and pure standpoint, this entire wicked system of things must appear much like the sheepskins mentioned earlier. Before the cleansing process and use of salt, they created a bad stench and were crawling with vermin. Well, to some extent, everyone is affected by the conditions in this world, and to resist corruption that reaches into every aspect of life, a person needs courage and must maintain his integrity to God. Only in this way can an individual preserve himself from moral decay. He needs not only graciousness of speech but also the preservative quality that enables him to say no to corruption in all its forms. In his case, there is an urgent need for “salt.”—1 Peter 4:1-3.
15. What fine examples were set by Jesus and Daniel?
15 A faithful servant of Jehovah must know how to say no to bad practices and temptations. Remember that Jesus said no three times when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-10) And consider the example provided by the prophet Daniel. He learned to say no at a comparatively tender age. When Daniel was a young man in the royal court of Babylon, he and his companions were offered “a daily allowance from the delicacies of the king.” But Daniel and his friends refused. This was not a case of refusing a hospitable offer. Rather, the four young Hebrews insisted on a diet consisting solely of vegetables and water because they were anxious to avoid food prohibited by Jehovah’s Law or defiled by pagan rituals. Real courage was required to take that course. The outcome was rewarding, for at the end of the set period of testing, their physical appearance was better than that of those who had accepted the royal diet. And spiritually those Hebrews enjoyed Jehovah’s blessing and favor.—Daniel 1:5-17.
16. Why can it be said that Daniel was a “well-salted” servant of Jehovah?
16 Jehovah God saw to it that Daniel and his associates were preserved because of ‘having salt in themselves.’ But we can learn more from Daniel. He was appointed to a high office in the Babylonian government. Under those circumstances he must have had to say no many times, for he was surrounded by pagan people, and the royal court no doubt was full of immorality, lying, bribery, political intrigue, and other corrupt practices. Daniel was under heavy pressure many times. But although he was in the midst of the “world” of that day, he was “no part of the world.” (John 17:16) Daniel was a faithful, “well-salted” servant of Jehovah. Why, Daniel’s enemies, perhaps irritated because his integrity and honesty reflected badly on them, even tried to destroy him! Nevertheless, they had to admit that “he was trustworthy and no negligence or corrupt thing at all was found in him.” (Daniel 6:4, 5) What a fine example!
17. What difficult tests confront Christian youngsters today?
17 Like young Daniel and his friends, Christian youngsters today face difficult tests. Especially at school, they have to contend with drugs, tobacco, alcoholic beverages, unclean talk, immorality, cheating, a spirit of rebelliousness, false worship, nationalism, bad associations, false teachings such as evolution, and other powerful influences. It takes a “well-salted” Christian youngster to remain a clean integrity keeper in the face of all that temptation.
18. (a) Christian parents would do well to consider what questions? (b) What is recommended for parents who find it difficult to help their children?
18 Therefore, Christian parents, consider carefully the condition of your family. Are all members of it making spiritual progress? Have you prevented worldly corruption from contaminating your own youngsters? Do you know what they do and what they really think and feel about true worship? Do they have a loathing for the unclean things of this world or are they in danger of succumbing to them? (Amos 5:14, 15) If, as parents, you are not close enough to your children to help them, or you find this difficult, why not make it a matter of earnest prayer to Jehovah? Surely, he can help you to overcome this barrier.—1 John 5:14.
19. What are some things to which Christian parents should say no?
19 As Christian parents, what sort of example are you setting? Do you firmly say no to harmful overeating and heavy drinking and the many forms of immorality and uncleanness practiced around you? Do you say no to bribery, to petty pilfering, and to the obscene jokes and speech of worldly people? At work or in your neighborhood, are you known as clean, honest, upright individuals? Saying no at the right time is vital to being “the salt of the earth.”
Permanence and Loyalty
20. How was salt used in connection with worship of Jehovah in ancient Israel?
20 Doubtless because salt represented freedom from corruption, it was used in Israel’s worship of Jehovah. For instance, all offerings on the altar had to be salted. In the Law given through Moses, it was stated: “You must not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be missing upon your grain offering. Along with every offering of yours you will present salt.” And “a covenant of salt” was considered to be binding.—Leviticus 2:13; Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:4, 5.
21. As “the salt of the earth,” what is required of Jehovah’s servants today?
21 As witnesses of Jehovah, his servants today are “the salt of the earth.” This requires that they be incorruptible, faithful, and loyal. They must be diligent in cultivating the fruitage of God’s holy spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23) The spirit’s fruitage is the source of spiritual, saltlike qualities. But the fact that some have served Jehovah for years is, in itself, no guarantee that they will not fall away. (1 Corinthians 10:12) Jesus himself warned us about this.
22. What is the significance of the latter part of Matthew 5:13?
22 Remember that just after Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” he added: “But if the salt loses its strength, how will its saltness be restored? It is no longer usable for anything but to be thrown outside to be trampled on by men.” (Matthew 5:13) Some of the salt used when Jesus was on earth was mixed with foreign matter. Thus if the pure salt was washed away by rain or in some other way, what was left was fit only to be thrown outside, perhaps cast on paths and trampled upon by passersby. Unless the salt was kept in the right condition, it could easily become useless.
23. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, what should be our view of Jesus’ words, “You are the salt of the earth”?
23 As loyal servants of Jehovah and his Son Jesus Christ, then, let us be careful never to ‘lose our strength,’ or pure saltlike qualities. Rather, let us make every effort to cultivate the fruitage of God’s spirit. May we always be gracious in speech, zealously declaring the Kingdom message and thus helping to preserve the lives of others. May we never be overreached by this corrupt world, but may we always keep in mind the depth of meaning and the great privilege associated with Jesus’ words: “You are the salt of the earth.”
Check Your Memory
□ How can we ‘let our utterances be seasoned with salt’?
□ Why is it vital for Christians to ‘have salt in themselves’?
□ How are Jesus’ followers “the salt of the earth”?
□ What are some things avoided by “well-salted” Christians?
□ In view of Matthew 5:13, what should be the viewpoint of Jehovah’s servants today?
[Picture on page 25]
At an early age, Daniel learned to say no