Sermon: Do You Make Men Thirsty?
Scripture: Matthew 5:13
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means for a Christian to live for Christ in the world.
Theme: Uses of Salt
All of this falls into much clearer focus when we consider the actual uses of salt, particularly those that were most valued in ancient times.
First, in Christ’s day and for many centuries thereafter, in fact, until nearly modern times, salt was the most common of all preservatives. There were no refrigerators in ancient times, and no deep-freeze units. The Mediterranean world was largely tropical. In such a climate, and in the face of such conditions, salt was used to keep things from going bad and rotten, particularly meat. It was also successful at resisting spoilage and keeping putrefaction at bay. When Jesus said that those who followed him were the salt of the earth, therefore, he was teaching that the world apart from God is rotten because of sin, and that through his power the disciples were able and actually obliged to have a preserving and purifying effect upon it.
Do you see this clearly? If you do, the principles involved in this statement will keep you from the two opposing errors that have always gone along with programs to express the Christian’s social responsibility. The first error is the thought that the world is basically good and will gradually become better and even perfect through Christian social action. In opposition to this understanding, Christ says that the world is basically rotten. This means that even though it may appear healthy for a time, it is dead spiritually. It means that the life has gone out of the body and that the microbes of sin will eventually, if left to themselves, reduce it to a stinking, unapproachable carcass.
The other error is the view that because this is so, because the world is rotten, therefore the Christian should try to disassociate himself from the world as much as possible, retreating to a monastery or to one of our middle-class, self-protecting churches. Rather than letting the world go to hell, the answer to this error is that the Christian is to be a preserving force in the world wherever in the world God has placed him. The salt never did any good when it was sitting on one shelf and the meat on another. To be effective the salt must be rubbed into the meat. In a similar way, Christians must allow God to rub them into the world. This means that they must be Christians at work, Christians in politics, Christians at home, and Christians everywhere else that a normal life in their own society would take them.
“Oh,” somebody says, “that would mean that I would have to be taken out of the salt shaker and spread around, and I might get dirty and even seem to dissolve or disappear!” Yes, that is what it means. But God is the one who provides the flavor, and the flavor does not disappear when the salt is dispensed or dissolved. In fact, there is even a sense in which the salt must dissolve if the flavor is to be released. God sometimes shakes the salt shaker through persecutions so that the salt will fall out and this might happen. Sometimes it will mean that we shall have to dissolve to our own interests, that we shall have to extend ourselves in areas of the world where we do not see many Christians. We shall feel lonely and even depressed. But that is where the salt is active, and it is where you should be active as a Christian.
I should add a fact that is well known to the medical world. If a body does not give off salt through perspiration, what happens? It retains water, and it becomes bloated. In the same way, the church will always become bloated and desperately unhealthy if the salt is not dispersed in this work of preservation.
What is the first reason for salt’s use in the ancient world? How does Jesus apply this function to the Christian life?
List the two errors that can occur regarding a Christian’s social action. How does Jesus’ teaching keep us from committing them?
Reflection: Can you think of examples where Christians have fallen into either of these two errors?
Application: What is your church involved in that is aimed at the social good of your community?