Salt Losing its Saltiness
Robert Wurtz II
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. (Matthew 5:13 KJV)
Everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another. (Mark 9:49–50 NKJV)
In Lev. 2:13 God commanded that all grain (meat in KJV) offerings be sprinkled with salt before offering them. This example and many others along different lines illustrate the importance of salt for daily life, worship, and its use as a symbol in covenant relationships. “The salt referred to in verse Mark 9:50 is probably the humility and dedication that is reinforced by trial and testing. If the believer loses this salt he or she is not easily renewed (v. 50a), but by maintaining this salt, Jesus’ followers can more easily be at peace with one another (v. 50b). The simple purity of dedication to Jesus that does not seek its own advantage enables one to be a servant to fellow disciples, and thus promotes peace.” (Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, New International bible Commentary 18 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989, 156.)
Jesus told the disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth […]” In other words, God designed His people to be living expressions of right relationships before this present evil world. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we have love for one another, we will be pure examples of how relationships are supposed to work–examples of how God intended human beings to treat one another. If we don’t we have become good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men (Matthew 5:13b).
It is interesting to note that in Revelation 2 the Ephesisians “left” their first love; but in Matthew 5 we are warned of “losing” our saltiness. The rabbis used salt as a symbol of wisdom; hence, the Greek word for “lost its saltiness” actually means to become foolish, insipid, or dull. The renowned late Greek scholar Marvin Vincent said the word means to play the fool. Our Lord refers here to the familiar fact of salt losing its pungency and becoming useless. Dr. Thompson (“The Land and the Book”) cites the following case: “A merchant of Sidon, having farmed of the government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over a great quantity from the marshes of Cyprus — enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for many years. This he had transferred to the mountains, to cheat the government out of some small percentage of duty. Sixty-five houses were rented and filled with salt. Such houses have merely earthen floors, and the salt next the ground was in a few years entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the road to be trodden under foot of men and beasts. It was ‘good for nothing.’ (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament)
Foolishness, ambition, and greed, are merely three things that can cause salt to lose its savour. In a figure, these are the very things that destroy Christians ability to fulfill God’s design for His people to be living expressions of right relationships before this present evil world. When we behave like the world, treat people as would an unbeliever, conduct our business like greedy–insensitive sinners, we become worse than the world. Why? Because the world needs to see the thing God designed, but their expectations are dashed.
I sometimes think of passages like Matthew 5:13 and losing our savour and becoming good for nothing. Others stinging verses like 1 Cor. 5:1 where the Corinthian fornicators were doing things that sinners don’t even do. Then there is 1 Tim. 5:8 where Christians who refuse to properly love their needy family members by meeting their needs have denied the faith and are worse than infidels. Or the Ephesian church whose fiery love had almost gone out–to the point that Jesus was near to removing their dark and dying lamp stand. Why not? Who needs a darkened lamp stand to stumble over in an already darkened world? Perhaps Laodicea is the worst. Jesus said to them, Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth.(Revelation 3:16 YNG) How much worse can it get that backslidden believers would be likened to spittle or vomit?
These are the things that happen when believers play the fool. They stop behaving like Christians ought and become a law unto themselves–operating by their own rules. What diabolical influence would give a group of Christians the notion that they can behave and do things that are worse than the world? It is shameful. Jesus warned over and over about the importance of loving every one and treating people the way we would want to be treated. This is how relationships are supposed to work. There is hardly a week goes by that I don’t have to answer a report for how rude a so-called Christian is acting in public to people who work in the public. Pick up the salt shaker at their favorite eating spot, act out, and wist not that they have lost their savour. It’s a disgrace. What happens to them? Jesus asked, “wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
Imagine being trodden under foot and then saying to yourself, “this is God’s will for me!” But it’s exactly what happens. People lose their savour–begin treating people worse than they could expect from sinners, and then when they lose friendships, relationships, congregational members, et. al. they blame the Devil or even God. This is why it is essential to understand that the word “lost its savor” literally means “to play the fool.”
Nabal (a man whose name means “fool”) is a case study on “playing the fool.” He was an irrational alcoholic who was nearly killed by David and his mighty men for his folly. Nabal’s servant’s perspective is insightful, “For evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he (Nabal) is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.” (1 Samuel 25:17 KJV) This is a prime key to playing the fool; you won’t listen to people who have sense. Nabal’s wife took it a step more when she rode out to meet David to beg for mercy; Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him! (1 Samuel 25:25 NKJV)
In other words David was being asked to do what everyone around Nabal does, “overlook him.” This is how he has lived to the age he has because so many people in his life took his meanness, tolerated his rudeness and irrationality–overlooking it for one reason or another. Now, his wife Abigail is begging David, the man of God, to overlook him once more. David did overlook him, but God did not. We read, “But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died. And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the LORD, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head.” (1 Samuel 25:37–39 KJV)
Men may overlook it; Christians may overlook it; family members may overlook it and make excuses for it; but God does not. Eventually the salt that loses its savour will be trod under foot (as salt), removed like a cold dark lamp stand, or spit out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus. As surely as God dealt with Nabal, he will deal with the ones that people continually have to overlook because of their folly — especially those who name the name of Christ.