by Edmund Chan
A widely influential Singaporean pastor and author, in 1995 Edmund launched the Intentional Disciple-Making Church (IDMC) Conference. Started as a seminar with 320 participants, it has become a sold-out conference teaching disciple-making to 2,500 participants from 20 countries.
Salt of the Earth and Light of the World
Salt and light. These are two unforgettable metaphors.
Stunningly profound. Brilliantly provocative.
The Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is Jesus’ manifesto of Kingdom discipleship. Everything else that Jesus taught in this grand manifesto is entirely anchored upon our understanding of these two metaphors. Jesus masterfully employed these two striking metaphors to convey something fundamental about radical discipleship.
These two discipleship metaphors are referring to two distinctly different things. The first emphasizes what God calls us to be and the second, what God calls us to do.
The first metaphor, salt of the earth, has to do with discipleship with a sense of distinctiveness. It relates to one’s identity in the world.
The second metaphor, light of the world, has to do with discipleship with a sense of destiny. It relates to one’s influence of the world.
Understanding “Salt Of the Earth”
“You are the salt of the earth”, Jesus said. In our contemporary world, this metaphor seems rather uninspiring. The sentiment today is to eat less sugar, less fat and less salt.
So, who wants to be the MSG of the world? It doesn’t sound very flattering.
Why then didn’t Jesus simply say, “I’ve got news for you, you are the gold of the world”?
That would be more inspiring than salt, wouldn’t it?
The answer is quite obvious. If He said “you are the gold of the world”, it would have referred metaphorically to being precious or worthy. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind. There is something else, something far more important, that He wanted to intentionally convey.
How then are we to understand this metaphor?
The common approach is to study the uses of salt; and thereafter to declare by inference its meaning for the Christian disciple.
Alison and Davis listed down eleven different ways that salt was used in ancient times and showed their implications what Jesus meant when He said that “you are the salt of the earth.”
Let me highlight for you just four common uses of salt and how these are prescribed to us as an understanding of the metaphor.
- Salt is used as a seasoning. Thus as disciples we are to season the world; such as by “seasoning your speech with salt.”
- Another use of salt in ancient times was as a healing antiseptic. So, by inference, it means “as the antiseptic of the world, you bring about healing”. Indeed, the modern therapeutic revolution – of inner healing, physical healing, emotional healing – would certainly welcome this.
- Salt was also used as a wage in ancient times. That is why we have the modern saying “a man worth his salt”. It is taken from the days of the Roman Empire where they paid their Roman soldiers in salt as a wage. So, the inferred understanding is that the disciple is somewhat valuable.
- The fourth use of salt was as a preservative. In ancient times, meat was often preserved with salt to prevent it from turning bad. By inference, disciples are to the preserving agents of the world. In a society that is spiritually corrupted and morally decaying, the Church as “salt of the earth” serves to preserve moral and spiritual purity.
This is a good and profitable consideration. But as to it being the interpretation of what Jesus really meant, I humbly beg to differ.
The context tells us something totally different. Jesus himself defined what He meant in the context. The Lord Jesus followed His metaphor with an important rhetorical question. It indicates to us what He was thinking about. He asked, “if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be salted again?” (v.13)