“You are the salt of the earth”: The meaning of Matthew 5:13
What does Jesus mean when he says “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13)? In this blog post, we explore what it means to be the salt of the earth and how Christians can live out this biblical calling in today’s world.
The meaning of “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13)
Salt has had many purposes throughout history. Before refrigeration, people widely used salt to preserve food (and still do today). We add salt to give food flavor. In addition, salt is also sometimes used as fertilizer or to stop weeds from growing.
Speaking metaphorically, Jesus calls us to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). In short, he asks believers around the world to carry the uses of salt symbolically into our daily spiritual lives.
So, how can we do this?
1. Just as salt preserves food, we – as the salt of the earth – are called to help preserve God’s truth.
Amid our fallen world, Jesus asks us to do our parts to preserve humanity from receding into godless immorality.
To be clear, God’s final Kingdom plans will happen, as prophesied in Revelation. His goodness triumphs over evil in the end.
But, in the meantime, we are still asked by our Father to be the salt of the earth. We do this by trying to uphold His timeless biblical values out of our love for Him.
At times, this may mean us doing what is right in God’s eyes – not ours. Even if it’s an unpopular cultural opinion or trend.
For example, we can choose to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44) instead of seeking revenge or getting angry. We can also try not to judge other people harshly, forgive them, and so on.
In all such instances, we commit our free will to preserving the world around us according to God’s heart. This is part of what it means for us to be the salt of the earth.
2. Just as salt enhances food flavor, we as Christians should ‘season’ people’s lives with God’s goodness.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to simply do nothing as we watch the world pass.
Instead, God wants us to actively add His good ‘flavor’ to the lives of others. As the salt of the earth, we should be a positive influence to the world around us.
Among many things, this includes trying to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the things we do. For example, we can choose to show “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) to as many persons as we can.
In addition, we can also help open their hearts to God by sharing the Gospel in love,. This is a great way for them to receive the best, most enriching flavor of their lives – Him!
But don’t become ‘too salty’, too.
Just as too much salt can make food taste bad, we need to be careful not to be overbearing towards others as Christians.
For example, if we are too pushy in our attempts to ‘convert’ people, we may actually be driving them away instead of turning their hearts to Christ.
Paul says “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
This does not mean that Paul compromised his convictions or changed the Gospel’s message. But it does mean he was discerning and humbly adaptable in how he presented God’s Word to different people. He did this for the greater sake of their salvation in Christ.
Likewise, we also need to be careful not to come across as judgmental or self-righteous when sharing our faith.
If we want to be effective salt of the earth, we should start by adapting to the people around us and show them love and respect – while also not compromising on what we believe. It’s a balance rooted in godly wisdom.
We can do this by always praying first and asking God for guidance whenever we hope to share the Good News of Jesus with others.
3. As salt prevents weeds from growing, so too are we called to prevent evil from taking root.
Weeds kill healthy and useful crops by competing with them. They may also harbor diseases that can infect the harvest around them. Weeds are difficult to control because they can grow quickly and spread easily.
Like weeds, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Evil infects others by luring people to sin and rebel against God, drawing them further away.
Amid this spiritual reality, Jesus wants us to be the salt of the earth, doing our parts to keep evil at bay.
One way we can do this is by desiring to lead our lives in a manner that helps others see Christ’s righteousness in us (not our own). When we submit our hearts and actions to God, darkness starts to flee (James 4:7).
The above can take on many forms. For example, we can expose clear acts of evil (Ephesians 5:11-12), stand against the wicked (Psalm 94:16), warn others if they are doing something wrong (Ezekiel 3:18-19), and so on.
At the same time, this does not mean we do so in a way that causes more discord or malice. We don’t uproot evil with more evil.
Instead, God wants us to act as “counselors of peace” (Proverbs 12:20). This entails us humbly leaning on Him for wisdom as we try to resolve issues by being “pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
To be clear, God is the only One who will ultimately defeat the enemy, once and for all. However, in the meantime, we are invited by Jesus to be the salt of the earth by doing our parts to stop evil from taking root amid our everyday situations.
What does Jesus mean when he says “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”? (Matthew 5:13)
In short, Jesus is warning us against losing our faith or becoming apathetic towards God.
If salt loses all the qualities that make it salty, it essentially loses its main purpose of existence.
Similarly, when a Christian stops wanting to walk with God, does not see the need for repentance and forgiveness, favors the world’s values over His righteousness, and so on, they in effect are choosing to turn their back on fulfilling their true God-given purpose on earth.
As Christians, we will surely stumble amid our faith journeys. We all have our weak days.
But Jesus reminds us to keep holding on, despite our inevitable struggles.
We can only fulfill our true life’s purpose to be the salt of the earth if we desire to live out God’s truth and look to enhance people’s lives by His goodness, serving as peacemakers against evil.