How does salt become tasteless? (Matthew 5:13)

INTRODUCTION. A consideration of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:13 that salt (the disciple of Jesus) can lose its taste and thus become useless. How can the disciple can avoid this danger?

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is perhaps the best known teaching from the entire ministry of Jesus Christ. In this message, Jesus establishes the principles that will mark the new covenant people of God from His issuing of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) until His glorious return at the end of the age. In this article, I want to explore our Lord’s warning about salt becoming tasteless.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” – Matthew 5:13

CONTEXT. First, we notice the context of this verse. It is significant that Jesus’ warning about salt becoming tasteless follows immediately after the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes (5:3-12) establish the expected behaviors and attitudes of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, but the “salt and light” verses (5:13-16) reveal the responsibilities for which the disciple is accountable. The disciple is responsible to remain “salty” and he is responsible to shine his light before the watching world.

MEANING. So, in Matthew 5:13, Jesus is issuing a warning to would-be disciples that it is possible for salt to lose its savor. But what is the full force of this warning? What is Jesus teaching?

Observe first the identity of the salt. “You” in this verse refers to all disciples of Jesus. This is not limited to the Twelve, because at this point in Jesus’ ministry the Twelve disciples (apostles) had not been appointed (see 10:1-4), and because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is giving instructions for all of His followers throughout the time between the advents. So, all disciples of Jesus are “the salt of the earth.” This is the analogy Jesus makes.

But what is the function or the purpose of this “salt of the earth?” To answer this question, we need to consider the nature of salt and we need to think about for whom this salt is useful.

What do we know about salt that makes it a good analogy for a disciple of Jesus? We know that salt’s taste is essential to salt. That is, the way you identify salt is by its taste. Salt is valuable because of its savor. Take away its flavor and you have taken away its essence. Salt that has lost its flavor is impossible to identify as salt and has lost its usefulness.

Now, as we consider Jesus’ analogy, we know that the disciple’s essential nature is a “taste” that is distinct from the world. The way you can identify a disciple of Jesus is that he/she lives in a manner that is separate from the world. The disciple is most useful to the Master (2 Tim. 2:21) when he is distinct from the world. On the other hand, a disciple who lives in a worldly manner is impossible to identify from the world and is of little use to the Lord or to the kingdom. So, the disciple of Jesus is “the salt of the earth” when he is living a “salty” life that is sharply distinct from the world and is, thus, useful to the Master for adding heavenly flavor to the disciple’s small piece of the world.

WARNING. There is, however, a stern warning here, that it is possible for salt that was once salty to become tasteless and, once the salty taste is gone, it will not become salty again. When the taste is gone, the salt “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out.”

What does this warning mean? That is, how severe are the consequences of the salt losing its saltiness? While Jesus could be warning His disciples about the dangers of apostasy, I think it is better to understand this as a strong exhortation to be a “salty” disciple. Notice that Jesus declares “You are (in fact) the salt of the earth.” If, as we have interpreted, the “you” refers to Jesus’ disciples, then all disciples are, in fact, the salt of the earth. So, the real question becomes, “Are you salty salt, or are you tasteless salt?” Then the warning becomes, “Don’t become tasteless salt, because tasteless disciples are good for nothing!” So, determine now to remain a salty disciple until the Lord comes or calls you home. And how does the disciple remain salty? By being poor in spirit (5:3), by mourning (5:4), by being humble/meek (5:5), by hungering and thirsting for righteousness (5:6), and so on. The disciple stays salty by continuing to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel and by striving to obey what the Lord commands.

APPLICATION. Having understood the meaning of the verse, we will go on to apply it to the individual disciple and to a local church body. First, let’s consider THE INDIVIDUAL DISCIPLE and how this “salt” might become tasteless. As we mentioned above, a disciple will begin to drift toward tastelessness when they begin neglecting the Beatitudes and allowing worldly behavior to creep in unopposed. But there are other practices which will also rob your walk of its saltiness.

Neglecting regular, diligent time reading the Bible will quickly render you tasteless. In fact, the fastest way to attain tastelessness is by neglecting the daily intake of the word of the living God. Therefore, the disciple must prioritize daily time in God’s word.

Shallow and brief and inconsistent prayer will also make you saltless salt. Instead of this, the disciple must learn what it means to commune with God in prayer. Spend time crying out to the Lord when you are hurt or worried or disappointed. Pour out your heart before the Lord. Praise Him for His creation and His salvation. Long for fellowship with Him as the deer pants for the water brooks. Do this, and your salt will remain salty.

If you become silent in your witness for the Lord (Acts 1:8) and if you fail to proclaim God’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9), you will begin to sense your saltiness draining away like a tire with a slow leak. But if you will boldly identify with Jesus, and if you will “tell of His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3), your life will display a sharp saltiness. Being a witness for Jesus is not only boldly obedient (Acts 1:8), but it is also one of the best defenses against salt deficiency.

While Jesus’ teaching is certainly directed at the individual disciple, there are also ways that a LOCAL CHURCH FELLOWSHIP can become tasteless and, like the tasteless disciple, become good for nothing. If the Bible is not the primary basis for all preaching and teaching in the church, you are moving toward tasteless salt. The church that does not emphasize spiritual growth through discipleship is a church that is drifting into tastelessness. Is your church eager to proclaim the gospel with the result that there are new believers in the fellowship? If not, you could soon be tasteless and useless.

In SUMMARY, then, Jesus warns His disciples that we must make every effort to remain salty and thus remain useful to the Master.

SDG                 rmb                 8/18/2022                   #560