Can you imagine being an immigrant trying to master the English language – at least as it’s spoken in the U.S.A.? The grammar isn’t easy. Spelling can be confusing. Proper pronunciation can be a real stumbling block: Consider the words through, tough, bough and cough. If I were teaching an English as a Second Language class, the first thing I’d do would be to distribute complimentary head-scratchers.
Then there are the words will multiple meanings, some of which are totally unrelated. The word “season” comes to mind. All of us in the Northern Hemisphere are now experiencing the season of Spring, with life all around us emerging from dormancy. Then we refer to the “seasons” of life, such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, teenage years, adulthood, retirement, old age.
Similarly, we speak about going through a “season” of growth, a season of waiting, or some other season of endeavor. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes declares, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Yet another use of the word relates the experience someone has gained, such as a “seasoned” executive, athlete or educator.
Last but not least are the herbs and flavorings we use to “season” our food, things such as pepper, oregano, cinnamon, sage, dill, and my personal favorite, salt. We like to salt our meat, vegetables, corn on the cob. Some folks even salt their watermelon. But just as the term “season” has numerous meanings, salt can be put to a variety of uses.
As we’ve already mentioned, salt can enhance the flavor of food. Throughout history, salt has been used as a preservative, to “cure” meat (even when it’s not sick). If you’ve ever gotten salt into a wound, you know about another of its functions – it stings. Salt can create thirst, as any of us who has eaten buttered popcorn can attest. And anyone who’s lived in colder climates knows salt can also be used to melt ice.
Perhaps Jesus had each of these applications in mind during His “sermon on the mount,” when He told His followers, “You are the salt of the earth. But if 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 by men” (Matthew 5:13).
What did Jesus mean when He said we’re to be “the salt of the earth”? I think we can tie this in with another declaration made by the apostle Paul, that we are “therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
How are we to connect being Christ’s ambassadors with being salt? There are many ways. As His ambassadors, we’ve been entrusted with the Good News – the gospel for becoming reconciled to God. However, if communicated improperly, it can create a sour taste for the listener. That’s why Paul warned, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). We need to present a palatable message.
It's been 2,000 years since Jesus ascended to heaven following His resurrection, yet this gospel message endures. Perhaps its saltiness has helped in preserving it.
Have you ever talked with someone about Jesus and seen them respond negatively, as if they were stuck by something sharp? The message of Christ can have that effect on people, even those who later will find themselves drawn to it. As with salt in a wound, hearers might initially recoil in pain for many reasons, including bad encounters with “religion,” as well as grievous life experiences that leave them wondering how a loving God could have allowed them.
Then again, if we as Christ’s ambassadors accurately represent Him not only by our words, but also by our actions, God can use us to create a thirst that only He can quench. As the apostle Peter wrote, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Finally, most people don’t respond immediately to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. It takes time, much like melting ice on a sidewalk. It might take a while, but eventually the coldness goes away and hearts are warmed to the invitation to receive forgiveness, healing and transformation.
The question is, how “well-seasoned” are we? When we try to communicate the truth of Christ to others, can we do it in “good taste”? As someone has said, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink – but you can salt his oats.