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Vol.  10  No. 4 April 2008  Page 10
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Mike BensonPlease Pass the Salt

ByMike Benson

    My wife asked me recently what I wanted for supper. I told her I’d enjoy a big pot of home-cooked pinto beans. She quickly reminded me that we were under strict orders to cut back on our sodium intake. “The doctor says high blood pressure and salt aren’t close friends.” “They don’t have to be close friends,” I replied, “just friendly acquaintances!” Cutting back is one thing; cutting out is impossible—especially when you are a fan of pinto beans.

    Salt was not considered a detriment in ancient cultures. On the contrary, it was regarded as a highly prized commodity. The Greeks called it theon, which means “divine.” Often, Roman soldiers were paid in salt (that which they received as wages was referred to as a salarium, from which we get our English word “salary”), and it was from that practice that the expression “not worth his salt” came into usage. In some societies, salt was even more precious than gold. That’s something to mull over when you realize that the current market price for an ounce of precious yellow metal is just over $1,000. Remember that next winter when you are slinging that 25-pound bag of rock salt over your icy driveway.

    Salt was deemed valuable for at least three reasons: First, it was a preservative. Without refrigeration, meat was especially subject to spoilage. Salt “cured” animal flesh and kept it from going bad. Second, it was a seasoning. Historians tell us that the diet in and around ancient Palestine tended to be bland. Salt permeated food and gave it a distinctive, pleasant flavor. Third, it was a cleansing agent. Wounds were bathed in salt water in order to sterilize them. Infection was kept in check by the high salinity brine solution and helped promote healing.

    Because we can purchase salt in such large quantities for relatively little money today, we often lose sight of what Jesus was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. We probably don’t give much thought to Bible doctrine when we are buying that navy blue, cylindrical box of Morton’s at the local IGA. However, when the Lord declared, “You are the salt of the earth...” (Matthew 5:13a), He was underscoring our great value and influence in the world. Faithful children of God have a preserving effect in a world of rampant spiritual decay (Genesis 18:23ff; Proverbs 14:34; 2 Timothy 3:13); they hinder and retard moral decline. Christians add a divine tang or flavor to the local community in which they live. Once salt is added to a food, it permeates and changes it. (Just a smidgen of salt can enhance a big pot of pinto beans!) Then too, believers serve as a kind of virtuous antiseptic towards those wounded by the effects of sin.

    On the other hand, Christians who wear their holy designation on “Sunday only” have no life-testimony—they neither preserve, season nor heal. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “…But if the salt loses its flavor…it is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot…” (v. 13b). In New Testament times, salt was collected from around the Dead Sea where the crystals were contaminated with other minerals. These formations were full of impurities, and since the actual salt was more soluble than the impurities themselves, the rain often washed out the sodium chloride, which made what was left worthless since it literally lost its saltiness. This residual material was simply thrown into the yard to destroy the fertility of the soil (Deuteronomy 29:23; Judges 9:45; Psalm 107:34) and harden the path to the house.

    George Barna, the church statistician, highlighted this Bible truth-principle when he wrote, “The average Christian in the average church is almost indistinguishable from the rest of society. The fundamental moral and ethical difference that Christ can make in how we live is missing. When our teens claim to be saved, get pregnant and do drugs at the same rate as the general teenage population - when the marriages of Christians end in divorce at the same rate as the rest of society - when Christians cheat in business, or lie, steal, and cheat on their spouses at the same statistical level as those who say they are not Christians - something is horribly wrong” (Rom. 2:19ff). I hear both Jesus and Barna saying the same thing. That which makes Christians commendable and worthy of respect (James 1:27; Philippians 2:15) can be leached out of their hearts by the constant flow of the world’s values.

    Minerals without salt were worthless. Pinto beans without salt are not fit to eat. Likewise, Christians without salt—to borrow from old Kentucky lingo—“ain’t no count.”

    Would you please pass the salt? Oh yeah, and the cornbread too!

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