What Does It Mean to Be the "Salt of the Earth"?

Kristine Brown

Author of Cinched: Living with Unwavering Trust in an Unfailing God
Published Jan 21, 2020
What Does It Mean to Be the "Salt of the Earth"?

Jesus once told his disciples they were the “salt of the earth.” What did He mean by this? Why did Jesus compare our lives as Christians to salt? Knowing even trained chefs struggle to comprehend the importance and delicacy of salt, we can learn so much about ourselves in light of Jesus’ words.

I love watching cooking competitions on the various food channels. Even though I’m not much into trying the recipes myself, seeing the chefs sparring in the kitchen fascinates me. I enjoy wondering what they’ll add next, as they toss in a dash of this and a pinch of that, hoping the finished product pleases the judges.

Through all the episodes watched, I’ve discovered three words which will bring about a contestant’s downfall. “Not enough salt.” Missing this one simple step will cause the dish to be bland and unappealing. After years of culinary training, how could someone not add enough salt? Maybe, like many of us, he’s afraid of putting too much. 

Jesus once told his disciples they were the “salt of the earth.” What did He mean by this? Why did Jesus compare our lives as Christians to salt? Knowing even trained chefs struggle to comprehend the importance and delicacy of salt, we can learn so much about ourselves in light of Jesus’ words. 

By looking at the uses for salt both today and in the past, we can learn what it means to be the “salt of the earth.”

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Where Does the Phrase “Salt of the Earth” Come From?

“You are the salt of the earth. 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).

After surviving temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began preaching to people throughout Galilee. (Matthew 4:23) He rocked their very existence, healing sickness and meeting needs as crowds grew. But nothing would turn their world upside down like His teaching that would become known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus made it clear to His disciples from the beginning; He wasn’t there to oppose the law. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses... No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17 NLT).

This distinction had to be made, because they were about to hear teaching unlike anything they’d heard before. If someone takes your shirt? Give them your coat. Hate your enemies? No, love your enemies. Jesus would provide fresh hope to their old ways. But before He could reveal this newfound love and truth, He had to let them know their purpose. The world needed salt. It needed them.

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Why Salt Was Significant to the Disciples in the Bible

Understandably, disciples had a hard time grasping the messages Jesus shared. This was all new to them. Jesus knew their failings, and with utmost patience He found ways to explain things so they could understand. Salt and light. People understood this because they used them every day. Salt and light were so common, everyone would be familiar with their importance. 

I for one am guilty of trying to make things too complicated. Jesus knew what His future held, and He needed the disciples to understand what they would soon be called to do. “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you...because you are my followers” (Matthew 5:11).

Following Christ wouldn’t always be easy. But Jesus’ comparison gave disciples the same confidence we need today. We are salt and light! God’s plans for us are good. He will strengthen us as we walk in His ways and tell others about His goodness.

Salt Makes Things More Palatable

I once had some bad news delivered in an early morning phone call. The words were both unexpected and unwanted. No one likes to get that kind of call. But what made matters worse was the way the message was delivered. Harsh words replaced the gentleness and compassion I needed at that moment. I wanted someone to understand, to empathize with my needs. Instead, all I heard was an abrupt tone that felt like a punch in the stomach. 

The apostle Paul encouraged the church at Galatia to display gentleness and kindness (Galatians 5:22-23). He knew we would need it to help lost people. Seasoning difficult situations with a little gentleness can make even the worst things easier to take. So imagine how powerful our testimonies would be if we chose to season them with love and understanding. How many more would say yes to Jesus’ gift of salvation if they felt His mercy through us? The results would be staggering. 

As we interact with others, let’s remember the goodness a little salt can do. Like a dash of sea salt in a favorite recipe, our speech seasoned just right makes everything taste better. 

Salt Preserves

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition has this to say about Matthew 5:13. “Salt was used as a preservative. Rubbed into meat, a little salt would slow decay.” Without the advancements in food preservation we have today, communities learned how to preserve foods - especially meats - using salt. With this truth, Jesus helped followers make the connection between the preserving power of salt and their own ability to persevere in the trials to come.

Jesus encouraged His disciples to persevere. To stay strong. To last. They would face opposition and hardships. Their faith would be tested. But they had the promise that “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). With Jesus always in their hearts no matter what they faced, they could persevere under trial and receive the crown of life (James 1:12).

Photo Credit: © Pexels/cottonbro

What Does “Salt of the Earth” Mean for Us Today?

Jesus’ sermon is just as relevant for us today as it was for His early disciples. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And because we know He and His Word are one in the same, we also know His Word never changes.

In his devotional Salt and Light, author Chris Tiegreen puts it this way, “We are meant to be present and active without being ostentatious, effective without being overbearing, and influential without seeking power.” In addition to the popular uses of salt as seasoning and preservatives, we have also discovered other uses for salt. These can help us understand how to be the salt of the earth for a discouraged world.

Salt Has Healing Properties

Nothing soothes a sore throat or settles an upset stomach like a bowl of homemade chicken soup. For years, people believed grandma’s soup just made everything better. We didn’t realize until later along with other healthy ingredients, the salt in soup actually helps us heal.

According to WebMD, salt has a variety of uses for healing, including a runny nose, heartburn, and a sore throat. So, if salt can bring physical healing when our bodies need relief, we can trust Jesus to bring comfort to our weary hearts. When we think about all the pain around us, our role in offering salt to a dying world becomes even more vital. Jesus’ words bring peace. We have hope for eternal life because of Him. Being “salt of the earth” means sharing that living hope with others.

Salt Makes Ice Melt

Have you ever had the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus face-to-face, only to see the person shut down completely? As if the warm, friendly relationship suddenly turned cold? It’s hard to know what to say or how to move forward when we try to tell people about the saving grace of Jesus. And if someone senses the conversation headed that direction, they may be tempted to put up a wall of resistance. Being the salt of the earth shows us a better way.

There are many reasons people may resist talking about the hope of Christ. Many have been hurt by the church. It’s a sad reality, but one we can overcome when we bare our hearts with vulnerability and honesty. 

Salt lowers the freezing point of water. It’s used today on icy roads to help bring the temperature down and melt the ice. Just like that, we can pray and ask God to help us respond to others as salt. There’s nothing like the warmth of Jesus’ love to melt walls that have been formed between us.

How to Be the “Salt of the Earth” Without Getting too Salty

Nothing frustrates like a heated conversation between believers on social media. A screen separating us makes us forget we are talking to a real person. Accusation fly. Opinions are shouted. And after things settle down, nothing good has been accomplished. We want to tell others about our Savior. We know that’s our calling in life. So how do we fulfill our role as the “salt of the earth” without getting too salty with others?

Experienced cooks know a valuable fact about using salt. Many of the foods we buy today already have it added. I did not know this, however, when I tried cooking a special dish for my husband. Oblivious to the fact that the dish may already have added salt, I put more. The result was a bitter, unpalatable mess. When we read, study, and know the ingredients, we will also know when to add salt.

In the same way, as we stay grounded in God’s Word and learn from Jesus’ ways, we will know the right amount of salt. God will open the door for us to share truth, seasoned with love and hope. Just like the chefs on my favorite cooking shows, we don’t have to be afraid of too much salt. We are the salt of the earth. Let’s trust God today to equip us to sprinkle our faith according to His guidance. The right amount of salt can work wonders.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin and history of specific verses within Scripture context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

"Be Still and Know that I Am God"

"Pray Without Ceasing"

"Fearfully and Wonderfully Made"

"Faith Without Works is Dead"

"Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart"

"All Things Work Together for Good"

"Be Strong and Courageous" 

"Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go"

"Love Your Neighbor as Yourself"

"Take Every Thought Captive"

"Do Not Fear"

"God is Love"

"Eye for an Eye"

"Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

"I Can Do All Things Through Christ"

"The Lord is my Shepherd"

For more spiritual growth resources, check out the 5-day email devotional, How to Be Free from Bitterness, by today’s devotion writer, Kristine Brown. Learn more about women in the Bible and find encouragement to help you “become more than yourself through God’s Word” at Kristine’s website, morethanyourself.com.

Kristine Brown is the author of the book, Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan, and the companion devotional for teen girls. For more resources from author Kristine, including prayers and mini-studies to help you “become more than yourself” through God’s Word, visit her website, kristinebrown.net. You can also connect with her on Facebook.