“ARE YOU GOOD FOR SOMETHING?”
Does it seem to you that we are facing seemingly insurmountable problems of late? The world stage is undergoing an upheaval, with the United States preparing to build a missile defense shield on Russia’s western borders, and Russia responding by placing military assets in Cuba once again, as well as preparing to establish a base of operations in Venezuela, where Russian long range bombers recently landed.
We have moronic members of the U. S. Congress, who forbid the exploration of oil and gas reserves in
So, what is the solution that is being advanced to stave off this debacle? That the crooks that brokered these shady deals be excused from any personal liability, and the taxpayers finance the rescue of the threatened businesses. Of course, jobs will be lost, taxes will be hiked, government will expand to assume partial ownership of many of these companies, and dependency upon the largess of the bureaucrats in
My friends, the world the Lord Jesus Christ entered by means of the virgin birth two thousand years ago was not a great deal different from the mess we are faced with. Burdensome taxation, political and military oppression without recourse weighing down upon the population, the bleakness of grinding poverty with few options open to most people, and the realization that this just cannot go on forever. Folks in those days people gradually realized, just as we are gradually realizing, that something has to give.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 8.22 stated the reason for all these kinds of things succinctly. The problem, of course, is sin. Because of sin, nothing in the economy gets permanently fixed, no social problem is forever resolved, and governments are fundamentally incapable of performing efficiently and effectively. Why so? Because “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
We hear agitators and propagandists lobbying for justice as if justice meant them getting what you worked to earn. However, justice is not the redistribution of wealth by government, whereby one man must give up what he has worked for so another may benefit without working for it. Neither is justice accomplished by governmental intervention to abolish poverty. The Lord Jesus Christ flatly stated that ending poverty is an impossibility when He said, in Matthew 26.11, “ye have the poor always with you.” Does this mean we are to turn a blind eye to the ills of society and the ailments of our fellow man? No. However, it does mean such issues are beyond the scope of government to address, and they are problems that are so fundamentally rooted in the fallen nature of man that they are insoluble apart from the redemption of sinners, one precious soul at a time.
Though our problems are not exactly the same as those faced by first century followers of Jesus Christ, they are of the same general type, and the result of the same general problem. So, what are we to do, allow ourselves to be caught up in a problem we have no hope of solving ourselves, or step out of the box and live our lives in a completely different way than the majority live their lives? I think the answer to that question is obvious. With respect to material things, there may be no way to escape the vortex that so many are being caught up in. However, those people who followed Solomon’s advice to look to the ant for wisdom in working hard and saving for the future are less likely to be swallowed by current trends. They are as the prudent man, who has foreseen the evil and has hidden himself, by exercising caution and avoiding extravagance, as well as by saving for the future. However, material considerations should never wholly occupy the thoughts and affections of anyone. As there is a physical side of life that must be wisely (which is to say cautiously) tended to, so is there a spiritual side of life that is actually far more important to anyone’s well-being. It is that spiritual side of life that I would like you to consider this morning.
Early on in the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, He enjoyed great popularity. Of course, His popularity was partly the result of the hope by many that He would put the hated Roman occupiers to flight, that He would then restore the glory once enjoyed when King David and his son Solomon had ruled more than a thousand years earlier, and that He would usher in generally good times for all. However, had the people listened closely to what the Savior actually said, they would have known that His followers were not being prepared for a life of ease, but for a life of difficulty. He would not usher in good times in anyone’s immediate future, but would provide salvation from sins and grace to serve through the most difficult circumstances.
Turn with me to Matthew 5.1-12, where we will read the beginning of our Lord’s famous Sermon on the Mount, where, among other things, He describes the character of those who follow Him through conflict, through persecution, through revilings, and through false accusations:
1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
The twelve verses we have just read contains the Lord Jesus Christ’s description of the character of those who are His disciples, those who follow Him. Beginning with verse 13, He describes the influence His followers have on other people: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
You will notice that the Lord Jesus Christ does not, here, tell His audience how to become the salt of the earth. He simply makes an assertion about His own that certainly would have surprised most Jewish ears. How so? Jewish listeners would have expected Him to declare that the Torah is salt, or perhaps the
He follows that assertion with a hypothetical question for our consideration: “but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” In other words, what good is salt if it does not perform the function of salt? And what is the function of salt, but to flavor food, and to preserve food in the days before refrigeration? Salt does not prevent rottenness, but it does slow down the process and make food more palatable in the mean time. If salt cannot do what it is supposed to do, what is it good for?
His answer to the hypothetical question is that “it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” That is, there being no such thing as pure sodium chloride salt as we know it in Jesus’ day, it is likely that the salt of their day was comprised of a mixture of mineral salts, with sodium chloride providing the taste and preservative effect on food that was desired. So, what do you do when the sodium chloride is leeched out, leaving only other mineral salts behind? You throw it down on the footpath, where its only uses are to give traction on smooth stones when they get wet, and to prevent plants from growing in the dirt where footpaths have been worn.
In other words, Christ’s followers, His disciples, believers, Christians, have a definite purpose for existing, and we have virtually no usefulness to our Lord if we do not do what we are. We are salt. If salt does not salt food, what is it good for? If salt does not salt, it is almost utterly useless.
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, once rightly wrote: “Salt is not salt for itself, it cannot salt itself.” So it is with Christ’s disciples. What Christ’s disciples are they are for the world, not for themselves. However, how does a person become a disciple of Christ? How does a person become the salt of the earth? Though we are not told in this passage, the unbroken and unequivocal testimony of scripture is that the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking here about those who are born again, those who have been converted to Christ, those who have come to Christ in faith believing, to the salvation of their eternal and undying souls.
Thus, we claim that the Lord Jesus Christ is asserting that Christians are the salt of the earth, and that if a Christian loses his savor, he is good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men. You recognize, then, that by describing Christians as the salt of the earth, the Savior is illustrating our evangelistic enterprise, our efforts to bring the lost to Christ, by comparing us to salt.
Christians’ efforts to reach the lost are likened to salt in at least three respects:
First, SALT FLAVORS AND PRESERVES WHAT IT MAKES CONTACT WITH
Is that not the thrust of this entire verse? Whether it is salted pork or salted beef, whether it is salt on your vegetables, or salt lick for livestock, salt always flavors and preserves what it comes into contact with. Salt is so necessary, and was sometimes so rare in ancient times, that Roman soldiers were oftentimes paid with salt, that they could then use to barter for anything else they wanted. In the old days, pork or beef that was not salted would quickly putrefy and become inedible. In like manner, whether the lost people of a society realize it or not, the witnessing Christians in their midst act as a preservative in the lives of those around us. Our values, our ethics, our disposition in the face of persecution and stubborn opposition, affect the behavior of even those who reject the gospel we preach.
My friends, let me remind you of the impact of Christianity on the institution of marriage and morality. It was Christianity that advanced the notion of one man being married to one woman, that women should not be betrayed by men who engaged in adultery, fornication, solicited prostitutes, engaged in homosexuality, and so forth. It was the influence of Christians that resulted in the widespread elimination of mistresses for men, that eliminated the general confinement within the boundaries of a man’s household, that valued male and female babies equally, that eliminated the practice of child brides, and that outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation still so widely practiced in Muslim countries.
Where was widespread charity and compassion practiced before various institutions were developed by Christians? The church in
Who first began taking care of unwed mothers? Organized efforts to house, educate, and train men overcome by drunkenness were Christian enterprises. Excuse me, but do you see the beneficial effect on all civilization that resulted from Christians seeking to evangelize and minister to others? It was our friend Kenneth Connolly’s own father, Peter Connolly, who was contemplating suicide when he was talked into visiting a rescue mission in
Excuse me, but Christians accomplish more by accident when they are simply acting like Christians, than whole government agencies and bureaucracies do on purpose with other people’s tax money. How can such a claim be made? I make such a claim because when we are finished with someone, by God’s grace, he is a new creature in Christ, no longer a taker but a giver, no longer an unemployed bum but a worker, no longer ignorant but learning, no longer a slave to sin but a servant of Jesus Christ.
Next, SALT CREATES THIRST
Salt illustrating the witnessing Christian, the church member who is actively involved in bringing the lost to church to hear the gospel and be saved, affects even those you talk to who soundly reject your message and who seem to completely thwart your efforts. Take heart, Christian. You bless even those who refuse your efforts. How so? When you broach the subjects of eternity and life, the subjects of world view and origins, the subjects of God glorified by natural revelation and the beginning of the universe, it tends to stir up thought processes in the minds of all but the most stupid that lead to further inquiry.
Oh, the proud infidel may completely reject you and your efforts, but that does not mean he is not stirred in his mind and bosom to seek answers to the questions you have raised, to consider and ponder your challenges to his thoughtless conceptions of life, to seek some consistency between what he claims to believe and how he actually behaves. There is simply no way for you to tell until you get to heaven how many people have eventually come to Christ as a direct result of a series of questions and investigations you set in motion by your initial attempts to witness to him and to invite him to church. That is what I mean when I say that salt always creates thirst.
Miss Peabody and Miss Rupp conducted a vacation Bible study on the Fort Totten Indian reservation during the summer of 1957. I have no idea what their perception of the results were. I do know that seventeen years later, in March of 1974, the Spirit of God made use of their efforts when He brought to my mind the lesson from God’s Word they had taught so long ago that led to my own conversion.
Whenever you reach out, whenever you speak the truth in love to win and to woo, it will be used by the Spirit of God in some way, and at some time, though perhaps not when and how you imagine. Salt always creates thirst, and so you will always have an effect. Your efforts are never in vain, which is why the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,” First Corinthians 15.58.
Third, SALT STINGS AN OPEN WOUND
You certainly realize that the Holy Spirit of God makes use of the Christian’s witness to affect the lost. That point has just been made. However, there is also another effect of salt. It may be preaching or testimony, observing you give glory to God unaware you are being watched or listened to, or perhaps as a result of questions or challenges to a lost man’s belief system, the Spirit of God also works to bother sinners, John 16.8-12. How are the Spirit’s botherings of sinners described in the Bible? On the Day of Pentecost, Luke records the Spirit’s workings as pricking the heart of Peter’s vast audience, with the word “pricked” translating katanussw, which means to pierce or to sting sharply. In Acts 5.33 and 7.54, Luke phrases the effect of the Spirit’s work in the hearts of other groups of lost men with these words: “they were cut to the heart.” The Greek word for “cut” used in both of these verses means to saw through, to cut to the quick, to infuriate.
I think my point is made. When the Christian is salt, which is to say when he witnesses and testifies, when he seeks to persuade and influence, when we labor together to get sinners under the sound of the gospel, and generally have an affect on our environment as Christians, the Spirit of God will frequently make use of those efforts in a way that stings, that cuts, that rebukes the lost the way salt stings an open wound.
Ever wonder why our church gets irate phone calls from time to time? Ever wonder why people are uncharacteristically belligerent toward you during times of outreach, when they would never behave that way toward anyone in any other setting? It is because, as salt, you are stinging an open would. Therefore, do not be saddened, and do not overly fret about it, so long as the reaction is not against your lousy disposition. Recognize that salt stings an open wound, and people’s reactions are their way of saying “Ouch!”
Please be mindful to recognize what I am saying. The Christian should in no way seek to cause pain, seek to create discomfort, or try to play the Holy Spirit in the life of another person. Our objective is to communicate effectively, with a sweet disposition. Galatians 5.22-23 shows just how the personality of the Holy Spirit should influence the believer’s own personality: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
However, we know that as we minister grace to the hearer, Ephesians 4.29, the impact that will be felt by the lost man will be like the effect of salt to a wounded area when it is applied. Your witness will flavor and preserve by influencing the behavior of others. Do not for a moment think the fornicator and the thief will not be influenced toward better morality by your conversations about the sinfulness of sin. As well, how many hospitals have been started by non-Christians whose consciences have been provoked by believers? Next, your Christian witness and efforts will certainly create a thirst for righteousness in some of those you have dealings with, and it will likely be more people than you will ever be aware of this side of heaven. Finally, your Christian witness and testimony, like salt, will sting any open wound it is applied to. An illustration of this is the vicious reaction we see to the birth of Governor Sarah Palin’s Down’s syndrome newborn.
I have no idea whether that frequent churchgoer is genuinely converted or not, but Governor Palin’s decision not to abort a child she and her husband knew would be born with a birth defect has outraged the secular humanists of our country, who have been too willing to murder their own inconvenient children before they were born. Therefore, if such opposition were the result of what would be a decision any Christian would make without hesitation, imagine what an even more principled stand for righteousness might produce. What that woman did severely stung the consciences of many wicked people, some of whom are now openly criticizing her for not aborting her child before he was born. Therefore, yes, salt does sting an open wound. In addition, when it stings, there is a quick reaction to the pain of a stung conscience.
Hey, Christian. What effect do you have when you walk into a room, when you join the company of others, when you speak the truth in love? Are you salt? Do you influence people, affect them, create a spiritual thirst in them, or perhaps a sting, as a result of your witnessing and inviting people to our upcoming Harvest Day? Keep in mind that if you are not salty, if you are salt that has lost your savor, if you do not affect people, so as to preserve them, so as to create a thirst in them, so as to produce a sting, as you exert yourself to bring them to church, the Lord Jesus Christ has questioned what are you good for.
What are you good for? Jesus said that you are “good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” That is why I go to such lengths to urge folks to join us on Saturday night, as we work together to salt the area. You are too important, and too valuable to the cause of Christ, to so casually discard yourself or to consign yourself to uselessness.
 Proverbs 6.6-8
 Proverbs 22.3
 Cited in W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., The International Critical Commentary, “The Gospel According To Saint Matthew,” Vol I, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), page 473.
 See chart on page 92 in Alvin J, Schmidt, Under The Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (
 See chart on pages 120-121 in Alvin J, Schmidt, Under The Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (
 See chart on page 145 in Alvin J, Schmidt, Under The Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (
 See chart on page 188 in Alvin J, Schmidt, Under The Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (
 Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 267.
 Ibid., page 273.