Salt of the earth: Part 1

As disciples of Jesus, we are to love others. The apostle Paul directs us to put our love into action.

Peter L. Unnasch

On Christmas Eve of 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, a Northern commander asked for volunteers to take part in a special mission. The mission was dangerous, but vital. Men raised their hands. Soon those men boarded two ships and quietly steamed south. By Christmas morning they had reached their objective—a place called Bear Inlet, North Carolina. If successful, this team of volunteers would put a dagger into the Southern war effort. Through good timing and good fortune, the team succeeded. And as a result, that entire region of the South moaned in distress.

The Northern soldiers’ objective, however, was not some supply depot or warehouse. Their objective was salt. The Bear Inlet Salt Works produced salt for the Confederacy. Such a loss was disastrous.

When you and I sit in a fast-food restaurant and shake the white shaker on our fries, it’s easy to forget that cheap, plentiful salt is a very recent thing. It’s easy to forget what a profound necessity salt is. For thousands of years, salt was humanity’s refrigerator. It was the only way to preserve food and prevent starvation. Salt was essential for tanning leather. It promoted the healing of wounds. And salt held the priceless magic of making the tasteless taste good. For this reason, salt possessed the power to establish the location of major cities, lay out trade routes, even spark wars. Often it served as currency.

And the need for salt remains profound. At last count, there are more than 14,000 known uses for it—including what salt does to keep our bodies alive. You and I cannot survive without it.

With all that in mind, perhaps Jesus is saying more than we realize when he proclaims, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

This article is the first of a series that will consider how you and I, by God’s grace, are here on this earth to impact people through the message of the gospel. We’ll look to the words of Paul from Romans 12:9-21 to help us see how we can be God’s salt in our daily lives.

“Love must be sincere.”

Has sincerity vanished? If you were to ask people to say one word to describe our society’s attitude for the last 20 years or so, no doubt many would choose the word, cynical. A pure cynic is distrustful of everything. A pure cynic takes pleasure in mocking someone instead of listening and learning. A pure cynic is always looking for the next punch line at someone else’s expense.

Recently, however, some observers of our culture have suggested that we have begun to enter what they call “post cynicism.” This is simply their way of saying that maybe, just maybe, our society is getting tired of assuming that everything is a big joke. After all, if you spend your life only making fun of other people and their ideas, when the day is done you still have no answers.

Perhaps there is a hunger for something more after all. For example, have you heard the true story of Marty Martinson? Marty was an elderly gentleman who worked as a check-out clerk at a Wal-Mart. Whenever Marty was behind a register, the manager couldn’t help but notice that a lot of customers chose to get into Marty’s line—even when that meant a longer wait, and even when other registers were wide open. What drew them to Marty’s line was a deceptively simple thing. Each time Marty got done ringing up your items, he would come around from behind the register, look you in the eye, shake your hand, or give you a hug. In other words, it was an unhurried moment of sincerity. It was an authentic moment of genuine caring. And the people in Marty’s line couldn’t get enough of it.

The Greek word for sincere means, “without hypocrisy.” Christian love is not about putting on an act. But when the Lord, through Paul, tells us that “love must be sincere,” he does it with the understanding that each of us still has a sinful nature, an old sinful self. And our old, sinful selves are very, very good at insincerity.

In fact, it’s no secret that the charge of insincerity against the church has been around for a long time—people going through the motions, outward actions devoid of any gratitude for Christ or love for others. And as you and I know, the charge of insincerity can often be right on target in your life and mine. Every time I give in to that sinful impulse to put on an act, I let down all the people who are waiting in Marty Martinson’s line. I stand in the way of the gospel. I fail my Lord.

When Jesus entered our time and space, he wore no mask. He put on no act. Rather, in full sincerity of heart, he looked at you and me and said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Then he went to the cross to make it so. It is that life of perfect sincerity on our behalf that empowers you and me to give unhurried, authentic moments of genuine caring to others.

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

Simple words, aren’t they? Simple, clear, concise, short. To see a forgiven soul taking those words to heart, however—that is to see a life that cannot help but impact the lives of others.

Some time ago it was my great privilege to watch the good news of Jesus season such a soul. Troy had grown up in a difficult and angry household. He dulled the bitterness and filled the void with alcohol. Years passed. Eventually the alcohol abuse spilled over and began to poison other parts of his life. He wound up in prison. When he completed his sentence, all he knew was that he did not want to go back to what his life had been. Nevertheless, the emptiness persisted.

Enter Jesus. The message of what we possess in our Savior brought quiet tears to his eyes. So overwhelming was the proclamation of God’s grace—God’s undeserved love on the basis of Jesus as our substitute—that it took time for him to grasp it. From then on, however, Troy spoke openly about where his focus now was. His focus was on keeping his back turned on the dark things of this world and keeping his face where it could bask in the light of Jesus. This single-minded determination began to radiate. It began to touch others. Rescued in Jesus, Troy was now God’s salt.

You are too.

Peter Unnasch is pastor at Saint Lucas, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a 12 part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Peter L. Unnasch
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

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