[Jesus said] "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 by men." (Matthew 5:13).
The common expression, "salt of the earth," is derived from Jesus Christ's most famous teaching of all, the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7).
After listing the "Beatitudes" ("Blessed are the meek . . . "), Jesus told His people that they were the salt and light of the world. Both terms were used metaphorically, to illustrate how the people of God were to stand out from the rest of the world and impact others in a positive way.
CEREMONIAL USES OF SALT
Salt played a major role in Old Testament sacrifices and offerings. (In fact, God turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, when she turned to look back at the destruction of Sodom.) For this reason, Jesus' use of this metaphor was extremely familiar to His followers.
In biblical times, salt was used for several purposes:
As today, salt served an important gustatory purpose. People would use salt to bring out the inherent flavor of foods. By comparing His followers to salt, Jesus indicated that they were to add flavor, or seasoning, to society. The people of God were to spice things up, to improve the flavor of life. By teaching God's truth and ministering to others, salty folks can make life better for all.
Since primitive times, salt has been used to preserve meat and other foods. Salt prevents decay and degradation of food products. In the same way, Jesus taught His followers to point others to the way of life, to show how they might be preserved from death and destruction. He pointed out how their life purpose depended on their saltiness. If they were not helping others to be saved, then they were not serving their worthwhile life destiny.
Salt has long been used as a cleaning agent. Infected body parts may be soaked in salt water for disinfecting. A sore throat may be helped by gargling with salt water. Jesus could have been urging His followers to help clean up a godless world by living godly lives and setting an example for others.
Salt was one of the spices that was traditionally used to prepare a body for burial, in biblical times. Jesus possibly referenced His own death, and His followers' role in caring for His body, by this metaphor.
UNIT OF EXCHANGE
In Bible times, salt was considered quite a valuable mineral, a commodity for trading in the marketplace. By retaining their loyalty and steadfastness to Him, Jesus' followers would also retain their value to His Kingdom cause.
Salt has always been useful for thawing and melting ice. In our day, we spread salt on roadways for this purpose. By serving as salt, and loving others, Jesus' followers might thaw people's hearts with their kindness, making them open to friendship, relationships, and to God's truth.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Today, when we refer to a person as "the salt of the earth," we generally mean this in a favorable way. Such people are unpretentious, uncomplicated, devoted, loyal, earnest, and honest. They are hard-working folks, who add value to the lives of others. Another way to describe these people is this: "What you see is what you get."
To most, this may be considered a compliment of biblical proportions.