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Salt and Fire

Bible Study # 16

Hot Topics #5

Mark 9:49-50 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. (50) Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltiness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

In these verses two things are mentioned, first salt, second fire. Both of these things have very real physical properties that are symbolic of spiritual realities, just as Jesus’ parables though stories were made to illustrate real life actions and motivations. So, let’s take a look at these two things and then see how the ‘picture’ Jesus was painting fits together.

The Character and Symbol of Salt

First, let’s look at salt, what it is and what it does. The following information was taken from a website here.

Sodium (salt) has certain properties and beliefs surrounding its use that easily lends itself to certain symbolism in the Bible.

From the time of Adam, the most common way the average person could preserve the edibility of food, especially meat, was through salt. Its ability to maintain the integrity of food and retard spoilage was well known. This is likely the reason why God, in underscoring his enduring promise to always take care of or preserve the priestly tribe of Levi, labeled it a "permanent covenant of salt" (Numbers 18:19).

In the Near East, this expensive commodity was considered indestructible in fire. Under ancient Israel's sacrificial system, it was a critical element in offerings made to the Lord. Its inclusion was mandatory for all offerings (Leviticus 2:13, Ezekiel 43:24), no doubt symbolizing the eternal and indestructible covenant God made with his people.

This mineral (salt) also impedes the action of yeast (leaven) on food. In Scripture, leaven many times symbolizes sin and a rebellious attitude, as well as the ability to negatively influence others (1Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9). The inclusion of the mineral, therefore, can represent the preservation and maintenance of purity in a world that can cause corruption.

The value of salt in our modern times

Nowadays, salt is a common additive to flavor food. Commonly available at cheap prices in supermarkets and food sales outlets. But that was not always the case, in ancient times salt was a much more expensive and hard-to come-by commodity. Salt was mostly derived by evaporating sea water or taken from salt found in mountains. Here’s the full definition and use of the word salt  Here’s a full explanation of the history, properties, uses and manufacture of salt.

As stated in the verses at the beginning, salt was used in offerings that were burned. Salt being highly resistant to heat continued to be useful even after going through a fire. This symbolizes the enduring nature of God’s promises, that despite whatever may occur, God’s promises hold true. 2Chronicles 13:5 Ought ye not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David forever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?

But can salt lose its saltiness?

 It happens that over repeated uses in sacrifices the salt can lose its salty flavor. Matthew 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Salt that had lost its flavor although it couldn’t be used as a savoring, could be strewn on pathways, were the salt would prevent weeds or plants from growing to keep pathways open and easy to travel on. So that it would still have a function. It’s interesting to think of how Jesus related that to us? If we lose our savor of demonstrating and making God’s ways known and desirable (or palatable at least) for the world. Then, at least we can be in the world, slowing the moral decay, the ‘weeds’ of the world.

What is the ‘salt’ in us? - The true nature of Charity

‘Salt’ is the true nature of our character when we live through the power of Christ ( 2Peter 1:3). The ‘savor’ we give to the world/people around us. Just as salt adds flavor and preserves whatever it is put in, so we as new creations in Christ, should do the same for the world around us in big and small ways.

When Christianity first started, the loving actions and overflowing kindness that the first believers lived-out whether to family, friends, strangers, or even enemies, became known as ‘charity’ from one of the Greek words for love. It was the marker of a true follower of Christ, to be the love of Christ for others manifested (John 15:17). To put others first and to go out of their way or even to extreme measures to show loving kindness to others. Here is an example: (Christians helping the sick during plagues when they were thrown out on the street by their own families. Simpler English version) That is how they gave flavor, ‘salt’ to the world and helped to preserve the world.

Unfortunately, the true meaning of the word charity has been watered down over time. Nowadays, charity means either giving money to organizations that endeavor to help some needy cause, or participating in those activities, no matter what one’s personal views may be.

Personally, I have noticed that charities that help certain causes such as animals, the environment etc. can be very critical and negative when it comes to their attitude towards “outside” people. These ‘charities’ sometimes have a very limited idea, to only support their particular (vision, interest etc.). But that is not what the original meaning of charity was at all.

In Romans chapter 12, Paul describes in detail what lies behind this charitable action- the character and nature of the true follower of Jesus. Please take some time to study the chapter to see what the true motivation for every follower of Jesus should be.

The chapter ends with the following conclusion: Romans 12:21 Do not let evil overcome you, but overcome evil by good. As difficulties, troubles and evil multiply in our present-day world, that is a vital phrase to memorize and live by, so that Jesus’ warning about the last days will not be said of us: Matthew 24:12-13 And because wrongdoing will be increased, the love of most people will become cold. (13) But he who goes through to the end will get salvation.

To preserve good in the world needs to be an essential part of our very nature. This nature, way of thinking and motivation, leads to our works, the things we do, adding salt, flavor, as well as preserving the good in the world around us.


The Symbol of Fire – The Tests to Remove Impurities

Thinking of modern-day charities as well as our own actions, every ‘work’ has one of two motivations behind it, to glorify God or to glorify self. What may look like a great work to help others, if unfortunately done on the basis of self-glorification, in the end, the ‘fire’ will reveal it that it was done for self-gratification.

Here is what Paul, in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians said about it:

1Co 3:11-14 For there is no other base for the building but that which has been put down, which is Jesus Christ. (12) But on the base a man may put gold, silver, stones of great price, wood, dry grass, cut stems; (13) Every man's work will be made clear in that day, because it will be tested by fire; and the fire itself will make clear the quality of every man's work. (14) If any man's work comes through the test, he will have a reward.

So, the fire removes impurities, the things that are either false or devalue something, even those things in our own character. The disciple Peter also wrote about troubles, tests and difficulties that we go through in life as the fire: 1Pe 4:12 Dear brothers, do not be surprised, as if it was something strange, if your faith is tested as by fire:

The battles and challenges we go through in life are the fire, and our faith is processed through that fire. 1Pe 1:7-8 that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ— (8) whom not having known you love; in whom, though now you don’t see him, yet believing, you rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory—

The Conclusion

As we go through life’s, tests we pass through the fire. But hold on! Remember- we will come out as pure gold if we don’t give up!

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