Commentary by Jack Kelley
A simple line in Mark 9:50 says so much. It’s almost a throw-away and yet when taken in light of the surrounding passage it speaks volumes. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
In Mark 9–10, the Lord spent a lot of time summarizing God’s standards for behavior, and believe me, they are impossible. So much so that the disciples were amazed and exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied,” With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God (Mark 10:26-27)”
And right in the middle of this two chapter teaching is that simple little line, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50). What big lessons spring from the little things in Scripture.
Worth His Salt
Salt was used in that era as a preservative to retard the spoiling process. Of course there were no refrigerators back then, and therefore salt was a valuable commodity. In fact Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. (This is where the saying, “worth his salt” originated.) They could easily trade the salt for the things they needed and sometimes they even made a small profit in the bargain.
When searching for “salt” in the Bible, you find 27 references in the Old Testament and 8 in the New. For example, salt was one of the ingredients in the sacred incense, for use in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 30:34-35).
Covenant of Salt
In Leviticus 2:13 the Lord commanded the Israelites to use the “salt of the covenant” in the grain offering, a voluntary act of worship. There is also a reference in Numbers 18:19 to a “covenant of salt” in connection with the portion of the sacrificial offerings that went to the Levites for their consumption. This covenant of salt is mentioned for the third time in 2 Chron. 13:5 referring to the Lord’s promise of an everlasting kingdom for David.
Traditionally the covenant of salt symbolized endurance, preservation, and freedom from corruption. Although the Bible never explains this in so many words, the three Old Testament references to this covenant seem to say the Lord was preserving forever something He has ordained and wants it to remain free of corruption.
The Priests and Levites were set apart for Him, given no land, and supported (preserved) through the offerings Israel made to the Lord. When certain of them became corrupt, He banned them from His presence forever, and in the Millennium will allow only the family of Zadok, who remained faithful, to perform the most important Temple duties in His presence (Ezekiel 44:10-16).
Similarly, the Davidic line was established to preserve the throne of Israel for the coming Messiah. But when the kings of Judah became corrupt, the Lord cursed the royal line of David suspending the office of king until the Messiah Himself comes to sit on David’s throne (Jeremiah 22:28-30, Ezekiel 21:25-27, Luke 1:32). Sidestepping this curse required nothing less than a virgin birth to qualify the Messiah to become Israel’s King. These examples tell us only God can make a Covenant of Salt and only God can keep it.
As I’ve written before, things that are external and physical in the Old Testament often become internal and spiritual in the New. So if New Testament believers are supposed to have salt in ourselves, it must symbolize a spiritual preservative that gives us endurance and is free of corruption. And please note that the admonition is not to salt ourselves, but to have salt in ourselves. In other words, it’s not something we do, it’s something that’s done for us.
The Salt Of The Earth
Romans 8:29- 30 says those who believe have been conformed to the likeness of his Son, and because of that we’ve been justified by God. The Greek word translated “justified” is dikaioo. It means to render righteous. Because of our faith God has declared us to be righteous. When He looks upon us, He sees a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) created to be like Him in true righteousness and holiness (Ephes 4:24). When we sin He attributes our behavior to the old sin nature that still dwells within us (Romans 7:18-20) and since He’s going to destroy our sin nature and retain only the part of us that conforms to the likeness of His Son, that’s the part He chooses to see.
“For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality “ (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
On that day we will become in fact that which we already are by faith, receiving new bodies that will never decay. Until then our faith preserves our life in His presence. And because our faith is based on what the Lord has done, and not something we do, it endures forever and cannot be corrupted like the Kings and Priests of old were corrupted. By one sacrifice He has perfected forever we who are sanctified (Hebr. 10:14)
But there’s more. Because of our faith, God put His spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22). As a result, our presence on Earth has helped preserve the fallen world around us by retarding the spoiling process. Jesus even called us the salt of the Earth (Matt. 5:13). But it won’t be this way forever. One day soon, we’ll be removed from the Earth to Heaven, the place of our citizenship (Phil. 3:20), and the salt of the Earth will no longer be here.
This was Paul’s point in 2 Thes. 2:7-8. He said the secret power of lawlessness is already at work but someone’s holding it back. That someone is the Holy Spirit resident in the Church (Ephes. 1:13-14). After our departure the spoiling process will accelerate and the world we leave behind will be destroyed in judgment. Then, just as He will have made a new incorruptible body for us, God will make a new Creation, liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with Your God
And that’s why the rest of Mark 9:50 is also important … “and be at peace with each other.” Earlier in Mark 9 we can read about an argument among the disciples over which one of them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37). Then there was the incident where the disciples made a man stop driving out demons in the Lord’s name because he wasn’t one of them (Mark 9:38-41), and finally the warning not to be the cause of another person’s sin (Mark 9:42-48). Part of being the salt of the Earth is to be a source of peace in your sphere of influence. You can’t very well preserve something while you’re tearing it down. Paul said if it’s possible, as far as it depends on us, we should live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
So there you have it. A little sentence with a big meaning. The Bible’s full of them. Selah 07-07-12