Earlier this year, I facilitated a conversation class on Sunday mornings entitled ”Seasoned with Salt,” in which we discussed both foundational and transformational teachings of our faith. We talked about things like the significance of the Trinity, and this triune God being mutually present and in constant conversation. We were ready to move on to discussions of how Jesus spoke with specific people, particularly with those with whom he disagreed. Then, we were interrupted by COVID-19. I hope, however, our conversations have not been put on hold. In fact, I am almost certain God is providing us with meaningful opportunities to talk among ourselves and with others in our community. I pray we continue to do so with the gentleness, grace, and friendship of Jesus Christ.
The title of the class was, of course, pulled from Paul’s epistle to the church in Colossae. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you many know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6) Note this verse emphasizes not what to say to people, but how. Our manner of speech, our tone, our intentions, our compassion and desire for mutual flourishing should be evident in every conversation.
Does that sound peculiar? We are, after all, called to be a peculiar people ( 1 Peter 2:9, KJV) We belong to God, so even our speech provides an alternative to the way the rest of the world interacts. When we season our conversation with salt, might we not reveal to others the Christ-in-us in a more beautiful way?
Often I step lightly over metaphors in Scripture simply because I have heard them so often. They seem cliche not because of their triteness, but due to my lack of attentiveness. I have heard explanations of salt being a flavor enhancer, a preservative, and a purifier. I have been reminded of how Romans would pay salaries in salt because of its usefulness and value. Thus, the etymology of the term salary, and our expression: “She is worth her weight in salt.” But Scripture itself can also help us understand how metaphors are meant to be used. Salt was an integral part of sacrifices in the Levitical priesthood.
“Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” (Leviticus 2:13)
This is a strange expression for us who are far removed from sacrifices on altars. Covenant denotes an agreement, a promise, a partnership, the hope of friendship with God. If our lives are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), then our speech is to be sprinkled with the purifying, life-giving condiment, so that Christ might be completely Lord in all aspects of our lives. Our speech reflects the intonations and accent of Jesus. His plosives and dentals are ours; his grammar rules our speech. Our conversation is not seasoned with American ideology, racial generalizations, economic ideals, or moral platitudes, but with the rich, life-giving graciousness of the God who came to be with us. Our words, well-seasoned, protect and build up our communities and one another.
Is a sister struggling with depression? Do you know a brother who has become entangled in old sins? Is your neighbor burdened with anxiety over this virus, or perhaps they are burdening you with their unsolicited opinions? How do we respond?
Seeing ourselves primarily through our identity in Christ allows us to lay aside secondary issues which may precipitate arguments and compromise our unity in Christ, or in our shared humanity. If we belong to Jesus, we will follow him and not a morality or political theory, or our private opinion. Instead, we will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and know how to handle differences of opinion and differing worldviews. Our conversations will be guided by the Holy Spirit and by his love for the people in front of us, so that we will not desire to engage in culture wars or petty squabbles. Instead, we will eagerly seek the well being of even those least like us.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)