When Salt Becomes Poison
Author: Shea Oakley
WORLD Magazine editor Marvin Olasky once wrote that “truth without love is like sodium without chloride: poison, not salt.” He refers to two well known verses from New Testament Scripture; the command to be “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), and the declaration that Christians are “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Both statements point to how believers are to communicate the Gospel to the world around them. Olasky’s words warn us what can happen when our “salt” has one ingredient, truth, but not the equally vital other one, love.
It is easy, as a Christian, to look at the moral chaos in the world around us and become frustrated to the point of anger. We know from Scripture what God’s design for human society looks like, and the stark contrast between the spiritual ideal and the secular reality of our everyday surroundings tempts us to feel resentful of those we regularly come in contact with who do not share our world view.
From there it is a short distance to the kind of bitter, arrogant preaching and conversation that has alienated so many non-believers who might otherwise have listened respectfully to our witness. At that point whatever truth is mixed in with our bile has little hope of getting a fair hearing. What should be salt and light in a world desperately in need of the seasoning embodied in the good news of Jesus Christ becomes neither. It becomes instead the poison Olasky speaks of.
We should never dare to put forth the tenets of the Christian faith if our attitude towards our hearers is angry or bitter at what we perceive to be their ungodly lifestyles. For one thing we ourselves have often been guilty of the same sins we so readily identify in our worldly friends, or if not those exact transgressions some other equally evil ones. Beyond that some of us continue to struggle with those sins as believers which make us doubly hypocritical. The bottom line is that our primary duty regarding “calling sin, sin” is to do so with fellow Christians in need of admonishment, not non-Christians in need of salvation.
Of course, any real presentation of the Gospel includes affirming that there is something profoundly wrong with human beings, something that God became man to redeem us from. This does not mean, however, that we are free to tell our secular friends how personally disgusted we are with their desperate wickedness and then presume to offer them an alternative as if we are somehow better than they and didn’t need that alternative ourselves. Such an attitude on our part is self-righteousness at its worst and is guaranteed to push people farther away from our Lord.
One has to wonder how many people have been radically turned off to any of the truth claims of Christianity by Christians behaving badly in this way.
Before we open our mouths we need to check our hearts. If we cannot tell the truth to those who need to hear it in a humble, loving spirit then we do best to keep those mouths shut until we can. This applies to every Christian who presumes to be a witness to Jesus Christ, whether they are a televangelist with access to millions or a simple layperson with access to just a few.
If our truth-telling is in any way bitter or resentful then our supposed salt is poisonous and needs to have love re-introduced as the antidote. Otherwise we will only do others harm and be complicit in perhaps the greatest sin of all, turning people away from their only hope of salvation.
© 2009 by Shea Oakley
All rights reserved
Shea Oakley is a freelance Christian writer from Ridgewood, New Jersey.“Originally published in Pulpit Helps Magazine, used by permission. www.pulpithelps.com.”