Gracious and loving God, open the eyes of my heart and give me understanding. Your words are too high for me to attain to on my own. Teach me and help me to comprehend how rich, how high, how deep, how wide your love is.
We’ll close out Mark 9 tonight by reading verses 42-50:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42-50 ESV)
As I read this passage, I had a few thoughts to reflect on.
First, sinners love company. When I know I am guilty of a particular sin, I take great comfort in knowing someone else struggles the same way. I’m not proud of this fact, it’s just the truth. Yet identifying with someone who struggles is not the same thing as trying to get someone to stumble into sin. In fact, Jesus issues a strong warning to anyone who would intentionally lead someone else into sin. Such a person is better off dead. Jesus has mercy on sinners, but he doesn’t seem to be too merciful toward someone who tempts someone to sin.
But, even though he is merciful with sinners, Jesus really, really wants us to do all we can to avoid sin. In fact, he admonishes his followers to take pretty drastic measures to guard against sin in our lives—sins that are actions (“If your had causes you to sin…”) and thoughts (“If your eye causes you to sin…”).
Considering this, every now and then, I examine my life. What things in my life might be causing me to sin? Things I watch, read, listen to, participate in, engage in—are there things that are affecting the way I think, speak, and behave in a sinful way? It’s not too cool to talk about sin nowadays—but anyone who wants to follow Jesus must take time to consider sin every now and then. Jesus didn’t shy away from talking about it! Jesus acknowledges the reality of heaven and the reality of hell, and seems to suggest that choosing sin is choosing a path that leads to “unquenchable fire,” and an eternal torment.
But the second thing I’m reflecting on is that Jesus says something I find so interesting: “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
What does it mean to be “salted with fire?”
Salt is a metaphor, and to understand the metaphor, we should consider what the word means literally. Salt is a preservative and a means of adding flavor. Fire refines, purifies, and destroys. It also gives light and warmth. So what is it to be “salted with fire?”
I think it’s several things. To be “salted with fire” might mean to be preserved, refined, and purified. It might mean to even have some things destroyed, in order that we may be refined. It might also mean that we might add “flavor” to the world around us — the savor of grace, which often comes only from having endured a period of suffering. Or we might discover deeper understanding and offer that to the world, by offering “light,” and comfort, by adding “warmth.”
But it can also mean that we go through periods of being destroyed—so that we may be rebuilt more and more into the image of Christ. I was just talking with someone today about this, how God allows us to walk through seasons of total destruction, only to find that, walking with Christ, we rise from the ashes, discovering more beauty, more hope, and more glory than we ever thought possible. To be “salted with fire” seems to me, at least, to be a metaphor for the refining, purifying experience of suffering.
Some people come through a time of suffering with a deeper faith and deeper passion for God than ever before. But some find it is just too much, and they walk away.
They lose their saltiness.
As I read this passage, I am, once again, filled with more questions than answers. But one thing I know: Jesus says that “everyone” will be salted with fire. Whatever this metaphor really means, it is a universal experience for all of humanity. And the hope is that, when we go through periods of trial by fire, we will come out still “salty.” Still able to offer the preserving grace of the gospel to a world in need, and the delicious savor of Christ to a world that doesn’t even know what it’s hungry for.
Wherever you are on the journey – having come through a time of being “salted by fire” or right smack dab in the middle of it, open your heart to God and trust his plans for even this difficult and challenging time.