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Mark 9:49-50 – Seasoning for Our Lives

For the past two years, the city of Willard, Ohio has sponsored something called “Goods in the Woods.” During that event, craft vendors from around the area setup booths along the path in the woods at the city park. Besides the food trailers, there are booths selling leather goods, crocheted items, wood working, and clothes. But the first thing that really caught my attention was a booth advertising Red Beard Seasonings. Being that I once was a redhead with a red beard, I decided to buy a bottle of seasoning just to support the “club.”

In today’s study, we will be looking at several statements made by Jesus about seasoning. While the seasoning makes us think of what lunch might turn out to be, we are going to have to put that thought aside for a few moments. Jesus was not referring to steak seasoning or Indian spices. He was talking figuratively about some important spiritual truths that will enhance each of our lives.

  1. What does it say? (Mark 9:49-50)

    Jesus said that everyone will be seasoned with fire and that every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.1 He said that salt is good but asked how it can be seasoned it if it loses its flavor. He also told them to have salt in themselves and peace with one another.

  2. What does it mean?

    A few notes

    What is the context?

    The immediate context is verses 33-48. There Jesus is teaching about being a humble servant (9:33-35), receiving a child in Jesus’ name (9:36-37), working with other believers (9:38-41), not causing a child to stumble (9:42), and not allowing anything to cause you to go to Hell (9:43-48). These words were directed toward His disciples (included Judas). However, because Jesus was speaking about serving Him and working with other believers, it may be best to look at these words as directed toward believers in general.

    What do the words mean?

    I think it is obvious that the words fire, salt, and seasoned are used to represent something more than physical fire, salt, and seasoning. Jesus is using them figuratively to teach a particular spiritual truth. The Greek word πυρ means “earthly fire”2 and can be used figuratively. The Greek word ἅλας means “salt … as seasoning for food or as fertilizer”2 and can be used figuratively. The word ἁλισθήσεται means “to salt”2 or “season with salt.”3 These definitions don’t help much but they reinforce the fact that Jesus was using each word figuratively.

    How are fire and salt used in the New Testament?

    Consider the following uses of the words fire and salt to get an overall understanding of how the words are used in the New Testament.

    • Fire represents Jesus dividing the godly from the ungodly (Matt. 3:10-12; Luke 12:49, 51-52).
    • Fire represents the judgment of the lawless (Matt. 13:40-43; 18:8-9).
    • Fire represents the revealing of one’s true character (1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 1:7).

    In these instances, fire is used figuratively to describe an action taken by God to differentiate between the godly and the ungodly, to judge the lawless, and to reveal someone’s real character. While fire will be the ultimate judgment for the ungodly, fire is used figuratively in the other cases to show God’s means of revealing what is good and approved by Him.

    • Salt represents a believer’s influence in the world (Matt. 5:13; Luke 14:34-35).
    • Salt represents a believer’s carefully prepared speech (Col. 4:6).

    Salt is not used as much in the New Testament as is fire (fire – 79 vs salt – 6). However, in these instances, salt represents a good influence in other people’s lives by the presence of godly people and the prepared speech given by them.

    With all that in mind, let us consider what this passage means.

    Spiritual fire will season every believer’s life (Mark 9:49a).

    Because there is little context to this statement, it is difficult to be dogmatic as to its meaning. In fact, there are many, many interpretations of what this means. However, when compared to the other uses of fire in the New Testament, we can assume that there is a similar meaning here to what is said elsewhere.

    Seasoning is something you do to make food taste better. When someone cooks a piece of meat on the grill, the meat usually has char marks where it was close to the fire. The fire didn’t burn up the meat but it enhanced the flavor of the meat by burning part of it. It seems to me that this is a good illustration of what Jesus was talking about here.

    Jesus told His disciples that everyone would be seasoned with fire. With these other verses in mind, it seems to me that this fire represents the work that God does in every believer’s life to refine their character, reputation, and usefulness.

    Did you notice the first word in the verse? The word “for” connects this thought with the preceding verses. Because of the problems that can come from an uncontrolled hand, foot, or eye, it is better to live without them than be cast into Hell at the end of life. But this fire can be avoided by the refining fire of God which seasons every believer’s life.

    Spiritual salt will season every believer’s life (Mark 9:49b-50).

    Seasoning is something you do to make food taste better. When our chickens and ducks were laying eggs, I would cook them with a generous amount of pepper. At one point, I tried various seasonings (steak, chipotle, kickin’ chicken, etc.) to enhance the taste. That added seasoning made them taste even better.

    Jesus said that every sacrifice would be seasoned with salt. This appears to be an allusion to an Old Testament practice of adding salt to an offering or sacrifice. In Leviticus 2:13, every grain offering was to be seasoned with salt. Also, in Ezekiel 43:24, the animal sacrifices were to have salt added to them. The reason for this was not given in either case. However, if you consider the fact that the offerings and sacrifices were often eaten later by the priests and the one offering it, it makes more sense. Every sacrifice given to the Lord was to be given the extra seasoning of salt.

    As we move on to verse 50, the meaning becomes more clear. Salt in Israel was often gathered from near the Dead Sea. According to Grassmick “The coarse, impure salt from the saline deposits of this area was susceptible to deterioration, leaving savorless saltlike crystals as residue.”4 I have also read that some salt deposits were not very salty because they were mixed with gypsum dust.6 This kind of salt was neither salty or tasty. While normal salt is good, if it doesn’t enhance the flavor, what can be done? The answer is nothing.

    Jesus’ idea here is that believers should have lives that make a difference in the world and with other people. As salt is used to enhance the taste of food, so the lives and actions of believers should enhance the lives of the people around them. This desire to enhance people’s lives should lead to peace with others as opposed to what the disciples had been doing — arguing about who was the greatest and forbidding other disciples from doing great things for the Lord.

  3. How does it apply?

    We need to allow God to burn away things in our lives that are holding us back.

    Jesus told us earlier to remove things that would lead us to sin (Mark 9:43-48). Today, we learned that we will all be seasoned with fire. If God is going to refine our lives and make us more productive for Him, wouldn’t it be good to work with Him to accomplish that same goal? Think about your own life today. What things are you allowing in your life that are holding you back from being a godly person for the Lord? As you consider those things, will you allow God to remove them from your life. But why wait for God’s refining fire? Why don’t you remove those sinful practices or the things that are holding you back from serving Him effectively right now?

    We need to enhance the lives of people around us.

    Jesus told us that salt can lose its effectiveness sometimes. He also told us to have salt in ourselves. We know that our Christian lives can help those around us. Our honesty, kindness, and love can be a helpful contrast to the dishonest, mean, and hateful things the world is promoting. Are you trying to do that in your sphere of influence? Or has your life become ineffective like tasteless salt? This week, take the time to be a help to those around you. Be kind. Speak with graciousness. Be loving to those who don’t deserve it. By doing these things, you can begin to enhance the lives of those around you.

Conclusion

I must admit that this was a very difficult passage for me to understand. According to Hiebert, “it is commonly acknowledged to be one of the most difficult verses in the New Testament to interpret, and varied views have been given to it.”5 With little context and so many different interpretations offered, it is still difficult to be sure of the meaning. But there is a meaning. And as we have seen today, there is also an application that applies to all of us. Let’s be sure to be well-seasoned this week and make a difference for the Lord.

Footnotes

1 Some Greek manuscripts omit the second phrase about every sacrifice being seasoned with salt.
2 Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957, reprint 1979.
3 ἁλίζω as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/halizo on 4/6/2024.
4 Grassmick 148.
5 Hiebert 269.
6 Hiebert 270.

Bibliography

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946, reprint 1951.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.