The background of this statement begins in verse 33. The disciples had been disputing with each other as to who was the greatest of them. The Lord countered their pride by telling them that the greatest is the one who will serve all, including a small child. Small children were particularly counted as nothing in those days. Then, in verses 38-41, the disciples wanted to stop the work of another for the Lord “because he was not following us.” Again, pride and exclusivity blinded them. The Lord gave them a lesson on letting others serve the Lord without our direct interference. In verses 42-48, Jesus is trying to help his disciples see the great importance of self-judgment upon our own sins, in order to avoid judgment from God.
Verse 49 states: “For everyone will be salted with fire.” Fire in the context, and often in the Bible, signifies judgment from God. Indeed, God is going to judge all men, believers and unbelievers. Believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, not for eternal salvation, but for recompense according to works, both good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). Christ is going to judge the living and dead (2 Tim. 4:1). All dead unbelievers will appear before the great white throne and be judged, resulting in an eternal torment pictured by “the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).
“Salt is good.” (v. 50). Salt counters the corruption and the decay of living things. It preserves the freshness and goodness of life. So, the salt of self-judgment, the topic of this passage, is shown to be exceedingly important and effective for a Christian life that is fresh, living and free from sin and self. If we lose the desire for and discipline of self-judgment upon our pride, our self-indulgence and our sins, then we lose the savor of Christ’s life emanating from us. We become “unsalty.” “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” The disciples had not been at peace with their fellow disciples in this scene. They were arguing about who was the best and who deserved to be recognized as number one. They were attempting to stop the service of others because it did not follow their way. The solution of the Lord Jesus for these squabbles was very direct: “Have salt in yourselves – judge your own pride, your own sins, your own short-comings – and be at peace with one another.” When we judge ourselves, then we can be open to receive, appreciate and serve others. We are at peace with our fellow believers.