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You Are The Light Of The World

Part of the Sermon On The Mount Series


(Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV) "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. {15} "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. {16} "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

The Christian believer is the light of the world. OK sounds nice but I don't much feel like "the light of the world"! This is the problem - we do not understand or feel up to our role as being the light of the world. We are in fact the light of the world and not in any pompous way at all. A light is not that important, it just sits on a table or a lampstand. It just illumines the area and helps people see what they are doing and where they are going and leaves the activity up to them. Light controls nothing. It illumines everything. If we see our role as controlling the world's activities then we will despair and feel helpless. If we see our role as illumining them and putting them in a godly perspective then the role is much easier to grasp. The prophets were not kings. They did not control the nation, they just brought God's word of repentance and the nation would either accept or reject it. That is very similar to our role as Christian believers in a largely secular world.

The role of a lamp is to be seen. There is a balance here and the Devil takes advantage of it. A bit later in the Sermon On The Mount Jesus says we are not to do good works merely to be seen by men for that is hypocrisy.(Matthew 6:1-2 NIV) "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. {2} "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. These are often interpreted to mean that we should be very "low profile" and modest about our deeds and our faith. This is not quite what it means. It is not a question of high profile or low profile but a question of motive. Good works done merely for human praise "to be honored by men" get their own reward in that praise.

However I think that, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK, the culture of understatement has meant that we have gone to the opposite extreme and rarely let people know that we are doing good. The result is that the Christian witness goes unnoticed or worse yet secularists, humanists and unbelievers get the credit for the good that Christians are actually doing.

For instance very few people know that World Vision is a predominantly Christian organization. Again, most of the organizations I know of that work with the disabled are either Christian or heavily staffed by Christians but the humanists get all the publicity, the glory and the front running in this area. The public know little or nothing of the disproportionately heavy commitment of the Christian church to the disabled (compared to their percentage in the community). If we extracted the committed Christians from aged care, the disabled, foster homes, overseas aid, famine relief, prison visiting and child support schemes they would be severely affected indeed. That is not to say that many non-Christians do not make useful contributions in these areas.

Secular governments and relief agencies are getting all the publicity and the Christian contribution is downplayed by the media and even by the Church which 'does not wish to be seen to be grandstanding'. The result is that it appears that secular values are adequate for running our societies. Their bankruptcy is masked by the huge silent Christian contribution and God is getting no glory. We need to be more "up front" and explicitly Christian when we do good.

Recently there has also been a reverse tendency with some Christian organizations being so crass in their publicity over the tiniest good work that many thinking people are turned away from the faith. The light should come from the good work, not from the "trumpets of praise". The devil uses both the overly humble and the crassly egotistical to achieve credit for the world and discredit for the church.

Where Then Is The Balance?

The light should come naturally from a well positioned good work and be allowed to shine forth without hindrance. It does not need help or amplification. Neither should it be hidden under a bushel.

We once had an incredibly talented Bible teacher in a Christian organization that I was one of the directors of. However he was afflicted with the culture of understatement to an extraordinary degree. When one of our children's workers in the North asked "What can you do to help us on your visit?" He said "Nothing". When she probed 'What are you good at?". he said "Nothing." She knew better than that but arranging his visit was made doubly difficult because he would not say "I am good at x, y and z but don't ask me to do a, b and c.". There is a difference between boastfulness and letting people know what you are good at so they can put you to some decent earthly use.

From time to time I feel the need to ask God to make me more obviously godly and give me a nice shiny face so that people can just look at me and know that there is someone who walks with God and loves Jesus without me saying a word. I would love to have a sweet and godly aura to my life and a saintly disposition. Those who know me well are probably bursting into laughter as they read this as I am far from "saintly". But I'd like to be! This is the sort of "light" that should shine forth from us and I think is the sort of light Jesus was talking of.

I was converted from rampant atheist to Christianity during a visit to a Franciscan friary where the "sweet light of holiness" was very obvious indeed and very attractive. Brother William who led the friars there was the most saintly person I had ever met. A simple godly man in his fifties with a nylon stringed guitar and a gentle voice. I knew I was in the presence of something different that could not be explained in my world and that was very, very good. It won me.

When holiness becomes visible it is a powerful challenge to the selfish secular mind. It is the quality, not so much the sheer quantity, of the light that is important. A quietly spoken Mother Teresa outshines many a televangelist.

If we can put it in a nutshell Jesus is asking His followers to display to the world a clear and unobstructed testimony of a holy life dedicated to good deeds.

Are you talking about "good works"?

Yes. The very purpose of our salvation is that we might do good works, they don't save us but they are the reason why we are saved in the first place. The Christian life is not a vacuum between the sinners prayer of salvation and the saints throne in heaven. God has a pre-planned and good purpose for us after our salvation and before our physical death.

(Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- {9} not by works, so that no one can boast. {10} For we are God's workmanship,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This has received remarkably little emphasis in the evangelical churches I have attended because of the fear that it could lead to people thinking that they are "saved by works". We are not saved by our good deeds, we are saved by grace, through faith. However we are saved for good works. We are to be doers of good deeds. We know that I think, but we do not consciously realize that those good deeds are not just extras but are the very reason that God created us in Christ Jesus.

How Should I Shine?

The way we shine is through our attitudes and through our actions. Without love we are nothing and even the best humanitarian efforts are in vain.(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

With love as our basis we should take practical efforts to help our neighbor or it can be said that our love is worthless.(1 John 3:16-18 NIV) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. {17} If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? {18} Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

There are certain attitudes such as thankfulness that make us stand out from the world as a whole.(Philippians 2:14-16 NKJV) Do all things without complaining and disputing, {15} that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, {16} holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Righteousness, holiness and wisdom are character traits associated with "light".(Matthew 13:43 NKJV) "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!(Daniel 12:3 NKJV) Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.

When the glory of God comes on a person, church or nation they become a light to those around theme. This is the theme of Isaiah 60-66 and is worth reading. Here are just a few verses...(Isaiah 60:1-3 NKJV) Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. {2} For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. {3} The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. Revivals produce great light in their community and one of the functions of the Messiah Jesus was to be "a great light".(Isaiah 9:1-2 NKJV) Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles. {2} The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.

We are the light of the world whether we want to be or not. Jesus does not give us a choice. It is a role we should take very seriously indeed to ensure that the light of God in us is not obscured and blocked out, unable to do its saving work. Our light will shine at its brightest if we show ourselves to be people with biblical values and godly attitudes engaged in good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to do.


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.