You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14, 16
The church was the center of our lives in my family. It was rare for us to do anything with people who were not part of our church unless it was with Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren. The crazy thing is that Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren were the coolest people I knew, but I was taught to feel sorry for them because even though they were Christians, they went to the “wrong” church. When I asked my mother why we didn’t hang out with anyone other than people who went to our church, she told me that we are the light of the world. This is when I became acquainted with Matthew 5:14-16.
The thinking went something like this: Come to church, stick together, and let your light shine from within the walls of the church and somehow everyone in the community will see your light and realize they need it. That’s when they will decide to come to your church. Even as a kid I didn’t quite understand how that would happen. After all, when we are IN church, how can people OUTSIDE the church see or feel the light?
Through the years I have found this “we” versus “them” mentality to be arrogant and counterproductive. When I think I have it all together and you don’t then I have already lost the love God wants me to share with you. The truth is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I accept Jesus as Lord of my life, I also accept His mission. He came to this earth to be WITH us. Jesus took it the extreme by incubating in Mary’s womb for nine months and then worked as a carpenter until he was nearly 30 years old before beginning His mission. Talk about mingling with the world! It is when I live as Jesus did that I experience His love. When I walk with others, He walks with me.
And so I believe we have missed the point of the light in this passage. Jesus tells us that the light affects those around us only when we are WITH people, no matter where there happen to be. I can only shine my light on the path I happen to be traveling upon. If I want the light of Jesus to help others, I need to be walking on the same path they are walking on. In actuality, there is no difference between the light and the salt metaphor Jesus gives us to illustrate how we are to share His love in the world. They both require proximity to be effective. The “good works” in this passage can only be done as I mingle with those around me. If you want to know what Jesus considered to be good works, read Matthew 25 where He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.
I believe the church is the hope of the world. But it can only be hope as we are led by God into the back allies and the out of the way places to share His light with His people in His world. Where will you shine the light God has given you this week?
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5
I had recently moved to southeastern Washington from Illinois and was excited about the prospect of backpacking. So after much thought and research, I decided to go to the north side of Mount St. Helens for my first backpacking trip in the Northwest. I arrived late in the afternoon with two of my adult children. We only hiked about two miles when darkness quickly descended upon us necessitating that we pitch our tents at a spot beside the trail. We were able to get a bite to eat and find our way into our sleeping bags before we were engulfed in darkness. And I mean total darkness. It was a cloudy night. There was no light from the moon or stars. In fact, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
Fortunately, we all had flashlights. But the battery in my light had nearly lost its charge. My light was very dim, and yet it provided all the light I needed to see that dark night. On the other hand, the battery in Kelsey’s light was fully charged. Her light was much brighter than mine making it much more effective at seeing every detail of the terrain around us. But when she inadvertently shined it directly into my eyes, I was totally blinded.
I learned a valuable lesson in life that night. The brightness of my light is not as important as how I use my light. Jesus is the Light of the world. When I accepted Jesus into my life many years ago, His Light began expelling the dark thoughts in my mind and the selfish desires deep in my soul. Little by little the darkness continues to leave my life. I wish I could say all the darkness was completely gone, but it’s not. The truth is, I still have plenty of selfish desires and sinful thoughts. And yet herein lies the value and the proper use of the Light of Jesus in my life. He gives me His Light to illuminate my path. He gives my His Light that my life may be happier, brighter, and filled with peace. When I am walking next to a fellow traveler in life, my light can help us both as long as I don’t use it against him or her.
You see, it is when I decide to turn the Light onto my fellow traveler, to shine it in his or her eyes, that the precious gift of Jesus becomes a blinding force rather than a precious gift. We too often want to use the Light of Jesus to illuminate the sins of others thereby using His Light as a judgment in their lives rather than a ministry of reconciliation and love. When I am tempted to argue the “truth” with a fellow traveler, I think about that night on the north side of Mount St. Helens. I remember how it felt to be blinded by the light that would have otherwise helped me find my way, and then I remember to use God’s Word to shine Light onto the path and not into the eyes of the one next to me.
May we remember why Jesus has given us His Light as we read in Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” Luke 11:34-36
A friend recently was so excited to show me a flashlight he had borrowed from his neighbor. It was a pitch black that night with a heavy cloud cover hiding any light from the moon or stars. He turned the flashlight on and proceeded to shine it on the side of the shed 100 yards away. It was like a spotlight. He could make the light a square that only shed light in that area or he could diffuse the light to see all around you. With this light there was no danger in tripping over a fallen branch or a stray shovel left in the yard. You could walk safely in the darkest of nights with this light.
I immediately thought how my best flashlight is dim in comparison. In fact, it’s as if I don’t even have light coming from my flashlight. I could easily miss a fallen branch with my flashlight and fall flat on my face. Compared to the flashlight my friend showed me, mine is like darkness.
No wonder Jesus tells us to make sure we have the true light. It’s so easy to be satisfied with inadequate light just like I’ve been satisfied with a $5.00 flashlight my entire life. But Jesus gives us the “top of the line” light to shine on our path. He is the Light! That is the gospel message – that we can have the Light of the world IN our heart. So how does it become so dim? How is it that Jesus warns us about having darkness when we have His Light?
Could it be that we put so many filters and dimmers on His Light that it can actually become dark? The pharisees put rule after rule after rule on God’s law that was designed to keep us free that when the Light came across their path, they didn’t want anything to do with Him. They were in darkness. Today, we do the same things as the pharisees did. We put restrictions on Jesus that reduces the light He can shed in our lives. We can’t imagine He expects us to really love our boss who yells at us everyday. Jesus doesn’t really expect me to forgive my brother who cheated me out of my inheritance does He? We don’t expect that Jesus can give us victory over our special brand of addiction that isn’t hurting anyone else.
And so little by little we put dimmers on the Light of Jesus. We become focused on making sure we look good to all those around us. This dims the Light more than any other thing we can do. Why? Because the Light of Jesus, as verse 36 says, is meant to shine on the INSIDE. When I prevent Jesus access to all of my ugly thoughts, tendencies, and desires, I prevent His Light from fully shining in my heart. It’s the Light in my heart that allows me to see clearly. How bright is your Light? What dimmers have you placed on the Light in your heart?