“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, NASB).
This familiar verse is from the Sermon on the Mount. You’ve probably read it, sung about it, had it taught to you in Sunday School lessons, or had it preached to you in sermons on many occasions.
I know I have. And I’ve even expounded on it more than a few times myself in these Meditations. But in all my elucidations about being the light of the world, there’s one very important point I haven’t explained very well–how to emit light.
What do I actually do to radiate light so that people will glorify God? How do I shine?
The short answer (as stated in these verses): Good works! The little longer answer: Good works in the name of Jesus! The even longer answer because you’re getting concerned about my theology: You don’t receive God’s grace because of good works; you actualize God’s grace that you have received by good works. And a supplemental answer: Good works is how we share the gospel; people see God’s grace at work in you by the good works you do for them (according to these verses).
Hopefully, that shines a little theological light on the light-of-the-world discussion we’re about to undertake…
So, the big problem I have with Jesus’ teaching about good works in these verses is not a theological one. Rather, it’s a practical one.
I haven’t been doing good works! Period. End of discussion. There, I said it (but it’s not really the end of the discussion).
Sure, I work hard at being good, but doing good works….not been happening in my life!
If the truth be known, I’ve been avoiding doing good works (or at least the good works that God wants me to do). And some of my excuses almost make it sound like I think I’m too good to do good works!
So please, don’t think too badly of me, maybe you’ve made the same mistake. Maybe, like me, you haven’t taken Jesus’ practical advice in the Sermon on the Mount seriously, literally, seriously literal, literally serious. Maybe, like me, you’ve “spiritualized” it. But, if not, at least hear the rest of my explanation.
In these Meditations I have repeatedly advised you (and me) to shine your light by finding out where God is at work around you and then joining Him in His work. This is a biblical teaching from John 5:19-20 that I learned from Henry Blackaby’s, Experiencing God. What I never really explained in all my advice about joining God in His work was how to find where God was at work in the first place. Seems like a pretty important part of the equation, don’t you think? I guess I just assumed you would know. I guess I assumed I knew…
If you were trying to figure out where God is at work, you might start looking in some obvious places that you would expect to find God at work. You might look at the church that is experiencing revival or the church that is expanding its facilities or adding more worship services because it’s growing so fast. You might even look at the popular Sunday School class that never seems to have enough chairs for everyone, the Bible study group that everybody wants to join or even the well-stocked food bank that is capably handing out food to needy families.
Those would all seem likely places to find God at work. You might even think of many more likely places as well. And, no doubt, God is likely at work in all those likely places. And all those likely places are places that I would like to join God in His work.
The problem is, those likely places are places where God’s light is already shining. They are places where God already has somebody doing His work. So, God really needs me to go to the unlikely places where there is still work to be done! He needs me to shine in the dark, in places where there is an absence of light. Which means I may have to look in places that I would rather not look: the jail, the homeless shelter, the hospital, the broken home, the other side of the tracks!
If you’ve asked God to show you where there is work to be done and He hasn’t, it’s because you’ve been strolling through the light instead of stumbling around the darkness. At least that was my approach. But with good reason. See, I try to stay out of the dark so I don’t trip and fall. I make a concerted effort not to let darkness into my life.
Then, one day God placed some people in my life with whom I would rather not be involved, some people with some serious problems, some people from the darkness. And if you knew me very well, you would know that my life is complicated enough without taking on any more problems. Besides, they brought all their problems on themselves so they deserved what they got. And, I certainly didn’t want to expose my family to all their problems.
So, while I was feeling justified not to get involved, God showed me that I should get involved, that I should make their problems my concern and try to help them out. I should let my light shine in the darkness by doing good works for them, in the name of Jesus.
But I certainly wasn’t going to surrender to God’s will without resistance. After all, that’s what we humans do, isn’t it? So, I came up with a better plan. I really love to teach Bible Study and, IMHO, I’m a pretty good teacher! Wouldn’t that be a better use of my gifts and talents? Lord, I want to work for you but I don’t really want to get a dirty, sweaty job. Besides, these people brought all their problems on themselves so they deserve what they got. And I don’t want my family exposed to their horrific problems, their tragic lifestyle. Aren’t there some comfortable office jobs available in your Kingdom? Maybe with air conditioning? After all, Lord, you don’t really want me to waste my time and talent with these unfortunate, unregenerate people…
Then the Spirit reminded me how I’ve been blessed, really blessed. Not just materially or financially. Think of the light God has given to me. Think of God’s abundant grace I have received. This light, this grace was freely given to me. No, it was lavished on me. So it’s incumbent upon me, maybe even required of me, to share it with somebody, somebody who needs it, somebody who doesn’t have it. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12:48, NASB).
And it was no gentle reminder by the Holy Spirit; it was gut-wrenching conviction that the Holy Spirit drenched me with. “Lovingly harsh” would be one way of describing it. His indictment against was that I talk the talk pretty good, but I haven’t really walked the walk. I can describe the radical behavior Jesus evokes from His disciples in most persuasive terms. Yet, I’ve never done the extraordinary for God. I’ve only done the ordinary, the minimal. I’ve always reacted reasonably, logically, rationally to the Spirit’s leading.
Don’t embrace the hurt. Don’t take on trouble. Especially if it’s not your own. Don’t get involved. Avoid it. That’s me!
And then the Spirit lovingly whispers: “Embrace their problems. Make their problems your concern. Shine My light.” “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48, NASB).
The contention of Jesus in the Beatitudes is that admission into God’s Kingdom is available to anyone, the unlikely as well as the likely. And, the most likely candidates for admission are the marginalized: the hopeless, the lonely and grieving, the vulnerable and weak, the suffering, the mistreated, the defenseless. Jesus teaches us that God’s light is especially available to people residing in the darkness.
So, if you want to find where God is working, if you want to shine your light, then go shine in the darkness!
- Shine! – Matthew 5:14-16, Part 1: Being the Light (stevesbiblemeditations.com)
- Shine! – Matthew 5:14-16, Part 2: Shining Jesus (stevesbiblemeditations.com)
- Shine! – Matthew 5:14-16, Part 4: Clandestine Christians (stevesbiblemeditations.com)