In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states “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.” We sing the song to our young children, “This little light of mine…” and tell them to shine their light to their friends. A very nice sentiment and good method to encourage our children to “shine,” but what was Jesus stating at the outset of his great mountain sermon?
This statement occurs immediately following the “Beatitudes” and itself is followed with his statement, “Do you think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets…” Interesting! Jesus starts with the concept of humility, gentleness, purity, etc. and them moves to establishing all of God’s words to the smallest detail. He begins with drilling deep into the soul and its motivations for every thought and action then makes the very emphatic point that God’s eternal promises will be established through what he is about to do. He points to the fact that their present conduct was inconsistent to what the Law and Prophets taught and out of step with God himself. Jesus points out that they were to have deep godly character (the Beatitudes) that they were then to broadcast them to the world (salt and light) and he himself would establish in every detail of God’s promises (Law and Prophets).
We are lights to the world for a very specific purpose. Our light is to shine “in such a way” that our very person draws attention to the fact that we are God’s children, and in drawing that attention should immediately provoke the glorification of God from the observer. There are several good observations to make here so let’s look at the different phrases of Jesus’ statement.
“Your light shine” Light here in Greek is the word “phos” where we get phosphorescent, to generate light from within. Shine is the word “lampsato” which means to beam or radiate brilliance. I radiate light to everyone around me. Every one of us shines light from within, even when I do not want it to be seen or when the light is the wrong color. Have you looked at light bulbs recently? They have a new designation called color frequency measured in Kelvin (K). Now we do not look so much at wattage but frequency or color. Is it more yellow or blue? Do you want a pink light or green? Today we can select the color which we prefer to add to the ambiance of the room. The same is true for the “light” which emanates from me. What is that light’s origin, its color, its intensity? If it is from my own determinations it will be my color and intensity. What I should desire is to make my light God’s light (1 John 1), that pure light of life which can only come from Him. For that light is pure, holy, true light. Sounds like the Beatitudes!
“In such a way” The Greek here is “hopos” meaning done intentionally. Here is a sticky wicket. Light shining in any direction or of any color may not be much use; there must be intent to use it correctly in order to obtain the best result. Ever use a candle to light your way in a dark area? Hard to see where you are going because the light is non-directional, it just goes everywhere. But use a flash light, Ah! then you can see much better. That’s the meaning of “in such a way.”
“They may see” The purpose for my shining light is to illuminate. If it is not bright enough, or clear enough, or on long enough; what will it illuminate? The Greek here is “idosin” meaning to stare at, to discern clearly. My interaction with others should be such that it illuminates my conduct clearly to the observer. Notice Jesus did not say illuminate their works but your works. Clarity in my conduct demonstrating my motivations should be easily discerned.
I have an x-ray unit and still process film with chemicals. It’s not that complicated but the room where film is developed is called a “dark room.” It’s called that because it’s dark in there! The only light there is a “safe light” which is a specific red color. Any other color light (even other reds) will ruin the film. Yet even this special red light must not be too bright, if it is, the film will again be ruined. Yet if it is too dim, I cannot see what I’m doing. Therefore it must be at just the right brightness and in the right direction to be effective and not ruin the film. The phrase “hopos idosin” (in such a way that they may see) means to intentionally and clearly demonstrate for close examination so there is no misunderstanding. Our light must be such that people cannot make a mistake and think “Oh, they are just good folks!” My light must provoke interest to know why I am different, to illuminate my conduct so that it can be seen clearly, without misunderstanding, my purpose for living.
“Your good works” The conduct illuminated should be good works. Here again is another sticky wicket. Who determines what is good? We use good and its iterations a great deal in our society. Good can mean anything from my personal feeling to a specific product quality. Good is used much like the word love; it can mean anything I choose it to mean depending on the subject under discussion. I love my wife but I also love coconut cream pie. Those uses of love are not the same, right?! So let’s find a standard for good. Paul states in Ephesians 2 that good works are from God. God himself gave us a definition of good in Genesis when he pronounced the events of each creation day “good” as they were perfect for his purposes. When God shows himself to Moses on the mountain he causes “all my goodness” to pass before Moses and describes his character as good. Paul also states to Timothy that good works are those which glorify or “build credit with” God. Works designed to call attention to me are not necessarily God’s works. Remember this statement immediately follows the Beatitudes; meek, poor in spirit, etc. Will God’s good works illuminate me, yes, but only as the conduit of His glorification. Our good works should be easily determined to be of Heavenly origin.
“Glorify your Father” This is the ultimate purpose for our shining light. Our actions should show God to the world such that when people see who we are and how we conduct ourselves, they will glorify God, i.e. give God the credit for our conduct. The word here in Greek is doxasosin meaning to produce glory, honor or bestow glory upon. Our light should provoke God’s glorification. An interesting note is that the only other time in scripture where this word is used is in 1 Peter 2:12 where he states “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Here the glorification of God will be at the last day, unfortunately too late for those giving glory to God. The point is clear, God should be glorified today from my good works.
Now to my primary point. We are not to be just good people, nice neighbors and tax paying citizens. Anyone can do that and millions do. We are called to be and have deliberately chosen to be Christians. That word is thrown around a lot in our society. We are a “Christian” nation, “In God We Trust” is on our money, and more. Christian is watered down and polluted in our age. Christian is just someone in contrast to Islam or Catholicism and is even used as a political viewpoint. That is not what God called us to be. We are children of the Most High God who is in Heaven! That is what Christian should mean and that to which we aspire. That is what Jesus was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. I am not just a good person in contrast to other “bad” people. I am not just a law abiding citizen. I am not just someone who openly prays when I eat a meal at a restaurant. I am a child of God, a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, a saint of the church of God. I should be noticeably different for those reasons to anyone’s observation.
How is your light shining in this present time which sets you apart from everyone else? What can others see in you that shouts “I’m a child of God?” If I am no different than my neighbors in their good conduct, how will anyone know? If I am reacting to today’s troubles just like my neighbors, how am I any different? If I am not broadcasting my faith of hope in the future in contrast to those whose backs are against the wall of hopelessness, what reason does anyone have to glorify my Father in Heaven? Jesus says, “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…”
May God give us courage to be bold, shining His pure light every day. We must be the brighter light, shine on gloriously!
by Ron Ritchie