|You Are the Light of the World
May 2, 1999 / Matthew 5:13-16
In the life of The Family of God at Woodmont Hills, I trade on the character, faith, and good influence of its members. Because I preach for the church, more people see me than see you on Sundays. Because of my role in our corporate life, strangers who come to know our church usually hear my name before they hear yours. But a church has legitimacy for its existence and influence in its environment if and only if its identity is judged to be positive, wholesome, and authentic.
I am presently involved in a Bible study with a man in his early 30s. He has not yet attended an assembly of our church. And he had never met or heard me when he called a few weeks ago. Here is how the phone conversation went . . .
"Pastor Shelly, I’d like to make an appointment to talk with you."
"I’ll be happy to get with you at your convenience," I said. "We’ll have to check with Jill about my calendar. While I’m getting her attention, do you mind telling me what we will be talking about when we meet?"
"I’m not sure," he said. "I’m struggling with some things right now and don’t quite know which way to turn. But I work in an office with two members of your church. They make this place bearable. They’re the best workers this company has. And they’re always talking about their church, excited about something that’s going on there, quoting something you said in a sermon. They’re really good advertisements for your church."
"It makes me feel good to hear you say that," I replied. "Jesus shows up here regularly, and he is making a difference in the lives of all of us who are willing to open ourselves up to him." Then, before we could set the date for our first appointment, he said something that sent chills down my spine.
"Whatever it is they have," he said, "I want!"
That’s what I meant earlier when I confessed that I regularly trade on the character, faith, and good influence of the people in this church. If Christ is not real for us, how can we draw others to him? If he isn’t making a difference in us, why would they want any part of who we are and what we have? Because he is real and life-changing in our midst, others want to experience it as well.
Do you understand now what I said at the beginning? I trade on your Christian character, faith, and good influence. Christians acting "Christianly" — is that a word? — spade and prepare the soil into which the seed of the kingdom of God can be sown with good effect.
Light Shines in the Darkness
The gospel is not a secret to be guarded but the Good News that everyone is entitled to hear. Our task as a body of believers is to be a platform for disseminating the message. The personal assignment each of us has every day is to wake up and get out of bed asking how he or she is going to do something that honors Christ in the new day. How we can touch someone with Christ’s love, kindness, and goodness so as to help open their hearts to him. How to carry peace, hope, and joy into someone’s bleak and unhappy world.
This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples that we are salt and light to the world around us.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16).
When Jesus came into the world, it was as if a shaft of brilliant divine light penetrated its canopy of darkness. The laser beam of his holiness perforated the world’s evil. His love intruded on the hatred Satan had generated down here. His gracious treatment of people who had been abused by life’s worst hurts was like the dawning of a new day. That is why John wrote: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:4-5). Again, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Or, still pursuing the same theme, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ " (John 8:12).
And when Jesus’ people go into the world of their time and place, something of the same thing happens. The calling of God on our lives as believers is not to remove the darkness from the world but to be light in the world’s dark places. After all, Jesus did not begin a Jewish sect to combat religious hypocrisy or a Roman political party to challenge slavery or economic inequity. He established the church to be a counter culture that would give light, hope, and direction to anyone looking for something better than the world could offer.
I’m skeptical of preachers who want to tell politicians how to run the country or whose goal is to found political movements that will reform a nation. The church of God is not an American political party. It is supposed to stand over against the larger culture as a body of people able to model the godly alternative to racism, sexual scandal, jockeying for personal power, and brawling. Our task is to submit ourselves to the kingdom rule of our Lord Jesus Christ — and then to let as many others as possible know who it is who transformed our lives.
Please don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not saying that Christians should pull back into an isolationist mentality and posture. Of course we care about our schools, neighborhoods, and country. And of course we should do what we can to implement right values that will make life better for everyone in those cultures. But the larger culture will never embrace the distinctive values of Judeo-Christian Scripture. And by the nobly motivated — but often strident and angry — activism of some Christians on issues such as abortion or homosexuality, unbelievers see all Christians as rigid, merciless, and unkind. More and more of our neighbors have therefore rejected the church. In so doing, they thought they were rejecting Jesus. No, they were just rejecting some of us who profess to follow him.
"The church is like manure," says evangelist Luis Palau. "Pile it together and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out and it enriches the world." We need fewer events of "piling Christians together" to make angry, strident statements to our culture and more determination to "spread out" through the culture as people of principle, integrity, and Christlike gentleness. Our issue must be Jesus — not abortion, not scandals in Washington, not homosexuality, not pornography, not even the preservation of families. While we must be concerned about all these issues, they are essentially matters of faithful discipleship. They are not the front doors through which the message of Christ will reach people.
Our matter of "first importance" must be the same as Paul’s. It must be the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1ff). It must be the proclamation of God’s redeeming and transforming love for all people. And the place from which you are called to share that message is — well, it’s right where you are already.
You probably don’t need to consider giving up your career or schoolwork for the sake of becoming a missionary. And you most likely won’t need to die as a martyr for Christ. You will need to do something that is harder. Your call is to live for him in the routine and mundane course of your lackluster life. It is to wake up every morning and ask yourself: How do I use my responsibility today to honor God and bless my neighbors?
The story is that there was a shortage of hard currency in the British Empire during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. As representatives of his government searched the nation for a supply of silver to meet the emergency need, a committee returned a month after being commissioned with its report.
"We have searched the land in vain for a supply of silver that can be minted into coin," began their report. "To our dismay, we have found none — except in our country’s cathedrals where the statues of the saints are made of choice silver."
Cromwell’s answer? "Then let’s melt down the saints and put them into circulation!"
You are the light of the world, and God has put you in circulation where you are needed most. So, when you wake up tomorrow, remember to ask: How do I use my responsibilities today to honor God and bless my neighbors?
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