“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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
Of all the possible uses for a light, it is evident in Matthew 5 that Jesus has in mind the bringing of illumination through the revelation of God’s will for his people. John refers to Jesus as the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). So, it is not a reach to assume that those who would come after Jesus should reflect that light. Like the bright street lamps provide illumination to dark city streets, Christians are called by the Light of the World to allow their good works to shine brightly before the rest of the world so that others may praise God. To be clear, good works flow naturally out of the heart of the believer. Good works are a love response to what Jesus has done for us. They stem from a heart claimed by the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart. With that in mind good works never are motivated by a desire for self-glorification rather they are always pointing people back to God and bringing glory to God.
Jesus chose these two powerful images in Matthew to make a critical point, being salt and light means to allow our witness in the world to make a kingdom impact.
What Impact Does Being Light have on society?
To help us gain further insight we look at the work of the prophet Isaiah. These verses below were written once the people of Israel returned from exile in Babylon. The last chapters of Isaiah are filled with visions of hope for people whose lives had been uprooted and destroyed: and urgent warnings to prevent them from making the same mistakes again. Isaiah is warning the people of Israel who are proud of their religious festivals and their holiness. They make fasting a big public production and ask why God isn’t impressed? God, are you paying attention? They complain directly to God: “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” God! Give us some credit we are trying!
So God responds,
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6–8
Have we failed to be light?
Isaiah paints a very clear picture of what God desires. God wants sincere worshippers. People who worship God in Spirit and Truth, who live out their calling by letting their light shine before men, not to receive praise from God, but to point the lost and erring to God. How does that look in a practical way? Isaiah lays out some concrete examples: Authentic worship: “let the oppressed go free, shares your bread with the hungry, brings the homeless poor into your house, covers the naked and don’t hide from your own people.” That is the life God calls the Christian to live. That is what Jesus was calling us to do when he said to be salt and light. Go, love the unlovable. Welcome the stranger. Feed the hunger. Clothed the naked and by doing so, you will bring glory to your Father in heaven.