Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:15a “Neither do men light a candle,. . .”
“Ye are the light of the world.” We bring God’s light to a world groping in darkness. “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” God saves us to display us, to make us stand out in the crowd. He does not want us to escape notice.
In verse 15, Jesus continues the “light” metaphor. Be sure to note the type of light Jesus refers to. It was one that men had to “light.” The people of Jesus’ day did not have electric lights that glowed safely in a vacuum bulb; their lights were ablaze–lanterns, lamps, torches–things which had to be set on fire. Our modern incandescent lights, in essence, merely glow, but a burning flame can set others on fire. One trait of a lit light is its ability to spark other lights. Thus, when Jesus talks about our being lit lamps, a part of His meaning is that we carry with us the ability and responsibility to ignite others. As lights we do not dispense knowledge just for knowledge’s sake. Our desire is not merely to enlighten, but also to ignite, others.
Every one we win, every blaze we spark, can possibly change lives for generations to come. Each fire we ignite has the potential to impact whole families and nations for God. No one can tell how far a spark of holy fire will burn.
On the other hand, if we refuse to blaze brightly, the loss does not end with us. Others will be cursed because of our failure. We believers have something very precious and valuable to pass on to others. Do not let anything keep us from being ablaze. Stay on fire. “It is not conceit to let it shine, it is a contribution” (Atkins).
As God’s lights, we saints need to ask ourselves, are we merely aglow, or are we ablaze? “When we received the Essential Light it was not merely that we might reflect it; it was that it might ignite us and burn in us” (Morgan). John the Baptist “was a burning and a shining light” (JN 5:35). He was lit, set on fire by God.
Christ in us seeks to set us ablaze. His light, burning within us, is to burn forth through our humanity, branding itself into our words and deeds. I reiterate my challenge of a few weeks ago, I implore us to beg God to set our hearts on fire. Our calling is to do our all to burn for Him. The Holy Spirit is the oil, we are the wick.
We are to blaze, even if it means we spend ourselves the sooner. To spend and be spent for Jesus, as an offering poured out, as a sacrifice burned up, matters most in this world. Apart from this holy fire, all else is cold formalism and ritualism. “Set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire.” I unapologetically call us to burn up for Jesus, for His is the greatest calling, and ours the greatest cause, in the world.
Matt. 5:15b “. . .and put it under a bushel,. . .”
The danger with salt was, it might lose its salty flavor. The danger with light is, it might be obscured. We must not hide our light. Christianity is essentially diffusive, its benefits are to be dispersed, passed on. Salvation is something God gives us on its way to someone else. None of us is meant to be a dead end street. For the sake of others, we are called to be lamps, to brighten the corner wherever we are.
Jesus drew an image from the common family’s one-room cottage life. The “candle” was a lamp, a small bowl filled with oil on which a wick floated. “A bushel” was the family’s earthenware grain measure, about a peck in size. It was used first thing every morning to measure meal and to prepare the family’s daily bread.
Jesus’ image depicts a ridiculous and contradictory procedure. No one would light a lamp and set it under a bowl. This would put out the light. If a person did not want the lamp to shine, there was no need to light it in the first place. Trying to hide a lit lamp is unheard of and absurd in the natural sphere, and in the spiritual.
Jesus knew the change He accomplishes in us would catch the world’s attention and expose us to its ill will. Thus, He realized there would be strong Satanic temptations for us to seek to hide our light. Believers truly are changed, made new, born again. A revolution this drastic will obviously manifest itself unless the one who is changed makes the absurd decision to take steps to squelch his own witness.
Our faith radically alters us, and thus makes its presence known, unless it is consciously checked. No pains are needed to make light shine. By its nature, light shines. All the collective darkness in this midnight world cannot thwart the shining of even our least twinkling lamp. Our text teaches the shining of even the smallest saint can be thwarted only if the Christian himself takes pains to hide his own light.
Believers, beware. Our light can fail to be seen only if we ourselves take express efforts to prevent it from shining, and light kept to itself ceases to be light. If we can forever hide our light, it may not be a light of the Lord’s lighting. As someone has well said, “There can be no such thing as secret discipleship, for either the secrecy destroys the discipleship, or the discipleship destroys the secrecy.”
Do not try to be a secret follower of Jesus, a Nicodemus who comes to see Christ by night. With all our God-given might, fight this ever present temptation. Never yield. Many of us have failed so often in this area that we are tempted to throw up our hands and quit trying altogether. Do not let yesterday’s failures cause us to cease trying today and tomorrow.
I know how guilt in this matter can eat away at one’s very vitals, and cause one to want to stop thinking about the subject altogether. My dad is the greatest personal soulwinner I ever met. I never came close to matching his skill, and carry much guilt about it all the time. This may be one reason I have such a passion to preach. It gives me opportunity to speak for Jesus and helps ease some of the guilt.
I know I am far from being alone in bearing this guilt. All the surveys and polls show that the vast majority of our church members have never spoken a word for Jesus to the lost. Many Christians will go through their whole life and never bear a verbal witness for Christ. This is unnatural. By the very nature of our second birth, we want to share our faith. To keep from shining for Jesus, we have to go out of our way to squelch the desire. A yearning to witness is part and parcel of the born again experience. “I am glad to believe that you and I, and all our imperfect brethren, are a great deal better in heart than we ever manage to show ourselves to be in life” (Maclaren). The want to is there, many of us simply have to rediscover it. “Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore. . . .Chords that are broken will vibrate once more” (Fanny Crosby). We need to re-light it, stoke it, and encourage it to keep it from waning.
It is my duty to help us all do our duty, starting where we are, and moving us to where we know we ought to be. We begin by accepting our mandate, we are the light of the world. The next step is to be a city set on a hill, finding ways to let everyone around us know we are saved. We then refuse to put a bushel over our candle, asking God to help us never squelch our desire to witness.
When we are tempted to cover up the fact we are Christians, or seek to avoid persecution, imagine putting a lit lamp under a bushel. Think how ridiculous it is, and realize the bushel being put in our hand is of the devil. Remember, salt and light want to fulfill their essential quality. Salt wants to salt, light wants to light.