Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:15c “. . .but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in
Lighting a candle is much better than cursing the darkness, but also much harder. Beware “a bushel,” anything that causes us to conceal our light. Let neither fear nor apathy hide our light. Instead, spread it by setting it where it can be seen.
A lit lamp has to be placed somewhere, but obviously not under the household peck measure. In first century cottages, one stone in a wall protruded, serving as a lampstand. Set high up, on this ledge, a lamp’s rays could fill a whole room.
Our mission is obvious. Once God lights us, we are to set our lamp in a conspicuous, public spot, where it has farflung visibility and can do the most good. We are to enlighten for Christ our “house,” our sphere of influence, wherever we are.
Do not cowardly cover our light. Instead, let “all that are in the house” know where we stand. In our faith, some matters are private, some public. The Psalmist (119:11) said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee,” but elsewhere wrote, “I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation” (40:10). The private begets public fruit.
Matt. 5:16a “Let your light so shine before men,. . .”
Verse 16 calls us to avoid ostentation, showboating. There is ever danger we will shine our lights for the wrong reason, to call attention to ourselves (MT 6:1). Jesus is not interested in theatrical goodness. We must shine, not flaunt, our light.
It can be hard to know where to draw the line between being godly or gaudy. Thus, ever ask ourselves the why of our own personal shining. Is it to impress others with our own goodness, or to “glorify your Father which is in heaven”? If motives are wrong, goodness is badness; if motives are right, goodness is greatness.
God wants to do with us what we do with our candles and lamps. The latter are lit not to be looked at, but that something else may be seen by them. Light shines to reveal other things, not to call attention to itself. This is why good deeds and a holy lifestyle by themselves are not enough of a witness. If we do not admit with our lips the source of our goodness, then the glory for it goes to us, not God.
We must neither hide our light nor obscure it as to make it suggestive of ourselves rather than of God. We want people to see “not the lamp but the shining” (Bengel). God is the light. Thus, all the glory from it should reflect back to Him.
Matt. 5:16b “. . .that they may see your good works,. . .”
Once we accept our commission to be the light of the world, once we let ourselves be a city set on a hill, once we refuse to hide our lamp under a bushel, once we set it instead up high on a lampstand, then unbelievers watch us like hawks, yea, with critical, eagle eyes. Thus, Jesus lays down the law, lifts up a standard, for us.
“Good works” is behavior consistent with Christ’s teachings. Jesus knew the acid test of Christianity would be the actions, the lifestyle, of its adherents. “It is an awful thing to think that the world always–always–takes it conceptions of Christianity from the Church, and neither from the Bible nor from Christ” (Maclaren).
Example is a powerful force, for better or worse. Poor examples damage our credibility, but good examples are our most successful method of illustrating truth. The greatest evidence of Christianity’s power is the changed lives of its adherents.
We ought to live in such a way that those around us see in us traits which cannot be explained in human terms. There should always be something perplexing about us to them. They need to be driven to the only true explanation, God.
Lord Peterborough, an unbeliever, once lodged a while with Archbishop Fenelon and was so stirred by the latter’s piety that he exclaimed at parting, “If I stay here any longer, I shall become a Christian in spite of myself.” A young minister, at his ordination, said that at one time he nearly became an atheist, “but there was one argument in favor of Christianity which I could never refute–the consistent conduct of my own father.” Note the word “consistent”–it is the critical term.
A godly, consistent, holy life gives more evidence of the power of God than healings or any other miracles. Crowds flocked to see Jesus due to His mighty miracles of healing, but most of these people departed without believing in Him.
We do not deny the possibility of the sensational among us, but merely seek to keep it in a place of secondary importance. More of God can be seen in a godly committed Christian life than in all the rest of the material universe combined.
Godliness demonstrates the practicality of our faith by proving it can be lived out. A holy life captures attention and removes objections to our faith. Chrysostom called good works “invincible demonstrations to confute and convert pagans.”
John Trapp tells of a lady named Cecelia, whose constancy and exhortations before and at her martyrdom resulted in four hundred being converted. Justin Martyr claimed he became a Christian due to beholding the piety of Christians in life and their patience in death. This caused him to believe their doctrine was the true way, and their God the true God. Julian the Apostate, a bitter foe of Christianity who died in battle while trying to annihilate our faith, rightly analyzed our success, “Christian religion spread by the holiness of those who professed it.”
People must be convinced our faith has power for living daily life, that it can have a real impact on one’s everyday activities. Unbelievers become believers not as much by abstract truth as by embodied truth. Even as the Father’s Word became incarnate in Jesus, the message of Jesus must become enfleshed in our lifestyles.
David Thomas well notes, this world’s problems are not merely wrong words, incorrect thoughts, or abstract arguments. Their errors are not only in the mind or on the tongue, but also embodied. Their failures are incarnations. People are wrong in the living of life, in the very texture of their existence. They do not know how to live an abundant life, how to fulfill successfully their role on earth. If we are to win them, Christ’s word must in us become flesh, and dwell among them.
The most successful way to inculcate Christianity is to exemplify it. “The best commentary on the Bible the world has ever seen is a holy life” (Broadus). Shine, brothers and sisters, shine. Let the world “see your good works.”