THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
It may well be said that this is the greatest compliment that was ever paid to the individual Christian, for in it Jesus commands the Christian to be what he himself claimed to be. Jesus, said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn.9:5). When Jesus commanded his followers to be the lights of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like himself.
When Jesus spoke these words, he was using an expression which was quite familiar to the Jews who heard it for the first time. They themselves spoke of Jerusalem as “a light to the Gentiles,” and a famous Rabbi was often called “a lamp of Israel.” But the way iii which the Jews used this expression will give us a key to the way in which Jesus also used it.
Of one thing the Jews were very sure–no man kindled his own light. Jerusalem was indeed a light to the Gentiles, but “God lit Israel’s lamp.” The light with which the nation or the man of God shone was a borrowed light. It must the so with the Christian. It is not the demand of Jesus that we should, as it were. produce our own light. We must shine with the reflection of his light. The radiance which shines from the Christian comes from the presence of Christ within the Christian’s heart. We often speak about a radiant bride, but the radiance which shines from her comes from the love which has been born within her heart.
When Jesus said that the Christian must be the light of the world, what did he mean?
(i) A light is first and foremost something which is meant to be seen. The houses in Palestine were very dark with only one little circular window perhaps not more than eighteen inches across. The lamp was like a sauce-boat tiled with oil with the wick floating in it. It was not so easy to rekindle a lamp in the days before matches existed. Normally the lamp stood on the lampstand which would be no more than a roughly shaped branch of wood; but when people went out, for safety’s sake, they took the lamp from its stand, and put it under an earthen bushel measure, so that it might burn without risk until they came back. The primary duty of the light of the lamp was to be seen.
So, then, Christianity is something which is meant to be seen. 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.” A man’s Christianity should be perfectly visible to all men.
Further, this Christianity should not be visible only within the Church. A Christianity whose effects stop at the church door is not much use to anyone. It should be even more visible in the ordinary activities of the world. Our Christianity should be visible in the way we treat a shop assistant across the counter, in the way we order a meal in a restaurant, in the way we treat our employees or serve our employer, in the way we play a game or drive or park a motor car, in the daily language we use, in the daily literature we read. A Christian should be just as much a Christian in the factory, the workshop, the shipyard, the mine, the schoolroom, the surgery, the kitchen, the golf course. the playing field as he is in church. Jesus did not say, “You are the light of the Church”; he said, “You are the light of the world,” and in a man’s life in the world his Christianity should be evident to all.
(ii) A light is a guide. On the estuary of any river we may see the line of lights which marks the channel for the ships to sail in safety. We know how difficult even the city streets were when there were no lights. A light is something to make clear the way.
So then a Christian must make the way clear to others. That is to say, a Christian must of necessity be an example. One of the things which this world needs more than anything else is people who are prepared to be foci of goodness. Suppose there is a group of people, and suppose it is suggested that some questionable thing should be done. Unless someone makes his protest the thing will be done. But if someone rises and says, “I will not be a party to that,” another and another and another will rise to say, “Neither will l.” But, had they not been given the lead, they would have remained silent.
There are many people in this world who have not the moral strength and courage to take a stand by themselves, but if someone gives them a lead, they will follow; if they have someone strong enough to lean on, they will do the right thing. It is the Christian’s duty to take the stand which the weaker brother will support, to give the lead which those with less courage will follow. The world needs its guiding lights; there are people waiting and longing for a lead to take the stand and to do the thing which they do not dare by themselves.
(iii) A light can often be a warning light. A light is often the warning which tells us to halt when there is danger ahead.
It is sometimes the Christian’s,duty to bring to his fellowmen the necessary warning. That is often difficult, and it is often hard to do it in a way which will not do more harm than good; but one of the most poignant tragedies in life is for someone, especially a young person, to come and say to us, “I would never have been in the situation in which I now find myself, if you had only spoken in time.”
It was said of Florence Alishorn, the famous teacher and principal, that if she ever had occasion to rebuke her students, she did it “with her arm round about them.” If our warnings are, given, not in anger, not in irritation, not in criticism, not in condemnation, not in tile desire to hurt, but in love, they will be effective.
The light which can be seen, the light which warns, the light which guides, these are the lights which the Christian must be.
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