Christ is the sole light that radiates divine truth and sustains life. He declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). True to Messianic prediction, the gospel message of Christ glows, shining forth into the world (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47). He is the true light that enlightens men (John 1:9).
Significantly, the Lord described his followers as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16). As the moon reflects the sun’s glory, so Christians derive their radiance from Christ. With a grammatical emphasis on “you,” the Lord of Glory affirmed, “You alone of all men” are the light of the world (R.C.H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001, p. 201).
“Light” and “darkness” frequently are used in Scripture as symbols of good and evil. D.A. Carson explains, “In the OT as in the NT, it most frequently symbolizes purity as opposed to filth, truth or knowledge as opposed to error or ignorance, and divine revelation and presence as opposed to reprobations and abandonment by God” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984, Vol. 8, p. 139).
As a city on a hill cannot be hidden, and as a lamp is lit to provide illumination for the house, so Christians are to let their lights shine in the world. They must convey moral purity and divine truth through their lives to a watching world. Implicitly, Christ noted that his disciples may hide their lamps under baskets. This possibility, however, is incongruous with the nature and purpose of Christianity.
Observe some potential “baskets.”
Fear may dim the positive influence of Christians. If Christ’s followers live in bondage because of the world’s intimidation, they allow Satan to extinguish the message of hope of which they are custodians.
The Christian presence is compromised by worldliness, by negativism, superficial judging, and hypercriticism (1 John 2:15; Matthew 7:1-5).
It is diminished on account of irresponsible social interaction — rudeness, arrogance, strife, and selfishness. The Christian light is likewise hidden through immaturity (Hebrews 5:11-14).
When Christ sends his followers into the world, he does recognize their human weaknesses. They do commit sins, but their lives no longer should be characterized by the habitual practice of sin (1 John 1:5-9). They must elevate their words and deeds in such a way that, more often than not, the world sees Christ in them. While devout Christians recognize their own fallibility, they sincerely strive “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). Such brings glory to God.
Effective shining, however, is not merely moral restraint. Jesus explained the metaphor by saying that their brightness was equivalent to their good works that men behold. Therefore, their positive Christian actions shine forth into a world of darkness. Lenski elaborated:
“In our day of humanitarian works and ‘charity’ and ‘a moral life’ without Christ the chief works by which the faith of Christ’s disciples shines out and must shine out deserve especial attention: the acts of true Christian worship, the support of gospel preaching and teaching at home and afar, the stand against error and all anti-Christian and unchristian religious forces, the fearless confession of the divine truth, the loyalty to the principles of this truth under all circumstances, the readiness to bear ridicule, slander, loss and persecution of all kinds for the sake of the faith and the truth of the Word” (p. 203).
By reflecting the influence of Christ in their lives, Christians lead others to glorify their Father who is in heaven. Barnes observed, “If we have no other way of doing good — if we are poor, and unlearned, and unknown — yet we may do good by our lives. No sincere and humble Christian lives in vain. The feeblest light at midnight is of use” (Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Unabridged Ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1962, p. 22).
For this reason, Christians are sent forth to shine in the world. They need to shine in their families, in the congregation, in the work place, at play, and in everything they do. By their good works, they can guide, lead, and warn those within their circle of influence. The essence of life is summed up in these memorable words of Jesus: “Let your light so shine.”
Robert Louis Stevenson made this diary entry: “I have been to church today, and am not depressed” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975, Vol. 1, p. 121).
May the Lord help us to have a positive influence on those around us, and we pray that God will help us blaze a trail of optimism and hope — the hope of heaven.