More about the Christian life

Let Your Light Shine

We often act as though Jesus said this:

     You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and give you proper credit for all your accomplishments.
—Matthew 5:14-16, Reversed Fractured Version

But rather He said this:

     You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:14-16, NIV

Mark puts this saying in a group of other sayings about the Kingdom, so we know that Jesus is not telling us how to get proper credit from other people; rather, He is speaking of His Kingdom. As Christians, we have received the Light of His Kingdom, but that light is not meant solely for our private edification. The Kingdom of God is not like model railroading, something you do quietly in the basement and demonstrate only if visitors happen to inquire about it. The Kingdom of God is like a light that you set out on a stand so the whole room can be illuminated.

What is the purpose of lighting the whole room? Is it so outsiders can marvel at our housekeeping, at the trophies in the case, at the certificates on the wall, or at our own personal beauty? No, it is none of those things. The purpose of illuminating the room is to let outsiders see the light and marvel at the One who gives it.

If we misuse the light that Jesus gave us to attract attention to ourselves, it immediately backfires, since we are flawed creatures with faults and sins. When we ask outsiders to admire us for our fine character or our family values or our lack of vices, they immediately see beyond our words to our personal failings and they count it all as hypocrisy. The light that reveals the d?or of our house also illumines the dust under the sofa and the smudge on the wall. So they deride the gospel we preach. We react by deciding that evangelism is too hard and probably someone else’s gift. We retreat then into the basement of our soul and run our spirituality around in little circles under a bare light bulb, like a model train. Our Christian profession becomes a holy hobby, disconnected from our lives. It runs in circles, taking us nowhere. We have taken our light and put it under a bowl. Before long the flame gutters and goes out.

Therefore we should not use the light to draw attention to ourselves, but to draw attention to the light. It’s like being the first one on the block to have electricity. We invite people in to marvel at the light, not at our personal attractiveness, not at our housekeeping, and not at the decorations on our walls. It is the light we proclaim, not ourselves as revealed by the light. Since we draw their attention to the light, they look past our disheveled household to marvel at the illumination. Then they all go away amazed and determined to get electricity for their own houses. When outsiders see the light of God shining despite our sins and flaws, they will marvel, they will find hope for themselves, and they will be transformed.

So we do not put our light under a bowl, where it will be extinguished, but on a stand so it will illuminate the whole house. Not so that people will see the house, which is a mess, but the light, which is a marvel.

Jesus has no secret truths, no private teachings that should only be passed down to those who are qualified. While it is true that He wanted to keep certain of His teachings secret during His earthly ministry—such as His identity as the Messiah—the secrecy was only temporary until all things were complete. If Jesus’ claims about Himself had gotten out early, it would have hastened the crucifixion and eliminated much of His ministry. By keeping some things secret, He kept control over the timetable of events. But after the Resurrection, there is no more need for secrecy! Today He wants His disciples to reveal all things when they teach.

While it is true that there are tricks of the trade, if you will, and pastoral insights that are passed down through the generations of Christian leaders, there are no secret doctrines. If anyone claims in these late days to be privy to secret teachings of Jesus that only worthy Christians can learn, watch out!

There are no secret teachings, neither ancient ones nor modern ones nor newly discovered ones. Spiritual frauds, both ancient and modern, can seem quite compelling, especially if you don’t have the technical knowledge to analyze them sufficiently, and it is often hard to resist their claims. But one thing is very clear. Any claim that you are worthy to receive a secret teaching is an appeal to your vanity, because it tells you that you are somehow better or at least more eligible than others. This alone reveals the spiritual fraud, for the Spirit of God never appeals to your vanity. Scripture says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
—Philippians 2:3, NIV

When we place the lamp on the stand, so that it illuminates the whole room, we reveal all things. Nothing is hidden; nothing is withheld, for all is made public. We must set the mysteries of our faith as a lamp upon a stand, to light up the whole room, so that all may hear, so that all may see, so that all may believe, and so that all may be saved.