Sermon on the Mount:Ye are the Light of the World

By Keith Sharp

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are In the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).

The most difficult task a coach undertakes is to so challenge his team that each player measures up to his full potential each game. Perhaps the most effective way to challenge an athlete is to honestly compliment him on what he can be if he gives his all. When Jesus declared, “Ye are the light of the world,” He presented His disciples with the greatest challenge, as well as the highest compliment, that could ever be honestly extended to mortals.

Jesus Himself is “the light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). Thus, when He called us “the light of the world,” He uttered the most generous compliment ever extended to men. Christians, in a sense, actually sustain the same relationship to the world that the Savior does. This stirring declaration is at the same time the paramount test as well, for it challenges us to live in the world in the same manner as He did. How are Christians “the light of the world”?

Light is eminently good in several ways. Christians must possess the same excellent qualities exhibited by light. The goodness of light is first displayed in that fact it provides visibility. Without light, we can see nothing. Without Christ and the Gospel, the world lies in spiritual darkness (2 Cor. 4:3-4; Jn. 1:5). The only glimpse of Christ that most of the world sees is His reflection in the lives of His disciples (cf. 2 Cor. 3:2-3). As the poet well sang:

“We are the only Bible

The careless world will read,

We are the sinner’s gospel

We are the scoffers creed;

“We are the Lord’s last message

Given in deed and word,

What if the type is crooked?

What if the print is blurred?”

(Annie J. Flint, “The World’s Bible”)

Light comforting it is to one lost in the wilderness to have a lamp to guide him to safety through the blackness of a storm-filled night. How comforting it is to a soul lost in the wilderness of sin to have the example of a faithful disciple to lead him to Christ through the darkness of the sin-cursed world (cf. Phil. 3:17).

We further behold the innate excellence of light in its capacity to heal. Sun light has the ability to help heal wounds and strengthen feeble bodies. Malachi prophesied of Christ, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2). Christians reflect that healing light upon sin-sickened and wounded souls.

Light protects from evil. One of the crime-deterring programs proposed by our government is the installation of more and better lights on city streets, for darkness is the cover for crime (cf. Jn. 3:20). The example of mature Christians protects spiritual babes from the pitfalls of sin.

Light makes life possible. Without the light of the sun, no life would exist on this earth. Without the light of the Son, whose light is seen in His disciples, no spiritual life would exist in this world (Jn. 1:4).

Light exposes things hidden in darkness. Did you ever experience the frustration of searching for something in a dark house at night when the lights were off? Light alleviates the problem. The light of the example of our lives as Christians exposes the deeds of darkness of the sinful people of the world (Eph. 5:11-13).

Thus, the sinful world lies in the terrifying condition of spiritual darkness (cf. Jn. 3:19). Jesus, the light of the world, is the source of all spiritual light to guide the lost to salvation (2 Cor. 4:3-6). He is our sun. But, we, His disciples, reflect His light to the people of the world, who might not know Him save through our example (2 Cor. 3:18). We are the moon, deriving all light from the sun. To reflect His light, we must live as He did (1 Pet. 2:21). The ultimate test by which a Christian should decide whether anything is right or wrong in his life is the simple question: “What would Jesus do?”

In ancient times cities were commonly surrounded by walls and built upon high places overlooking the surrounding terrain. Jerusalem was such a city. This made it doubly hard for an attacker to penetrate the city’s fortifications, for the defenders could easily see approaching enemies and could shoot down at them. But one thing about such a city. It was open to the view of all. It could not be hidden.

Disciples of Christ are like “A city that is set on a hill.” In this figure, Christians are viewed collectively, as the Lord’s church (cf. Heb. 12:22-23). All the world around us sees us and usually pays close attention to our example as a church, because they are (or, at least should be) aware of ‘our claims to be peculiarly God’s chosen people (1 Pet. 2:9-10). As an attacking enemy would view a fortified city from afar, looking for a weakness in its defense, the world views the church, looking for an excuse to call us hypocrites (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11-15; Phil. 2;15). Are there any holes in the walls?

Christians are again likened to “a candle.” This illustrates our relationship as individual Christians to the world. Actually, the words “candle” and “candlestick’ are correctly rendered “lamp” and “stand” in the American Standard Version.

“The houses in Palestine were very dark with one little circular window perhaps not more than eighteen inches across. The lamp was like a sauce-boat filled 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.

“. . . there can be no such thing as secret discipleship, for either the secrecy destroys the discipleship, or the discipleship destroys the secrecy” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. I, p. 119).

To hide your discipleship is to render yourself useless as a light (1 Cor. 10:31-33). Christian, young or old, never. be ashamed to be a disciple to Christ before your friends. It~ is often unpopular, both at school and on the job, to live above the sins of the world, but a lamp must give light.

What, then, is the Christian’s responsibility to the sinful world around him? “Let your light shine before men . . . .” Notice the Master did not teach, “Shine your light.” He exhorted, “Let your light shine.” We should not do good works just to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1). We should .live for Christ whether people see or not. How does one let his light shine? Jesus explained, “that they may see your good works . . . .” Simply live as Christ would have us to live, follow His Will and example in all things, and people will notice the difference (Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15).

Why should Christians live before the world in this way? “That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” God is glorified as men submit to His will (Eph. 1:3-12). Our good deeds should not be done to draw men’s attention to our own piety, but to lead them to God who enables us to live for Him (Phil. 2:13). We should not seek glory for the church, but should glorify God in the church (Eph. 3:20-21). All that we do before the ‘world as Christians, whether in word or action, should tend to lead others to God that He might be glorified (1 Cor. 9:19-22: 10:31-33).

Christian, “Ye are the light of the world.” Do you reflect Christ to the people around you in all that you say and do? Do you lead others to Christ by your example? Do you cause men to glorify God?

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Truth Magazine XXI: 44, pp. 693-695
November 10, 1977