You Are the Light of the World (Phil Johnson)

Matthew 5:14-16   |   Sunday, September 30, 2012   |   Code: 2012-09-30-PJ

By Phil Johnson

   Our text is Matthew 5:14-16: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." It's a simple passage, with a simple command ("let your light shine before others"); an explanation of what the command entails ("let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works"); and a reason for the command ("[so that people will] give glory to your Father who is in heaven.")

     Now, despite the simplicity of this command, I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about what it means and what it demands of us. This passage and its context are often cited these days, usually by those who see it as a mandate for the church to use the political process as a vehicle for our testimony. "We're commanded to be salt and light in our society, and that means we need to be a moral influence on our culture. The best way to do that is to use our collective clout in the voting booth. We need to make our voices heard, or we're not being salt and light the way Jesus commanded." Or, "You should vote this way or that way, and if you don't, you may irreparably damage your testimony. After all, we're supposed to be salt and light" Or, "If the church doesn't get behind this particular candidate, or actively oppose that other one, we're failing in our duty to be salt and light."

     That view, and that interpretation of this passage, has become so common nowadays that if you mention "salt and light" to the average evangelical congregation, they're probably going to assume you have some political agenda in mind.

     But if you look at this passage carefully in its context, it is not talking about politics or social activism all. That's the furthest thing from Jesus' mind. He's not talking about using our clout as a voting bloc, or organizing mass boycotts and protests, or electing Christians to public office. It's talking about holy living at the individual level.

     Now, please understand. I have no objection to Christians who run for political office. I have no doubt that God calls some of His people to serve in government, just as He calls some to serve in business, some to teach in universities, and others to work in every segment of society. All society is salted with Christians, and each one ought to have a beneficial effect in his circle of influence, no matter how big or how small that circle of influence may be. Collectively, we all benefit and preserve and season society as a whole. That truth is certainly what this text is about.

     But our influence as Christians is most effective at the personal, grassroots level. There's no suggestion in our text that the collective mission of the church is to commandeer the machinery of secular politics in order to wield our influence through political force or clout. If you have the idea that's the best way (or the main way) the church is supposed to influence society, you are missing the whole point of this text.

     I hope you use your vote conscientiously. I hope you're a good citizen in every way. And I hope you think with discernment not only in the realm of politics, but in every area of your life—such as what you do with your leisure time and how you spend your money, and a host of other things that impact your immediate circle of relationships. All of those things are at least as important as how you vote. And if your hope for the future of our society rests in the democratic process, or if you think the fortunes of the church rise or fall according to which party is in power, I think you need to look again at how the people of God have historically made their influence felt in society. You'll discover that those times when the church has grown the most and when revival has spread furthest are times when believers have been most concerned about personal holiness and evangelism. The church's most powerful influence comes from the power of the gospel and the testimony of changed lives.

     But when influential Christians have tried to steer the church into the political process, their testimony has failed, and they have actually lost influence.

     No wonder. In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus said,

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,

27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,

28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If the church wants to increase her influence a hostile secular society like the one in which we live today, political clout is not what we need to do it. All the power and all the politics and all the public policies in the world will never force unbelievers to yield their hearts to Christ as Lord.

     And if you think when Jesus described believers as salt and light, He was calling His church to political activism—then you need to look at this passage a little more closely.

     Jesus is simply describing the natural, God-ordained process by which all of society is blessed and influenced by the presence of faithful believers who serve as salt and light in a corrupt and sin-darkened society. And the key to it all is expressed in our verse: The more plentiful and visible our good works become, the more influence we have. Personal holiness, not political dominion, is what causes men to glorify our Father who is in heaven.

     Now, look at verse 16 in its proper context. This verse is the culmination of a brief paragraph—verses 13-16. This paragraph comes immediately after the beatitudes. In other words, this is part of the introduction to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. He starts in verses 3-12 with the beatitudes, a comprehensive list of blessings that highlight the true character of faith. He is pronouncing a formal blessing on all the traits of authentic godliness.

     Again, what's most notable about the beatitudes is that the qualities Jesus blesses are not the same attributes the world typically thinks are worthy of praise. The world glorifies power and dominion; force and physical strength; status and class. By contrast, Jesus blesses humility, meekness, mercy, mourning, purity of heart, and even persecution for righteousness' sake. Collectively, those things are the very opposite of political clout or partisan power. He's describing people who are willing to be oppressed and disenfranchised for the sake of true righteousness. They are peacemakers, not protestors; poor in spirit, not affluent and distinguished; people who are persecuted, not the pompous and the power mongers.

     And yet, notice. These poor and oppressed people are the ones Jesus is addressing when he says in verse 13 "You are the salt of the earth"—and in verse 14, "You are the light of the world." He begins addressing them directly in verse 11: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

     So whom is he speaking to? The believers in His audience, those who exemplify the traits He blesses in the beatitudes. Those who were persecuted for righteousness' sake. Those who were reviled for His Name's sake. They were for the most part simple, common people—everyday people from among "the crowds" (according to verse 1).

     According to Mark 12:37, "the common people [were the ones who] heard him gladly." Not the priests and the leaders of the Pharisees. Not the Sanhedrin. Not men like Pilate, or Herod, or Caiaphas. Not men with worldly influence. Not even a class of clergy. Certainly not political agitators. But the common people. And to them, He says, "You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world."

     Now this was significant and probably shocking to the both the religious leaders and the common people in the crowd, because we know from the historical record that the title "light of the world" was an honorary title certain eminent rabbis liked to bestow on themselves. Listen to Spurgeon's comment on this passage. He says:

     With great pomposity they spoke of Rabbi Judah, or Rabbi Jochanan, as the lamps of the universe, the lights of the world. It must have sounded strangely in the ears of the Scribes and Pharisees to hear that same title, in all soberness, applied to a few bronzed-faced and horny-handed peasants and fishermen who had become disciples of Jesus. Jesus, in effect, said,—not the Rabbis, not the Scribes, not the assembled Sanhedrin,—but you, my humble followers, you are the light of the world.

          He gave them this title, not after he had educated them for three years, but at almost the outset of his ministry; and from this I gather that the title was given them, not so much on account of what they knew, as on account of what they were. Not their knowledge, but their character made them the light of the world.

Now, remember, Jesus also claimed this title for himself in a very special and unique sense. It was one of His most explicit claims of deity. John 8:12: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The apostle John also applies a modified version of that title to Jesus at the very start of his gospel, describing how the eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, became flesh and tabernacled among us. In John 1:4-5, John writes, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

     In other words (as he goes on to say in verse 9), Christ is "The true light, which enlightens everyone, [He came] into the world."

     So you might ask, How is this a title of deity if Jesus applies it to common, everyday believers? The answer to that question is obvious if we pay attention to how the apostle John uses it.

     He says Jesus is the source of all true light. Jesus is like the sun, compared to which we are merely candles. And that's the exact imagery Jesus Himself uses here in Matthew 5:15. We are like candles—lights to the world in that limited sense, compared to Jesus, who is the true Light of the world in a unique and infinitely greater sense.

     But even as candles, we give off light, and even the faintest light of the smallest candle is capable of piercing and dispelling total darkness. The collective light of many candles has a still greater influence. And that is how Jesus pictures our role in a sinful, dark, and fallen world.

     Look briefly also at the metaphor of verse 13: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." Salt has several properties. Perhaps the most important—at least in the world of the first century—is that salt acts as a preservative. Raw meat can be cured and preserved with salt, so that even without refrigeration, properly salted meat or fish won't spoil.

     Christians in the midst of an evil and decaying society have a preserving and purifying effect. Remember in the days of Sodom that God told Abraham he would preserve the city from destruction for the sake of ten righteous people—Genesis 18. I'm convinced that even today, God preserves societies from judgment for the sake of righteous people—we are the salt in the midst of a corrupt and decaying generation.

     Salt also has an antiseptic property, so it was often used in the treatment of wounds. Of course it hurts when you use it that way. My son, Jonathan (who is now a cop), used to work in a tropical fish store. And I remember while he was working there he started going to the local batting cage, and at one point he stayed at the batting cage too long and ended up with large blisters on his hands. His job, of course, required him to put at least one hand into salt water. He said the combination of broken blisters and salt water was unbelievably painful. But the blisters on the hand that went in the fish tank healed much faster than the blisters on the other hand. The salt had a powerful healing, antiseptic property.

     By the way, even the pain salt causes in an infected wound may have significance in Jesus' metaphor. The presence of believers in the world stings the conscience of the ungodly because it is a painful reminder that God requires holiness, and the wages of sin is death.

     But salt also gives flavor to food and causes thirst—and I believe that's the main idea Jesus had when He used this metaphor, because He speaks of "its taste" (or in the King James Version "its savor")—its flavor; its saltiness; its seasoning and taste-enhancing property; and its ability to magnify our thirst. Remember, Jesus had just blessed "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (verse 6), and this imagery suggests that the presence of godly people in society ought to have the natural effect of arousing an appetite and a thirst for righteousness.

     "But," He says, "if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" If the salt goes flat, what do you season it with?

     Now, scientifically, we know that salt does not go flat. Salt is a mineral, and its saltiness is one of its inherent properties. It's not like other seasonings. A few years ago, I bought one of those industrial-size containers of oregano at Costco, and I discovered that's not a good idea. Because before I was able to use half of that oregano—after about five years in our cupboard, the oregano lost its flavor. Salt doesn't do that. You can leave it out for years, and it still has all the properties that make it salty.

     So Jesus is giving a hypothetical here that is in reality impossible. Genuine salt—pure salt—doesn't lose its savor. If you sprinkle salt on your french fries and it's tasteless, it wasn't real salt to begin with; it was probably just sand. Some of the salt in the land of Israel wasn't pure salt. Most of it was gathered from around the Dead Sea, and it was hard to refine. It would get mixed with gypsum or otherwise diluted or contaminated, so that it sometimes tasted flat or had a nasty flavor. When you got a bad batch of salt, the only remedy was to throw it out. Jesus' listeners understood exactly what he meant.

     But then Jesus switches metaphors. Now in addition to salt, He pictures believers as light. Verses 14-15: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house."

     You're like a bright light in a dark world, He says, and it's a misuse of light to keep it hidden. The purpose of light is to illuminate. The only reason to light a candle is to let it shine. You can't hide the light of a city that is properly situated, and you wouldn't want to light a candle and then cover it up. It would be foolish and irrational to do that.

     And then He gives the command that we're going to focus on (verse 16): "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

     Now I want you to notice something subtle but important: This is the only command in this passage. Jesus was not commanding His followers to be salt and light. You often hear people say that: "We're commanded to be salt and light." That's usually the argu­ment given for why Christians ought to become political agitators. ("After all, we're commanded to be salt and light.")

     But that's not the command that's given in this passage. Jesus is saying that if you are a true believer, you are salt and light. He's urging us not to lose our savor or hide our light. Salt is what it is by nature. Light is what it is by nature. You can contaminate salt or hide light, but you can't make sand into salt or turn a stone into a candle. So He doesn't "command" us to "be salt"; He says we are salt and cautions against losing our savor. He doesn't command us to "be light"; He says we are light and forbids us to hide under a bushel.

     Notice what is supposed to happen when we let our light shine before men: they see our good works and glorify God. This is not about wielding political clout. It's not about organizing protests against ungodliness. It's not about boycotting Starbucks or patronizing Chick-fil-a. It's not about trying to impose Christian values on society by legislation. It's about how we live. The testimony of our lives. The impact of the good works we do. It's about exemplifying the same traits Jesus blessed in the beatitudes. That's how we let our light shine, and that's the saltiness we inject into an otherwise decaying and tasteless society.

     (By the way, I want to point out that many evangelicals who have uncritically embraced the politics of the so-called religious right and exchanged the message of the gospel for a partisan political agenda have actually thrown out the savory salt and bought the gypsum instead. Listen to their message, and it's all about the next election, the latest piece of legislation, or the current pending moral crisis in secular society. You won't often hear them preach Christ, because the unadulterated message of the gospel is an offense to some of their main political allies.)

     Remember, Christ is the only true light of the world, and you and I cannot be candles to illuminate the darkness of this world if we have to stifle our testimony for Christ in order to advance some partisan political agenda. Even if we're working for a valid moral cause, if we have to put the only true light we have under a bushel basket in order to keep from offending our political allies, then we're not being obedient to what Christ demands of us in this passage.

     All of that is introduction, and my time is already half gone. But I think it's important to see in context exactly what Jesus is saying in this verse. He's calling us to stand out in this world—to be different. More than that, he's saying we are different, because He has made us something different, and we should simply be what we are. We're salt in a decaying and tasteless culture, and we're light in a dark world. If we give up (or cover up) what makes us distinctive, we lose our savor and forfeit our only real influence. If we have to squelch the heart of the message Christ has called us to proclaim, we're guilty of hiding our light under a bushel. Those who think the church can have a greater influence by adopting a worldly strategy are actually undermining the only valid influence Christians can have on society.

     When we merely imitate the world by jumping on every worldly bandwagon or embrace every worldly fad; when we make worldly alliances to advance political causes; or when we adopt worldly strategies to win the world's approval, we forfeit our distinctiveness. It's my conviction that much of the modern evangelical movement is guilty of that kind of compromise. We've put sand in the salt-shaker, and put a bushel basket over our candle.

     Here's the remedy: "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." That command speaks to us on an individual, as well as a collective, level. It describes what we must do corporately as a church; it gives a much-needed corporate corrective to the evangelical movement as a whole; but notice: it also reveals what you and I need to be doing as individuals.

     Do you want your life to count for eternity? Do you want to maximize the influence of your life on your children, your neighbors, the people at work, people in your community, and ultimately the whole world? Here is Jesus' strategy for spreading the light, one candle at a time. This is what He calls you and me to do: "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

     Now, think about what the imagery of this statement means: Light speaks of our testimony for Christ. If Christ is the only "true Light" as John 1:9 suggests, then I can't let my light shine unless my life and my words testify about Christ. And the more I testify about Christ, the brighter my light shines.

     Now, some have suggested that Jesus' only emphasis here is on the testimony of our behavior, because the verse specifically mentions "good works," which is what people are supposed see, and that is what provokes them to glorify God.

     But surely Jesus is not excluding the testimony of our words as well. Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." You aren't really a faithful follower of Christ if you won't confess Him with your mouth. I know there are lots of people who advocate a kind of silent evangelism, where they think if you live a good enough life, people will see Christ in your behavior, and by the sheer power of your example, sinners will be drawn to Christ, even if you never mention His name.

     Let me just say, that's not what Scripture teaches, either by precept or by example. And if your lips are silent about Christ, then you're not faithfully letting your light shine before men the way Christ intended. You need to confess Him with your mouth. You need to proclaim the gospel with your lips. Remember (1 Corinthians 1:21), "it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." Romans 10:17: "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." And (v. 14) "how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" The gospel, not the silent witness of your good works, is the power of God unto salvation.

     Most of you will never preach to any group. That's OK. But you're still called to proclaim the gospel with your words, in whatever environment life takes you. Confess Christ with your mouth. Speak to people about Him. Proclaim the message of the gospel. That's an important part—I'd say it is the very heart and the most essential aspect—of what Jesus means when he says to let your light shine.

     In fact, it is only as we let our light shine through our words that people can see our good works in the true light. That's the only way they can understand why all the good works you and I do are to the praise and glory of God alone. If we never spoke of Christ and never confessed our own unworthiness, why would anyone who sees our good works glorify God? They'd be more inclined to elevate us instead. But as we shine the light by proclaiming the gospel, we confess our own sinfulness, we point to the grace of God in Christ, and we therefore give glory to God, where all glory rightfully belongs.

     Now, of course, the verse does speak of "good works," and it reminds us that they are a vital part of our testimony to the world. What I have been saying is absolutely true: You can't be a good testimony for Christ through your works apart from your words. But the opposite is true as well, and it also needs to be said: You aren't a good testimony for Christ if your walk doesn't match your talk. There are always a few misguided souls who think extra zeal in preaching the gospel makes up for a glaring lack of holiness, or personal discipline, or kindness, or love. That misses the whole point. "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works." If your life is devoid of any distinctive goodness, you might as well go ahead and put that candle under a bushel. Please.

     So that's what this verse demands of us. And in the time that remains this morning, I want to show how if we would embrace our calling to be lights to the world, it would help us see several other important things in their proper perspective. And I have three points that you'll want to get if you're taking notes. Here are three reasons we need to understand and embrace our duty to be bearers of the light in a dark world:


1. It Gives Us a Proper Perspective on Self

     It is the natural tendency of every fallen heart to be selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. We tend to see ourselves as the center of the universe. And let's face it, our fallen flesh would even seek a way, if possible, to make holiness itself a self-aggrandizing, pride-inducing hobby. That's exactly what the Pharisees did. Jesus says in Matthew 6:5 that the hypocrites "love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others." In Matthew 23:5-7, He said this: "They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others."

     In fact, look at the beginning of Matthew 6. This is the very thing Jesus cautions against. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven." Verse 2: don't sound a trumpet before you when you do alms. Verses 3-4: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret." Verse 6: "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret." And look down at verse 17: "When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret."

     Now, I hope you don't think for a moment that any of those verses contradict what he says in our text: "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works." In the first place, in chapter 6, he's talking about acts of private devotion and worship—the kind of good works that are between the worshiper and God and therefore don't need to be done publicly. In our verse, he's talking about the kind of good works that reflect the qualities of the beatitudes. These are good works done for the benefit of others and not for self.

     And that's the key. It goes to motive. What Christ commends are selfless acts done to serve others. What He forbids are selfish or self-righteous acts done purely for show or for the exaltation of self. A proper understanding of our text is a good antidote to selfishness and spiritual narcissism. It's a reminder that the only truly good works are the ones done with the other person's interests in mind. In this case, it's speaking of good works done for the benefit of those still in the bondage of darkness and confusion.

     This command helps us keep that perspective. It's a clear reminder that Christ hasn't called anyone to be a monk or an ascetic. You can't achieve Christlike holiness by moving into a cave or locking yourself in an ivory tower.

     And if you're one of those who is inclined to sever all relationships with unbelievers and try to isolate yourself or your children in a Christian ghetto, this is a reminder that Christ has left us in this world to be lights, not in a closet or under a bushel—but to light the way for the unbelieving people of the world. You can't do that by locking yourself away permanently in a secret enclave or by living behind walls in a Christian commune.

     Here's what Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5:9: "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people." Aha! you say. Paul doesn't want us to have fellowship with wicked people! No, listen:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—

10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard [. . . and so on]

     We're not of this world, but Christ has left us in it for a reason. It's not a selfish reason. It's so that we can be shining lights for the benefit of others who are still in bondage to sin. We're not to be conformed to this world, and that is part of Jesus' message here as well. (We're to be distinctive, different—savory and bright.) But while we're in this world, we are here for the benefit of others. Embrace that duty, and it will be an antidote to your own sinful self-centeredness.

     And, speaking of our duty to our unbelieving neighbors, we come to a second benefit of understanding this verse:


2. It Gives Us a Proper Perspective on Our Neighbors

     One of the greatest dangers of the political activism of the so-called "religious right" is this: It fosters a tendency to make enemies out of people who are supposed to be our mission-field, even while we're forming political alliances with Pharisees and false teachers.

     I've often told you that I was a political zealot before I became a Christian. That was back in the '60s and the early '70s when it seemed the whole student world was given over to leftist politics. But I was different. I was a conservative. And some of my closest friends and political allies were evangelical Christians who were part of the religious right even before Jerry Falwell and James Dobson brought conservative politics into the mainstream of the evangelical movement.

     When I finally understood the gospel and came to Christ, it was not because any of my conservative Christian friends explained the gospel to me. They would never have done that, for fear that they would alienate a political ally. But I have to say, I felt a sense of betrayal when I finally understood the gospel and became aware that some of my friends were born-again believers all along and never once talked to me about the state of my soul. That's the danger of being obsessed with politics and thinking the church's agenda can be advanced through political means: you quickly lose sight of what the real mission is.

     To hear some Christians today talk, you might think that rampant sins like homosexuality and abortion in America can be solved by legislation. A hundred years ago, the pet issue was prohibition, and mainstream evangelicalism embraced the notion that outlawing liquor would solve the problem of drunkenness forever in America. It was a waste of time and energy, and I believe it was an unhealthy diversion for many in the church. Listen (Galatians 2:21): "If righteousness [could come] through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." Galatians 3:21: "If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law."

     We have the true and only answer to sins like homosexuality, divorce, drug addiction, and other forms of rampant immorality. It's the glorious liberty of salvation in Christ. It's a message about the grace of God, which has accomplished what no law could ever do. And we need to proclaim that message, befriend our neighbors, not take a hostile stance against them, but let the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shine unto them.

     We're like lighthouse keepers in a dark and stormy world. We've been given a mission of rescue and mercy toward sinners. We can't be like James and John, who in a moment of weakness and immaturity wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy sinners. We are ambassadors of the true light, who came down to earth to seek and to save the lost. "For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

     There's a true sense in which we are not to love the world or the things of the world. But the people of the world are another matter. We're supposed to love them all, including our enemies. Scripture is clear on this. We don't condone sin, and we certainly can't pretend to let our lights shine if we're having fellowship with darkness. But we should have a Christlike love for sinners, and that is an essential part of what He demands when He calls us to let our lights shine, so that people see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father. In this way, true disciples of Christ must be markedly different from the Pharisees.

     If you don't have a sense of deep compassion and heartfelt benevolence toward sinners, you're not letting your light shine. If you, as a redeemed sinner, look on other sinners with disgust, that's nothing but pride. That was the very sin of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who "standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector." And Jesus said that attitude is what kept him from being justified in God's eyes. Jesus, by contrast, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." That's Matthew 9:36, and that's the perspective you'll have if you embrace Jesus' command to be a light to the world.

     Remember, this is how Christ says our influence becomes most powerful in a sin-darkened world. It's not by our words only, and not by our deeds only—but by the faithful proclamation of the gospel, accompanied by good works of mercy and love and compassion toward even our enemies.

     That is what Christ said would cause the world to take notice of the truth and glorify God. Embrace that duty and you'll gain a whole new perspective on your neighbors.

     So this command gives us a proper Perspective on Self. It gives us a proper perspective on our neighbors. Finally, here's a third benefit you'll gain if you embrace the duty set forth in our verse:


3. It Gives Us a Proper Perspective on Human Responsibility

     There's so much I could say about this if time permitted. Here's an antidote to hyper-Calvinistic fatalism. Don't imagine for a moment that the doctrine of divine sovereignty is an excuse for apathy or inactivity when it comes to the task of winning people to Christ. Let me quote Spurgeon one more time. He said,

     [No one could ever affirm with more conviction than I do that] God's decrees shall be fulfilled. There are, however, persons who argue from this, that therefore we may sit down and do nothing as to the salvation of others. Such persons are very foolish, because they must be aware that the same logic which would drive them to do nothing spiritually would require them to do nothing in other matters, so that they would neither eat, nor drink, nor think, nor breathe,—do nothing, in fact, but lie like logs, passive under fate's iron sway. That is too absurd to need an answer. Believers are cured of that tendency by the belief that they are the lights of the world.

Good point. We're given work to do. This text lays a responsibility on us. We're called to be evangelists. We become instruments in the hands of a sovereign God as we obey the command of this text. We can't be idle. Those who would use God's sovereignty as an excuse for apathy or indifference have corrupted sound doctrine. This is Christ Himself commanding us to let our lights so shine before men that they see our good works and glorify God.

     It's a weighty responsibility, isn't it? There is a true sense in which the eternal destiny of men depends on what we do, because God has chosen us to be the instruments of light to show the way. And if you hide your light under a bushel, you will not be able to plead the doctrine of God's sovereignty as an excuse before the judgment seat of Christ.

     But this command is a corrective not only to for hyper-Calvinists and fatalists; it's also a rebuke to Arminians and half-hearted people who squander their time and their earthly resources on entertainment and other selfish pursuits.

     Now, understand what I'm saying. There's nothing wrong with a modest amount of relaxation and leisure in this life. God made us with a need for rest and recreation, and Christ recognized that need by taking his own disciples away from the rigors of public ministry for times of pure rest and refreshment. Scripture says in 1 Timothy 6:17 that "God . . . richly provides us with everything to enjoy."

     But enjoyment is not the main point of life, and we need to resist the temptation—especially in a pleasure-addicted society like ours—to make entertainment and amusement the center and the focus of our spare time.

     We have a duty, a God-given responsibility (and it's a serious and solemn responsibility) to shine as bright lights in a dark world, proclaiming Christ to a lost world and doing good works that provoke and persuade people to honor our heavenly Father.

     How bright is your light shining? What kind of response does your life provoke from your unsaved neighbors? Are your good works the kind that glorify God, or are they the self-righteous works of a pharisee? Is your testimony an instrument God could use to draw hostile sinners to Himself?

     We all have some work to do, don't we? We live in a world that is perishing for lack of knowledge. "How shall they hear without a preacher?" And why would they listen, unless the preacher's life is consistent with his message?

     On the other hand, if we obey the simple command of this verse—and I trust it's not too complex for anyone here to grasp what Jesus meant— If we obey the simple command of this verse, we will begin to make a profound difference in the world, both individually and collectively. In the words of the apostle Paul, Philippians 2:15-16, we can be—we must be—"blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world, holding [forth] the word of life."