“You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven … For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Matthew 5:14a, 16; Ephesians 5:8-11 ES
The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus’ most famous sermon called the Sermon on the Mount. He begins teaching with the beatitudes (5:3-12) which summarize the nature and impact the kingdom has on the life of persons who respond to it.
Using two metaphors, Jesus declares how his disciples are to impact the world with the kingdom life they possess. Into this world we go as “salt” and “light.”
Both are important, yet they operate differently with differing effects. Salt works secretly or within. Light works openly or from without. Salt has an indirect influence, whereas light is direct in its effect. As salt has a preserving and seasoning effect, we are necessary and invaluable for the welfare of the world. As light illuminates darkness, we are to have a direct, positive influence on a sin-darkened society.
Scripture makes a great distinction between light and darkness. Darkness represents error, falsehood, ignorance, moral failure and ruin, sin and wrongdoing, judgment and distress, spiritual death, and the realm of Satan. Light represents truth, wisdom, righteousness, moral purity, spiritual life, holiness, the realm of Christ and illumination.
Jesus declared, “I AM the light of the world.” (John 8:12) And because we are in Jesus, in essence he says, as I am, so are you — you are the light of the world.
It’s important to recognize that we are not just called into the marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) nor to just walk in the light (1 John 1:7), but we actually are light. This marks a clear distinction between environment (in the light) and identity (are the light). Being the church means that we are to shine.
How then are we to shine as lights, reflecting God in the world? (Philippians 2:15)
One, we are to shine in darkness. We shine in darkness by showing the way of God in the environment of darkness exposing its evil and moral badness (Ephesians 5:11-13). In our country’s current climate, with its yet raging civil unrest concerning racism and its political upheaval incited by power-driven politicians and perpetuated by white supremacists and extremist groups, we must expose the wrongness of this darkness.
Secondly, we are to shine in doing. In similitude to a lighted candle visibly shining in darkness, we also are to shine visibly to all by doing good works (Matthew 5:15, 16).
There are two kinds of good works we are to engage: doing the right things and making things right. Doing good works as children of light will have the right effect, “for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9).
When we shine in doing good works, God will be glorified.
This noble aspiration of shining as light was supremely invoked by the national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman as she held the world spellbound from beginning to end in reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris: “When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? … So, let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left … We will rise … We will rebuild, reconcile and recover … When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Rev. Johnson A. Beaven III is pastor of Citadel of Faith Church of God in Christ. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @jbeaven.