The disciples of Jesus Christ are described in various ways throughout the New Testament through the use of analogies and metaphors. Some of these include words like, “sheep,” “little children,” and “saints.” The purpose of these terms is to provide depictive imagery concerning how a Christian should live. Perhaps, one of the most descriptive metaphors is the term, “light.” For example, in Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said “You are the light of the world. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Paul also wrote,
that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
This is such a beautiful illustration, but what does it mean, exactly? How can we put “being a light” into practice in our own lives? How and why does it exalt God?
To better understand the metaphor, we need to step back in time to the first century AD, when the world was a much different place without the widespread use of electricity and other modern amenities. Back then, there was no escaping the obscuring darkness as it rolled across the landscape each day. Beyond the moonlight and stars, fire was the only source of light, which often came in the form of torches, lamps, and candles. Of these, the most common was the humble, portable oil lamp. It was fabricated from clay, metal, or stone to hold a small amount of olive or seed oil and included a wick, which could then be lit. The device could provide light for many hours and was the primary source of illumination for most ancient households. This helps explain the need for oil and trimming of wicks in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). It should also be more understandable that even a small lantern could be seen from quite a distance in such a dark environment. That is why Jesus added,
A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house (vss. 14-15).
Those little lanterns could penetrate the darkest of nights!
With that in mind, I remember an experience I once had on a spelunking trip into the Natural Bridge Caverns just outside of San Antonio, Texas. Deep within the earth, our exploration party came upon a large room where everyone stopped, sat down, and turned off their headlamps. The darkness was so intense and obscure, it quickly became rather painful. The sounds of murmuring and shuffling feet indicated a sense of heightened anxiety. An uneasiness had overcome the group. After a few minutes, our guide simply touched his small, led watch … and it was quite shocking how it lit up the entire room! It was almost as if he had fired up a flaming torch! It proved that even with the tiniest amount of light, we were all able to see each other and it provided an immediate sense of calm. To me, it illustrated the incredible power of light. That is what Jesus and Paul meant about being light; it can illuminate the obscurity, exposing truth, and bringing a sense of security to those who receive it.
When we carefully observe the world around us, it can quickly become overwhelmingly painful to see such prevalence of evil. Evil is equated with darkness in the Scriptures (John 1:5, 3:19; Act 26:18; 1 John 2:11). Such darkness is described as bringing anxiety, suffering, and blindness (Matt. 25:30; Rom. 2:19; Rev. 16:10). The Bible also says, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all,” (1 John 1:5). So, if we are God’s children, through faith in Christ Jesus and obedience to His commands, then we reflect His light into this dark world. In a sense, there is both reflection and refraction of His light, meaning that if we are its carriers, then we are the delivering agents of light. Thus, when the light reaches others, it can be traced back to God, where it originated, bringing all the glory back to Him. Similar to the moon, which has no source of light within itself, it simply reflects the light of the sun, the original source of light. The sun is recognized as the light giver instead of the moon. When we reflect the light of the Son upon others, it is God’s light that is shining, not ours, which brings honor and distinction to Him.
We become lights of the world, when we openly demonstrate to others our faith in God. When we manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23), or “make our call and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:5-10), and “cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of [God] light” (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:10-20), then we have become shining lights unto the world. The metaphor is provided to illustrate the type of life we should live as a Christian. How else will the world come to know the truth if it can’t see the light that is within us? So, let your light shine! Live your life in a way that brings glory and honor to God!