Matthew 5 – 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The wonderful thing about Jesus’ teaching is the profound truth communicated with the utmost simplicity, and this passage is the perfect example. He gets straight to the point and says that as followers of Christ we are “the light of the world”. We are not the source of the light, rather we have the light given to us from Christ. Chapter John 1:9 says ” The true light [Jesus] that gives light to every man was coming into the world”. John 8:12 also says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus uses two very simple illustrations of how we are to display the light. Firstly he says than a city on a hill cannot be hidden. During the Blitz bombing campaign on London in the Second World War, every attempt was made to hide British cities and towns at night. Windows were blacked out, streetlights switched off and there were very tight controls on the use of any lights outside after dark. The British authorities wanted to minimise the chance of being seen from the air by German bombers, and make their task more difficult. Despite these efforts, many cities and towns were heavily bombed and there was catastrophic loss of life. Where there is light, the darkness cannot extinguish it but that doesn’t mean that displaying light won’t lead to suffering and hardship for the sake of the gospel.
The light of a city is also the sum of many small lights shining together. There is power and brilliance in unity. We are to be like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, displaying the light of Christ and drawing people to a vibrant, active and living church. As Jesus says in John’s gospel, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV).
The second illustration is that of a lamp hidden under a bowl. In Jesus day they did not have torches or electric light. They would have have used an oil lamp. A basic understanding of physics will tell you that a naked flame needs oxygen to survive. Putting it under a bowl will not only hide the light, but will suffocate the flame and extinguish it. This is completely nonsensical! When you light a lamp, you place it where it will illuminate the area most effectively, and enable those around to see by its light. If we hide the light that we have in Christ, we will starve it of the fuel it needs to survive, and will choke the flame which is intended to shine. Our spiritual lives will flicker, fade and die and we will be ineffectual.
The gospel, the most precious treasure and the key to eternal salvation, is meant to be shared and not kept top secret. Only by allowing it to shine will others see the light of Christ as it illuminates our lives and sheds light on those around us. Not everyone will like the light because it shines in dark places and exposes sin, which can make people uncomfortable and might lead to a backlash. However, if we work together as the body of Christ, in unity and strength, the light will shine every brighter and be a beacon in the world for the glory of His Kingdom.