Light of the world

At our Leadership Retreat at the start of this year, which resulted in our focus on spiritual growth and spiritual maturity, we identified some attributes of what a mature Christian would have.


2 weeks ago I spoke about being Salt and today I want to talk about being light.


Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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 in heaven.

It is not the first time that the Bible tells us that we are light:

Isaiah 42:6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.


And in

Isaiah 49:6 I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”


Our passage today is a well-known passage from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, but have we really sat down and asked questions about it?


Where does the light come from?


When Jesus commanded us to be the lights of the world, he demanded nothing less than we should be like himself but the light that we shine is a borrowed light. It is not the demand of Jesus that we should produce our own light, (Barclay 118) which is great because we cannot produce light. You are not a glow worm or firefly, you are a mirror, reflecting the powerful light of one greater than you.

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke …, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

We are a mirror of reflected light from the source which is Jesus. A lighthouse works on the same principle.  The bulb produces light, but the mirrored lenses focus the light into a beam of light visible for up to 20 kilometers away.

Is it something we do or something we are?

Just as the mirrored lenses in a lighthouse are inert but reflect the light because of what they are, so it is with us, the light comes through us from whose we are.

Romans 13:12 Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light

The scripture tells us this: You are the light, not you will produce light…


The light of the world which we radiate is not what we do over and above what we are [1]


We are to let our light shine. It does not say “make your light shine”. You do not have to make your light shine; all you have to do is to let it shine.[2]


Remember that simple childhood Christian verse: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.


The very practical George MacDonald wrote that we are not here to convince people, but to let our light shine.”[3]


Light possessors become light transmitters (Henriksen 284): I love this little saying that just fits what we have been talking about

Ephesians 5:7-14 … for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.

What is the light for?

The idea of Light in Scripture indicates the true knowledge of God; goodness, righteousness, truthfulness; joy and gladness, true happiness. It symbolises the best there is in learning, love and laughter, as contrasted with darkness, that is, the worst there is in dullness, depravity and despair (Henricksen 284)

Acts 13:47 “ For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’"

1 Thessalonians 5:5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do but let us keep awake and be sober;

In the natural world and in the spiritual world, the role of light has similar properties.

Light as a warning light – we have already touched on the idea of a lighthouse. Its role is to warn ships of rocks or other hazards. 

And every time we get into a car, our dashboard warning lights are there to keep us safe.

Similarly, the light of Christ within us warns others of their impending doom if they refuse to follow Christ themselves.

But Light is also a guide, just like channel markers in harbours or landing lights on an airstrip, or stars for nautical travellers.

These lead the way through the treacherous waters of life, so we do not founder on sandbars or get lost in the expanse of the open seas.

Philippians 2:14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.

Light attracts – think of a window and moths. The light of Christ within you should attract people rather than drive them away.

Mahatma Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Light is visible and radiant

The smallest match dispels the darkness. The darkness cannot eat the light, because it shines into the darkness for all to see.

But for many the light is the antithesis of what they seek – they seek the darkness and not the light:

Sadhu Sundar Singh:  Once I saw a huge stone being removed from the place where it had been fixed. All sorts of tiny creatures had lived under that stone. They had always lived in the darkness, and when the light of the sun struck them on the stone being removed, they began to run with great fear in all directions. They could not live in the light. When the stone was replaced in its former position you should have seen the hurry and bustle of those creatures to get back to where they had been. It was with great relief that they hurried back to be under the stone.

And so it is with many, when we shine the light of Jesus into their worlds; they run back into the shadows because they fear exposure to the light on their lives.

Acts 26:17-18 … I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

Candles were not lit to be looked at but to illuminate the area. Perhaps that is different now with beautiful lamp shades and things but originally it was for seeing things hidden in the darkness.  Just like we spoke of last week in relation to salt. People did not praise the light but praised what they could see because of the light.

Don’t worry about the size of your light.  D L Moody speaking in the days of candles wrote: If we cannot all be lighthouses, anyone of us can at any rate be a tallow candle. [4] A tallow candle was a smoky, smelly little candle made of animal fat. Yet it did the job for the vast majority of people.


The verses continue with an admonishment

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

 A Christianity whose efforts stop at the church door is not much use to anyone… (Barclay 119)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up against the tyranny of Nazi Germany wrote: Christ followers are a visible community; their discipleship visible in action which lifts them out of the world – otherwise it would not be discipleship. And of course, the following is as visible to the world as a light in the darkness or a mountain rising from a plain. Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.”[5]


Let me conclude with a cute little story:

The story is told of a little girl who was shivering her way along a main street in one of our great cities. Seeing the beautiful lights of a church building and hearing the music coming from within, she went in and warmed herself as she listened. The preacher's text was, "I am the light of the world." At the close of the service, she went to the minister and said, "Did you say you are the light of the world, sir?" The minister replied, "No, dear child. Christ is the light of the world, and I am one of the lights." The little lass looked at him for a moment, and then solemnly said, "Well, sir, I wish you would come down and hang out in our alley, 'cause it's awful dark down there!" Christians are, indeed, as the Master said, "the light of the world." As one of those lights, are you "hanging out" in some dark alley?—Biblical Research Monthly.

Are we illuminating a dark alley or are we clinging together in the bright light of a church building, where our light adds little to the lights already there?

Take your light out into the street and dispel the darkness that most of the world lives in.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

Let it shine, shine, shine

Let it shine!


[Verse 1]

Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine

Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine

Everywhere I go, I'm gonna let it shine

Let it shine, shine, shine

Let it shine!


[Verse 3]

Out there in the dark

I'm gonna let it shine

Out there in the dark

I'm gonna let it shine

Out there in the dark

I'm gonna let it shine

Let it shine, shine, shine

Let it shine!


[video clip]


William Barclay The Gospel of Matthew Vol 1

Michael Green The Message of Matthew

William Hendriksen Matthew


[1] Dallas Willard In Search of Guidance 168

[2] D L Moody The Overcoming Life 59

[3] George MacDonald “Your Life in Christ” – The Nature of God and His Work in Human Hearts.213


[4] D L Moody The Overcoming Life 59

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship Page 117