A city on a hill

Pitigliano in Tuscany, Italy
Pitigliano in Tuscany, Italy

A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Matthew 5:14

When you read the words “city on a hill,” knowing that Christ calls you to this, what comes to mind for you? For many of us, what comes to mind is something like feeding homeless orphans in India, or preaching the gospel to Muslims in Africa, or doing some kind of obvious missionary or charitable work.

I’m not even beginning to suggest that doing these things is wrong. I thank God that he calls women like Amy Carmichael who gave her life to rescue young women in India from prostitution. I sincerely hope that he calls some of the young men and women in our congregation to give their lives in hard places for the sake of Christ. In fact, we ought all of us to be willing to pack up and go to any field of ministry to which God has called us.

But that’s just the thing. For most of you, that field is right there where you live, in your homes and neighborhoods and workplaces. My point is this: if all you can think about is some grand mission on a foreign field when you read these words, knowing that right now that is just not going to happen given where you are in life, then you are going to miss what God has called you to do today. He may be calling you to be salt and light in Bangladesh. And if he is: Go! But one thing is for sure: God is calling you to be salt and light in your own living room surrounded by your children. He is calling you to be salt and light at the workplace, wherever that is.

We’re living in a day when the call to be radical has become so commonplace that it is no longer radical. The radicals have become the conservatives. But one thing I’m worried about is that the call to be radical is misunderstood to imply that living out the Christian life anywhere except the inner city or foreign mission field is somehow wrong. Being a city on a hill doesn’t just happen in soup kitchens. Most often it happens in the day to day occurrences as we live out a life of obedience to Christ among our families, friends, and co-workers.

God isn’t interested in The Next Big Thing.[1] And if you spend your life moving from one adrenaline rush to the next eventually you are going to wear yourself out. And the sad thing is, it’s probably not for God’s glory, but for your own excitement and glory. Instead, God commands you to let your light shine where you are even in the mundane so that men see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

All of this to say that the main thing to being this kind of person is to resist the discontentment with the place where God has placed you. Resist the restlessness that plagues the world around you. It is restless precisely because it does not know a sovereign and saving God who knows his people and never leaves them. Be free to be radical in the eyes of Jesus while being ordinary in the eyes of the world.

And always have God’s glory before your eyes. If we are not serving him, then we are only going to want to be salt and light when there are obvious returns on our labor. But faithfulness cannot be sustained only by results. It takes an eye to the honor of our Lord. Calvin, when he was banished from an ungrateful Geneva after his service there, said, “Surely if I had merely served man, this would have been a poor recompense. But it is my happiness that I have served him who never fails to reward his servants to the full extent of his promise.” And it was this eye to God’s glory that enabled Calvin to go back to Geneva after three years of exile!

But then of course, we must always remember that being light in our community only happens through Christ. Our light is a borrowed light. We are lights to the world because Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 1:9). We can only reflect his light. We don’t hold out to the world the message that we are the answer. The believer is not the answer to this world’s darkness. The church is not the answer. Only Christ is the answer, and it is only as men and women come personally into contact with his saving benefits through faith in him and repentance from sin that they too share in his light and become light to others. For the main problem with the world, what leads to its moral putrefaction, is sin. And sin can ultimately only be dealt by redemption: redemption from the guilt and grip of sin. Jesus alone is the redeemer of mankind. He alone can forgive your sins and give you real freedom from its power, and it is our privilege as salt and light to point men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Horton, Michael S. (2014-10-07). Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (p. 67, ff). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

By: Jeremiah Bass