The light of the world
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
It is the role of salt to stop decay; it is the role of a Christian to live in such a way that the corruptions of the society in which they dwell are minimized. We are to serve as a restraining influence. But we are to be more than that. So Jesus goes on to describe the Christian as light. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid; neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel but on a candlestick and it gives light to all that are in the house.”
This is something positive. As salt, the believer is meant to push back on the evil in the world. As light, the believer is meant to attract people to the truth. Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16). The idea is clear enough: just as there is something attractive about the nature of light, so there should be something about the life of a Christian, both in words and works that should attract those who dwell in darkness. If you are a weary traveler on a long road and darkness is falling, and on a hillside you see a city shining out of the darkness, you are probably going to feel a certain degree of gladness in your heart that there is a place you can rest in safety. Even so, the believer is to live the kind of life that will attract those who, seeing the darkness in which they live, will come to him/her for direction and guidance.
Our Lord then goes on to explain exactly what he means by the disciple shining as a light on a hill: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” In other words, we shine through our good works. Or, another way to put it is that we shine by manifesting day in and day out the works that come from a character described by the Beatitudes.
The reason for this is that men would see our good works and then glorify God. We are to live for the glory of God in all that we do, for only then will our lives truly point away from ourselves and to the God that all men need. It is easy to live in such a way that we do good things but do them so that people look at us instead of to God. This was the mistake of many of the religious people of Jesus’ day: “They do their works to be seen of men” (Mt. 23:5). They tithed, prayed, and fasted so that they would be glorified (Mt. 6:1-18). But that is such a mistake! For the only light we have is a reflected light.
It is the mark of a truly God-centered life that people look past you to God. A religious life that is man-centered has no problem getting people to praise it for the good deeds that it does. But it is only the person whose life is truly God-centered that is also really supernatural so that nothing can explain it except the grace and power of God. What has caught the eyes of the unbelievers through the ages? Is it not that they saw in believers something that could only be explained by something outside of them? If the world looks at us and sees something which they can duplicate, then we are not shining our light. It will not be attracted to us. On other hand, if we are living in such a way that only God can explain, then we are shining brightly. But that will only happen if we are living for the glory of God and not for ourselves.
The teaching of Jesus then, is this. Those who are his disciples are described by a certain set of character traits. But these traits are not meant to be hidden. They are meant to be displayed in our lives by the things that we say and do. As we live out being poor in spirit, and meekness, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and mercifulness, and purity, and a peacemaking spirit, then we will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Men will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.