March 25, 2013

Light is supposed to shine

Flying over Scotland at night sticks in my memory. For some reason, the cities looked like piles of jewels lit from below, like treasure in a pirate’s chest. In some cases, sparkling strands that looked like pearls connected these glowing blobs of light. I’ve not seen anything like it.

Today’s verse implies another kind of light but one that should make an equally significant impact. It is the light that comes from the lives of God’s people.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)

Do I walk about with a glowing face and an appearance that radiates God’s light? Not usually, but I should have the peace of God reflected in my countenance. A sour look of grumpiness or anger might pop up now and then, but more often my face should reflect on the outside what God puts on the inside.

Christians frequently say that what matters is the inside, the intentions of the heart. While Jesus did speak about heart attitudes, He never intended that I live a good life only on the inside. What is going on in my heart is supposed to motivate how I talk and act. This is why James said,

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15–17)

He was not talking about earning salvation by doing good things, but about letting the light God gives His redeemed people shine in practical ways, rather than just thinking warm thoughts about others. He knew that what is going on in our hearts should flow out into our lives. This happens in the lives of everyone, including sinners, so if I’m just thinking about goodness but not acting on those thoughts, that makes me a hypocrite.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 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. (Philippians 2:14–15)

However the reverse is also true. I could go through the motions of being a shining light and not put my heart into it, like the child whose father made him sit down, but he mumbled, “I’m standing up on the inside.” Instead, the inside and outside needs to match.

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