November 2023 | Persecution: The First Martyr—Stephen

Christians as the Light of the World

Christians as the Light of the World

Pr. Gibson Joy

Light can mean a lot of things in today’s world. It can mean hope, joy, direction, love and others. What is obvious is that when light does come, it ushers in a newness, a brightness that wasn’t there before. In Jesus’ words about light, we see a humungous mandate for us as his Church. 

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

There is an interesting story by Ernest W. Corty that can really explain why the church is here and why we can be so ineffective even though we carry the most important message in the world. 

Many years ago there was a little village on a rocky seacoast, where storms often battered and seas were ever treacherous. Many ships were driven onto the rocks by the storms, and the lives of many sailors were lost because of the raging seas.

One day the people decided among themselves that they should establish a lighthouse and life saving station on a little peninsula on the coast, to warn ships away from the rocks and to save the lives of those who were cast into the icy waters. They approached the government and began to secure the necessary funds for their project. Soon they set forth and built a tower, and set a beacon in it; they organized a lookout system; and they bought boats and learned how to man them; and soon they were in business. The business of saving lives!

Soon the effects of what they were doing became known far and wide. Fewer ships went on the rocks; and when such a tragedy did occur, and the alarm was sounded, the people risked their own lives to rescue those who had been cast into the raging, icy waters. Within a few short years, people came from great distance to study their lighthouse, and to use it as a model.

One day someone suggested that, since they all spent so much time at the lighthouse that they should gather there occasionally and enjoy good fellowship. And soon they began to get together (at first infrequently, and then more often) at the lighthouse. In fact, many people began to build their homes near the lighthouse. Then when the lookout sounded the alarm, they were there, ready to go out.

Next, it was decided that if they were going to spend so much time there, they must make the place more comfortable. So arrangements were made to heat the lighthouse. The gray walls were painted a brilliant white. Some of the walls were paneled; rugs were put on the floors to disguise the bare concrete; a fine kitchen was installed with a handsome stove; and generally speaking the lighthouse became a nice place to spend your time waiting for the alarm to be sounded. Everything about the lighthouse was made comfortable and nice. The lighthouse soon became the center of life in the little town that grew up around it.

One night a fierce storm blew in, as storms had blown in for years. Many ships were tossed on the jagged rocks, and the men at the lighthouse spent long hours picking sailors from the bitter cold icy waters and taking them to the lighthouse, where they were fed and provided with dry clothing. This had happened many times over the years, but this time, after the storm subsided and the sailors had all left the lighthouse, there were some men who were angry. It seems the storm had made them leave the comfort of the lighthouse, and go out into the wet, dangerous seas; and they got cold; very cold. The sailors, when they were delivered to the lighthouse, soiled the carpets. The kitchen was a mess, not to mention the stove. After a brief meeting it was first decided that sailors, when they were brought to the lighthouse, should be taken to the basement, not to the nice upper areas.

Some time later, another storm blew in; and about one half of the men went out in the boats, and again picked sailors from the frigid waters. This time the ship, which had broken apart on the rocks, was from another nation; and the men who manned her spoke another language, and even worse were of a different color. After this storm, a few more men joined those who refused to enter the sea. They decided that men like these did not belong in the lighthouse at all; some said they felt that the lighthouses’ job was not supposed to be saving sailors from other lands, because they were so much different. There were those, too, who objected to leaving the comfort of the lighthouse to go out into the storm. These men petitioned the government and they also agreed. So, finally, it was decided that the beacon would be kept lit, but the rescue work would be discontinued.

A small group disagreed, however, and went down the coast, a short distance, and started a new lighthouse. This small group decided that they should establish the biggest life saving station on the little peninsula, and so they did. Every day they warned ships and sometimes attempted to save lives from the icy water. Fame of the new lighthouse grew and the lighthouse back up the bay eventually turned out its beacon. Some people say the beacon can still be seen today in you and I. Oh yes, they also say the small group running the new lighthouse were those once rescued from the raging seas. 

Light is meant to be lit where there is darkness. Its main purpose is to go where the darkness is the most intense and shine brightly. The darkness of course is no match for the light. When the darkness is most intense, the question that comes naturally to us is not “why is it so dark?”, but rather it is, “Where is the light?”. 

Jesus meant it when he said we are the light of the world. A lot of times, just like in the story, we have been rescued from darkness into the light of salvation but then we set our own boundaries, we select, choose, and decide for God who should be rescued and when the light should shine. The light is not meant to be put under a bowl. It is meant to shine brightly all the time. 

We often spend too much time critiquing the darkness instead of letting the light shine. We really need to “count the cost” when we decide to be a light. This means that we may need to go into areas of society where the light is the dimmest. We may have to risk our reputation, our lives, our money, our neat churches and comfortable times of fellowship to rescue people who need rescuing. The light opens up things that people don’t normally like to see. But if ever we are going to see change in our lives, homes and societies, we have to stop talking about the light and start shining bright. And when the light exposes the darkness, be ready for all the filth that could stain our neatly managed images.

Working among young people, I am constantly faced with the question of whether I am doing everything I can to reach out to the world around me. Because it is so easy for me stay comfortable within the confines of the church and maintain what we have. Being a light in the church is beautiful but being a light in the world is a dangerous choice. And Jesus has called us to be the light of the world. And just like switching on the light in a kitchen and watching the cockroaches scatter for cover, the light can be threatening to a lot of people in the world. That’s why John said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20) The world hating the light is no reason for the church to stop shining. But that’s what we do often. With our friends, neighbours and society. We’re uncomfortable with being different and so we dim our light or we don’t shine at all. And Jesus does remind us that the cost is great if we are going to live for him. If they hated him, they will hate us. If they persecuted him, they will persecute us. Don’t stop shining. Change begins when the lights come on. There is hope for the world because the church is here. It’s time for us to be the change we want to see in the world around us. 

Another question is what if the lights go off? Will the world notice? Will our friends, neighbours and society notice if the church in the area ceases to exist? We all know how uncomfortable power-cuts can be at home. Has our sphere of influence as the church reached the place that if we were to cease to exist for one day, people will long for the church to come back and even go seeking for it? My dream of a church is one that is ingrained into the very fabric of society with homes, shelters, rehabilitation for the addicts and broken hearted, that without the church, society will crumble and will almost protest the absence of the church.

Jesus called us to be the light. Let us not be anything less. He didn’t call the church to rest safe in a corner, but to be a dangerous entity to be reckoned with in the world today. Where the church is, change is not far behind. May you sense God’s added grace today as you go out and be the light that you were created to be.  

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