Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)
I’ve heard the expression ‘don’t hide your light under a bushel’ countless times in my life, and it always carries the connotation of not being excessively humble or that we should have confidence in and be proud of our abilities. How readily we turn the wisdom of God into the gratification of self. While God’s instruction and the world’s exhortation are essentially the same action – don’t hide – their motivation and purpose are entirely different. God’s version is God focused. Our version is ‘me’ focused. God’s is about humility, ours is about pride.
Our focus should always be to shine the Light of the World into the darkness of the world.
Before digging into the light itself, we should perhaps resolve the confusion about pride – every believer’s constant, nagging adversary. Pride is the ‘root’ of all sins. Look at any and all of the sins you could think of, and pride is somehow involved. It’s kind of like the older brother who has to meddle, be part of, and control or instigate the affairs of his younder siblings. This imagery is not off the mark. Pride is the very first sin, the ‘firstborn’ sin manifest in Satan’s rebellion. It was also the sin that ultimately led to man’s sin of disobedience. You can be absolutely certain that wherever there is sin, pride is there too.
But what about those sins that are born out of a sense of inferiority? This is a powerful human experience which can lead to all kinds of compensatory actions and reactions and bring people into sin. On the surface, this appears to be the exact opposite of pride. In reality, it’s simply the other side of the coin. It’s pride wearing a different face, one designed to conceal and deceive and distract. It’s important to understand and recognise the two.
Outright pride is relatively easy to spot because it’s ‘feel good.’ Remember the Pharisee who prayed and thanked God that he wasn’t such a bad sinner as the tax collector because he did the right things and made the right religious noises? That’s the version of pride we’re familiar with. It brings the warm, fuzzy feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction. It’s open and ‘out there’ and is usually very easy to spot, both in ourselves and others.
‘Humble pride’ is an entirely more insidious deception. We need to understand that human beings are driven by a deep-seated instinctual need to please others, to achieve, and to have value. These are good, God-given intinstincts. Remember, all our instincts are God-given because He made us in His image. Satan and sin take what is intrinsically good and of God and twist and pervert them for evil purposes. But these particular needs are critical to our self worth. Our entire lives involve a process of self-validation, whether obvious or otherwise.
This is the point of vulnerability in which pride thrives. Pride so easily perverts this into outward pride in those instances where there is success and validation. But if this need is crushed in someone and turned inward, there is a good chance that ‘humble pride’ can take root. So how does humble pride work? A very good example is manifested in the sin of unbelief, and I speak here of personal experience. Having lived through an entire childhood of emotional abuse from society and a disfunctional family, I unknowingly reached the place of humble pride. God could and would move on behalf of His children, but not for me.
This is a subtle and tragic deception which plagues a vast number of believers, and it’s pride, plain and simple. On the surface, God’s power, desire, and ability is never called into question outright. This deception, like so many ploys Satan uses, freely acknowledges that God can, God wants to, and God will – for everyone else except me. I inhabit a kind of spiritual ‘no-man’s land’ out on the perimeter of grace, where I may absorb some of things of God but I’m largely excluded from most of them. This is entirely my fault. I am so worthless that even God can’t/won’t extend all of His grace to me. What I’m effectively saying in this situation is that my inferiority is greater than God’s sovereignty.
The minute any kind of self, be it positive or negative, supercedes the power, grace and Word of God, it’s pride. Humble pride is dangerous because it masquerades in inferiority. It hides itself in what may be a genuine absense of self worth. It wiggles in deep down and feeds our inadequacies from within. Every ‘unanswered’ prayer, every difficult encounter, every hardship or dark experience – all these combine to fuel the fundamental conception that we’re the one who cannot ever receive in full from God. Humble pride lives and thrives in the darkness of human despair, in those secret, deep-hidden murky depths that swirl and roil constantly within us and threaten to suck us in forever.
The key, I believe, lies in today’s verse which very clearly indicates that what or who we are or are not has absolutely nothing to do with anything. That may sound harsh on first reading, but it’s actually a source of incredible relief if we understand what God is showing us. There’s no pressure to perform, no rituals, no failures, no inadequacies, and no judgement. There’s no focus on gifts, talents, and abilities or the absence thereof. The only focus is Jesus, and understanding that puts an entirely new and wonderful perspective on a verse so easily misused.
Who is the Light of the World? Jesus is the Light of the world. What is the very first thing God does in creation? He creates light. In other words, Jesus, the Light of the Wolrd, was manifest in creation before anything else. This is incredibly important. Right from the beginning, God focused on the light. Today’s verse is not talking about who and what we are and can or cannot do. It’s talking about Christ in us. Our light is Jesus. When we see and recognise the truth of that, all the human weaknesses that so easily infiltrate these verses are swept away. What a relief that it’s about Jesus, not about me. It’s about shining the Light of the World, not revealing my successes or failings.
God’s first act in creation was to manifest the Light of the World. His first act in His ‘new creation’ – every believer – is to manifest the Light of the World.
God’s next step in creation is to see that the light was good, and to separate it from the darkness. This is where it gets wonderfully interesting. We need to see this in parallel with today’s verse. First, the light in us is good because it is Jesus. It’s good because it’s the very grace, power, life, and truth of God living within us. What does light do? It’s important to understand this so that we can see just how powerful the analogy of light is and its relevance to our lives.
Light’s fundamental purpose is to dispel the darkness – those dark places where sin, and especially our pervasive enemy, pride lurks and grows. When the light that is Christ shines in us, we no longer have the impetus or the necessity to try to rely on who or what we are. Those things that torment and tear us down cannot survive. They might fight on and struggle to retain their place. We may have to face them down and shine God’s light on them over and over until we gain the victory. But it’s a fundamental truth that the things of darkness cannot live in the light. The darkness of the world cannot overcome the Light of the World.
It’s second purpose is to reveal. Shining a light helps us to see. We can distinguish things that are vague, confusing, or entirely missed in the dark. In other words, light brings truth. It’s the old monsters in the room message. In the dark, they’re huge and ugly and frightening, sure to destroy us. Turn on the light and we see the truth – a coatstand, a cupboard door standing open, a pile of laundry. The light cuts through misconceptions and figments of the imagination. It reveals our fears and our perceptions and puts them in proper perspective.
And so we come to the very heart of the matter, the crux of today’s verse. We are not to hide the light that is in us – Christ in us – from the world. Remember, we are simply a vessel, the lamp. Jesus is the light. We may feel inadequate as a Christian – we’re a new Christian, we don’t know enough, we don’t have a real ministry, we’re not big givers, we’re struggling with certain things… All of this is irrelevant. Whether our light is little or large, we are to let it shine. The only thing that’s important, the only thing we need to worry about, is Jesus.
Put a few candles together, and you’ll achieve the same light as a single lamp. God isn’t concerned about how much – or how little – you are able to do for Him at this point. He’s only interested in you. When we stop measuring Christ in us by our inadequacies, we’ll find the light gets bigger and stronger without our even noticing. There’s a familiar phrase of ‘less of me and more of Him.’ What this means is that, before salvation, darkness inhabited the inside. After salvation, Jesus is present inside. His light may be limited to areas we’ve dealt with, repented of, or surrendered to Him. Our light may initially be small, because so much of self still needs to be evicted.
Each time we release more of self, Jesus’ light grows bigger. It fills more space. It pushes back more darkness. It one day overflows. But the beauty of light is that it stands out in the darkness. In years gone by, it was the tradition in certain cultures to keep a candle burning in a window to guide a traveler home. A single tiny candle would be a guiding light. This is the principle behind today’s verse. The size of the light right now doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Jesus is the light, and if we let Him shine, if we put Him on the lampstand for all to see, He will overflow into the world and use you and your life to reveal the glory of God. The light in you has two purposes – to change you and to change the world.
At the same time, He’s working to dispel the darkness within. Note that in Genesis God separated the darkness from the light. That is Christ’s work in our lives. He separates us from the darkness of sin, the past, our frailties, and our weaknesses. He separates us to Himself and his purposes. Isn’t it wonderful to know that simply by focusing on Jesus, by putting all our efforts into getting to know Him through His Word and through worship, by learning to love Him more each day, we’re being separated from the very things that have haunted us for a lifetime?
Be encouraged today. Shine your light, be it little or large. Tell of the things God has done. Be open open your love for Him and surrender your life as a vessel for His glory. I’m content to be a simple, ordinary lamp, a vessel through which Jesus can share His life. If I never achieve anything else in this life, I am content. I don’t have to strive, struggle or try to prove myself, and neither do you. To be a vessel for the Light of the World is an immeasurable privilege, an incredible joy, and a gift of infinite grace.
Thank You, Lord, for Your wonderful wisdom. Help us to take hold of Your truth today, to focus on letting You shine in and through us. Thank You for your assurances that You work in and through the yielded life, dispelling darkness, bringing forth truth, and separating us forever to You and Your purposes.