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5. Now You See Me... (Matthew 5:14-16)

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Matthew 5:14-16 1
February 15, 2004


Just about a week ago, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, an American Airlines pilot came over the loudspeaker on the plane and asked all the Christians to raise their hands. Then he asked those who didn’t raise their hands to use the four and a half hours of their flight to talk with the Christian passengers about their relationship with God.

Although he denies it, some passengers claim the pilot said that anyone who wasn’t a Christian was crazy. Given the super-sensitive security consciousness of air travel after the 9-11 attacks were carried out in the name of religion, the pilot’s remarks caused some passengers to fear for their safety. One of them said,

“Just given the history of what’s happened on planes in this country, anything can happen at this point. So we weren’t sure if something was going to happen at takeoff, if he was going to wait until JFK to do something, but there was definitely the implication there that we felt something was going to happen.”

I imagine that the pilot is now having some second thoughts about whether that was the most effective way to encourage people to consider a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In fact, Jesus might also have something to say about that question. We’ve been studying Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7, also known as the Sermon on the Mount or what I’m calling The Kingdom Handbook, designed to tell us about life in God’s Kingdom. It’s part of the Jesus Curriculum, our study of the major lessons Jesus taught his followers.

At the beginning of the Handbook, Jesus talks about the character of God’s Kingdom. He describes what we’re really going to like about the kingdom and then he turns to the question of life here on earth while we’re waiting for the kingdom to come. Jesus tells his followers that here on earth, we can expect to be insulted, persecuted, and slandered. But he also tells us that we have a special role while we’re here on earth.

In verses 13-16, Jesus uses two metaphors”two word pictures”to describe the role his followers will play during their “layover” here on earth. If you are a follower of Jesus, these two pictures tell you what you’re here for. Jesus says you are salt and light.

Last week, we talked about his first picture, “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus wants us to make this place more palatable and pure. He wants us to live a life of goodness”a life of moral purity and good deeds. This week, we move on to the second picture,

A Metaphor: Light

Matthew 5:14 "You are the light of the world.

Light is a very common metaphor in the Bible. Along with darkness, light is often used to contrast knowledge and ignorance. Here, it almost certainly stands for the world’s opportunity to perceive the truth about Jesus. The world is “in the dark” about God, but Christians “turn on the lights”. Light allows people to see. Christians allow the world to understand how much God loves them and what Jesus has done to restore their relationship with him.

Being the light of the world, we actually carry out the same purpose that Jesus had in coming to earth. The gospel of John says that when Jesus was born,

John 1:9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Jesus himself said,

John 8:12 "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

John 12:36 Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."

Jesus came to earth to show men that God loved them and to demonstrate what he was prepared to do to have a relationship with them. In a dark, dark world, that revelation was like a piercing bright light.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But now, Jesus is gone. He has left the earth and he has left us to fill the role of bringing light to the world”of bringing the world knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness. That’s what Jesus means when he says,

Matthew 5:14 "You are the light of the world.

If you remember, we saw last week that salt can lose its saltiness”that Christians can become ineffective in their witness if they lose their purity.

In the same way, light can also become ineffective. How? By being hidden. Light is meant to be seen and to allow people to see. Hiding it defeats the purpose of light. Jesus uses two examples to demonstrate that hidden light is ineffective:

[14] "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

A city in Jesus’ day was usually built on top of a hill and could be seen for miles. It was very visible.

[15] Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

The bowl Jesus is talking about here was about as big as this bowl and was used for measuring grain. The purpose of lighting a lamp was so everyone could see. If you put it under something, then the purpose was defeated.

In the face of persecution, a Christian might be tempted to hide their identity. But Jesus says if people don’t know about our relationship with Jesus, then it defeats the purpose of our “layover” here on earth. That’s the way it is with our witness in the world. If we are going to be effective in the role that Jesus gave us as his followers, then we need to be visible.

[16] In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

We must allow ourselves to be visible to the world around us. Notice the emphasis here in verse 16 is allowing the world to see our good deeds. This refers back to the basic goodness we talked about last week that should characterize us as followers of Jesus. Not only should we be good, but we should let the world see our goodness.

The hope, the goal, is that people will give praise to God. This is an important point to catch. The goal is not that people will say, “What great people those Christians are. Look at all the wonderful things they do to help people. Look at how honorable their lives are.” Rather, the goal is that people will say, “What a great God they follow.”

You know, the only way that will happen is that if we make it clear that the reason why we are living moral lives and doing good deeds is because we are following Jesus. If we don’t give God the credit, then we are not being a light to the world. I think this means that in every good thing we do for our fellow man, it is important that we give God the credit. If we do good, but fail to point people to Jesus, then we haven’t done what light is supposed to do. Being “salt” means that our lives should be characterized by goodness. Being “light” means that people are able to SEE that God is the source, and purpose and cause of our goodness.

Several years later, Peter repeats the same idea in his letter.

1 Peter 2:11-12 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

[12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Once again, the emphasis is on people giving God glory because they can clearly see our goodness. That is why our purity is so important.

OK, so we know what Jesus says we should be: a visible presence in the world that attracts people to God because they experience our goodness.

But just how do we go about that? How do we function as the light of the world? How can we make sure that the people of the world get to see the good things that God has produced in our lives?

In the rest of the time we have, I’d like to look at some of the things we’ve tried. (I believe that unfortunately many of the things that we’ve tried to do in order to be good have not helped our visibility.) And then I’d like to suggest what we need to do”what I think Jesus had in mind when he told us through this metaphor that we should be a visible example to the world of the goodness that God can produce in a human being.

What We’ve Tried

As we consider the issue of our visibility in the world, first, let’s look at some of the things that we’ve tried.


The first is isolation. It probably first started as an attempt to preserve our own goodness, to keep ourselves, as James 1:27 says, from being “polluted by the world”. But in an effort to do things differently than the world, we created organizations that would allow us to spend our time with believers instead of unbelievers. Besides various church activities, we created Christian businessmen’s directories so we could do business with other Christians. We built Christian schools for our kids or schooled them at home. Soon many other organizations started popping up: Christian radio stations, Christian publishers, Christian counselors, Christian musicians, Christian newspapers, Christian artists, Christian television and Christian movies. The more immoral the world around us has become, the more alternative Christian organizations have multiplied.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with these things. They all have their advantages. They all have their place. My point is, they also all tend to isolate believers from the culture at large. Though Jesus decided NOT to pull us out of the world, sometimes we have pulled ourselves out.

While there is nothing wrong with these Christian alternatives in and of themselves, the more occupied we are with other believers, the less involved we are with unbelievers”the more isolated we become from the people of the world and the more we need to work at building new connections with the folks that God intends to see us. Isolation makes us invisible”it hides the light that we are meant to shine.

But isn’t this isolation necessary in order to keep the church morally pure? Listen to what Paul said to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people” [10] not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral…

In that case you would have to leave this world. [11] But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is . immoral.

The way we keep the church pure is by dealing with sin in the church, not by isolating ourselves from sinners in the world. If our lights are going to be seen by the world, then we must be involved in the world, not isolated from it.


A second thing that we have tried is proclamation. Usually from our isolated position, we try to spread the good news about Jesus with persuasive words. Stop to think for a minute about how most non-Christians might hear the message of the Bible today. It’s true that some people wander into churches and hear the gospel, but most do not. Some of the most prominent tools are TV evangelists and preachers, or big evangelistic crusades like Billy Graham. Then there are gospel tracts or books, people who go door-to-door, and street preachers.

Once again, there is nothing wrong with these tools of communication. Each of them has helped people meet and trust Jesus. But you know what else? Each of them tends to be impersonal and non-relational. Each of them relies heavily on words instead of example. But listen to what Paul says about his ministry among the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 2:4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power.

It isn’t that Paul didn’t speak to them. He certainly explained the gospel. But he also lived out the power of the gospel in his own life, right in front of them, right where they could SEE it. Again, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with crusades or tracts or street preaching. What I’m saying is that it is not enough. If we are going to be the lights of the world that God intends us to be, then we need to be seen and not just heard. To be visible, we need to get up close and personal.

I think that whenever these tools we’ve mentioned incorporate personal contact between an unbeliever and a believer, then they tend to have a greater impact. Let’s continue to use whatever tool will help someone discover Jesus.

What We Need to Do

But I also think that there are other, more visible, more effective ways for us to shine the light of truth on the world. Here are some things we can do to become more visible:

Make Contact

Get out and rub shoulders with the people of the world. Many of you work in environments everyday with unbelievers. Some of you belong to the Boy Scouts or PTA or a community sports team. What a great opportunity to get to know people and allow them to see the light of Jesus in you through your goodness. When Jesus left us here, that’s exactly what he intended. Listen to the words of his final prayer for his followers:

John 17:11, 15, 18 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. …

[15] My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. … [18] As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

We are to remain “unpolluted by the world” but the place we belong is “in the world”, right in the middle of it, involved everyday with people who need to see the light of Jesus in us.

Build Relationship

I think it’s clear that the normal avenue for the truth of the gospel is through relationship. It doesn’t need to be a long-standing relationship, but it must be relational. We must care for unbelievers as people, not as potential converts. Our love should be demonstrated in our willingness to serve. Here’s the way Paul described his own ministry among unbelievers in the Greek city of Thessalonica:

1 Thessalonians 1:5 You know how we lived among you for your sake. …[2:7] We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.

[8] We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Notice that the message was communicated in both words and works. Paul and his partners let these people see them live life. They demonstrated on a day-to-day basis what life in Jesus looked like. The Thessalonians could see the goodness that Jesus produced in his followers and so they longed to experience that kind of life too.

[9] Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel.

Be Available

When you live that kind of goodness out in front of others, it will cause some to desire the same kind of life we have. The third thing we need to do is be ready for the day when someone, drawn by our goodness, asks us where we got it. We need to be ready to tell them where they can get it, too.

1 Peter 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

I once worked with a waiter named Kevin. He was about as immoral and godless a person as you can imagine. Kevin knew I was a Christian and occasionally he’d tease me about being such a goody-goody.

He didn’t seem to have any interest at all in spiritual things. But Kevin was married and had a little girl. And one day he and his wife decided that in order to give their little girl a proper upbringing, they ought to do something for her spiritual education. They were looking for a church. How would they find one? Well, Kevin knew this guy at work. That’s right. He came to me and asked me if I could recommend a place where they could go. When he wanted to find a Christian, he knew where to find one, because I was not afraid to be a visible light in a dark place.

Point to Jesus

The final point is that we need to point people to Jesus. It isn’t enough to let people see our goodness. We need to let them know that it is Jesus that makes us good and produces that goodness in us.

You probably remember this verse from last week:

Philippians 2:14-16 Do everything without complaining or arguing, [15] so that you may become blameless and pure,

children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe [16] as you hold out the word of life.

I want you to notice the last phrase. “You shine, AS you hold out the word of life.” It’s really important that we follow up our good behavior and our good deeds by pointing people to Jesus. If we don’t then we are shining our light on emptiness instead of shining it on the world’s only hope.


You are the salt of the earth. You are meant to live morally pure lives and to do great good deeds to benefit the people of this planet.

You are the light of the world. As you live out this goodness visibly in front of the people of the world, your life will point them to Jesus where they too can find life that is real life.

That is the task that Jesus has left you on the planet to accomplish. We can still worship him when we get to heaven. We can still serve him when we get to heaven. We can still fellowship with each other when we get to heaven. But one thing we cannot do in heaven is help other people discover how they can get there too.

In April, our church is going to do something that we have never done before. We’re going to have a program called “Forty Days of Purpose”. It involves 7 weeks of Sunday morning worship services. It involves everyone in the church reading together for 40 days through a devotional book. It involves meeting in a small group for six weeks. I think this experience will revolutionize our church. We will probably never be the same. I’d like you to be praying about this, because God can use this to do some exciting things in our church.

But there’s something else I’d like you to be praying about. 40 Days of Purpose is also a great opportunity for you (yes, I mean you, not the person next to you). 40 Days of Purpose is a great opportunity for you to put into practice what we have been talking about today, being a light to your world. You can host a small group at your home and invite anyone to come over and be part of your group. This book is a national best seller and a lot of people have heard of it. You don’t need to know anything about the book. You don’t need to teach. All you need to do is ask people to come over to your house for six weeks.

I’d like you to start praying now about doing that. Some of you are probably feeling like you cannot do something like that. Start praying about that. This is an easy opportunity to make contact with non-Christian friends and build a relationship in a very normal, non-threatening way. It’s a great opportunity to be a visible Christian to your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers or your relatives. Let them see the light of Christ in you and then be available to talk, because they might just ask you how they can find what they see in you.

If you’re feeling nervous, don’t worry. You don’t have to do it now. All I’m asking is that you begin to pray about what God would want you to do and start thinking about who he’s brought into your life to see your light.

1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 5 in the The Kingdom Character series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on February 15, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Evangelism

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