“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and
glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
How can we understand the meaning of the phrase “let your light shine before men?” The meaning of the phrase can only be fully understood if we pay attention to the previous verse, Matthew 5:14.
Because in Matthew 5:14 Lord Jesus declares how the identity of believers as “the light of the world.” So the phrase “let your light shine in front of people” relates to the identity that Lord Jesus gave to believers, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus did not say: you will be the light of the world, but He said: You are the light of the world. Here there is a big difference between the phrase “you will be the light of the world” with the phrase: “you are the light of the world”
On the other hand, we realize that the meaning of the word “light of the world” is an abstract expression. The meaning of “light of the world” could simply be understood as the ability to illuminate the reality of life, although when searched more in-depth, it actually contains a very deep spiritual dimension. I could mean to inspire, influence, ability to motivate and bring change or transformation to people. Here we see that there is a correlation between identity as the “light of the world” and our role in the interaction with others around us.
To reveal the meaning of the “light of the world”, I would begin by proving the Bible’s example about the “light” which was seen by the Wise Men. Although this description is not intended as a reflection of the Christmas celebration. The source of the light of the world indeed comes from Christ. The Bible states: “Jesus Christ who is the Word of God. In Him was light.”
The Bible testifies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The testimony of the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-2 states: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” Some theories state that since the Magi were considered astrologers, they concluded that the star they saw pointed to the birth of a king.
One of the books that are quite adequate in understanding the stars of Bethlehem with the title: The Star of Bethlehem: the Legacy of the Magi, written by Dr. Michael Molnar (Rutgers, 1999). He made a hypothesis about the approximate time of the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem, which was about April 17, 6 BC, two years before King Herod’s death. According to the hypothesis of Michael Molnar, at that time the sun was around the star of Aries. The appearance of large stars occurs because the Moon and Saturn are also very close to the conjunction of Jupiter.
The question is if what the Magi saw was a star, should everyone including King Herod and the inhabitants of Jerusalem be able to see the star? But when the Magi asked about the star that indicated the birth of a king of Israel, nobody knew about it. They instead were shocked. Matthew 2:3 states: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” If so, what star did the Magi see?
Actually, the star seen by the Magi (the Wise Men) was not an ordinary star. Bible commentators are of the view that the star seen by the Magi was actually a theophany. The meaning of the theophany event is the manifestation of God to His people. The word “theophany” comes from 2 words formation in Greek, namely Theos (meaning: God) and phaneroo (meaning: appearance, or self-realization). That’s why only the Magi were able to see the “stars” which were actually apparitions of God’s angels. With the “star” the angel of the Lord led the Magi to the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem.
The words of Jesus: “let your light shine before others” must be placed in the context of “theophany” (meaning: the manifestation of God).” How could we be the light of the world, if we have not experienced an encounter with Christ who is the Light of the World? John 1:4-5 states: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Christ is not simply a divine being who teaches about God’s light, for He Himself is the eternal Light. Jesus said in 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.” Without faith and fellowship of love with Christ, it is impossible for people to shine a light to the world around them. Because we cannot shine the light of God by doing good deeds, virtues and piety.
Our piety and virtue according to John Calvin (the reformer of the church), are a result of sin causing humans to experience total depravity. In a state of total loss or completely broken condition, we cannot radiate the light that renews the world. As the prophet Isaiah also said in Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.” The Pharisees were rebuked by Lord Jesus because they showed off their good deeds and piety. In Matthew 6:1 Lord Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
At first glance, there seems to be a contradiction between the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:16 and Matthew 6:1. For in Matthew 5:16 Christ said: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Meanwhile, in Matthew 6:1 Christ said: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” So how should we carry out Lord Jesus’ command so that our light shines in front of people so that others see our good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven?
The two verses will be contradictory if the meaning of illuminating people around relies on the piety that is exhibited. The point of exhibited piety is hypocrisy. The greatest problem of believers of all time is living in hypocrisy. In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus 18 times rebukes hypocrites.
The meaning of “hypocrites” is: “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion, a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings, the hypocrites who criticize other people but who don’t criticize themselves.” The hypocrites tend to judge others by their behavior, but they think have special information about themselves – that they know what they are ‘really like” inside. Even though they effortlessly find ways to explain away selfish acts, and maintain the illusion that they are better than others.
The attitude of hypocrisy contains contradictions. Hypocrites never have integrity. They seem very religious and devout (obedient worship), but in their daily life they are always criminals. Religious expressions and good deeds are performed as spiritual pretense (have the same meaning: spiritual shams). Therefore the hypocrites find it difficult to have a true friend. We also must be careful and beware of hypocrites.
In day-to-day life, the spirituality of the Pharisees often slipped into the reality of Christian life. Generally, they believe that their lives are more evangelical, pious, and pleasing to God than other people, although at the same time they have a dark side. For example, they are the givers of such large offerings but are exposed as corrupt. The biggest obstacle for believers to be a light to the world is spiritual falsehood, which is hypocrisy!
Over and over again Lord Jesus said: “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” The keyword is “secret.” The word “secret” is a translation of the word krypto which means: private, hidden, secret, inward. The meaning of krypto contains the deepest inner dimension, namely our true self. Authentic self! I interpret the word “krypto” (meaning: secret) spoken by Lord Jesus as integrity.
A person with integrity will act rightly and honestly even when no one is watching. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. The motive for good deeds or virtues that are carried out is not influenced by the views or praise of others but is internalized as values of faith or spirituality.
We will be able to shine a light on those around us if the good deed that we do is based on integrity. Without integrity, good deeds and piety will turn into evil. In principle, God rejects every act of piety that is done without integrity. In Isaiah 1:14-15 God loudly said: “Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!”
This means to worship and service without integrity are rejected by God. Because God in Christ is not a God who can be bribed with praise, prayer, fasting, and various virtues. What God desires more of us is that we live in mercy and justice. In Hosea 6:6 God said: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
The role of believers is to shine a light on the people around them today, in addition to ethical-moral integrity, which also requires academic competence. In the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and Society 5.0, the role of science and technology is very decisive. The church is relevant if it intentionally and continuously participates in the development of science and technology.
One of the orders of the Roman Catholic church named Jesuit has a motto: “Find God in all things.” God is not only encountered when praying and reading the Bible, but also when they do research on this earth and the universe. Through research, they live as a manifestation of prayer. Research is a form of prayer. The motto is lived by the monks of the Jesuit. As a result, the Jesuit produces 195 world-class scientists in various disciplines. They become physicists, chemists, mathematicians, medical, biologists, etcetera.
The influence of the light of the believers will be strong and authoritative if every Christian becomes a scientist in their respective field. If they don’t become academic scientists, they at least have special competencies and expertise. Because how could we be a light to the world, if the quality of our human resources in the field of academics and competencies is still low? Therefore, a powerful church in the future is one that is able to mobilize and support funds. The diakonia funds are used for the education of church members so that they can achieve higher education.
More concretely, each church needs to provide a special budget to support members or children of the congregation who are smart and have a passion for learning to achieve optimal education. The collection of charity funds for education is a strategy for empowering church members. Because if church members have high academic positions they will be able to become authoritative lights.
The role of an academician is more effective in shining a light on the people around him. They will be effective witnesses of Christ to implement their knowledge and competence.
Believers could be a light that illuminates the surrounding reality if they also become witnesses of Christ in their professions and careers. Let’s think about whether each of the doctors in our congregation is testifying and glorifying our Savior Jesus Christ. Are our doctors generous and helping others who are in need? Does every successful businessman in our church defend the weak and oppressed? Are all cleaning service workers who are members of our congregation showing their high quality and dedication so that people around appreciate their work?
In Reformed theology, every work is holy. Every believer bears the official title of the General Priesthood. God’s word said in epistle 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We all have strategic roles that are: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession.
Consequently, every work must be carried out by the people optimally and they must produce excellent quality. Reformed theology emphasizes the appreciation of professional work. So what should happen is that everyone who believes and confesses Jesus as Lord are people who are professionals in their respective fields.
An attitude of ethical-moral, academic, and professional integrity will be an effective testimony when it is based on a personal vision to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Because ethical-moral integrity is the fruit of Christ’s redemptive work. The act of developing academically as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and professionalism in work is the fruit of the faith of the believers. When we integrate ethical-moral attitudes with academic abilities and vocations to witness, then we will be able to become an effective and influential light in the world.
One of the academic figures as well as a missionary in India named Paul Brand (1914-2003). In the medical world, Paul Brand is known for his contribution to leprosy. In particular Paul Brand pioneered the idea that finger and the feet loss in leprosy are entirely caused by infection. Because leprosy attacks the nervous system, which makes the patient lose the warning of pain. So someone who has leprosy often loses fingers or toes not caused by congenital decay caused by leprosy, but because they lost the ability to feel pain.
Isn’t it for us and people in general, being sick is the last thing that we want? In fact, the disease becomes something we hate. If possible, we never get sick. But doctor Paul Brand provides a new insight that is very touching. Paul Brand realized the usefulness of pain for our bodies. From the story of the leper who has no pain, we are taught to be more serious about taking care of our health. We are taught how to be grateful for the state of our bodies.
As an inventive hand surgeon, Paul Brand has opened a whole new world of prevention and rehabilitation for patients with disabilities due to leprosy. That’s why Paul Brand was recognized as the world’s first surgeon to use reconstructive surgery to repair abnormalities in the hands and feet caused by leprosy. Together with his wife, doctor Margaret Brand, Paul Brand devoted himself to researching methods to prevent blindness in leprosy. Then Paul Brand was also able to apply a similar technique to treat the limbs of diabetics. Because leprosy and diabetes damage the nervous system and pain.
The source of the dedication of Paul Brand and his wife Margareth Brand’s ministry is driven by the power of the gospel of Christ. Now the world can enjoy the results of Paul Brand’s research and dedication. He inspired medical personnel and many people to care for lepers based on God’s love.
We will be able to be the light of the world to illuminate the world around us if we too can feel the pain of those around us. We are called to have empathy or compassion in God’s love for those around us who are suffering. Especially we care for those who are weak, sick, and oppressed. We are called to be defenders and agents of healing.
Besides that, we also participate in the justice defense agents. As the Lord Jesus’ mission stated in Luke 4:18-19, namely: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Isn’t it when we carry out the mission of the Lord Jesus that we will become His shining witnesses in front of many people? Let us be the light of the world by proclaiming the love and justice of Christ. God bless and help us so that we become His witnesses in this world.
Rev. Yohanes Bambang Mulyono
Chaplain in Maranatha Christian University