“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).
When we consider what Jesus says here, what do we think He means?
We talk often about the contrast between “light” and “darkness” and our need to “be the light,” and this is well and good. We also speak about the obviousness of the “city set on a hill,” and how we as Christians should be evident in the communities in which we live. This also is well and good.
But how is it that we manifest ourselves as the light of the world, and as the city set on the hill?
Many times we approach it from the negative angle: since you’re the “light” and the “city,” everyone will be looking at you and if you stumble, it will be used against the cause of Christ. This is quite true; we know that one can do plenty of good, and all that can be erased in the minds of others by one bad deed. It is important for us to conduct ourselves so as to not bring reproach upon the cause of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:15-16).
Yet, when Jesus establishes that we are to be the light of the world, and the city set on a hill, He teaches this with positive force. In many ways, it’s more of a challenge than a declarative statement: how is it that we are the light of the world? A city set on a hill? Are we so living as to be the light of the world or the city set on the hill?
Normally, when we think of such things, we think in terms of personal morality and perhaps a concept of evangelism. This is well and good, but in many ways, it must go deeper.
If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself (James 2:15-17).
James speaks of how we are to relate to our brethren, but the principle certainly applies to our conduct with all men (cf. Galatians 6:10). How are we benefiting those around us?
If there is no darkness, there can be no light. A city set on a hill is rather unimpressive if there is no one around to see the city. When Jesus uses these images, He fully intends for us to understand that we are to be seen by others. We are not just to be the light, but to be seen as the light. We are not just to be the city set on a hill, but to be seen as that city set on a hill.
Are we– as individuals comprising a greater body– that visible in our communities? Put it this way– if all of a sudden, for whatever reason, a congregation ceases to exist in a given community, will it be missed? Would the loss of the church be seen as a detriment to the community, or would the event be passed over without notice?
I am not trying to say that we should exist just to please the community. I also am not saying that we, as a corporate collective, need to do what many denominations do in order to be seen as a force for good in communities (i.e. benevolent organizations). But I am trying to say that we need to assess whether we are a benefit to the community around us or not.
If we’re going to put on the mantle of Christ, we need to love our neighbor. Jesus did not just spend time with His twelve disciples, or even the combination of the 12 and 70. The 12 and 70 often accompanied Him as He went about the cities of Galilee preaching and ministering to the people. After all, He was the Light in the midst of darkness (John 1:4). He was the city set on the hill.
And it is enough for us to be like Him (Matthew 10:25). Jesus could promote His teachings because the people could see what He did and how He loved them and showed compassion on them. Now, many did reject Him, but it wasn’t because of perceived hypocrisy.
We should be marked by the same type of life. We can preach the Gospel in our communities night and day, and if we are not active in our communities, helping the poor, finding ways of standing for the right, and so on, few are going to care what we have to say. Even if we are active in our communities, many are not going to care. But we at least can be respected, then, for what we do, and not be seen like the situation in James 2.
How many will care what we have to say if they don’t see any indication that we care? We are the light of the world and the city set on a hill when we live what we promote…and this will be seen in the community.
Let be lights visible in our communities, a city not hidden!