Matthew 5:14-16 // What Does It Mean to Be the Light?

Just by taking one look at the news, you can see horrifying anger, crime, terror and disease. Politics is dark. Entertainment is dark. Social media is dark. And with all this going on around us, we can be tempted to shake our fists at God and cry, “Where are you in all this darkness? We need light!” If we did so, God would likely grip our shoulders, look us in the eye and say, “You are the light.” This is just what Jesus said:

14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

In the darkness of crime, terror and disease, we are the light. In the darkness of modern politics, entertainment and social media, we are the light. We are the light. It’s not that we ought to be the light. It’s that we are the light. And we are meant to shine by doing good works that glorify God.

We Are Supposed to Shine

“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5:14b-15)

Jesus didn’t put us in heaven immediately after saving us. Instead, He chose to put us on a stand to give light to the whole world. We are a hillside city glowing in an otherwise dark landscape. We are lamps standing in otherwise dark rooms.

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How are we to shine as hillside cities and lamps on stands?

How Are We Supposed to Shine?

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works …” (Matthew 5:16a)

This isn’t the answer you may have expected. It would’ve made sense for Jesus to say, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your holiness” or “happiness” or “the gospel.” But instead, He says “good works.”

I’ve always hesitated to preach good works because I know how dangerous they can be. We’re tempted to slip into our good works for security, for instance, rather than the freely-given grace of God. On this point, Ephesians 2:8-10 is very helpful:.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We are not saved by works – but we are saved for works. In other words, good works are not a cause of our salvation, but they are a purpose of our salvation.

What Does Jesus Mean By “Good Works”?

What Jesus means by “good works” is spelled out in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of the Bible. It is a nuanced idea that encompasses far more than charitable deeds alone.  Rather, it means constantly asking ourselves, “What good can I do?”

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From picking up litter as we walk through a parking lot to determining to do something about the dark news we see on CNN, from giving regularly to the Deacon Fund to sharing spontaneously with the friend in need, from serving monthly at Crisis Assistance Ministry to serving constantly in our homes, “What good can I do?” includes all the ways and works that honor God by helping people. It is anything done for the good of people and the glory of God.

What is the Purpose of Our Good Works?

36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

So the question is: “What kind of good works is Jesus talking about?” Many so-called good works are poisoned when we allow the #2 command to eclipse the #1 command. The purpose of our good works is to glorify God. This completes the circuit, closes the loop, fulfills our function. God created us to glorify Him, and this is why we do good works – not to be seen or praised (Matthew 6:1-17), but so that we and those around us will “give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

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Discussion Starters

  1. Read Matthew 5:14-16.
  2. What evidence of darkness do you see in the world?
  3. Referring to your specific answers to Question #1, how can you be the light? What specific good works has God prepared beforehand that you should walk in them?
  4. How can we shine like hillside cities and lamps on stands so that people see our good works, yet avoid the sins of Matthew 6:1-17?
  5. In what ways do our good works cause others to glorify God? How can we ensure that our works do not backfire, and glorify us instead?
  6. Pray together.

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2 Comment authors
Matt BroadwayEdward Recent comment authors
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ILove it and made me to understand the meaning of shining to the world as child of God,


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