What does it mean to be a light of the world? A Deeper Look at Matthew 5:14-16

This blog examines the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:14-16. It is about what it means to be a light of the world and how to be a light to other people.

What does it mean to be a light of the world- A Deeper Look at Matthew 5-14-16

A City Upon a Hill

387 years ago, in 1630, a Puritan leader named John Winthrop delivered a you are the light of the world speech or sermon to a group of people within the ship named Arbella heading to the New World. This group of individuals is to become the future colony of the Massachusetts Bay, the second major settlement in New England. Winthrop knew the big challenges that they will face as they strive to establish a strong colony. If they were to be successful, THEY NEED THE HELP OF GOD.

His sermon was better known as “A City Upon a Hill.” In his sermon, he said:

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

John Winthrop Color Portrait
John Winthrop (Wikimedia Commons)

John Winthrop recognized the golden opportunity that they can be a light of the world in a place full of uncertainty and insecurity. He pleaded to his comrades that they must behave according to God’s commandments and stay true to their Christian calling. If not, they will “be made a story and a byword through the world, [they] shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the way of God and all professors for God’s sake; [they] shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going.”

John Winthrop had no idea that his words would again be repeated centuries later by a US senator who was set to become the next President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.

No doubt; for us Christians we are all too familiar with the line, “the city upon the hill.” This phrase was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount given by our Lord and Savior Yahshua the Messiah or Jesus Christ.

As Christians, whether we like it or not, we are all like a city upon the hill. People will look at us. They will observe how we think, speak, and act. They will take notice of our character, behavior, and attitude.

So what does it really mean to become a light of the world? What did Jesus mean when He instructed His followers to serve as a beacon of light to this darkened world?

In this blog post and you are the light of the world sermon, let us explore the deep meaning and noble duty that we all must perform as Christians. Let us know what it really means to be a light of the world.

Matthew 5:14-16

The instruction of Jesus about being a light of the world is found in Matthew 5:14-16. We read:

YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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 5:14-16 is a powerful instruction from our Lord and Master. He showed us the way to become Christians by becoming a light of the world. These verses deserve a deeper look for all of us. Let us examine then what light in the Bible means.

You are the light of the world

In this life, we have two choices. We can either be part of darkness and be part of this world OR shine as lights and be different. This world is dying for a light. People are desperately seeking for a beacon of hope. We need not just more sermons on being a light of the world, but we need more living examples as well.

We are called to be Christians not just to attend church services once a week. We are to do a work and that is to become a light to those around us.

It is too easy to just conform to this world. Just go with the flow and simply live a life with less resistance and stay within our comfort zone. But, we are Christians. We are supposed to be different. We are to be a light.

Which leads us to the question, how can we produce light? John 8:12:

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. HE WHO FOLLOWS ME shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

This verse tells us that in order for us to produce the light, we must follow the Light of the world! We need to follow Jesus Christ, His teachings, and examples. WE LITERALLY MUST BE LIKE GOD IN OUR THINKING, WORDS, AND ACTIONS.

As John, the baptizer said, “Christ must increase and I must decrease.” Therefore, the closer we go to the source of light, the brighter our light. The opposite is true. If we stay away from God or Christ, then our light gets dimmer and dimmer until we lose the light God gave us.

A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden

We are like a city on a hill. Since we shine as lights, people will take notice. They will see that we are different. They will see that we are not like the other people. They will see that we are truly who we claim to be, Christians.

We need to shine our lights in such a way that people SEE God and Jesus Christ in us.

We need to shine our lights in such a way that people SEE God and Jesus Christ in us. That’s our ultimate goal as we shine as lights.

When we follow God, people will eventually notice. They will say, “You know there’s something different about this guy. He does not smoke. He is not a drunkard. He does not curse. He is faithful to His wife. He is polite. He greets me whenever we meet. He says ‘thank you.’ He helps me carry my groceries.” “I like talking to this person because he is encouraging. He isn’t negative.”  “Oh, I like that family. They are hospitable, helpful, kind, giving, and loving.”

Little by little, you become a light of this world – a light that imparts blessings, happiness, and good tidings to all those you come to meet.

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Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand

Now, if you are a light of the world, you have to do a work. When you light a lamp, you don’t hide it under a basket. You don’t hide it inside your closet. You don’t hide it inside your bag. No, YOU PUT IT ON A LAMPSTAND where it can serve its purpose. You put it in a place where it can provide the best POSSIBLE LIGHT, where it can impart brightness and radiance to other people.

Imagine, what if we just hide the light within us. What will happen? No one will know about the light that we have.

If you have the light, you need to show it. Like when we have the truth given to us, we need to share it. We need to give it to other people, not in a rude or authoritative way, BUT WE NEED TO SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE.

If we are not careful, our light can be offensive to others. It is not just about shining as lights, but it is about how we shine as lights. Take for example the flashlight. If you point the flashlight directly on someone’s face, you might pick a fight. That’s simply irritating and painful to the eyes. Another example is a defective and noisy light bulb. Eventually, that light bulb can be annoying and sometimes, dangerous.

In like manner, there’s a possibility that we might use our light in a negative, offensive way. A good light is just there, shining and illuminating. It does not have to make a noise to do its work. Eventually, people will notice our light and ask about who we are, what church we attend, and what we believe. That’s how you initiate a conversation, and that’s a perfect opportunity for you to be a witness to Christ.

It gives light to all who are in the house

The purpose of our light is to expose the darkness. By seeing our example, people would know the difference between good and evil, right and good. Our light should show people what is acceptable to God and what is not acceptable to Him.

Thus, it is a must that we study the Bible to know what God expects from us. We can’t give something that we don’t have. In the same way, we can’t be a light to the world if we don’t know how to be a light to them or know God’s truth for that matter. A blind man can’t guide another blind man. For you to be an effective light, you must have the proper understanding of God’s truth, love, and purpose.

That they may see your good works

We need to shine as lights before men that they may see our good works. Now, it doesn’t mean that we tell everyone how good or righteous we are. It does not say that. We are commanded to pray in secret, do our alms in secret, and help other people without thinking of any recognition.

Christ is telling us that if we are to be a light, we need to do good works. It is impossible to be a light to the world without doing something good! This is contrary to the belief of some Christians, that all you need is just believe God and you are saved. No, that’s not true. We must perform good works to manifest our faith in God.

Jesus is making a point here. It is not good that we only have an academic knowledge of the truth. It is not enough to memorize scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. It is not sufficient to understand prophecy and doctrines. WE NEED TO DO THE GOOD WORKS. All that we know will boil to nothing if it is not accompanied by good works!

Our actions should reflect what we know. The knowledge that we have must be translated in our Daily lives. That’s what Christ is telling us.

Glorify your Father in heaven

Our light and good works should not be focused on ourselves, but rather they should point back to God!

What is the purpose of being a light of the world? What should be our motive? What should be the driving force behind our every action? Jesus was telling us to shine our lights so that it will glorify our Father in heaven! Our light and good works should not focus on ourselves. THESE SHOULD POINT PEOPLE TO GOD!

This must be our mindset brethren. As the hymn says, “To God be the glory.” Our light should convince the people around us that the way of God truly works. Our life should be an example and being a light to others. It should tell other people what will happen if we follow God. Our example should show them that what we believe is true and it leads to life. It must tell them that if we follow God, we will be blessed not just in this life but also in the life to come.

Final words

So brethren, are we doing our job as a light of the world? Are we illuminating the light that Christ gave us? When people see us, do they see God’s way of life? Or are we just no different to those who are outside the faith?

I hope we now have a deeper understanding of what it really means to be a light of the world and as Jesus is the light of the world sermon. We must all strive to be a shining beacon to other people. Wherever we are, be it at school, at work, home, or within our community, we must reflect God’s light. We must carry God’s light in such a way that His name won’t be blasphemed.

We need do our best so “that [we] may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16).

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15 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a light of the world? A Deeper Look at Matthew 5:14-16

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  6. Thank you so much for the meaningful post. It gives me knowledge and showing me the right way to shine my light as a christian to the world.
    God bless you.


  7. Pingback: What Does it Mean to be Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers (II Corinthians 6:14-18)? | Becoming Christians

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