15 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. 16 In 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.
This verse troubled me for years. I felt like one who gazes at an ideal until awakened by self evaluation to the chasm between the ideal I longed for and the reality upon which I stood. The response my “good works” generally invoked from spectators was often praise directed at me, even if I corrected them and pointed up. If I did something good, people praised me, which was not glorifying God. Set aside for a moment the fact that an arrogant man who points to himself will draw attention to himself and leave God in the corner. I am not referring to times when I took credit for God’s work, or acted in a way that would make people think it was me.
I’ve also seen other struggle with this, though it was no fault of their own; you might be able to reference your own struggle in this area and understand where I am coming from. Let me give an example. A lady at my church who is single and has given her life to ministering to children in constantly getting praise for the way she ministers. She continually asks people to glorify God, not her. She is characterized by humility and reliance on God, as expressed in her continual prayer. However, this does not keep people from praising her, even though she wants God to receive the glory. A Biblical example would be when Paul confronted Christians who were saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” (1 Cor 3:4-9). Proving his ultimate focus on Christ, Paul was the man who said “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Above all else, Paul was surrendered and submitted to a single minded mission to serve Christ. Yet, at times, men still wanted to praise Paul instead of God.
I do not think this struggle necessarily means that we have failed to fulfill Matthew 5:16, because I think Matthew is pointing to something deeper than wanting men to give lip service to God after they observe your good works. Let me tell you the story that opened my eyes.
A college student was physically on his knees before God, asking for wisdom. It was only 4 days into the New year, and 2009 was already presenting questions that could not be answered. A young man had asked for the college student to meet with him and help show him how to handle a situation that the college student had experienced and, according to the young man, had handled well. The student’s cry was, “God, you know I failed in that situation before Your grace lifted me out! How can this young man think it was anything of me?” The college student was credited with getting things right. However, the young man wanted to do the same as the college student because he had observed that the college student had handled it all in a way that honored God.
I think what happened to that college student was exactly what I want to be seeing in my life. People see me handle a situation in a biblical way, and then come ask me to help them learn to do the same. They want to follow Christ, not me. They see God’s grace in my life, and the hunger for the same in theirs. Matthew 5:16 took on a completely new meaning to me today, because I saw that glorifying God with your life is the heart of that verse. It is not “let your light shine before men so that they see your good works and say ‘praise the Lord.’” It is “let your light shine before men so that they see your good works and are inspired to glorify your Father in heaven by choosing God above sin and living a righteous life.” God by His grace alone uses me as a light to display what is the right way to live. I want them to be inspired to do more than simply say “praise the Lord.” That’s just lip service, and according to God speaking through Isaiah, that’s worthless unless it is accompanied by a life that puts action to the words. Action is the desired outcome, not words.
What does a light do? It let’s people see more clearly as they live. They are able to move, act, make decisions, etc based on the way they see in the light. Let your actions inform their actions. Light clarifies the appropriate way to act by revealing reality, thus allowing for informed actions rather than stumbling, staggering, and groping in the dark. Hence, my actions should be a light that reveals the reality of God and motivates those around me to live in obedience to God to His glory. The way I apply the concepts of scripture casts a light on their value, proclaiming that God and His commands are not vague and abstract ideas, but rather real and applicable that demand action in daily life. This is the idea of “stimulating one another to love and good deeds.” In the light of my good works, men should be able to see better who God is and how His reality affects the way life should be lived practically. They should be able to find some
thing to model, something to imitate. Hebrews 11 makes a strong correlation between faith, and a life of action that proves the faith is real and live. Men should see my life as an illustration of the truth that faith is not about simply knowing doctrine, but about acting as a new creation, for faith without works is dead. Faith without works is a life that has not been changed to become a glowing light that illumines the path of the Christ-life in a dark world.
Lord, Let the way I act reveal the reality of God to those around me in such a way that they act according to the reality of God. Just as a light would reveal a staircase that must be ascended, let my actions reveal the reality of God so clearly that others won’t hesitate to act in the same way. Just as we would not expect someone to run into a wall with the light on, let our works of faith be done in such a way that they light up the truth and people glorify God in the way they walk as a result.
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