Lights in the World
One of the many ways that Scripture describes the people of God is through the metaphor of light. Paul wrote:
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phil 2:14-16).
This passage is grounded in the example of Jesus Christ Himself. Paul had just described the importance of living “worthy of the gospel” and “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents” (1:27-28). He then points out that if they have any sense of encouragement, comfort, fellowship, or affection and sympathy, they needed to be of one mind, having the same love, and being of one accord (2:1-2). How would they be able to achieve this? In a nutshell, through humility, and that humility could be reached by following the mind of Christ:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (vv. 3-5).
Christ, who is God, did not seize upon His godhood when He left heaven to come to earth. Rather, He emptied Himself by going to the cross. This was indeed the humility of our Lord. He esteemed others as better, more important than His own life. Paul’s point is that if Jesus, God manifested in the flesh, could treat others this way, then how much more ought we, who have no claims to being divine, shed our pride and treat others as more important?
Paul then speaks to the glorification of Christ once again, noting that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to God’s own glory. We do desire to confess this truth, both with our lips and with our lives.
If we are to confess the Lordship of Jesus by the way we live, then the next section helps us understand how we do so. Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (vv. 12-13). As we serve the Lord, we are committed to the very end, willing to be vessels through which God works according to His will.
That brings us back to our beginning passage above. As God works through us, this will be seen in the way we act in this world. We will not be grumblers and complainers. We will seek to be holy in a world that is badly crooked and twisted. We will seek to shine as lights and hold fast God’s message both for ourselves and others.
Being lights in the world results from following the example of Jesus and walking in His light (1 John 1:7). Yet back up a bit and remember the first words that God speaks in Genesis: “Let there be light” (1:3). That sets the stage for God’s redemptive scenery. By the time we get to the end of Scripture, we find that God is the light in heaven (Rev 22:5). Light bookends all of Scripture, with God Himself being the source. This is no surprise, since God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16). God is Light!
Now focus for a moment on the fact that Jesus, as the living Word of God communicating God’s perfect plan for redemption, came into this world as light. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
It is in this light that Christians are called upon to be lights in this world. We are imitating the ultimate Light, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose image we are reborn. This, then, is our task:
“You are the light of the world. 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. 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.” (Matt 5:14-16).
May God help us to be what He has called on us to be, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8).