Light and Love
Christians are to be lights in the darkness, “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 2:15-16). What Jesus said ought to ring in our ears continually:
“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)
How, then, are we lights in the world? The essential answer lies in our following after the example of Jesus and the holiness of God. Peter shows both in his writings. For example:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Pet 1:14-16)
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps…” (1 Pet 2:21; read through the context).
God is the model of our behavior, and what the Lord teaches in terms of how we should act ought always to be before us. Let’s consider being lights particularly in the area of how we are to treat other people, especially when they need mercy and kindness the most. God is the God of justice, and this never changes. Doing justice and righteousness would, at least, mean that we are acting according to the character of God toward others who are made in God's image. This is a pattern that we see throughout Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
Jesus carries these principles forward and tells us how we are to act, which, in turn, serves to shine the light of God’s grace into a world desperately in need of it:
1. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). This principle is the essence of what it means to act right toward others. If we ask ourselves, “How would I like to be treated under these circumstances?” we can better gauge how we should act toward others.
2. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39, the second great commandment). The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) shows the need to love neighbor as self and identifies what it means to be that neighbor. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said.
3. Jesus shows the need to be merciful and compassionate: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt 5:7). He also points to the need to love even enemies (Matt 5:43-48).
The NT writers carry the thoughts forward as well. For example, re-read what Paul says in Romans 12:14-21 and 13:8-10. Re-read what James has to say in James 1:27-2:17. These passages show what it means to love others, show mercy, and to act without prejudice.
How we treat others is basic to our relationship with God. If we fail to love others, we cannot properly love God: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)
We should want all to be saved, just as God does (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). Being lights in the world leads people to God, but we cannot be the lights we are called to be if we do not act properly. Peter put it this way: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). This echoes Matthew 5:14-16.
This is about God's character. We see Him acting with love and compassion, and so ought we to do the same. This is also about humans made in God's image. We need to treat God’s image-bearers with the appropriate respect. Since our behavior toward others is tied to our love of God and also tied to bringing others to God, then let us be mindful of how important it is to treat others with love, honor, and mercy, knowing that we will, too, be judged with the same measure by which we judge others (Matt 7:1-6).