The Light of the World


Dr. John Hoole – December 13 & 20, 2015






Genesis 1:3 reads, “Then God said, ‘let there be light; and there was light’.”  The creation of light was very significant.  No wonder James 1:17 describes God as the “Father of lights.”  After the flood, God promised never to destroy the earth again by a flood, and He chose a rainbow, a phenomenon caused by light passing through water to signify this.


Genesis 1 implies the universe was total darkness.  It was without life and without purpose.  For it to fulfill God’s purpose, it had to have light.




Webster defines light as “something which enables you to see,” or “that which makes vision possible.”  In other words, light and sight go together.  But this means you must have some kind of instrument that can use the light so that vision is possible – something like an eye.


In Matthew 6:22, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, “the lamp of the body (i.e., the instrument of light and thus sight) is the eye.”


This very simple definition does not explain light in a scientific sense, but it does point us to the key issue and meaning of light.  So, because of light, each person can see the world around him in all its brilliance, colors and details, assuming their eyes are functional.


Light is a means of vision for without it, no matter how good your eyes, you could see nothing.  But without eyes, no matter how good the light, no vision, or if the eye is weak or bad, one’s sight becomes blurred or distorted.


We began reading Matthew 6:22 a moment ago – Let’s continue.


Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV


22     The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.

23     But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!


Compare this with Luke 11:33-36 (NKJV)


33     No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light.

34     The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.

35     Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness.

36     If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light."


So light, because of its natural figurative uses, is a very important word in Scripture, and we do well to take heed to God’s use of “light” in His Word.  The concept of light, lamp or lampstand occurs nearly 300 times in the Bible.  It is a very instructive figure.


This brings us to the text we want to consider today.


Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV


14     You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.

15     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.

16     Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.


In a previous lesson, we looked at the meaning of verse 13, and the implications these words have on our own life.


In Matthew 5, Christ had just given those gathered on the mountainside, a list of 8 qualities or character traits He wants to see in each of His followers.  They are called the Beatitudes.  And if the Beatitudes describe the essential character of the disciple of Jesus, then the salt and light metaphors indicate their influence for good in the world.  When we live by the principles of the previous beatitudes, we will have a profound influence on the world we live in.  This is not the impact of government policy or political revolution, but rather the influence of individual character.  It is the influence that Jesus wrought upon His world in the first century.  It is the influence of both doing and saying.


In order to define the nature of their influence, Jesus resorted to two domestic metaphors.  Every home, however poor, used and still uses both salt and light.  During His own boyhood, Jesus must have often watched his mother use salt in the kitchen and light the lamps when the sun went down.  Salt and light are indispensable household commodities.  For us today, we take salt and light for granted, but in the ancient world they were greatly valued.


When we look at the two metaphors of salt and light more closely, we see that they are deliberately phrased in order to be parallel to each other.  In each case Jesus first makes an affirmation:


                   •  “You are the salt of the earth.”

                   •  “You are the light of the world.”


Then he adds a rider – caveat  – that’s a condition on which the affirmation depends.


                   •  The salt must retain its saltiness.

                   •  The light must be allowed to shine.


         Salt is good for nothing if its saltiness is lost.  And light is good for nothing if it is concealed.


Salt and light have one thing in common.  They both give and expend themselves.  And, as such, they are the opposite of any and every kind of self-centered religiosity.


Nevertheless, on the other hand, the kinds of service salt and light renders is different.  In fact, their effects are complementary.  The function of salt is largely negative – i.e., it prevents decay and spoilage.  The function of light is positive - i.e., it illumines the darkness.


Whereas salt is hidden, light is obvious.  Salt works secretly, while light works openly.  Salt works from within, light from without.  Salt is more the indirect influence of the gospel, while light works primarily through what we teach and preach.  Salt is largely negative in that it retards corruption, but it cannot change corruption into incorruption.  Light is more positive.  It not only reveals what is wrong and false, but helps produce what is righteous and true.


So Jesus calls his disciples to exert a double influence on the secular community in which they live – a negative influence by arresting its decay and a positive influence by bringing light into its darkness.  It is one thing to stop the spread of evil (e.g., salt) -- it’s another to promote the spread of truth, beauty and goodness (e.g., light).  Both salt and light affect all that is around them.


Let’s move to the second metaphor our Lord uses to describe the witness and influence of the Christian.  First of all, do we all understand that Jesus is talking in a figurative sense.  We are not light in a physical sense…but only in a spiritual or allegorical sense -- or, as I stated earlier - in a metaphoric sense.




John 1:1-9 (KJV)


1       In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2       The same was in the beginning with God.

3       All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.

4       In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5       And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

6       There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7       The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

8       He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

9       That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.


When John writes this gospel, he is very, very careful when he speaks about Jesus as the light of the world.  Very emphatically, he states that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is that light.  John the Baptist, who came to herald the coming of Christ, “was not that light.”  He only came to bear witness of that light (John 1:8).  Jesus is the true light.  Not John or anyone else.  He is the ultimate source of spiritual light in the world.


In 1 John 1:5 (NKJV), we read:


5        This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.


Over and over again, the Scriptures teach us that God is light – that He dwells in light which is unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16) – that He covers himself with light as a garment (Psalm 104:2).  The Psalmist declared that the Lord is our light (Psalm 27:1),  Thus we are told to walk in the light of the Lord and as children of light (Isa. 2:4;  Eph. 5:8)


All light, therefore, comes from God, and if man is to find light in the spiritual or figurative sense, he must come to God as the source of light.  The tragedy and the judgment of God on man is that the light, Jesus Christ, has come into the world, and man consistently loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19).


If we look at what John 8 & 9, along with our text in Matthew 5 has to say about the light of the world, we may get a fuller picture of what Jesus had in mind by calling us the light of the world.


In John 8:12 (NKJV), we read,


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."


Then in John 9:5 (NKJV), He adds: As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.


Did you catch the significance of this verse?  As long as He lived here, He was the light of the world.  But what’s the implication of that statement?


Put those two passages with Matthew 5:14 and what do you have?  We are now what Christ was then.  He was talking about his followers having a ministry that continues what He was when He was here.  While He was here, HE was the light.  Now that He is gone, WE are the light.  As the Holy Spirit lives within us, we are to continue what Jesus started.


2 Corinthians 4:6-7 (KJV) says:


6       For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

7       But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.


                   The first part of verse 6 is an allusion back to Genesis 1:3.


For each of us Jesus is the source of light.  Any light in us, or reflected through us, comes from Him.


Ephesians 5:8 (NKJV)  adds:


8          For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light




It means that since Jesus is the ultimate source of light, we are to let Him live his life through us.  We are to be led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do.


Philippians 2:13-16 NKJV


13     For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

14     Do all things without complaining and disputing,

15     that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

16     holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.


God is the light and we are illuminated by Him.




The first thing that comes to my mind when I realize that we are the light of the world is this.  It means that without us the world is in darkness.  Since God has a purpose in everything He does and says, it suggests to me that the world needs illuminating.


And this is very pointedly stated in John 3:19 (NKJV) , where Christ says:


19       This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.


This is the first thought that comes to my mind by Christ’s metaphor.  It we are the light of the world, then the world without us must be in darkness.  There is no necessity for taking a candle into the brightness of the day or turning a spotlight on at noon.  Only in darkness does it have its affect.




It means that we, as the light of the world, should manifest all the properties of light.  Matthew 5:16 very specifically tells us the form it should take.  We let our light shine through the exhibition of good works -- good works that bring glory, not to us, but to our Father in heaven.




• illuminate

• expose

• guide & direct


Also, in the physical world, without light, most forms of life could not live.  Light is essential for the sustenance of life.  No vegetable or animal life was created by God until after light was created.  Likewise, in the figurative sense, light stands for the concepts of illumination, explanation, guidance, exposure and life support or sustenance.


We, as light, are to illuminate.


When Jesus called us the light of the world, he uses two illustrations that are sources of physical light.


         •  a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand.


In His use of these two illustrations, Christ says it is possible, though foolish, to hide a lamp under a basket or a bowl.  But He states it is impossible for a city on a hill to be hid.  This reinforces the message of the previous verses, how that to impact the world we must be out among people where we can be seen.


Dwight Pentecost writes:


“One who travels the Holy Land is impressed with the fact that multitudes of villages were built on the tops of the hills.  When night came, the light in the houses on the hill could not be hidden.  From a great distance, one knew the location of the next village because of the light from that hilltop.”


For us to be the light of the world, we, like a city on a hill, should be clearly visible to all around us.


The second illustration of the source of light is probably best understood by most of us.  It pictures the way light is most often thought of.  Why does anyone light a lamp?  The most obvious sense is so it may give off light to a room.  This is the typical use of light.


Man was not made for darkness.  When a man descends into the somber coal mine, he puts a special light on his helmet.  His eyes are made for the light.  And so is man’s soul.  We are not made for the dark, the dreary or the macabre.  We are not made for the suggestive, the smutty or those deeds done under the cloak of night.  We were made by Him who lights the world to walk in that light and reflect it.  And we are to call others in darkness to the light.


1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) says,


9        But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people; that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:


                            God does not want people to remain in darkness


Philippians 2:13-15 (NKJV) adds,


13       For it is God which works in you both to will (It is His will that all come to repentance) and to do for his good pleasure.

14       Do all things without complaining and disputings:

15       That you may be blameless and harmless, children of God, without fault, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world;


The one purpose of light is to give light therefore, the one purpose that God has for you and me is that we be a light to this dark world.  Then Jesus goes on to add how ridiculous it is to light a lamp designed to give light to all in the house, and then put it under a basket, or wash-tub, or anything else.


For one thing, putting a light under something will cause it to go out not to mention the fact that those in the room no longer can see.



If we live our lives without being continually “plugged” into the source of light, we are putting a container over our light.  God has made us to be lamps in Jesus Christ, and He left us here in the world that we might give off the light of the glory of Jesus Christ.  But, because of the bushel basket of carnality and worldliness, our apathy, materialism, even fears of letting our light shine, we cover up our lights and fail in the purpose Christ has established for us.


Romans 13:11-14 (NKJV) – notice how the light can be hid.


11     And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

12     The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.

13     Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.

14     But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.


It may be easy for some or all of you to say, “well I’m not involved with rioting, drunkenness or wantonness."  But do we exhibit honesty in all we do.  And how often do people see us when we are contentious (strife)?  And how does envy show itself in our life?


There are a couple more bowls or baskets that we are often guilty of putting over our light.  Two definite obstacles to our shining as light is:


1)  the bowl of indifference. and

2)  the bowl of inconsistency.


I know I am coming down pretty hard here, but one thing really puzzles me.  How can a Christian be indifferent to the lost?  The indifferent Christian is the greatest living contradiction you can find.


Indifference and Christianity do not belong together.  Yet, who among us can truthfully say that we don’t show indifference every day?  If not every day, at least every week.  But the fact of the matter is, every time we are indifferent, we are putting our light under a bowl.  Christ is saying, “Get out from under your bowl and climb up on your stand.”


 Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 (NKJV).


         And let’s read verse 6 first.


6        For it is the God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who hath shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


This verse talks about how the light of the knowledge of God’s glory has shined into our heart.  Now notice the context which surrounds this thought.  See how the first verse is saying, “now that you have the light, you have a ministry,” .and talks about that ministry in terms of light - letting your light shine.  Notice also that to not let your light shine means that the truth of the gospel is hid from those who are now being blinded by Satan.


2 Corinthians 4:1-7  (NKJV)


1       Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.

2       But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

3       But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,

4       whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

5       For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake.

6       For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

7       But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.


I do not consider myself to be any great example of one who never hides his light.  I know a person, a very senior manager at Boeing, who was taking a course on Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University.  One of his assignments was to study the life of a person they considered ethical.  This man came to me as said, “John, you’re the most ethical person I know.”


I’m glad he saw me as ethical.  It’s certainly better than the alternative.  But a statement like that by anyone almost scares me.  It says people out there are watching me and I don’t know that I always show forth the love of Jesus.  I wonder: “what else do they see me do?”  But isn’t that what Christ is saying in Matthew 5?  We’re supposed to be out there, shedding light in a way that causes people to see.


The light also exposes.


There are also going to be times when your life will expose things in other people’s lives.


Ephesians 5:13-14 (NAS)


13    But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.

14    For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."


The light exposes and makes visible.  If flaws exist, you can’t see them without the light.


Job 28:11says:       He…brings hidden things to light.


Daniel 2:22 says:   He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness,……


1 Corinthians 4:5 says:   He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he

will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.


                   The light of God, as it shines from our lives, will expose sin in the world.


Light reveals the truth


Light is also used in Scripture for that which corresponds to reality – Truth versus error, distortion, perversion, or falsehood.  In this use of “light”, a person who has the light is one who has the truth.  He is one who has the facts according to Biblical reality because they are no longer hidden or unknown, but have been revealed, exposed and seen by the light.


It is interesting how the world is always talking about its enlightenment or its awakening.  It has great hopes in its programs for reform and change, but the only enlightenment it ever really finds that brings real spiritual aid to society is through those who know Christ and know the Bible.


In preparation for this lesson, I went out to the Worldwide Web - the Internet - and asked for a search of everything out there on the subject of light.  That was a much too broad a search.  I got everything from rock groups to scientific studies.  So I narrowed my search down to just the phrase, “light of the world.”  I was sure that most of what I would get back would be good Christian information.


Not so!  You would be surprised - at least I was - at how many groups are advertising themselves as the sole source of truth and enlightenment touting themselves and their philosophies as the light the world needs.  I narrowed it further by adding ‘you are the” in the front of the statement.  e.g., “you are the light of the world”  The search engine gave me thousands of documents using that full phrase.  I waded through hundreds of sources in order to find just a few that were worth using.


Some time ago, the world went through a period of time known as the “Age of Enlightenment.”  But it was based on humanism and it really led to greater darkness and distortions.


I quote from “How Should We Then Live,” written by Francis Schaeffer,


“The French Revolution was based on the ideas of humanism and it failed.  It was hideously cruel and bloody and it failed to lead to freedom.  But to the north there was the Reformation based on the light of the Word which had completely different result.”


Intellectual darkness pervades our educational systems because God has been asked to leave.


         “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21)


                  They no longer had the light of truth.


History is not an account of evolution, with man climbing higher and closer to the truth.  It is a sad tale of devolution, with man turning his back on the truth and plunging into the darkness of gross error and distortions.  Man is not looking for the light.  He has rejected the light and is walking in the shadows into deeper and deeper darkness.


Man’s very light is darkness, where they exemplify Matthew 6:23, which reads,  “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.”  The world is very much shrouded in darkness.


Ephesians 5:8-14 (NIV)


8       For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

9       (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),

10     finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.

11     And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

12     For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

13     But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.

14     Therefore He says: "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light."


This verse also corresponds with the fact that light exposes.  But that is in fact what truth will do.    It will expose that which is false.


When you read the end of the Book, you find that the story of man’s redemption ends with anticipation of a new day – a time when all darkness will be removed, both physical and spiritual.  There will no longer even be the need of the sun.


Revelation 22:5 NKJV


5       There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.


But in the meantime, during this time of darkness, the Lord has given His church a key role.  As believers who possess the Savior and the indwelling Spirit, we are called upon to be the light of the world.  And as the moon gets its light from the sun to reflect upon the earth, we are to get our light from the Sun of Righteousness and reflect upon the earth.


Verse 16:        “Let your light so shine…”


First, we need to notice that this is a command.  This is not an option for us.  Don’t do anything that will cover up the light or snuff it out.  This verse is an ever present warning of the possibility of having our light hid, and thus, failing in our purpose in the plan of God.




Is this just a command to be a witness and spread the gospel?  I don’t think the context of this phrase will allow that interpretation, although spreading the gospel is commanded elsewhere in the Scriptures.


We let our light shine when we manifest good (works) before men.  But what does this mean?


The Pharisees tithed, gave to the poor, prayed often, were religious, worshipped and followed the details of the law.  The Pharisees had good works, but the Lord called them hypocrites.  As spiritual leaders of the nation, they not only failed to point the nation to Christ, but they put Him to death.  So just being religious and having religious works means nothing.


In fact, in Matthew 5:20 (KJV), we find Jesus saying:


20        For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.


I believe the Lord is talking about a way and quality of life that is so different from that of the world, including the religious world, so distinct, that it shines like a light in the darkness.  The works must point to Christ.  The Pharisees performed works pointing to themselves.


Letting our light shine can mean many things, but it must include letting the Holy Spirit reproduce the light of Jesus Christ within us.


Perhaps “letting your light shine” means to stir up the gift of God in you.  Allow it to burst into flame.  Each of us have unique and special gifts through which God’s light can shine.  Nobody else can fill that darkness with light like you.




Matthew 5:16 (KJV)


16       Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.


There is a specific goal behind displaying our good works.  This verse does say that people are to see your good works but if they see ONLY your good work and nothing else, their ultimate purpose is not fulfilled.


God desires that men might, through these good works, come to glorify Him and this means drawing them to Him.  It means that they recognize that He is the ultimate source of the good deeds.


What does it mean to “glorify God?”  It means to praise Him.  Because of our good works, it should cause people to praise God.  This means the people will ultimately come to know that our light is Jesus Christ.




Life is filled with opportunities to let our light shine, but they too often go unused and our light, our character as a reflection of Jesus Christ gets pushed under a tub.  People often can see a difference, but they never find out that the difference is Jesus Christ.  They think we are different simply because we are one of the nice guys.  When that happens, we get the credit and not God…..therefore He is not glorified.