Telling a great story with your life is not easy. It’s often exhausting, terribly so—and yet a growing number of evangelical writers passionately encourage us to “tell a great story with your life” or “stop trying to increase your influence and start living a great story!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love great stories, and I’m all for living within one. But Scripture never commands us, “Tell a great story with your life.” It never exhorts us, “Start living a great story!” Rather, Scripture tells us we are already living within the epic Story, and we play no small role within it.
In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (emphasis mine). Jesus does not tell us that in order to fulfill our role within the epic story of redemption, we need to become the light of the world. No, Jesus tells us that we actually are the light of the world. By doing so, Jesus makes sure we know that we already are major characters in a great story, an epic story.
I can almost hear someone offer this corrective: “Yes, but just make sure you point out that Jesus is the only one who ever said, ‘I am the light of the world.'” And to that corrective I would offer a hearty, “Yes, you’re absolutely right. Jesus is the only one who ever said that about Himself in Scripture.”
But here is the tricky part. We don’t find Jesus saying those words in Matthew’s gospel. They are actually recorded for us only in the gospel of John (John 8:12; 9:5). So, for whatever reason, Matthew’s emphasis in his gospel is not that Jesus is the light of the world (although He most certainly is) but that we are. Matthew insists that we see ourselves as the light of the world.
Keep in mind that Matthew is not giving each of us as individuals permission to say, “I am the light of the world.” But Matthew is calling us as the people of God to recognize that “we (collectively) are indeed the light of the world.” And it’s not something to which we are to aspire. Being the light of the world is what we are. God the Father has brought us into the kingdom of His Son to shine as a light here and now.
“But how,” you ask, “do we shine as a light in the world?”
As you know, the One who tells us that we (collectively) are the light of the world is the One who (individually) is the light of the world, Jesus. The Son of God is individually what we are collectively as He shines through us.
Did you also notice in Matthew 5:14-15 that the Son of God tells us to let our “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (emphasis mine)? The Son who is in Himself the light of the world refers to His Father as our Father too. If we are to understand what it means for us to shine as a light, I’m convinced that the words “your Father” hold the key.
Take a moment to recall with me what the Father declared when Jesus was baptized, recorded for us just two chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him…and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17)
What we must not miss here is that when Jesus was launching into His public ministry, of all the words His Father could have spoken over Him, He chose these. The gospel writers want us to know that the Father’s Son went forward with the mission of His Father in the strength and knowledge of His Father’s delight.
So what does this have to do with us, those who are the light of the world?
Dr. C.F.W. Walther, a pastor who lived in the 1800s, wrote, “Every Christian may apply to himself the declaration of God: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!'” Don’t miss what Walther just said. The only thing I would change to what he wrote is swap out the word may with the word must. Because of who Jesus is for us and who we are in Him, the words that His Father declared over Him that day He also declares over us—the children of the kingdom—today and every day hereafter.
To shine as a light in this world is to live each day in the conscious knowledge that the Father delights in His people, that His smile rests upon us. And the power of God’s delight in us produces good works out of the knowledge that the Father loves us as He loves His eternal Son (John 17:23), and good works grown by that love give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:15). Now that is a great role to play in this epic Story.