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I wonder if I would have passed my ordination exams had Jesus been sitting on that council of examiners. Something tells me I got off too easy. That something is Matthew 5:14–16:

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.

It’s not that the brothers who examined me pitched me softballs. They grilled me with difficult and complex questions. They required me to give clear evidence that my theological understanding was sound. I remember a few questions exposing things I needed to firm up.

But I was not asked pointed questions about how my sound theological understanding was producing the shining light of good works. I was not required to give clear evidence that I was living like a city set on a hill. No doubt my brother examiners were gracious in giving me the benefit of the doubt.

But I don’t think Jesus would have been as easily satisfied. I think He would have pressed me harder to demonstrate that my theological knowledge was in fact fueling the burning of my visible lamp. He might have asked me to describe how all in the “house” of my neighborhood and relational networks were tangibly receiving the benefit of my “light.” He might have required specific examples of the last time I was reviled and persecuted on His account (Matt. 5:11–12). He might have asked me when I was last aware of someone giving glory to my Father in heaven after seeing my good works.

I would have found those questions much harder to answer. They would have exposed even more and, I daresay, more important things that needed firming up.

There is no abstract truth more beautiful to the regenerated human soul than the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus really is the light of the world (John 8:12). His word is a lamp to our feet (Ps. 119:105), and in His light we see light (36:9). It is altogether beautiful and wonderful to understand.

But we only truly understand it if our knowledge is living and active inside us so that it governs how we live—if the love of Christ truly controls us (2 Cor. 5:14). And living our understanding is much more difficult, demanding, humbling, and costly than being able to clearly articulate it. As Christians, we are called not to be mere theoreticians but practitioners. Jesus called Himself the light of the world, and He also called us the light of the world.

Our outward, observable, public works make who we are and whose we are manifestly clear.

What made Jesus the light of the world? It was not His mere words, but also His works: “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25). Jesus’ works made it manifestly clear who He is. His works shone and still shine.

What makes us as Christians the light of the world? It is not our mere words, but also our works. The works we do in Jesus’ name bear witness about us. Our outward, observable, public works make who we are and whose we are manifestly clear. And just as it was for Jesus, our works will cause some to revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on His account, and they will cause others to give glory to our heavenly Father.

What kind of good works shine like lights? This is not a difficult question to answer. It’s that the answer has demanding implications. We just need to think for a moment: What good works have others done that stand out most in our memory? Who are the people who have been most radiant with Jesus’ light? They very well may not have possessed the most prominent talents or most publicly influential platforms. But they are the people we have likely found ourselves simultaneously drawn to and unnerved by. That’s because the light of their humble love both warms our chilled hearts and exposes our selfishness and pride.

The shining people are those whose servant-hearted and sacrificial love make them literally remarkable. People talk about them. Some slander them, and others praise them. But they are ones who find God’s steadfast love better than life (Ps. 63:3), and they love others in both word and deed (1 John 3:18). Their words and deeds are sometimes tender and sometimes tough, depending on the need, because they really consider others more significant than themselves (Phil. 2:3), and their aim is to love others, not to gain others’ approval. It’s not merely what they do but why they do it and the way they do it.

If God grants me the average life expectancy of an American male, I have one-third of my life left to live. And I am asking Jesus to press me harder than ever before, to examine me fully, to search me and try me and transform me—because I want to shine more with the light of Jesus than I ever have. I don’t want merely to articulate glorious truth more accurately, but to manifest it more fully. I want to live it and to so love God and others for His sake that, whether I provoke persecution or the praise of God, my light, my city on a hill, is clearly seen.

And you? Join me! Let us press on to know the Lord (Hos. 6:3) and let our knowledge pour out in love through our mouths and hands and feet and wallets and schedules.

Let us let our light shine.

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