“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 ogive glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14–16

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “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

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

— Isaiah 9:2

Ever been a part of a service project? It’s a satisfying thing. My daughter, for her senior project, organized an event at our church to pack food for children in Zambia, Africa. Several dozen volunteers came together one Saturday and packed more than 30,000 meals for orphaned and vulnerable children. It was a very successful and meaningful project that had an important impact on those children’s lives.

But as great as that project was, service is at its best when it’s not just a project but a lifestyle. This is the kind of service Jesus had in mind when He spoke about a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand. Both of these are effective, not so much because of what they do but because of what they are. Cities don’t do anything, but they are important places of habitation, community, and welfare. Lamps don’t do anything either, but when lit, they provide visibility and warmth to those around them. Perhaps this is why Jesus said that we’re the light of the world.

I’ve always been a little perplexed by this statement because, elsewhere in scripture, Jesus said that He was the light of the world (and prophesy confirms this). How is it that we are the light of the world? As it turns out, this seeming contradiction isn’t a contradiction at all.

As Christians (literally “little Christs,” as the word was first coined), we are the light of the world as He Himself is the Light. The light of Christ now lives in us through the Holy Spirit, but this light does not shine through us by default. We have to choose to let it shine. The light was put there for a reason. What else should it do but shine?

Light doesn’t shine for itself, nor does it exist for itself. It exists for those around it, so that they can see. See what? See the light? No, so that they can see the things that are made visible by the light. If we want others to believe in Jesus and to glorify God, we must make Him visible to them by doing and saying the things that reflect His nature. In other words, we must put His heart and character on display through our words and deeds. Only then will others recognize Him in all His glory and glorify Him as a result.

As believers, we must do what all good lamps are supposed to do: we must shine. Not for ourselves, but so that the grace of God so mercifully given to us might become visible to those around us. Let’s not keep them in the dark about who Christ is (or further obscure Him by hypocrisy). Let’s shine so bright that others can’t help but see Him. And once we do that, we might ignite a light in them as well.