THE CHURCH – THE LIGHT SHINING IN THE DARKNESS

Jesus said to those who believe in him:

"You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world" [Matthew 5:13, 14].

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus:

"... you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord ..." [Ephesians 5:8].

In our concentration on the words ‘salt’ and ‘light’ it is easy to overlook the fact that Jesus calls his followers ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’.

We are ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the context of the world.

And we are 'salt' and 'light' in contrast to the world.

We are not salt that is sealed away in a packet or a candle shining unnoticed in brilliant sunshine or hidden and unseen under a box. We are light shining in the darkness of the world. We are salt permeating and penetrating the earth.

We need to keep in mind that Jesus told us that we are salt and light. Whether we like it or not, our very existence as believers individually, and as the church corporately, places us in direct contrast with, and in direct confrontation with, the world. Our existence as the church of Jesus Christ, as a body of people who actually believe in him, challenges the world with the reality of his existence.

We also need to consider the implication of that little word ‘the’. Jesus calls his followers the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

Not one light among many other lights.

Not one among many salts.

But the light, and the salt.

If we are to understand this in its obvious absolute and exclusive sense then we have to understand that Jesus means that there is no other salt and no other light for the world but us, his followers.

This involves the church in an extremely heavy missional responsibility. If other 'light' and other 'salt' exist the missional responsibility of Christ’s followers would be considerably diminished, weakened and relativised. But Jesus’ words here indicate that his followers are the only light, the only salt, for the world; that he has put on the shoulders of the church this confrontational and disturbing identity and responsibility of being the light and the salt in the world.

It is interesting in this context that the missional activity of Christ’s followers, his church, in which Jesus sets us ‘on a hill’ visible to the world and in stark contrast to the world, is not merely our proclamation but, more importantly, our lives:

"Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" [Matthew 5:16].

As Peter puts it:

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light ... Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" [1Peter 2:9, 12].

Paul expressed it this way:

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God" [1Corinthians 10:31,32].

Yes. We will be proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ, but that message will be disempowered and discredited if our lives contradict it. It is when the world sees our ‘good deeds’ that they will believe our message and by their repentance and faith praise God our Father.

We, the church, are to so live in the world that God is glorified by the way we live, rather than being dishonoured by the way we live. This is our purpose and this is our mission in the world.

But there is even more. Paul taught that the impact of the church reaches even further than the world of humans in which we live. He says:

That God's "intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Epesians 3:10].

God has rescued us out of the dominion of darkness, and, putting us in the kingdom of his Son, has made us children of light. Through us he shines his light into the world, and beyond, displaying, through us, the riches of his wisdom, his glory and his grace.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2021