To shine as lights in the world, believers need the church. The church of Jesus Christ is the city set on a hill that cannot be hid (Matt. 5:14). Believers who were once darkness are now light in the Lord, and are called to walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8). The purpose is that others may learn through observation and themselves be saved and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). Without a living connection to the body of Christ and an active life in the church, we cannot be lights in this world.
Think of a fluorescent light bulb. All the light of the bulb is created within the bulb itself. When electricity is added to a pressurized mercury gas, heat is created, and tiny explosions take place inside the bulb, giving a bright light to the outside. Separate from and outside the bulb, the mercury will not give off light. Similarly, we need each other and our life together in the church in order to be light in this world.
There are five ways that life in the church is essential to our being light in the world.
First, to be light we need to be a part of the church because the only place in this world where there is light is in the church. God’s people are the enlightened ones, and we need one another in order to give light in this world of darkness. The word light in Scripture is used in two senses. It can refer to the light that we give over against the dark world of sin, but it also refers to the knowledge that believers have: “The entrance of thy words giveth light” (Psalm 119:130). God’s people, who by faith receive his word, are the only ones in this world who really “get it.” Amidst all the confusion and questions over moral issues, war, economic downturn, natural catastrophes, climate change, poverty, crime, the breakup of families, and more, God’s people have answers from Scripture. They see the light. This is never a reason for pride, or to think we have attained. But the simple fact is that this is God’s world, and he is the sovereign of the universe, so understanding and believing his word is the only way to answer man’s confusion. This brings home the importance of being a part of the church of God in this world, a church where God’s word is faithfully taught and confessed.
Too often young people don’t see the importance of this. They take for granted what they have grown up with; they dabble in the world’s amusements, lifestyle, and ideas, and they want to think for themselves rather than continuing in the things they have learned from childhood out of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14–15). With this attitude, they soon become disconnected from the life of the church and their spiritual moorings. Christ Jesus is the light, and you will not find him anywhere else in this world than in the church of God. If you would be light in this world, that begins with your place in the church.
Second, to be light in this world we need to be in the word of God. God’s word alone is the source of light in this world, and also in the church. One danger is that we think we don’t need the church; the other is to think that all we need is the church and we don’t need the word ourselves personally. We find our security in being a part of an institution and tradition. Often people view church as something that just happens, something that others do for them. It’s like a buffet. Others do the work, and they set out the food, and you just come and graze and leave. This kind of attitude leads to an apathy not just towards church life, but also in personal spirituality.
One who would be light needs not only to be an active contributor to the life of the church, but needs also to be in the word of God himself, daily being fed from the fountains of life. God’s word is living, it is powerful, it is sharp, it is piercing, it discerns the thoughts and intents of the human heart (Heb. 4:12). For the word to work to show the darkness of sin in our hearts, we need to read and study and understand and pray over the Bible. If the Bible is not read, your light will grow dim. To be a light, you need to hear God’s word preached, and you need to read God’s word yourself.
Third, life in the church is important because we need one another in order to be a light in this world. Like the components of a fluorescent bulb, we all need one another in order to give off light. The church is a body. Not only it it made up of many members with a variety of gifts, but also all the members have their unique spiritual strengths and weaknesses, and we all depend on one another to remain spiritually strong. The Scriptures speak to this need in many places.
In Hebrews 10:24-25 we are exhorted not to “forsake the gathering of ourselves together” but rather to “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” To “consider one another” means to evaluate each other as we are in Jesus Christ, and then to exert a positive influence on one another that will encourage love and godly living. True friends, found in the church, put a positive peer pressure on one another.
Colossians 3:16 gives this exhortation: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hyms and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” God has given us the gift of music and song as a beautiful way for his word to dwell richly within the believer, and when we sing together, we encourage, we teach and we admonish one another. As Jehoshaphat’s army went out to battle, they sang together (2 Chron. 20:21–22).
Not only must we admonish and encourage others in the body, but we must also be ready to receive admonition ourselves. The Psalmist in Psalm 141:5 says, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” How difficult it is to receive admonition from a peer, a brother, a fellow church member, or an officebearer. How reluctant we are to admonish, lest others take it the wrong way. How formalized we have become in our accountability, leaving it to elders, pastors, or parents. Oh, we need one another, and we need the wounds of faithful friends to brighten our lights.
Fourth, in the church we need love, and we need to love, and by this we let our light shine to the world. This ought to be the brightest light of God’s people in this dark world. The world is a selfish place, with everyone in it for himself. But the church operates differently. Motivated by the selfless love of Christ for us, we love one another selflessly and sacrificially. Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
The average American has 1.5 close friends, and the average friendship lasts only a couple of decades. In the communion of the saints, things are different. When a church member is sick, grieving, depressed, poor, or burdened in some other way, the overwhelming love of the saints for them results in their being cared for. The world that looks on—maybe neighbors or people you work with or others—sees the love of the saints for one another. It is novel, something they’ve never experienced. Believers who live with the mind of Christ give and enjoy a communion and care that is foreign to this world.
If we do not love this way, we cripple our witness to the world. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9–11). Selfishness and hatred are blinding. They lead to further sin. But the way of love is a way of light that prevents stumbling into sin.
Finally, our life in and commitment to the church, particularly our Sabbath observance, shows to the world that we are obedient to God’s word, when all around us there is rampant disregard for the morality of the Bible. In many ways the church has lost its distinctiveness in this regard. Either Christians spend no time explaining why they keep the Sabbath holy, or there is no regard for Sunday over any other day of the week. But one who sets aside Sunday as a full day of worship shows to the world his love for God.
Why has Sabbath observance fallen by the wayside? It is because of materialism: making idols of the things of this earth. When you keep the Sabbath you are demonstrating to the world that eternal things are of much greater value to you than anything earthly. It’s a message to the world that we are pilgrims and strangers here on the earth, that heaven is our home, that we live by faith, and that our hope is in something greater and better.
In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter says that we should be ready to give an answer regarding our hope. This implies a question from the world. Here is an opportunity to give this answer. The world asks, “Why won’t you work on Sunday? Why do you keep Sunday as a holy day?” How do you answer? Is it because the church requires it? Or because your parents say so? No, it’s because we have an eternal hope. The Sabbath is a day in which we taste and begin to enjoy the life of heaven. While on this earth, the closest we can get to the experience of heaven is when we gather with other believers to worship God and to hear his word.
Are you a light in this world? Do you see that you cannot be a light without other believers, but that you need the church of Christ to be a testimony in a world of darkness?
May God keep us faithful to him, to his church, and to each other, and in this way use us as a testimony in a dark world.
This an abbreviated version of a speech given at the Lynden Young Adults Retreat in July, 2012