Matthew 5:14-16

Setting and Overview
Matthew 5:14-16 completes the “salt and light” section that begins in the preceding verse and describes the role that Christians will play in the role as they live out the Beatitudes among a society that is often opposed to God’s righteousness. If Jesus’s listeners, or we today, had any illusion that the Beatitudes could be dismissed as idealist statements that Jesus does not expect His followers to aspire to reach, these verses clearly dispel that illusion.

Jesus begins with a second statement, paralleling the previous declaration of His followers as salt of the earth, this time declaring us to be the “light of the world.” His listeners would have probably quickly grasped not just the powerful allusion to how to light itself functions in the physical world, but also to the role of light in Scripture. The Old Testament often uses light to represent good and the world of God (Psalm 36:9) and to oppose the evil as darkness (Psalm 18:28.) Light functions to provide illumination and guidance (Proverbs 4:18-19), which Jewish teachers falsely believed that they were accomplishing, despite their own disobedience (Romans 2:17-19.) Instead, the OT points to Jesus as the true, illuminating light (Isaiah 9:2), which is then confirmed in the New Testament by the Gospel writers (Matthew 4:14-16 and John 1:4-9) and Jesus’s own words (John 8:12.) Light ultimately provides not only illumination, but also salvation to the nations (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6), which Jesus’s disciples are then tasked to carry out (Acts 13:47.)
To emphasize His point, Jesus uses two examples. The first is that a city on a hill can’t be hidden. A city that gives off light will be visible across a dark expanse, even from a great distance. Likewise, we should expect that our light will be visible. His second example is that a light is put on a lampstand, not under a basket or bowl. In that way, even a small lamp can light a house. Likewise, we should desire for our light to provide illumination to the world. On this basis, Jesus gives His exhortation: that His followers should let their lights shine before others in a way that will give glory to God. Paul and Peter echo and expound on this exhortation, and we see from those passages that to let our lights shine requires first that that we remain righteous and unpolluted by the world, standing out from society and living above reproach (Ephesians 5:7-14, Philippians 2:14-16, I Peter 2:9-12.)

Examination and Application
Jesus has high expectations of His followers, but also an empowering message of our potential impact on the world if we obey Him. Our instinct is sadly too often to simply lament the failings of the world, instead of first looking to ourselves to examine how faithfully we are filling the role to which we are called as Christians and the Church. While we are never promised that we can point all people to God, we are assured that if we do remain faithful and live obediently, that there will be results and impact (Matthew 5:16, II Timothy 2:25-26, I Peter 3:16, I Peter 2:12-15.) Moreover, we can delegate or leave the responsibility to be light to others. While non-Christians may, through common grace, accomplish great things and support justice and mercy in our world, they will not be striving to glorify God as they do them. This is our unique responsibility of followers of Jesus: to live as salt and light (living out the Beatitudes) amongst a fallen and perverse society, so that others will eventually give glory to God.
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